SVG Europe Sit-Down: Aerial Camera Systems’ Matt Coyde reflects on remote camera innovations and emerging drone technologies

Matt Coyde, Sales Director, ACS

Since its foundation over thirty-five years, Aerial Camera Systems (ACS) has provided the latest aerial cinematographic equipment to the film and television industries, both in the UK and around the world. The company’s unique inventory includes high performance compact robotic heads to minicams, stabilised mounts, aerial drones, railcams, wirecams, tracking vehicles, aerial filming coordination services and the unique sponsor funded EyeFlyer blimp. Our conversation with sales director, Matt Coyde, starts with the impact of innovation…

You have been around for more than three decades. If you had to pick one innovation in your field of operation that has produced the greatest impact, what would that be – and why?

ACS is constantly innovating, it’s what drives our business and our team.  We are always trying to find new ways of covering events and work closely with clients to conceptualise and deliver unique and dynamic shots to enhance the coverage of UK and international sports events. Historically, ACS has created a legacy of camera innovation including amongst others, the home straight railcam for Athletics, Netcams behind the goal for football, The Tracker car and Wirecam for Horseracing, as well as those signature aerial shots you see across so many live events.

SMARTgrip is one of our new products this year, born out of a request to deliver more dynamic shots of behind the goal action for football coverage.  It consists of our in-house design and developed SMARThead remote head fitted with a balanced carbon fibre arm and mini robotic head fitted with an Antelope PICO mini camera to provide a smooth, jib like fully remote-controlled camera movement within a small footprint.  This year also saw us deliver our railcam with a stabilised mount fitted with a high frame rate camera as well as high frame rate minicams and the ACS SMARThead with AR capability for the World Athletics Championships in London.  At the Champions League final, we installed and operated a number of our specialist cameras in UHD for BT Sport.

However, technology is ever moving ahead – so what is your biggest challenge for 2018?

The biggest challenge for ACS across 2018 is to ensure the successful delivery of a number of large scale projects which run almost back to back from January through to the end of September. In addition to this, we need to ensure a continued transition to UHD based on a sustainable investment plan.

You recently introduced Inspire 2 drone. Can you tell us more about it – and what makes it special?  

ACS was the exclusive specialist camera provider for the World Athletics Championships 2017

As a company synonymous with Aerial Filming, we felt it vital to ensure that we are able to offer the right type of UAV technology to complement the existing capabilities of our in-house award winning Aerial Unit. We did a significant amount of research into the drone market; its products and practices, in order to be 100 per cent confident in what we were offering our clients in terms of filming formats and performance, with safety being at the forefront. The Inspire 2 is extremely reliable and has the capacity to fly considerably longer and at higher speeds than other drone systems in the market – which is a significant advantage. It comes fitted with a Zenmuse X5S camera which is capable of shooting a range of formats from 1080i, 4K and UHD including RAW. The system also offers various data acquisition features, including GPS positioning, and is packed full of safety features. Finally, the system is competitively priced allowing us to pitch the package at what we felt to be the right rate for the broadcast market.

In terms of operational delivery, our Aerial Unit team hold a PfCO (Permit for Commercial Operations) from the Civil Aviation Authority which enables them to react quickly and fly at short notice for any shoot day or night, requiring no flying permissions in most areas within the UK.  We also supply our own portable DOP setup on the ground complete with waveform monitors to enable directors to have maximum flexibility and reliability to ensure they capture the shots needed for their production. Aside from that, our team of pilots and operators are highly experienced in aerial filming work and bring a high degree of professionalism to the overall service delivery.

Has the increase in remote production had any impact on your business?  

ACS supplied 24 different camera systems across the event, supported and operated by a 43-strong crew

We are certainly very aware of remote production; however, it would be fair to say at this stage that it has not had either an adverse or positive impact on our business. We are certainly keen to engage with clients and partners about how we can incorporate our robotic camera technology – SMARThead™ – into their remote production delivery. We believe the multi-camera control functionality and on-air performance this equipment provides can add further value to the live coverage output.

How do you see IP technology progressing over the next six months – and does that impact your business? 

The take up of IP based technology will certainly continue to expand as people re-equip with UHD capable equipment.  Right now, it doesn’t really impact on specialist camera provision, although over time that it is certain to change, so we are keeping a close on developments in this area.

Where do you think we will be with HDR by the middle of 2018?  Or should we be looking further ahead for significant take-up?  

HDR offers tangible benefits to viewers in terms of image quality and there is a growing interest in it following the rollout of UHD – although technology and format challenges remain in its wider take up and delivery. Across 2018, it looks like HDR will feature mainly in large international projects with the FIFA World Cup 2018 being a particular benchmark due to the scale and profile of the tournament.

From our side, we had a good experience with UHD HDR specialist camera delivery at this year’s Champions League Final in Cardiff, although generally at this point in time, the main focus and demand is on the transition to UHD SDR.  Aside from live broadcast work, we have been delivering aerial filming projects in large sensor RAW formats for some time facilitating the capability for HDR post production delivery. In summary, HDR is a great broadcast innovation although it would be fair to say that it will be another few years before it becomes firmly established in the market as HD is now.

Have you a European sports related case study you can share with us? 

ACS was appointed by host broadcaster Sunset + Vine as the exclusive specialist camera provider for the World Athletics Championships 2017. Over a year in the planning we supplied 24 different camera systems across the event, supported and operated by a 43-strong crew. The widely acclaimed event coverage included a number of new innovations from ACS including a dual live/high frame rate compact stabilised camera for the Home Straight Railcam, 8 high frame rate mini cameras providing stunning slow motion POV replays, overhead robotic cameras with a customised VR/AR graphics capability and 2 high quality robotic beauty cameras with IP control over RF.

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