Plan C Productions calls on Blackmagic to stream Toyota Gazoo Racing from South Africa’s desert regions

The Toyota Gazoo Racing 1000 Desert Race (TGRSA) is the biggest automotive race in Africa, with a heritage of more than 30 years, and is often viewed as a test for teams taking part in the Dakar Rally, thanks to the similar terrain.

Usually running as the Toyota Kalahari Botswana, this year’s edition was moved to South Africa due to COVID restrictions, which provided a first foray into streaming for the race organisers and sponsors. Waldo van der Waal of Plan C Productions took on the challenge of bringing the heat and speed of the desert track to a virtual audience. Teams had to complete two different loops, with sandy, rocky and even dune terrain to contend with.

“Usually up to 200,000 fans attend the race in Botswana, so the race team wanted to be able to enable those spectators to follow some live components,” he explained. “We knew from the outset that there would be challenges in translating across to a livestream. The race is spread out over three days, with the drivers covering vast distances across areas of desert without cell signal, making it difficult to deliver uninterrupted live race coverage.”

Van der Waal and his onsite team set up a temporary production space each day and broke broadcasts down to studio segments, where interviews with crews and top performers took place, alongside a running commentary on events on the track, interspersed with footage from the race.

“The environment was open to the elements and prone to power cuts, so putting the necessary back up systems and shelters in place was critical. Bandwidth was also limited, but we were able to produce a stable stream out to YouTube and Facebook throughout the race duration,” van der Waal continued.

The mobile set up incorporated three locked off mirrorless cameras and one roving camera with HDMI transmitter. A Blackmagic Video Assist was also connected to review and playback footage received from sources outside the livestream environment, such as drone operators providing aerial viewpoints of the race leaders.

“We set all of the camera feeds to be as close to our output stream, which was 1080p, as this reduced the need for transcoding or converting on the fly,” explained van der Waal. “Our cameras were all Canon R-series, as we find that mirrorless cameras deal well with the dusty environments, with 24-70 F4L lenses on all four cameras in order to make things as consistent as possible across the feeds.”

Studio signals were transmitted to a primary mix desk and then through to an ATEM Mini Pro. A MacBook Pro ran ATEM Software Control for overlays and graphics to provide viewers with up to the minute information about race positions and crew stats. “We always say that the ATEM Mini Pro can literally ‘eat’ anything and just make it work, so it’s a fundamental element to our production set up, and makes it easier for us to focus on the race unfolding,” said van der Waal.

Even outside the pandemic situation, the Plan C Production team has a slate of automobile-based live events requiring high-quality OB coverage from remote or inaccessible locations. “For us, Blackmagic kit has always been synonymous with quality and reliability, but the one aspect that has become more and more important to us is compatibility,” he concluded. “When you’re working in environments where the equipment can be compromised and unconventional solutions have to be found, it’s imperative the kit can be flexible and integrate smoothly into unusual workflows.”

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