Behind The Scenes – Sky Sports F1

Yesterday (Friday 2nd March), myself and a hand full of F1 bloggers were treated to a behind the scenes look at the Sky Sports F1 studio. After meeting their ‘talent’ as they call them the week before this time we were given the chance to put our questions to the people who make the broadcasts happen and those who are working on some groundbreaking technology to evolve the way we watch the race weekends.

Before we got to the new F1 channel, we met with the head of Sky Sports News, Andy Cairns, who talked to us about their role as the new season gets under way in two weeks time. Andy told us that as with most sports covered by Sky, a reporter will be reporting from the venue, seven days before the race.

Andy was also keen to hear our view on what we’d like to see when the interview the drivers. The unanimous feeling was that we’d like to see more with the drivers away from the circuit, where they are less likely to be ‘towing the corporate line’ and being more themselves.

After our chat, Andy took us down to the Sky Sports News studio to see the bulletins going out live.

Next on the agenda was a fascinating chat with Darren Long, Director of operations for Sky Sports. His is basically the man that nothing happens there without his approval. This included the state of the art building we were sat in. Opened last summer, the new building, home of Sky Sports news and Sky Sports F1 is the first in the world to be film free. All the archive is digital, cutting the editing time from a few days to twelve hours for a four minute piece.

Darren swiftly turned his attentions to talking F1 (something everyone there is more than keen to do). He began telling us of the journey from July last year, when the deal was announced, to where they are now. Everyone was also keen to say what a good job thee BBC had done in the previous three years and Andy was no different. What he and the team wanted was to take it to the next level, this include three separate, 18 tonne mobile studio’s that will be shipped to sixteen of the twenty races, effectively working as a relay team throughout the year.

Following on from Darren was Owen Williams, head of projects for Sky Sports Media network. Owens responsibility is to oversee the online content as well as the red button features. On top of what we’ve already seen, like the F1 microsite and previews running on the F1 channel, the biggest innovation to look out for from Owen and his team is on the red button. As Owen puts it “you can be the race director” and he’s not joking! With 4 onboard camera options, a dedicated pit lane camera, an aggregated tweet portal, showing tweets from Sky Sports, the teams and the fans along with driver tracker to name but a few. All red button feeds will be broadcast in HD apart from the onboard shots, as these cameras are standard def.

We then had a presentation from Caroline, Mclintosh, head of sports marketing. Caroline, showed us through the various campaigns they had run on billboards, magazine and on TV. The one question I wanted to ask was ‘how difficult was it to get a Sky Sports F1 advert into the BBC F1 season preview magazine? Despite everyone telling us that Sky and the Beeb were working in partnership, the wry smile on Caroline’s face as I asked that question spoke a thousand words. Her answer was that it was due to a ‘miscommunication’ but not one they were too upset about I imagine.

Last to talk to us on our whirlwind tour was Paul Fuller, Sky Sports creative Director. Paul is a massive F1 fan. He said, “I’ve worked at Sky Sports for twenty years and I’ve been trying to get F1 for eighteen of them”. Among Paul’s presentation was several short videos and screen shots of how the graphic will look on screen, how the grid will be presented etc. As some have expected would happen, we will have football style player introductions as the walk toward to the camera, stop and fold their arms. Jenson’s is one to look out for as he tries to keep a straight face as Georgie Thompson tries to put him off, off screen.

By now, after reading trough 800 words or so, you’ll be wondering when I’m going to get to the really good stuff. Well, wait no more. After lunch, it was off to the new magazine studio to see the latest gadgets in action.

First up, Georgie was on hand to demonstrate the huge touch screen in the studio. From this, the presenters have access to bio’s of all the driver’s and team’s with instant related video content. Also there is in-depth digital recreations of the circuits and the surrounding areas which really gives you more of a sense scale. Up-to-date weather forecasts (I guess the teams will tap into that), and archive footage.

The most impressive use of this technology will be used by Antony Davidson on race days. During playback of passing moves over racing incidents, from the screen Antony will be able to pause, rewind move frame by frame, highlight, magnify, add direction markers…..I think you get the picture there!

The last piece of kit they had to showcase to us was the Virtual 3D car. Unlike most CGI technology, this doesn’t use a blue/green screed to project the image on to, it appears on screen right in front of the presenters. Sky have been working with all the teams to get a detailed 3D model of all the 2012 cars. One of the main uses of this will be to show the difference of the updates the teams add the their cars as the season progresses.

Just before leaving, we were all treated to a go with the 3D car to get first hand experience on what Ted Kraviz will be doing on the Friday evening magazine show. If Ted makes it look easy, that’s because he is a true professional. I and everyone else who attended yesterday can testify how hard it is.

This was a fantastic insight into how what we will see on our screens is made. I for one didn’t realise exactly how much work and how many people go into making it work. Sky’s tagline is ‘believe in better’ and that is something everyone who works there believes. If you have Sky (I still don’t) You will see F1 in a fantastic new light.

Images and video clip of me with the 3D car to follow next week.

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