Photographer's Blog: Interview with Sergi Sendra, Director of Dorna Sports TV Production

 

One of the things that has often struck me as I move around the track at a MotoGP round is the amount of cable Dorna sets up to deliver their TV coverage. Many kilometres of cables run around the entire circuit, are spliced into a complex network of amplifiers, antennas, and cameras, and eventually lead back to Dorna’s TV center in the paddock. In Qatar I was chatting with Pol Bardolet, one of the Dorna staff who is part of the TV and video production department, and he kindly arranged for me to speak with Sergi Sendra, Director of Dorna Sports TV Production. In Austin we sat down for a few minutes on Friday so that I could ask him about how he and his team deliver TV coverage of 18 rounds of Grand Prix racing.

MotoMatters: Most if not all of our readers regularly watch MotoGP on television, but I don’t think many of them have any idea how complicated it is for you to set that up for each race then get it packed up and on to the next event. So, to start off can you tell me a little bit about how you do it?

Sergi Sendra: The infrastructure of the television production [is based on] the experience that we have acquired having produced the show since 1992. We started producing it at every single venue from 2000, more or less.

The way we work is that we have a production team arriving Sunday and then from Monday until Wednesday, which is the installation and setup process, we are working with around 35 tons of equipment, cable and gear for cameras, radio frequency equipment…

 

 

 

MM: The platforms?

SS: The platforms are provided by the circuit, from local suppliers [for fly-away races]. In Europe we have a company that does the same job everywhere. This job is very complicated, so the important thing is to be able to trust groups of people for a certain amount of work, a certain kind of work. The technical side is really critical because a mistake on a cable will be a mistake on the screen on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. So we need to be very strict in the way we set everything up. 

Talking about cable we have around 26 km of fibre or Tri-X, basically now most cable is fiber [optic cable], the fibre allows you to have really high quality, long distances and also to manage a lot of signal through this cable. Apart from the 26km, to set up the whole pack of cameras, we have around 22 cameras on the track, this is to get the pictures on what we call the Track Feed. On the other side we have the fibre for the radio frequency. 

One of the goals for this production is we have to work in 18 different venues, with 18 different combinations of circuit, where they go from 3.5 km to nearly 6km long, this is the length of the road course. The other concept is that, in terms of coverage, we are talking about between 500,000 to 1 million square meters. This means that you need good equipment and a lot of knowledge and experience in order to deliver the coverage.

The way we cover this amount of square meters is with a number of sites along the track, at different heights, in different positions, and these antennas (basically this will be set up with antennas) are connected with another 16km of fibre. So, all of this makes around 45km of cable in total. The thing you can notice when you walk through the paddock is, as you say, you see a lot of cables. And this set up, as I said, it’s so important to install everything properly because once you start [the production], you then need to adjust depending on the shape and the behavior of the circuit.

For instance, we are here in Texas for the first time, we have suffered here more than anywhere else because even with a plan and our experience, when you start and turn on the system you realize there’s a problem here, there’s a shadow there. So here [at Circuit of the Americas], it’s a challenge. 

MM: That was one of my questions, how do you approach coming to a new circuit that you haven’t been to before?

SS: Well, I would say that the important thing now is our experience, the number of years [we’ve been doing this] and the experience of our technicians. Another concept is the technical team is always exactly the same, they go from country to country, from circuit to circuit, from year to year and will learn and gain experience and the analysis of this learning is the most important thing.

I mean, coming to Texas, we’re not improvising, but we didn’t have a week of testing. The testing is today with the first live practice and this is the first time the bikes enter the arena and you need to have everything very very tuned because, [on Friday] you can have 5% or 10% of mistakes that you’ll have to fine tune and eliminate, but the other 90 or 95% needs to be fine because it can only take two days to have everything ready for Sunday.

 

 

MM: So today you’re working on solving that 5% of problems?

SS: I would say Friday it should be 5%, Thursday was 10% and Wednesday a bit more... For example, today we had to change three cameras because the cable was too long, the amplifier didn’t deliver enough power. Another camera had a problem on the platform, it was not perfectly set up to get the right shot when panning.

The thing is that the 22 up to 24 positions in the track, every position is its own little world. You have your in shot and your out shot, and the panning setting for each camera requires different friction. The movement of the camera is not going to be the same, because you don’t realize the speed of the bikes until you see them go in front of you. You can imagine it’s going to be a fast section, but then when you are there you must adjust. All this tuning is in the first, let’s say, three hours.

I am sure that this morning… People [watching on TV] don’t realize because we are smart and we were putting shots in between and you don’t know why we’re doing it that way, you just watch the pictures. But on the inside, there’s like, not chaos, but it’s a little crazy. We try always to show that outside is calm and perfect but inside it’s like a family: You have your own problems but outside it’s a big smile. 

So what we say always is that, at the end of the day, the most important is Sunday, race day. The disadvantage of race day, you only have 1 chance, there are no races where you can practice, the MotoGP race happens in between 2 o’clock and 3 o’clock, and if you are ready you will get the shots. If you are not ready, you will make more mistakes. 

With this knowledge, it takes 3 years, based on our experience, to fine-tune a perfect GP. I’ll explain. The first year we put 20 [camera] positions, now because of our experience we realize that we are nearly there [with 20]. But you need to see the bikes (MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3), the behavior of the racing, the first race is going to be the first for the riders, too. So in the second year, we learn from that and maybe there is a need to change [camera positions], and the third year is when the positions will maybe be made permanent. So it means we will make changes after this race [at CotA], based on experience, another year we’ll a bit more input and feedback, and then the third year is going to be, basically, ready to go. 

 

 

Another issue that is important to bear in mind it the weather. If the weather is stable, you will have the same response of racing lines. But if the weather changes, it’s a completely different scenario. Also, in the rain, everything is slower, so if we start with a race weekend in the rain, it doesn’t work [to tune the system] because [the riders] were not fast enough to show you the limit, and we have to know those limits in order to pick up over-takings, crashes, what we call the “hotspots.” Also, what we do now that we didn’t do in the past is talk to the riders, and with the testing they’ve done they’ll tell us “ok, this is a hotspot, we will overtake here,” and with all this information, it’s very important because what we want to show on Sunday is that Texas is like Laguna Seca or Indianapolis or Jerez and the audience deserves for us to be the best and that’s why [this weekend] is probably more challenging than any other circuit. 

 

 

MM: So that’s just for the fixed cameras that are on the platforms around the track? You also have cameras on the bike, you have a Steadicam and shoulder cameras in pit lane…

SS: We have on-board cameras, a Steadicam, we have a Jimmy Jib, we have a helicopter, a gyrocam, the best ever camera in the air because it has 8 gyroscopes. 

This system of coverage is based on what we call the ‘high-view’ and the ‘lower view’ and then the ‘continuous view’. The lower view is based on the cameras but it’s cut after cut, there is no continuity and our job is to give you a sensation of fluidity so that everything looks like it’s connected.

 

 

The helicopter can give you a whole, continuous path with the view from the sky, the view on board can give you the same shot from the ground. On-board is another world, completely different, we install between 60 and 90 cameras. Everything is HD now. Right now, we are developing new technology for this season that hasn’t arrived yet. MotoGP is maybe one of the most-experienced series, technically speaking, in on-board cameras. We have the latest technology, the smallest and highest quality cameras in the world, and we know that because we can compare others doing the same job.

Also, there is another thing, that gives us the strength to work harder maybe than others.  And this is that our bikes are smaller than any cars. When you have a small object like the bike, we had to struggle so much to make sure the camera was small, the cable was strong enough and that doesn’t happen in a car. We’ve had three cameras on the bikes and we will have four this year. We have gyroscopic cameras, and the new camera that is coming later is a full body camera, very small, with the gyroscope inside all ready to work, so we can make fixed shots or a gyroscopic shot. 

MM: It can switch back and forth between those?

SS: Yeah, so we will need to use motors, little motors to turn the camera up to 60 degrees.

MM: So you have remote control on the camera?

SS: Yes, everything is remote controlled. The teams have been working hard with us to improve and develop [on-board coverage]. And last thing we should mention is the high speed camera, for the super slow motion.

MM: Yes, people love that.

SS: It’s called high speed because the camera is filming at the high rate of speed. If we shot on a normal camera, we would get 50 frames per second. That gives fluidity, a sensation of normal speed. If we record at 1000 frames per second, in one second you have 20 times more information. The vision is slower, much much slower. Getting in this slow situation, you pick up things that it is impossible to pick up with your eyes, your eyes can now see the tire spinning, the suspension movement, and that’s another challenge. We have so many circuits, with so many corners, with so many positions, and this is a camera we are introducing now. 

MM: So you have one high-speed camera?

SS: We only have one at each GP, I’m sure in two or three years we will have three or four because it’s going to be necessary.

MM: But you have to decide, when you go to a track, which corner you’re going to put that on? 

SS: Exactly and we need to learn from that. Maybe a corner looks spectacular and then it looks like it’s not. 

As you can imagine, now that you have some idea of how complicated Mr. Sendra’s job is, our talk was interrupted several times by people needing to speak to him. By the end of our 15-minutes together, there was a large crowd waiting outside his office door and he could not make them wait any longer.

Our sincerest thanks to Mr. Sendra for taking time to speak to us, and to Mr. Bardolet for setting up the interview.

Thanks also to PHOTO.GP intern, Kerry Port, for transcribing this interview.

Comments

One word - brilliant

One word - brilliant

Total votes: 103

Bum Cam

Great interview. Would love to know what the broadcaster's fascination is with having the cameras mounted on the tailpiece of the motorcycles that essentially just shows the riders' backside? When I first started watching most of the onboard footage came from cameras in the nosecone or on the side of the bikes, and provided far more spectacular footage. We very rarely get a full, onboard, filmed via the nosecone lap any more.

Total votes: 110

Any cam

There are brake lever cams, wheel level cams, gear shifter cams, looking up from the dash cams. I don't know whether they are trying new technology, or just trying to find a new perspective on racing.

One thing is for sure, wherever there is a camera, there is a little strip with a sponsor's name on it. Are these bizarre camera angles just for a little bit of additional advertising?

Total votes: 100

Awesome

Lots of good information Scott. this is a field I work in, the fiber part any way. wish he had touched on the new "multiplayer" that they put out this year for the first time for us that watch GP w/a video pass. all in all very interesting read.

Total votes: 110

Fabtastic!

Fabtastic started out as a typo, but then I realized it conveyed exactly what I wanted to say. This article is both fabulous and fantastic, just the sort of information I wanted to read about. Keep them coming, please!

Total votes: 101

Just out of curiosity

Being, in essence, Dorna TV, is it a Spanish, or mostly Spanish crew? They do a great job.

Total votes: 104

Glad you like it

Most of the personnel are Spanish as far as I've observed, but it has also struck me many times that Dorna comprises folks of many nationalities. So I don't think any one department is entirely Spanish.

Glad you like this interview, friends. I was gutted when he had to go--I still had a lot of questions. But as you can imagine, Sergi is a busy, busy fellow!

Total votes: 111

Bum Cam

I totally agree with Stuart Fordyce, I've never understood the interest of seeing the rider's butt. There is another camera position / angle I've never appreciated, the one located between the handlebars and looking at the rider's face (perhaps not that much used in MotoGP but common in other series). What do you learn by watching a helmet, a neck and shoulders? personally, I want to see what the rider sees, that is, the track ahead.

Total votes: 111

Excellent article!

Video production is one area where Dorna really shines. Nice to see and acknowledge how much effort goes on behind the scenes.

Chris
http://moto2-usa.blogspot.com/

Total votes: 105

Sergi Sendra: Now we have a name!

Dear Sergi,

Please, for the love of god, chill out on the reaction shots.

Love,
Terry

Total votes: 99

Absolutely......

.... brilliant article.

Such an insight that NO other website ever does.

Very educational and enjoyable.

Many thanks.

@Wiggysan

Total votes: 101

Loved it

That's it

Total votes: 94

Impressive use of the technology

and as always, Scott's interviews capture so much wonderful information that we really don't get anywhere else - Scott is a polymath of motoGp reporting..

However, what Dorna still lacks is a race broadcast director who has the fine appreciation of what is exciting and what is not. While the coverage has become far better recently, it appears there is a 'formula' being applied to the Directorial management of coverage that at times in intensely frustrating: multiple replays of fairly mundane shots of the start while the battle for the lead is poised to change; butt-cam (seriously overdone), switch from the fascinating battles to far less interesting happenings, and the below-mentioned 'team response' shots that range from the always interesting (Herve Poncheral, take a bow) to the painfully irrelevant.

It's hard to escape the feeling that at least some sponsors of the sport expect 'X' amount of exposure per race (the reason for butt-cam?) and that somewhere there is a computer indicating to the Director that he's falling behind quota. The 1000 fps shots almost make up for this - but not completely...

Credit where it is due - the broadcasts have improved markedly in the last couple of years. With fine-tuning of appreciation of what the audience is hanging out to watch at any specific moment in the race would make them brilliant. ( Oh, and also giving an electric shock to Nick Harris for every time he says AB SO LUTE LEE would enhance the viewer pleasure exponentially).

Total votes: 88

In a perfect world, there'd be no reaction shots, ever again!

Rant on:

The modern trend in cutting away from the action on track, to show people standing about in the pits is - BY FAR - the most irritating aspect of the TV coverage we have these days. Now, if one of the mechanics was doing a handstand, whilst juggling a live hand grenade, it might be reason enough to let us see him. But 99% of the time, it's just guys standing about. If we're lucky, we'll maybe see somebody scribbling something down on his clipboard. Hardly very interesting, is it?

The only reaction the cameras capture, most of the time, is the reaction of the guys seeing themselves appear on TV.

The thing is though, it's not just MotoGP. Last weekend's Superbike round was IMO of the worst examples of TV direction we've seen in a long time. We hardly got a whole lap of the Superpole session without a cut to the pits and the races were EVEN WORSE! I'm actually sick of looking at Melandri's other half! It's almost completely spoiling the show for me.

@Oscar: Nick Harris (and the other guy) should be destroyed, for the good of humanity. OK, that's a bit extreme. Maybe they should just be put out to pasture and somebody better given a shot at commentary.

Rant off.

Total votes: 102

No problems with Nick Harris.

No problems with Nick Harris. He's a good bloke and has been covering GP for many decades. A real gentleman if you ever meet him. You can please everyone. No matter what announcers they use, people will complain.

Total votes: 91

More buttcam

I think it's a method of "humanizing" the coverage and part of the reason they cut away to crewmembers (and Herve Poncharal and Randy de Puniet's wife, Lauren Vickers).
I'd like to see shots of a rider's hands, in context with a corner shot, to see what they're doing and when. They're probably working on it already, now that they have those guards in place.
Technology keeps on rollin'.

Total votes: 107

Well, unless there's a

Well, unless there's a carnivorous dinosaur rampaging its way down the pitlane, I can't see any reason at all to cut away from the on track action.

Is it not, after all, the reason we fans watch the sport? To see the bikes on track? Even with the new qualifying system, where we only get two quite short sessions they still do it. Leaving us missing out on riders' fast qually laps and instead getting to watch uninteresting people sitting about in the pit garages.

If anybody ever attends a GP and meets the person responsible*, try and remember to ask him/her what they're playing at.

*Please, Mr Krop!!!

Total votes: 95

camera shot preferences

Keep the cameras on the action. No to pit shots when the race is on and no bum cams.
Yes to a split screen finish when the real dicing is back in the field.

Total votes: 43

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

GTranslate