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Cover Feature: Connecting the dots for a Special Session

Cover Feature: Connecting the dots for a Special Session
The control space inside the Elevation truck

Cover Feature: Connecting the dots for a Special Session

TNDV Television ran a whole lot of fibre to ensure UMC’s event at The Dome was patched up to a backup site, just in case

In late February, the United Methodist Church (UMC) invited 864 delegates from around the world for a three-day Special Session of the United Methodist General Conference. The event, which took place at The Dome at America’s Center in St Louis, also welcomed nearly 10,000 general attendees and was a precursor to the church’s General Conference slated for 2020 in Minneapolis. This meeting occurs every four years to decide the church’s future direction. The St Louis gathering enabled delegates to vote on 78 legislative petitions prior to the General Conference.

Due to both the session’s content and projected attendance, UMC required not only that The Dome be equipped with full production capabilities, it also mandated a fully equipped overflow room. The goal for this latter space – a 1,200-seat theatre more than 900m away – was to accommodate overflow delegates and serve as a continuous space should the need arise to vacate The Dome unexpectedly.

Inside The Dome
Inside The Dome

TNDV Television, a Nashville-based mobile production company with nine HD and UHD remote television production trucks, has overseen AV for several of the church’s General Conferences. UMC called upon the firm to accomplish this latest considerable task, acknowledging the AV success of past sessions and trusting TNDV’s expertise to tackle the greater technical task at hand.

‘The main technical challenge was being prepared for two venues with a single control space – being able to seamlessly change location and have audio, video, cameras, intercom and translation feeds move over and no one noticing, technically, that anything had changed,’ recalls TNDV senior engineer, JJ Hacker, the engineer in charge of the event.

TNDV assigned its ‘Elevation’ truck to serve as a control operations hub, parking it backstage at The Dome. ‘Elevation has a relatively small footprint – it’s only 12m from bumper to bumper – and yet it has a Grass Valley K-frame Kayenne switcher, a full-size monitor wall and a big audio booth with Pro Tools recording,’ says TNDV owner and president, Nic Dugger. ‘It’s everything that a full-size traditional Class-A truck would have in the body size of a Class-B truck so, when we want to park it backstage, it’s much easier than with a Class-A 18-wheeler.’

While this truck was ideal for supporting the stadium, it also had to control cameras, screens and audio in a space that was almost a city block away. ‘UMC gave us the challenge to support a second venue, control it from the original venue and switch between the two almost instantaneously,’ Dugger reiterates.

TNDV's Elevation truck was parked backstage at The Dome
TNDV's Elevation truck was parked backstage at The Dome

TNDV’s solution was to run a lot of fibre. The crew ran 12 strands of single-mode fibre in a single TAC-12 cable between the stadium and the theatre, and then deployed the hardware required to run signals back and forth.

‘We had to get feeds from the five cameras that were in the theatre back to the truck and send the theatre feeds so that attendees would have a feed on the projector,’ Hacker explains. ‘That meant preparing the switcher’s main programme feed out of the truck.’

TNDV also had to ensure that producers could receive the multi-viewer feeds from all of the cameras in both venues. All of these video signals needed to travel back and forth, with no delay, over the fibre network. Therefore, TNDV deployed a MultiDyne FS18000-9X9 TRXa FiberSaver device to optimise its fibre counts.

‘Typically, it would take one fibre per feed and, if we’re talking about five cameras one way and four or five feeds the other way, we’d chew through 12 strands of fibre very quickly,’ says Hacker. ‘The FiberSaver allows us to do multiple video and multiple audio feeds over a single strand, leaving the other strands available for other applications.’

TNDV replicated the full production setup it had integrated into The Dome inside the theatre with a few modifications. Dugger relays that in the theatre, TNDV used robotic Panasonic cameras to eliminate the need for camera operators. ‘If we did have to move to the theatre, one person could operate all five of those cameras and still send all five of those feeds back to the truck,’ he explains. ‘This single operator would be situated backstage, in The Dome. We weren’t losing production value by reducing the number of cameras, we simply changed the type of cameras that we used for that application.’

The nearby theatre
The nearby theatre

Tedd Kidd, also based in Nashville, served as technical producer. He explains that the simultaneous translation services for the session ran through the production truck instead of going through the audio consoles – another important strategic decision. There were eight languages available.

‘We decided that if we had to move to the overflow theatre, we were not going to move the translators,’ says Kidd. ‘We would leave them in place in The Dome, and we could send those language translations down, encoded on one of the video lines. That way, it saved us some space.’

He adds that the production truck also handled voting functionality. ‘Each delegate had a handheld voting device. When they voted, the results would go to the truck so they could display the results on the LED wall in The Dome. That was redundant to the theatre presentation.’

There was also intercom communication to consider as crew members needed to communicate with each other throughout the session. TNDV used its own system – Fiber PL – the PL standing for party line.

‘Fiber PL allows us to send multiple channels of intercom in both directions over a single strand of fibre,’ Dugger explains. ‘That means we can have intercom thousands of feet away.’

A MultiDyne FS18000-9X9 TRXa FiberSaver was used to optimise fibre counts
A MultiDyne FS18000-9X9 TRXa FiberSaver was used to optimise fibre counts

Getting fibre from the truck, to The Dome, and then 900m away to the overflow theatre involved a labyrinthine run through stairwells, across rooftops, under doors and through ceilings. The cable had to be unobtrusive and, because some of it would be outdoors during a cold, St Louis winter, it had to resist rain and snow. Working with the onsite crew at The Dome, Dugger and Kidd negotiated the run. Dugger notes that one of the biggest challenges was weaving the cable through ‘the last mile’ to its termination points in the stadium and the theatre.

‘It’s easy to get it all the way down a city block – that’s a straight shot,’ says Dugger. ‘Once inside the arena, how do you physically run it to the truck while avoiding areas with forklifts and attendees in motion?’ The answer was to run the cable around the seats, fly it up to the curtain and then drop it down to the truck. ‘That’s tricky to determine in a space that you’re only occupying for a few days. This wasn’t a permanent installation, so we had to make sure that we could move it in and then out the back-end equally as efficiently.’

In the end, UMC didn’t need to make use of the overflow theatre, but having it up and ready for operation provided the insurance required for a high-stakes event.

‘You have to be prepared and be ready for the unexpected, but you won’t necessarily be able to take advantage of that investment,’ concludes Dugger. ‘The flip-side – not being prepared and not having the infrastructure in place – would have made it much tougher. We were ready to do the changeover, though thankfully that time never came.’

This article was first published in the September-October 2019 edition of Worship AVL. Subscribe at www.proavl-central.com/subscribe/worship



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