It weighs about 250 pounds, can get up to about 30 miles per hour in a burst of speed if necessary and, once the MLB playoffs are done, it may remembered as one TBS’ most innovative elements of its baseball coverage.
And it has nothing to do with Cal Ripken Jr.
The network calls its Truss Cam, a large black snow-globe looking thing that fans at Dodger Stadium may have noticed peeking up above the outfield wall during Monday’s NLCS Game 3.
A 360-degree gyroscopic camera often used in helicopter shots has been a new visual tool to capture a different view of players chasing down fly balls, runners going from first to third and, if needed, provide a panoramic framework of the pavilion spectators.
Van Nuys-based Pictorvision partnered with Special Camera Systems out of Germany to engineer the stabilized device rolling on 36 wheels, and on Friday afternoon were asked by TBS to expand from 136 feet to a run of 200-feet of raised track from left-center to right-center field for the NLCS. But the key was overcoming a huge obstacle – how to break the track apart when the center-field gates need to be open for emergency vehicles and equipment storage before and after the game.
With just one day’s notice, Pictorvision relied on Stage-Tech of Santa Fe Springs, to design and build a custom 70-foot piece of track that spans dead center field. Literally over night they came up with a clever design utilizing an ingenious combination of standard couplers that allow the rails to come apart and slide back as the two hinged gates at the 395-foot sign swing open.
Otherwise the camera system would have been limited to just right-center field, as it was during the NLDS. The success of it during the Dodgers-Atlanta series inspired its expanded use for the NLCS, as it takes up just a short part of the 7-foot space that exists between the back of the wall and the start of the stairwells to the bleacher seats.
The tracks also have to sit low enough along the wall to not interfere with an outfielder reaching over the fence to make a catch, and the lens sets behind the fence as well.
“It probably provides one of the few dynamic shots left in baseball because it’s all about movement instead of being stationary,” said Pictorvision president Tom Hallman, standing out beyond the center field wall on Monday afternoon to supervise. “It’s remarkable, a very robust system, completely wireless without batteries or cables, and it can go on a track as long as they want.”
It takes two operators stationed in the center-field scaffolding to make it work, and then it’s up to TBS game director Lonnie Dale to figure out how it works into the telecast.
“It’s the same kind of camera you’d see on rails that go alongside a sprinter during a track meet, or along with an Olympic diver as he leaves the board and goes into the water,” said Dale. “It’s perfect to show vertical or horizontal movement. It’s a lot like what you’d see in a video game.”
The Truss Cam was one of 36 cameras used by TBS during Monday’s telecast. It had it available for one of the many replay angles in NLDS Game 2 when the Dodgers’ Drew Gordon was called out on a ninth-inning steal attempt, perhaps providing the closest evidence that a tag had been made in time.
“Still, we could show 25 different angles of a play, but it’s up to the umpire’s judgment,” said Dale.
Craig Barry, the senior vice president of production and executive creative director for Turner Sports, calls the Truss Cam “a one-of-a-kind technology” that’s part of the network’s attempt to “bring our fans closer to the game, provide more creative ways to extend story lines and improve the overall viewing experience.”
As long is nothing gets derailed in the process.