Despite the ever expanding choice over how to consume content, primetime broadcast entertainment shows still continue to pull in huge audiences. In recent years, the technology behind these largescale broadcasts has developed dramatically to include things like advanced graphics and 360 degree filming – all with the common goal of immersing viewers on a new level.
In September 2016, the nation welcomed Strictly Come Dancing back to its screens. Series 14 of the BAFTA award winning show has already been met with a great reception with more than 10 million people tuning into the launch show on BBC One – the biggest audience yet for a series debut.
For the last four series, the ballroom has taken seasonal residency at the iconic 15,770 sq. ft. George Lucas Stage at Elstree. Like a well-oiled machine, every technical department works together throughout the build-up to the launch, and then continues every weekend to bring the TV spectacle to life.
Resource Manager, Mark Sanders, leads a technical crew of 60 and ensures that the series runs smoothly from start to finish. This includes liaising with all parties involved in the production, and defining and coordinating the entire technical operation.
Sanders explains, “We’re all working to extremely tight schedules to meet transmission deadlines. We’re seeing up to 15 dances per show and covering transmissions of over two hours, so there’s a lot to fit into just two days. We’re also running back-to-back camera rehearsals, dress runs for the contestants and presenters. No two days are ever the same, so we’re always prepared to expect the unexpected!”
The sound of Strictly
Managing the infrastructure for many large-scale projects for BBC Studioworks, including The Voice and Children in Need, Sound Supervisor, Andy Tapley, brings to life one of the most crucial elements of any production – the audio.
Tapley and the sound team have refreshed this year’s audio infrastructure to capture even more band and radio microphone circuits. With a new Studer Vista X mixing console as the backbone to the audio set-up, Strictly has the largest audio configuration of any production supported by Studioworks.
Tapley takes up the story: “It’s vital to approach a primetime project early to cover all bases. Lead Sound Supervisor Tony Revell and I started discussing the 2016 audio requirements back in July. Since then, we have worked to build an entirely new audio configuration on the Vista X desk. The desk is flexible enough to cope with the increasing demand we’re experiencing with every series of the show, providing enormous processing power so that we can effortlessly build in extra channels..”
“This series we’re working even more closely with lighting and graphics to enable synchronisation with the live music,” he added.
This year, for the first time on the series, BBC Studioworks is using a new Riedel comms system. First used on the live shows of The Voice UK earlier this year, the Riedel Artist 128 enables the production’s multiple sub-teams to connect quickly and effectively.
Putting the sparkle into perspective
Every weekend, the camera team is in position across the studio capturing the ballroom drama. Camera Supervisor, Lincoln Abrahams, has been part of the Strictly family for the past 10 years and explains the extensive camera set-up that BBC Studioworks has implemented to capture every angle of the ballroom, dance by dance, frame by frame.
“Every technical team and department has grown with the show as it’s become more and more popular. It’s certainly no mean feat when it comes to camera setup and, once again, we’re relying on our most trusted setup featuring 10 cameras. This includes a 30’ MovieBirdTechnocrane, four pedestal cameras, a radio Steadicam, super slo-mo plus four handheld/lightweight tripod cameras for those close up shots on the dancefloor.”
Lighting up the dancefloor
Lighting Designer, Mark Kenyon, has extensive knowledge of lighting up the ballroom, having been with Strictly since its first series. The brief then is the same as it is now – for the audience at home to feel like they’re sitting in a real-life dancehall. “Lighting changes add huge variation and excitement to a primetime transmission such as Strictly,” said Kenyon.
“In recent years, we’ve been able to inject even more energy into to the celebrity dances with investments in technology like projectors and large-format video screens. I was involved with the development of these new technologies in the ballroom and we’re now delivering an even more exceptional end result, entirely changing the environment for each dance, and giving the show that bit of extra sparkle.”
He added, “Strictly has celebrated multiple award wins over the years, including BAFTAs, Royal Television Society awards, and even making it into the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s most successful reality format. For my design on the 2015 series of Strictly, I’ve been awarded a Knights of Illumination Award for Light Entertainment, recognising outstanding achievements of experts within lighting design, which is a great honour.”
Post-production is a vital part of the operation at BBC Studioworks. Post-production supervisor, John Loughman, a veteran member of the Strictly team, explains the intricate workflow in place to handle approximately 100 hours of material per week which includes training footage, specifically shot VT content, training run-throughs and studio content.
He explains, “Working on such a high volume and fast turnaround show has taught me the importance of reliability and resilience. All of the equipment we use has resilience factored into it, from the nearline and Cinegy storage to the assistant’s Avid Media Composer and decks, to the edit suites. Any down time occurred through a technical error would have serious knock on effects to the output of the show, so reliability is key.
As everything is edited in HD there is no need for lengthy conforms. “Training and VT footage is delivered to the BBC Studioworks data wrangler, who catalogues, checks and backs up all of the material to a 210TB Object Matrix Online storage solution.”
“Next, a team of loggers ingest this material at XDCam 50 onto a Cinegy logging system connected to 100TB of EMC and SATA Beast storage where the media remains for the duration of the series. The material is logged and specific content is sent to a 90TB mirrored Avid ISIS 7000 server. Editing happens across 11 Avid Symphony edit suites, with audio dubbing being carried out on a Pro Tools system.”
Going for gold in the ballroom
John O’Callaghan, Head of Studios and Post Production Services at BBC Studioworks, sums up the magic behind delivering Strictly Come Dancing for yet another year: “By equipping our world-class studios with the best technology, and putting the most dedicated and talented people behind it, we’re helping to deliver what has become a huge TV phenomenon.”