VEX World's Show Production

First off, I didn’t know what would be the approved category to ask this is, but I hope this is an appropriate one.

Hello VEX forum. Does anyone know how VEX produces their World’s Livestream and show(s) at World’s?
I am an avid Audio Visual and show production nerd and want to see if I could possibly volunteer and help out at world’s with theirs Livestreams and videos and setup.

Just a question from me

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Some years ago I remember espn used to do the livestreaming for vex for one worlds for most after that RECF does the live streaming and show production alone.

The divisional streams were pretty simple – a PTZ camera above the center field and a fixed camera above the two outer fields; a single operator to switch between cameras and move the PTZ cam around; and a box of some sort to handle switching and adding the Tournament Manager-generated overlay. I don’t think the “livestream operator” volunteer positions are open to the public, but if your goal is “click buttons to make stuff happen on the stream” you could volunteer to run TM.

In Louisville (at least the last couple of years) there was also a big camera on a wheeled tripod, and a second operator moving it around to each field for a second angle. But that was not the case this year in Dallas.

For the dome they had a whole production crew running the show who did a great job. I spent a lot of time between matches watching the camera-boom operator do their thing :exploding_head:.

AFAIK ESPN wasn’t involved in producing the livestreams themselves, they just produced specials after the event a couple of times, using some footage from the dome livestreams with new commentary, plus pieces they had recorded with certain teams, etc.

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Love this forum, I can read all this tech stuff all day and never have a clue what they are talking about.

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The divisions A/V production is handled by the same company that does the dome. This year they had reduced it down to a single operator who handles the video switching, audio, and camera remote control as Holbrook said. It’s pretty much all handled with one of the smaller Blackmagic ATEMs and a small audio mixer. This operator is a professional, paid position, not a volunteer (I’m not sure of the proper name for their position or title unfortunately).

The livestream is handled by a streaming box that VEX IT manages that takes a duplicate of the same video feed that goes on the projector for the audience. There is no “livestream operator” position. This is true for the divisions as well as the dome.

The dome production is a whole different level. There are dozens (maybe hundreds?) of people from the production company. These people are all seasoned pros who normally work on things like mega concerts and large corporate events (think Google I/O or Apple WWDC). Talking with some of them this year we learned that a number of them previously worked on the Oprah show (since the production company is based in Chicago), and we also learned that there’s apparently somewhat of a distinction in their profession between live shows like they do versus “live sports”. Apparently the people and companies involved tend to specialize in one or the other. I was surprised by this since from my layman’s perspective it all seems pretty similar to me, but I guess it’s different enough that there’s not a lot of cross-over.

This year was also a first in that they brought in a video production semi-trailer to produce the dome. This is like what you’d see at a football game or something. We got to go inside a few times and it was really impressive. It was similar to this:

In previous years they’d haul all of this equipment into the venue and set it up in the back somewhere, they called it “video village” and it was hundreds of cases and racks and miles and miles of cable everywhere.

Anyway to address your question, unfortunately anything to do with A/V production at Worlds is handled by an outside company with their own people. There aren’t any volunteer roles available there as far as I can see. We have to interface with them a lot in order to link in TM to all their equipment in the dome and then participate as part of their show (taking cues when to show screens in TM, stuff like that), and even just doing that the production people were pretty wary of us at first. It very much felt like we had to prove to them that we knew what we were doing and wouldn’t mess up their show, and it’s pretty obvious that they are not used to having to rely on “outsiders”. They really want/need to have full control of everything because if something goes wrong with the show they are responsible.

It’s hard to convey what a difficult, high-stress job it is for them (both in general, and also to run an event like VEX Worlds). They are all experts at show production, but they’re not VEX experts and (from what I can tell anyway) Worlds is a much more dynamic event than they’re used to. With regular corporate events or even concerts, everything can be meticulously planned and rehearsed. With VEX, there’s a lot more on-the-fly stuff, like whether or not a 3rd match will be needed, where a team winning an award is located in the audience, stuff like that. And when things go wrong (they do every year), the production crew takes it very seriously. Most of the stuff you (as a casual viewer) would never even notice, but they do and they really work hard to make it as perfect as they can. It’s a fascinating world and it’s been fun getting to be exposed to it a little bit over the past ~15 years as VEX Worlds has grown from something smaller than one of today’s regionals to what it is today.

This is getting long, but one more tidbit: the production company has to go as far as creating stamped engineering plans for all of the grids and things they hang from the ceiling, the weights of them all, and the load points they hang from. Each venue ceiling and each beam has certified weight limits that they have to conform to. It’s not something you might think about, but it’s obviously very serious as hanging too much weight in the wrong place could collapse the roof. The amount of planning for Worlds is crazy - they are almost certainly already working on the plans for next year.

(edit) Just found this page from the company that produced Worlds:
https://mailchi.mp/tlsproductionsinc/may2022?e=a0ae97b33e
Not a lot of detail there but it gives an overview of the various companies involved.

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Thanks for writing this up. Care to make an equal post on the TM environment and how much actual work that is? People are stunned by the individual team costs, but when they know the behind the curtain process that makes it easier to understand. I don’t think “Oh RECF spent hundreds of thousands of dollars AND had so much volunteer time.” really registers. Stuff costs a lot. So many moving parts.

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Fantastic writeup. Looking thru that small writeup on their site, it definitely hints at how much time and cost goes into World’s:

  • Lighting: TLS Productions, Inc.
  • Rigging: TLS Productions, Inc.
  • LED: Streamline Productions (including all video, camera package, switching, and 4k video truck)
  • Audio: Blackbird Pro Audio
  • Staging: Entertainment Fabrications
  • Pyro: Illumination Fireworks
  • Automation: Entertainment Rigging Services (E+Rig)
  • Stage Management: Standby and Go Productions, Inc.
  • Design / Content Creation: So Midwest, Inc.

Full credits of the TLS Production staff (e.g. the other companies involved had their own crew, etc.):

  • Account Executive: Tim Kruse
  • Assistant Project Manager: Aletha Kruse
  • Artistic Director: Robb Jibson
  • Technical Director: Brooks Gotham
  • Show Caller: Teresa Aguilera
  • Deck Manager 1: Chad Kenward
  • Deck Manager 2: Larry Kargol
  • Teleprompter Operator: Sandy Russo Wagner
  • Production Assistant 1: Kelli Elliott
  • Production Assistant 2: Haydee Chambers
  • Graphics Lead: Matt Barker
  • Video Editor: Ross McNamara
  • Lighting Programmer: Chad Peters
  • Server/ Hippo Operator: Chad Lussier
  • Video Director: Preston Puryear
  • Video E2 Op: Robbie Tullock
  • Video EIC: Jonathan Crandall
  • Video Truck Audio: Clint Sherman
  • Rigger: Josh Bleeker
  • M.E.: Michael Keller
  • Audio A1: Brent Brito
  • Audio A2: Michael Rowland
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I’m obviously not privy to the A/V budget or anything like that, but just seeing the amount of equipment that is on site for the dome (let alone all the people) - the budget must be pretty huge. Just renting those giant LED screens and rigging them must cost a fortune. I think it was the technical director that we were talking to who mentioned how many semi-trailers worth of equipment they brought in for the show. I forget the number now but I think it was something like 47 (this is just A/V equipment, mainly for the dome - not including anything VEX themselves brings).

What most people don’t see either is that the crews spend multiple days setting all this stuff up in the dome beforehand and tearing it down afterwards. And then, while you all are out in the divisions focusing on qualification matches, the production company plus us and a handful of VEX/RECF staff are in the dome, rehearsing all of the ceremonies. Many of these rehearsals take hours as they walk through each item on the show schedule, work out camera angles, graphics, audio, wording, etc. They spend like 30+ minutes just picking out the bumpers/stingers for each speaker/award winner (a short music clip that plays while the person or group is walking out). They also record a bunch of things like interviews (such as for the ESPN thing a few years ago, or sometimes interviews with local news affiliates, or for future promotional use) - taking advantage of the impressive dome setup as an awesome background.

As for TM at Worlds, I’m happy to answer anything I can. At the division levels it’s very straightforward. VEX IT has some awesome scoring workstations they built that have an Intel NUC, a monitor, Ubiquiti managed switch and access point, a UPS, and the livestream box all bolted on with a handle designed in. They plop that thing down on the scoring table, plug in a few cables and it’s ready to go. That PC feeds the audience display and sound effects and runs TM. Each field as a Raspberry Pi as well as the rankings screens and queueing monitor. Refs have tablets for scoring. Basically it’s like any other 3-field event setup - in fact it’s probably a simpler setup than most larger events use. The divisions run themselves as independent events, with an RECF division manager overseeing things. We stop by occasionally to make sure things are going smoothly and respond to radio calls if they’re having any issues.

For TM in the dome, the past several years we have had 3 separate setups, one for each grade level (VRC HS, VRC MS, and VEXU), though that was a bit different this year with the way the event was divided. Back in the production semitrailer I mentioned earlier there is a nifty rack that VEX built which houses 10 Raspberry Pis, 3 for each grade level plus a spare. One feed is the overlay for intros/in-match/score results, a second is for fullscreen stuff like awards, and the 3rd is for secondary screens like the round robin standings (when that existed) and the elim bracket this year. Even though TM could do all that with a single output, the production company wants them separated. For one thing, they can cross-fade between them. For another, there apparently are some issues for them trying to take a feed that is sometimes chroma-keyed and sometimes fullscreen.

All of our TM display outputs plus all the other stuff that needs to appear on-screen goes into a video matrix device. There’s someone operating just that, and as far as I can see his only job is to ensure that for each cue in the program, the right video inputs are sent to the correct outputs (since you may have noticed that with those huge LED walls they can put lots of different video feeds up at the same time). There’s at least one person who’s only job is to run the giant video wall, and I think someone else who’s job is to do switching for what they call the IMAG screen (Image MAGnification - basically the video you see on the side screens and the thing that gets broadcast on the stream). I definitely do not fully understand all the roles and responsibilities here but suffice it to say it’s way more complicated than just one guy sitting at an old-school video mixer (which is all we used to have way back in the day when Worlds was at Anaheim and Disney). All of those people were out in that video trailer this year. The only people in the dome are the show caller and the audio guys. The show caller is the person talking on the headsets to everyone else telling them what to do when, which is a combo of following the script but most importantly improvising when something is off-script. We talk to her on the production headsets to coordinate what screens TM will be showing and when, and we tell her things like when the score is entered and ready so she can cue the emcee and cameras and lights and all that. Basically if you think of NASA mission control, the show caller is like the flight director.

The dome fields are running Raspberry Pis just like any other field (wired of course). The tricky thing there is we usually have to switch some fields from one TM to another (like after all the HS quarterfinals finish, we have to switch a field over to the middle school TM). Something like this, which is really trivial to do normally, becomes a big headache - we have to do it discreetly while awards are being given out or a speaker is talking, and we have to be sure it gets switched over and works correctly which means testing it out. We have to watch out for things like making sure start horn doesn’t blast out when we test it during a speaker (and they like to drive the TM sound effects quite loud in the dome as you may have noticed) and make sure they’re not using one of our TM display screens that might switch on the match start. When it comes time for the match to start for real, there’s always some nervous anticipation because having all the build-up of “3…2…1… GO!” and then having nothing happen would be a significant embarrassment in front of 10,000 people.

Back when they had the whole announcer desk thing during the Round Robin we had some extra features that would show on screens in front of Karthik and Paul that would do a bunch of analysis and try to help them figure out things like “if Engineering wins this match by at least 10 points then they’ll move into 1st place” and things like that, but that’s all gone now with the Round Robin gone.

These days, other than a few extra tricks with the Raspberry Pi audience display outputs, TM in the dome is pretty much what it would be at any other event, other than having to import all the division data when the divisions finish - which is tedious and tricky and needs to be done in a hurry because that’s usually when everyone is sitting in the dome waiting for the show to start (there’s always one division that finishes way late). The hard part is that there’s a lot of pressure to not screw up, it’s loud, it’s very dark, it’s hard to communicate, and there’s a ton of things happening at the same time, not all of which are under our control. Things that you’ve done 1000 times before for testing or practice suddenly make you nervous, wondering if you’re doing something wrong and/or wondering if something isn’t going to work. It’s a lot of pressure knowing that with that huge event and all the fancy production stuff and lighting and A/V and audio and everything else that it’s all for nothing if our software fails when you push “Start Match”. Hearing the horn and more importantly seeing the robots move is still such a huge relief each time. We don’t take anything for granted in the dome.

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Oh wow
I love the responses here

I’ll have to sit down and read all these responses, but so far, they are insightful and interesting to read through.
I was just mostly curious who does the Show Production since I want to get more involved with the technical side of VEX and contribute my advice to people who run competitions and such

I also have contacts and thousands of hours in show production and want to extend my help and resources, if needed.

I will be making a discord server to post resources and more technical information on how I run my live streams here: VEX Livestream Community

Here’s where i will stream if you would like to watch:
Gwinnett Vex Robotics - YouTube
GwinnettVEXRobotics - Twitch

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I am not sure how many EPs participate in Discord. So if you want to make your resources and insights more broadly available those who host events, I would recommend posting them on VEXforum.

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