Polecam hits sporting high for London 2012
(Virtual Press Office
) - The big sporting event of the summer of 2012 was a boon for cameramen and the TV industry in the UK.
Not only were many in the industry busy working back-to-back during the London 2012 games and Paralympics – but before the big event too.
In fact, even just the announcement of the world’s biggest sporting event coming to the UK was enough to make future host countries take a fresh look at UK camera technology firms.
One such firm which benefited from the focus on London 2012 was Bedfordshire-based Polecam, the brainchild of long-time cameraman and GTC member Steffan Hewitt.
Hewitt invented his lightweight, super-portable camera crane (which sports a range of modular remote-controlled pan & tilt heads for minicams, D-SLR, BlackMagic Cinema Camera, Panasonic AF101 and Canon C300/500 style cameras as well as a submersible version. Although originally designed to capture sporting action it is equally at home in media colleges, weddings, natural history, music festival/promos, commercials and motion picture.
He was filming a windsurfing TV commercial in 1997 and improvised with a pole to get a shot out over the water. Since then his firm has gone on to sell over 400 rigs worldwide, which give superb added production value to any type of shoot – but, given the kit’s action-packed origins, particularly at sporting events.
“Polecam’s involvement with the Olympics has grown and grown over the years, “It started when we began working with Laurie Frost's Camera Corps. “First of all it was 2 cranes at Sydney in 2000. Used regularly at the winter/summer Games it went up to 12 in the Beijing 2008 summer games & the Vancouver Winter Games of 2010 saw 10 Polecams deployed. “At Vancouver there was a Polecam at the start gate for the men’s downhill as well on the bobsled, luge runs and cross country starts.
Since then our presence at major sporting events – including both the winter and summer Olympics – has grown every year,” said Hewitt. In 2011 Polecam received an order for 24 camera cranes from the Russian state broadcaster ANO, who received their shipment in May and June 2011, explained the company’s owner-inventor and Managing Director, Steffan Hewitt. The moment we sold 24 of our cranes to the Russians for the 2014 games in Sochi on the Black Sea it was amazing for us,” he said. “They’ve seen our owner-operators in action, and they knew they needed highly-manoeuvrable kit, especially for things like the downhill skiing, so they looked at who had worked in this area before and the kit they had used.”
“During London 2012 there were Polecams at the Opening and Closing ceremonies, aquatic centre, velodrome and all the big outside races including the walking, cycling, triathlon and marathon; additionally gymnastics, white water canoeing and equestrian were covered too”
So what makes this type of camera crane – as opposed to larger, bulkier jibs – the crane of choice for sports broadcasters?
Said Hewitt, “Basically the Polecam can be packed up and moved rapidly and easily. It’s compact with a very low profile is therefore very unobtrusive. You only need one man per crane for one day and he can shoot in multiple locations.”
Ed Gaskell Cooper of SMS Media, which was contracted by the London 2012 Organising Committee, saw the benefits of this when he decided to employ a Polecam owner-operator, Chris Taber of Pedestal TV. He needed someone to get to the Olympic village and shoot pre-Games images for syndication.
The footage was used by the world’s media in the lead up to the games.
He said, “As sole broadcast video providers for the Olympic Delivery Authority, at SMS Media we’ve consistently needed a cost-effective way of delivering high-quality hero shots of London 2012’s brand new venues.
“These had to be suitable for global syndication to hit specific milestones in the life of the project.”
He continued, “Pedestal TV’s Polecam not only gave us a perfect method of visually describing the iconic buildings in the Park landscape, but offered creativity, versatility and unflagging willingness in what can be a somewhat challenging construction terrain.”
Chris Taber, of Pedestal TV, who uses the Toshiba IK-HD1 Minicam to provide 1080i hi-quality pictures, said, “I’ve worked at major sporting events before but being involved in shooting the facilities for the London 2012 games was a real privilege.”
Manoeuvrability was a key issue on the then-crowded Games site (there were still workmen’s vans all over the site). Taber said, “I was able to get a whole variety of footage, moving from location to location – it’s easy to de-rig and get the kit in the van, I can do it in about 10 minutes. We often needed to do this because the Olympic park is massive.”
A Polecam owner-operator with more than 20 years’ experience in the Film & TV business, Taber filmed the accommodation at the athletes’ village, the athletics track, the velodrome and the aquatics centre – in all it totalled six days’ work in the run-up to the Games. “They wanted GVs and ‘pretties’ for the world feed,” he explained.
“Because I had the Polecam I was able to get some really good movement in the velodrome, for example (the remote pan and tilt head is joystick-operated and gives precise 360 degree control) – and at the aquatics centre, I was able to get right out over the water.”
The length of the carbon-fibre Polecam pole was key for this – it has a reach of between 1.5 metres and 8 metres, depending of the configuration.
“I also used Polecam’s Fish Face submersible head to get an underwater feed in the pool,” explained Taber. “The synchronised swimming organisers wanted the head there in a static position for 11 days while they trialled it. They needed to make sure of being able to get a continuous feed from this to make sure no swimmers touched the floor of the pool during routines.”
During the London 2012 Games, 8 Polecams were provided by Camera Corps for Host Broadcast and several owner-operators were contracted to individual stations.
But the handy crane’s biggest Olympic moment has yet to come – this will be in 2014 when Russia’s state TV broadcaster puts its 24-crane order into action.
Polecam’s founder Steffan Hewitt said, “We are very excited to see how the rigs will be used - the Russians totally get Polecam. One rental house alone in Moscow has 14 Polecams and are delighted with the way our presence at major sporting events has grown over the years.
“What really gives us the edge is that our cranes are unobtrusive to viewers and they’re rapidly deployed – giving increased production value and are very cost-effective because you need only one operator per crane to get superb footage.
“Basically, if you were to design a piece of equipment to film great sporting moments that’s unobtrusive, can go under water and swing out for overhead shots, you’d come up with a Polecam!”
Cameraman Taber added, “I’ve walked the Olympic track and been poolside at the aquatics centre – it’s an opportunity I probably wouldn’t have got as a regular cameraman, but because of the Polecam’s manoeuvrability I got the job.
“It got me into places that were the focus world sporting action this summer.”