Live Stream From A Roller Coaster?
“What about live streaming?” I said. Sean wasn’t sure what I meant. “Live stream the opening speeches during the event? We can easily do that.” he said. “No, live stream from the actual roller coaster train.” I replied. There was silence on the other end of the phone. A few weeks later, thanks to the help of over a dozen talented people, we were live streaming to multiple news broadcasts from the new HangTime roller coaster at Knott’s Berry Farm. Here’s how we did it:
During my four years at Knott’s Berry Farm, I have worked together with Sean Teegarden and his production team on dozens of photo and video shoots. From rides to water slides to food, we have captured the charm of Knott’s Berry Farm, but we had never live streamed from a coaster before. My main motivation for live streaming was to be more efficient during the hectic media events that would accompany the HangTime roller coaster opening. Our previous setups involved awkwardly swapping the SD cards out of the cameras (Usually GoPros) throughout the media events and sending over only the basic reverse point-of-view videos. That process was slow, clunky and often error-prone. We knew there had to be a better way.
The first challenge was mounting a camera on HangTime. Instead of opting for a small GoPro, Sean recommended using the much larger Panasonic GH5. The quality of the image from the GH5 is much better than the GoPro, especially in low-light night situations, and has removable lenses. The camera was the perfect choice to capture HangTime’s incredible LED lighting package. The next step for the live stream was figuring out how to mount the camera, batteries, microphone and wireless transmitter onto the coaster train.
Safety is always the most important consideration during filming and becomes even more critical when mounting on roller coasters. Every part mounted on the ride has to have two methods of restraint to ensure that in the unlikely chance one breaks, the other keeps the camera and mount connected to the coaster. Sean and his Director of Photography Jeff Butcher worked with Knott’s Safety Manager Jesse Lujan and Rides Manager Joey Toyoshiba to craft a camera rig that would be safe and sturdy for the entire 12 hours of filming during media day. HangTime is a difficult coaster to rig a camera onto since there are very few mounting points available for the front row. Sean and Jeff went through a number of revisions in their quest to find a rig that produced very little shake.
The Live Stream Teradek Broadcast System
The first test was conducted using Sean’s Canon camera before we rented the Panasonic GH5. We quickly found out during this test that we wouldn’t be able to use the GH5 or any camera that had in-body image stabilization. That sounds contradictory since we wanted a smooth image. The problem is the tiny gyro-sensors are not designed for the g-forces experienced on a roller coaster. The sensors became confused, which resulted in a terrible shake effect throughout the videos. Luckily, Panasonic offers the GH5S, which doesn’t have in-body image stabilization and provides even better low-light performance. At this point, we have selected our camera and have a safe and sturdy camera mount. The next step was figuring out how to live stream from 150 feet up in the air.
Jared Allmond, Rob Perez, Scott Erickson and Steven Burhoe from Knott’s Berry Farm’s Entertainment Team set up a Teradek 300 system to broadcast the signal from the camera on the coaster to a receiver on ground level. A giant tripod was set up in the ride queue with the Teradek’s receiver mounted on top to ensure the signal from the coaster would be successfully transmitted. The large metal support structure of HangTime was causing significant signal degradation until the antenna was mounted on a large tripod. Scott set up a Black Magic splitter box to split the signal from the Teradek into multiple HDMI and SDI feeds. These feeds went out directly to the news vans during media night. One went into Sean’s computer (See above) as a live stream into Adobe Premiere. Premiere’s timeline was loaded with previously recorded HangTime footage showing off-ride angles of the coaster. The reverse POV footage was wirelessly captured from the Teradek and placed into the Adobe Premiere timeline creating an incredible sizzle video package. The system encountered a few hiccups along the way with faulty capture cards and other equipment. Overall, the system achieved our goals of providing a more efficient capture system for the 60 outlets that filmed during media day and produced videos that truly showed off all of the features of the incredible new HangTime roller coaster.
HangTime, the first and only dive coaster in California, opened summer 2018 at Knott’s Berry Farm! HangTime towers 150 feet over the Boardwalk area showcasing a beyond vertical drop that is the steepest in California, gravity-defying inversions, and mid-air suspensions. The surfing themed roller coaster sends guests up a 150-foot vertical lift hill before coming to a halt once the highest peak is reached, leaving riders suspended at the crest for several seconds at a 60-degree angle, giving the illusion of a disappearing track. Then the train suddenly descends into a beyond-vertical drop, through 2,189 feet of steel track and five gravity-defying inversions.