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Visiting the Great Outdoors Online: Live Streaming for the National Park Service

During the live stream, cameras from Blackmagic Design were set up to capture the event from all angles. 2/27/2017 1:30 PM Eastern

Among other centennial activities taking place in parks across the country, the National Park Service marked its 100-year anniversary with a live streamed event from Glacier Bay National Park, the ancestral homeland of the Huna Tlingit clans in Alaska, on Aug. 25, 2016.

To mark the day, park and tribal partners dedicated the newly constructed Huna Tribal House, which represents all of the native clans that were driven out of Glacier Bay by an advancing glacier more than 250 years ago. The Huna Tribal House anchors the Tlingit in their ancestral homeland and is a way of sharing the Tlingit culture and values with visitors.

The ceremonial dedication of the Huna Tribal House in the park was live streamed to Facebook, YouTube and the Hoonah Indian Association’s web site, which was linked from the National Park Service’s web site. Live streaming services were provided by StreamVu. Additional footage was shot throughout Glacier Bay National Park in 4K for archival purposes.

Centennial events began with a ceremonial landing of hand-carved dugout canoes on the shore of Bartlett Cove in front of the Tribal House in Glacier Bay National Park.

The video team in charge consisted of producer and director John Brooks, director of photography Robin Charters and broadcast engineer Jim Toten.

During the live stream, cameras from Blackmagic Design were set up to capture the event from all angles, with two Micro Cinema Cameras on remote heads and one Micro Studio Camera 4K on a small wireless RF stabilizer rig serving as the A-camera. The cameras, Teranex devices and playback sources were fed into a Smart Videohub 20x20 router. This provided distribution of all signals to the various monitors, recorders, stream encoders and, most importantly, the ATEM 1 M/E Production Studio 4K switchers that were used for live switching.

Each Micro Studio Camera 4K had its own Video Assist 4K, which allowed the team to record a 4K master from each camera while sending the color-matched signals out from the cameras for the live stream. A Blackmagic Duplicator 4K recorded the event as it happened so it could be distributed to the various media in attendance who needed material immediately for editing and putting together news reports.

hooting 4K archival footage in Glacier Bay National Park

According to Brooks, who had previously directed a film in Glacier Bay National Park, filming in such a remote location under extreme conditions is not an easy task. “Not only do you have to consider the cost and logistics of shipping the equipment to and from Alaska, but you also have to make sure your crew and your equipment can improvise and do anything necessary to make it a success,” he says. “Putting our team together and utilizing the incredible depth of the Blackmagic Design product line, covering everything from shooting and acquisition all the way through posting and a complete live studio, allowed us to put a package together that gave us a lot of versatility.”

Toten adds, “One of the biggest takeaways, especially being in Alaska, was the size and weight of the equipment. We were able to do a multicamera shoot with playback. I’ve done similar shoots in remote locations with gear easily five times the weight and size of the Blackmagic Design gear. That’s a significant difference and an advantage that Blackmagic Design has.”

In addition to being used for the live stream, the production’s two URSA Mini 4.6K PLs and five Micro Studio Camera 4Ks were used throughout Glacier Bay National Park to film 4K footage of glaciers, landscapes, interviews, cultural scenes (such as Native American tribes rowing in hand-chiseled canoes) and wildlife (seals, otters, whales, puffins and bald eagles).

The National Park Service wanted the archival footage in 4K, but the team knew they would not be able stream the live broadcast in 4K because of bandwidth restrictions in the remote location. They tested several options and determined that they would get the best results by doing the live stream in 720p, using several different Teranex models to convert the signals down from 4K and 1080p.

Robin Charters (left) and John Brooks

According to Charters, “We did the full eight hours of live broadcasting, but we also spent a lot of time traveling around Glacier Bay capturing footage. The cameras really helped us by serving a dual function. For example, as a cinema-style camera, the URSA Mini 4.6K was great for going out into the field and shooting, but it’s also very capable as a live camera. We shot wildlife, we were on boats, we were on the shore shooting glaciers, and we did a live stream, all with the same cameras. Everything was totally integrated, and the cameras were phenomenal. I spent a lot of time using the URSA Mini 4.6K, and it takes really beautiful images.”

Brooks adds, “For a producer or director, there are different levels that you worry about on a shoot like this, starting with cost. We had to do it in a parsimonious way, and the Blackmagic Design gear was the best option for us by far. Then you worry about the quality, because usually when you cut cost, you cut quality as well. With Blackmagic Design, that was not true at all. The quality was outstanding. Even in some tough conditions, like rain and mist and being exposed to the elements, everything worked flawlessly. We had backups but never had to use them. Ultimately, we needed a workflow that would work in a remote location for archiving 4K footage and streaming at 720p, and that would be highly reliable, and the Blackmagic Design gear allowed us to do it all seamlessly.”

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