Australian producer of horse race coverage Thoroughbred Racing Productions (TRP) is a launch user of the Mo-Sys G30, a new approach to camera stabilisation and tracking. The gimbal – installed, commissioned and put into service remotely during the pandemic – has been delivering excellent images from the country’s top race meets.
Thoroughbred Racing Productions, based in Melbourne, Australia, provides comprehensive coverage of more than 525 horse race meetings each year. It provides clean feeds to various broadcasters, in-house feeds at the course for hospitality areas and large screens, and a replay feed to the stewards to ensure fairness.
One of the ways in which it brings the excitement to viewers is with a camera car, which tracks the action from alongside the course. The challenge, of course, is to provide a steady image from a car which is bouncing along, as well as the ability to pan and tilt the camera to achieve good framing.
TRP built its first camera car eight years ago and worked then with Mo-Sys Engineering on a stabilisation gimbal which proved very successful and has been in constant use. But, after eight years, it was time to look for newer technologies delivering higher resolution pictures. On the older system some artefacts such as low frequency disturbances due to potholes were becoming more noticeable.
TRP needed a replacement which would have the same look and feel – working on a camera car, controlled by an operator very familiar with the requirements of tracking horse races – but which would provide improved performance, especially stabilising large disturbances due to potholes.
Mo-Sys was actively developing a new approach to camera stabilisation and control, the G30. It was aimed at high-end movie-making as well as broadcast applications and was designed to couple excellent performance with simplicity in set-up and at a cost-effective price point.
The G30 is a radical new design, unlike anything else in camera mounts. The 45˚ ‘stub-frame’ geometry of the G30 provides several advantages over other stabilized heads. The rigidity of the shorter frame enables optimal loads of up to 30kg to be handled with ease, meaning that almost any camera/lens package can be accommodated.
The 45˚ frame also allows easy access to all the camera connections, making it simple to install any type of camera quickly and securely. The short frame also makes it an ideal companion on the endo of telescopic cranes.
The design also eliminates a serious limitation which exists with many common gyro mounts, known as “gimbal lock”, whereby pan adjustments, including stabilisation, are impossible when the camera is pointing downwards, a common requirement in both broadcast and movie operations.
The three axes of movement are powered by over-engineered high torque, direct drive motors. These deliver precise positioning, both in commanded camera movements and in image stabilization. As well as pan and tilt, the G30 offers 90˚of roll axis movement, suitable for most creative and action purposes.
The motors have open hubs through which cables can be fed, avoiding the need for slip-rings and camera-specific cables and enabling any camera/lens combination to be used. The centre holes are in all three motors including the pan axis.
Axis encoders are built into each motor assembly for precision positional data when used with augmented reality.
To reduce the time it normally takes to ‘tune’ a stabilized head before use, Mo-Sys has added presets for a range of camera payloads. This significantly reduces shooting downtime and makes the G30 really simple to set up.
TRP has enjoyed a close working relationship with Mo-Sys since the installation of that first camera car gimbal eight years ago.
“I have been able to contact the CEO or the engineering staff at any time,” said Charles Cole, technical operations manager at TRP. “Our business relationship is based on friendship along with a trust and drive for excellence.”
It was natural, then, that Cole should get advance news of the G30 head, at the exact moment he was looking for a replacement. What was not such good timing was the covid-19 pandemic.
“We were in the unique – and tricky – situation where the head was delivered and was ready for Mo-Sys to help us with the installation,” Cole recalled. “But international travel suddenly became difficult and Australia effectively closed its borders.
“Just as the G30 arrived, we were given two weeks’ notice of the resumption of full facilities at racecourses, so that gave us 10 days to install it and train the operator,” he continued. “Although we relied on phone, email and Zoom for support, in fact the G30 worked fine out of the box. We loaded the initial profile into the software, put the head on the car and it worked fine.”
The stabilisation proved to be excellent, and operationally it could not be simpler.
“We have a lot of experience in operating a stabilized 3 axis gimbal, but our operator tried it and said, ‘it looks like anybody could operate the G30 – and I’m out of a job!’ That might be an exaggeration, but someone with no experience would find it easy to set up and learn the basics.”
The G30 is now an established part of the TRP kit, with Australia’s biggest race day, the Melbourne Cup, to be captured in part by excellent images from the camera car.
“My expectation of the camera car is relatively simple,” Cole concluded. “I look to the vehicle to produce a picture that can be inter-cut into a live broadcast and not look out of place.
“The G30 has more than met that expectation – the results have been very, very good.”