Broadcasting The Royal Wedding in HD

Posted on Jun 30, 2011 by Alex Fice

To manage the ‘ring on finger’ close up shots, a jib arm was used as there was a lack of mounting choices for remote cameras for that particular purpose.

Hundreds of cameras, millions of viewers, this year’s Royal Wedding was the television broadcast event of the decade. We try and encapsulate the shooting details from eyewitnesses to outside broadcasters

To try and find out how many broadcast cameras were at work and what they were all doing at this year’s Royal Wedding is hard, logistics and politics get in the way. But we know certain things, we know that the remote cameras were provided largely by Aerial Camera Systems and we know that there were 20 of those. Some of these were placed at six locations on the route and were for outside broadcasters for the BBC, ITN and Sky news as well as other country’s media. Others were placed inside the Abbey which we’ll come on to. We also know the whole day was shot 1080/50i.

The route cameras were mostly ACS’ SMARTheads with various cameras on board from the Sony 950 to 1550. Placements were the Peepod on a hoist at Canada Gate;  an HD Cineflex V14 stabilised mount was also supplied and operated by ACS providing aerial coverage of the crowds and balcony scenes at Buckingham Palace, this was also on a hoist at Canada Gate; a SMARThead remote head with a 950 camera half way up the Mall; there was also a SMARThead placed on the ceiling of the tunnel between Horse Guards Parade and Whitehall, this proved to be very revealing when Kate and William were holding hands unaware that they were being shot from above; a fifth SMARThead remote head with HKC 1500 adapter kit was placed on the edge of Parliament Square and another one at the bottom of Whitehall this time with a 1550 camera. All remotes were controlled by a specific Visions truck as there were twelve operators involved.

ACS Technical Director, Sam Heaphy, and his team delivered and installed 16 of the 23 camera positions within the Abbey for the BBC. Using 12 Sony P1 Camera channels and four Ikegami HDL 51 cameras, two of the remote heads included a 40x lens; a first for ACS’ new development with this particular lens and SMARThead.

Several spectacular shots were achieved including a dramatic high shot over the Sacrarium for the first time in HD and with the shot developing to show the incredible scale of the internal architecture of Westminster Abbey. Two cameras were also discretely positioned in very sensitive areas to the side of the high altar in order to show the couple from the front during the very intimate and important parts of the wedding service. Shots of the Abbey’s bells peeling at the conclusion of the ceremony were also a first.

SMARThead had been chosen by BBC Events for the Abbey because of its small size whilst offering 2/3in full HD quality and single cable operation, an important consideration when working in such a venue. The quality of control allowing full use of the lenses zoom range from Canon HJ40 to HJ14 with total subtlety of movement were vital to this type of production. This technology is coupled to many years of continually developing the client relationship.

 The day’s ‘money shot’ was this one from over the Sacrarium, otherwise known as the ‘coffin shot’ perhaps harking back to unhappier Abbey moments The day’s ‘money shot’ was this one from over the Sacrarium, otherwise known as the ‘coffin shot’ perhaps harking back to unhappier Abbey moments

In the Abbey itself there were about 33 cameras, a mixture of the SMARTheads, other BBC Events cameras, mostly Sony 1500s (they are tried and tested cams mostly from the Premiership coverage and they handle fibre transfer) and cameras from ITN. Most of these cameras were controlled by NEP Visions OB4 truck.

As well as 2D cameras the wedding was bang up to date with a taste of 3D. BSkyB had requested a 3D element to the day and wanted to bring rigs in to the Abbey, this request was turned down mainly because of the size of the rigs and instead they achieved positions outside the Abbey and Buckingham Palace. In total there were four 3D rigs, three from 3Ality Digital with Alexa cameras on and one on a steadicam P+S Freestyle Evolution rig. Other 3D rigs were at Canada Gate in Green Park and an additional rig captured timelapse. Any post on these rigs were done back at BSkyB on SGO Mistika systems.

Of course the wedding wasn’t the first huge event at Westminster Abbey and over the years you would expect that camera angles and panning regimes have been explored and finessed in to something that would work perfectly for broadcast, in fact everything is carefully scripted. There is a certain brains trust at play here for the shots that were needed and for the disguising of the camera positions which was just as impressive as the shots they achieve as I for one didn’t see another camera or cable runner in shot for the whole ceremony.

So most of the placements are well established and the coverage from those positions are too to a certain extent. This would explain some people’s observation that viewers were being kept at arms length inside the Abbey, this perhaps is down to protocol, Clarence House’s hand lies heavy on every shot. But you wonder when shots like one inside the couple’s carriage after the ceremony for instance might be considered.

Politics again may have allowed the jib arm that followed guests walking down the aisle in the Abbey and not a 3D rig. You may argue that a jib arm presents a better spectacle than a 3D shot that not many people will see. The jib wasn’t new but had only been allowed once before for the visit of the present Pope. There were also a couple of new jib positions around the altar due to the lack of mounting positions for remotes. These took the great shots of the vows and of course the ring on the finger shot which arguably wouldn’t have been so good from a remote camera.

For hours the quality of the HD broadcasts were almost perfect, the one fly in the ointment being the attempted link up with Jake Humphrey in the Lancaster bomber. But the teams are still the best in the business!


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