In an effort to keep their members engaged — both in person and at home — an emerging trend among video production departments at houses of worship across the country is the use of handheld cameras and a lot of creative motion in their shots. Some call it the "cinematic look."
At Woodside Bible Church, a non-denominational Christian megachurch, based in Troy, Michigan, the team has a different opinion about production values. The visual arts team there recently installed a complete multi-camera robotic camera system from Telemetrics and they are now getting the exact look and feel of the services they are after.
"[What some traditionally refer to as the cinematic look] does not reflect our personality as a church," said Alan Lockwood, Visual Arts Director/Live Video Director who leads the church's video and lighting team. "It's too fast and jerky. We want to see smooth, solid dynamic motion. So, placing robotic cameras in strategic places throughout the auditorium and on stage has allowed us to get that 'immersive' look we're after. It helps our church members feel closer to the action on stage and more a part of the service and its message."
"Installing a robotic system has been a huge win for us," added Casey Selph, Arts Tech Director at Woodside's Troy campus. "We're getting consistent repeatable shots now that a human operator cannot easily get."
Prior to the pandemic, Woodside Church boasted a total weekly attendance of over 9,000 across its 15 locations in the Detroit Metro area, making it the 48th largest church in America. That in-person That in-person number has seen a decline, so the Church decided to prioritize the current livestream and to invest more in its online experience for its three Sunday Services to people's homes and the results have been "fantastic."
Beginning in December 2020, they installed a total of six broadcast-quality cameras: four Blackmagic Ursa Mini Pro cameras on Telemetrics PT-HP-S5 Pan/Tilt Heads and two RoboEye HD Pan/Tilt Camera Systems. All are under the control of two Telemetrics RCCP-2A control panels with Studio software that features Telemetrics exclusive reFrame Automatic Shot Correction technology that enables them to program pre-determined shots and automatically keep the pastor and band members on stage in frame at all times. ReFrame uses both facial and object tracking to follow the people on stage at all times and keep them centered in the video frame without a human operator having to touch a camera.
Rounding out the robotic camera control system is a Televator elevating pedestal, which supports the cameras and Pan/Tilt heads, and TeleGlide camera track system mounted on stage to capture the entire devotional experience in panorama or in a highly focused way on a specific person.
"The back wall of our auditorium is about 90 feet away from the main stage up front," Lockwood said. "We wanted to get the camera closer to the main stage, to give viewers at home a more immersive experience. As if they were sitting in the auditorium. This allowed us to avoid having to rely on zooming the cameras so much. But we also wanted to have them as close to center stage as we could, understanding that we could not block seats in the audience."
"We ended up going with the Televator near the center of the auditorium with a couple of robotically controlled cameras," said Selph. "This is a custom bar configuration that accommodates three cameras. Two Blackmagic Ursas and a RoboEye in the center."
During each service, the camera control panels are manned by a single person at each location in the church. Because many of the operators are church volunteers, Selph often mans the second panel during more complex services, like those held on holidays, to add more creativity to the service presentation.
The second panel is also used for training new operators, which Selph said has been relatively easy to do (it takes about three hours to train a new person to run the cameras with the panel's dual joysticks and user configurable "TeleKeys" (shot presets.)
The RCCP-2A's illuminated dynamic graphical TeleKeys automatically change to show options relevant to the operator's task at hand. It's fully customizable dials, levers, and knobs make it easier to operate robotic cameras, elevating columns, and elevating pedestal. Six TeleKeys on the top row of the main button panel automatically present user determined commonly used functions related to the current operation. Another separate group of "Hot TeleKeys" provide fast access to system parameters for on-the-fly changes and individualized program settings. The RCCP-2A can also easily store and recall specific user preferences to help manage production workflows and streamline camera control operations.
"We start them with one camera or two: one camera they are running with a touch screen to run pre-programmed keyframe shots while they're using another or two features," he said, adding that they have about 45 volunteers on the video production team.
"Once they get confident in operating the system, we let them try out during a Sunday service. The RCCP-2A panel is very intuitive to learn and our volunteers have been having a lot of fun with it. At least those that express an interest in video production. We've had young and old people learning the system that have done really well and have taken to it pretty naturally."
The two RCCP-2-STS control panels are linked together with a Telemetrics server running Enterprise Database Control Software (EDCS), which allows Selph to sit at any of the two panels — located in separate control rooms within the auditorium — and take control over each one separately or he can control them together simultaneously. The server helps the operator synchronize presets and camera control functions using a SQL database with configurable access that keeps all necessary data and metadata under a single user interface on the control panel. This helps keep track of stored camera position and cameras settings, which can be easily recalled from either panel. The server's software enables all aspects of robotics camera control to be easily managed for the entire system.
It also provides seamless operation between the two controllers, with all operator and device settings accessible from either panel. Up to date robotics and camera settings are immediately available on each panel, making it easy to change camera positioning/ setting in ether auditorium location.
"During a service I can take control of the production from the other room, make adjustments, and then give it back to the main operator, if I have to," Selph said.
The system has also enabled the Woodside team at Troy to rent out their auditorium to outside events, like a recent Police Academy graduation, where the Telemetrics system has proved equally adept at capturing the moment with a single operator at the controls.
"Flexibility for us is really key and this system gives us that and more," said Lockwood. "This is how our church ministers to people. We're inviting people to join our community and be part of something. For us, having two panels gives us the ability to do more types of events and set them up really quickly."
And the reaction from the congregation to the church's new production capabilities has been extremely positive, said Selph.
"We've had positive feedback from young and old church members. People feel like they are a part of the service in a very real way that makes them feel connected. For our video team, that's mission accomplished."
"We're still learning to use the system in creative ways," added Lockwood. "It's been great and we've made a lot of progress in a few short months. We're doing live production where the stage moves around and the pastor roams the stage at will. At the end of the day, we have a ministry to attend to and robotic camera control has allowed us to get there quicker than we might have otherwise."
About Woodside Church
Woodside Bible Church is a non-denominational Christian based in Troy, Michigan. It is a multi-site church with 15 locations in the Detroit Metro area, with a total weekly attendance of over 9,000. In 2015, Woodside Bible was listed as the 48th largest church in America, and the 56th fastest growing church by Outreach Magazine. It is considered to be "one of the nation's fastest-growing congregations". The church is led by Pastor Chris Brooks, who has served as the church's senior pastor since May 2019.