Nintendo Treehouse Live @ E3
Last month, I was part of the crew that made Nintendo's Treehouse Live @ E3 happen. It was 25 hours of TV streaming live-to-web from the Nintendo booth on the show floor.
I was in the control room for the broadcast, also known as the edge of the stage. I programmed and piloted our little robot camera, I made graphics, I prepped media in our switcher (the Atem M series from Black Magic. Tip for working with those: If you bring an ethernet switch and make a little LAN, multiple computers can be in control of the switcher at the same time, allowing one op to do the actual switching while another one preps and loads graphics or adjusts sound), at the last minute I turned out to be running video playback from my laptop (tips on that in a minute), and most of all, I was responsible for engineering the signal flow through the booth that got all the stuff from the cameras and consoles piped out to the internet.
We had fancy ideas about how the signal chain would work, but there were elements we did not successfully plan for, like proprietary Nintendo hardware that we don't have and can't test in advance, or having a runner who was sent to buy three copies of one model of signal conversion box coming back with three different devices in similar packaging (although by the end of the set-up process, I'd used all of them). My week in the LA Convention Center for this project started with two fairly intense days of wiring, sweating, testing, converting, sweating, and troubleshooting, and got easier, less hectic, and more air-conditioned as the show went on. I took the time to make a diagram of the booth setup we'd invented, which looks like this:
A couple quick tips on using a mac as a video deck:
Turning off your user interface sounds is some good presentation preparedness you can use to keep from embarrassing yourself. I recommend keeping the volume change feedback disabled forever. (If you're on a computer that isn't yours, remember that you can avoid that popping sound by holding shift while adjusting the volume.)
Here's a tip for Mavericks users especially, and probably Yosemite. When "Displays have separate Spaces" is checked, every display connected to your computer has a Menu Bar. Even if you're, say, using Final Cut Pro 7 to play back videos with full screen output on a secondary screen. It's the sort of thing you might not notice with an Atem switcher, since it has overscan on its preview monitor that might, hypothetically, not show you something like a menu bar before your device is streaming live to hundreds of thousands of viewers. Also, you might be interested to know that in order to disable this, you need to reboot (or at least log out of) your system. SSDs are amazing devices, but this kind of thing will still spike your producer's blood pressure.
I was generally tracking tweets as the show went on. Maybe especially after we made a mistake (and we made a couple), but on the whole, Twitter seemed pretty happy with our presentation. I bet they do it again, and I bet the other big players join in next year.
For me, it was a chance to exercise some skills in live TV production that go back to the very beginning of my video career, and which I don't often get the opportunity to pull out these days. Improvising a way to get all the video into the switcher and back out again felt a lot like the days of building stuff just because the components were there in the closet in my public access days. And getting to do it for Nintendo was icing on the cake. Not just because as a gamer, I was more excited by their offerings this year than Sony or Microsoft, but because working with the Treehouse folks felt like working with the modern day version of the Nintendo Power Counselor's Corner. This is one of those gigs that teenage me would have been pretty excited to know was coming.