NFL Films Slows Down the Super Bowl Action

During the past season NFL fans have been treated to a series of promo spots for the league that taken advantage of Inertia Unlimited’s xMo high-speed replay system than can capture images at 960 frames per second. When played back during the spots fans are able to see football plays in a whole new light as plays that pass by in the blink of an eye are slowed down to shed new light on the athleticism, speed, and power of the NFL players.

Hank McElwee, NFL Films director of photography, is on site with his crew shooting the game with the handheld xMo units. McElwee says he has been shooting football for 40 years but the current project has rejuvinated his career. “You see things you’ve never seen before and it gives a whole new sense of the game,” he says. “We have shots where you can see the receivers fingers ripple.”

McElwee first contacted Inertia Unlimited when the higher ups at NFL Films decided they wanted to shoot spots in high-speed slow motion, beyond the typical 120 frames per second  found in normal super slow-motion systems. “We were the first to use the xMo unit with the newer v640 Vision Research camera and we soon realized it was something special,” says McElwee.

Moving to xMo required a new way of thinking when it comes to acquisition. “Here you see it and then you press the button unlike a regular camera where you press the button and then begin shooting,” he says. “So when you see a shot you like you press a trigger the camera goes 2.5 seconds back into the shot and it lays the slow motion. The key is knowing when to hit the trigger. Sometimes you hit it to early and sometimes you hit it to late.”

The camera also has four triggers, allowing the user to capture up to 10 seconds. Once a trigger has laid down the clip onto the recorder the trigger is available to capture another shot. “Along the way we’ve learned how to use our triggers,” says McElwee. “You can also shoot a shot ramping it, shooting at 24 fps and then hit the trigger and ramp down to 1,000 frames. We’ve did that for the ‘Hard Knocks’ series.”

What’s next for NFL Films and high-speed cameras? Creating a series of six-minute segments that are about one shot.

Dave Dart and Brad Smith will be operating the Inertia Unlimited cameras during the Super Bowl. “Now we’re building a whole other library that we can use for future projects,” says McElwee.