Inertia Unlimited Takes UFC Fans Inside the Octagon With FenceCam

Any routine viewer of UFC fight telecasts has experienced it: two fighters go to the floor, and, suddenly, you are forced to peer through the octagon’s chain-link fence to see the action on the mat. Short of actually putting a camera in the ring, this hindrance has just been a fact of life for UFC production crews. However, Inertia Unlimited looks to finally have the answer with its new FenceCam system (or FloorCam, as many have dubbed it) for UFC on Fox telecasts: just don’t see the fence.

FenceCam ‘erases’ the chain-link fence to let viewers see UFC mat-level action.

FenceCam ‘erases’ the chain-link fence to allow viewers to easily see UFC mat-level action.

“For the past six months or so, we have been working on ways to solve this fence-in-the-frame issue, and it occurred to me that one solution would be to simply not see the fence,” says Inertia Unlimited President Jeff Silverman. “The way to do that is to shorten the depth of field of the camera to the point where the fence goes out of focus. If it goes enough out of focus, the fence becomes imperceptible despite the fact you are actually shooting through a chain link fence right in front of the lens.”

CLICK HERE for video of the FenceCam.

Meeting the Octagon Challenge
This technique has been used for baseball coverage for several years, but the baseball diamond holds the unique advantage of a much longer distance ratio between the backstop and the pitcher/catcher. In MMA, the fighters can be just a few feet, even inches from the fence and camera.

“Basically, we need to be able to have the [fighter] 5 ft. away be in focus with the thick chain-link fence 6 in. away be invisible,” says Silverman. “That’s the challenge.”

After experimenting with an ultra-mini GopherCam positioned inside the ring tucked away in some corner padding, Silverman and company debuted the FenceCam on Aug. 17 as part of Fox Sports 1’s inaugural UFC Fight Night telecast from Boston’s TD Garden.

“UFC is a unique sport where we are constantly challenged to find new ways of coverage,” says Mike Davies, VP of field operations, Fox Sports. “The FenceCam, for the first time, offers an unobstructed “mat-level” view of the action, and, for a sport where some of the most compelling action happens down low, it’s a very effective tool to show the fans something that they’ve never seen before.”

How It Works
The FenceCam uses a Canon EOS C500 4K cinema camera (in 1080p/59.94i) with a CN-E30-300mm T2.9 4K lens. The lens/camera is mounted on a robotic system allowing pan, tilt, zoom, and focus and is set at floor level of the octagon with the lens faceplate resting against the chain-link fence. The form factor of the entire system is small enough to fit under the stool that the camera operator sits on, avoiding any seat kills or major camera-position alterations.

“The focal length is typically set to approximately 60 mm with small framing adjustments made depending on the action within the arena,” says Larry Thorpe, senior fellow, ITCG Professional Engineering and Solutions Division, Canon USA. “The lens iris is set at maximum relative aperture to achieve and maintain the desired extreme shallow depth of field, while the switchable [neutral-density] filters and ISO control built into the camera are deployed to control the video level. The results are close-up images that make the viewer feel they are inside the ring at floor level, providing a totally new viewing experience.”

A 4K Future for FenceCam?
Since its debut in Boston a month ago, the camera has been deployed in multiple UFC shows, and, according to Silverman, the fan reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. However, thanks to the 4K camera the system relies on, FenceCam offers even more potential than just floor-side angles.

“Though we are not using it yet, the Canon C-500 also offers us the future possibility to do 4K pan-and-scan,” says Silverman. “Normally in UFC, you want to see the fighters head-to-toe in a live situation. However, in replay, many times you want to see the tighter shot with the detail of what is going on. That means the camera could be used as a 1080 camera and simultaneously be used as a pan-and-scan 4K application.”