“Filming for Analysis” article 1974
The following article was originally published in “The Photographic Journal” for the Royal Photographic Society in January 1974:
The use of film for analytical purposes is becoming increasingly appreciated in a variety of situations. Terry Gallacher, who has been producing films for many years, explains how the technique he has developed can be applied in the realm of sport.
Cinematograph techniques were used for analytical purposes before the invention of the camera. I refer, of course, to the succession of still cameras which were used by Eadweard Muybridge to determine whether a horse had all its hoofs off the ground at any time during the gallop. Ever since then people have used film to settle all sorts of arguments. The television replay of the goal, the foul, the low blow in boxing or and lbw decision in cricket is now commonplace and, I have no doubt, creates as many arguments as it settles.
One of the most famous football controversies in the UK was the “over the line” incident in the Wembley Cup Final between Newcastle United and Arsenal in the early thirties. A British Movietonews camera, placed in line with the goal, filmed the incident when Newcastle’s Richardson centred the ball after it passed over the goal line. From the centre Newcastle score and then went on to beat Arsenal. Within hours, the newspapers were seeking a “blow up” of the frame which showed Richardson’s foot over the line as he kicked the ball. It made good copy for the sports pages, but, needless to say, had no effect on the result of the match.
Recently much use has been made of the cine cameras to help sportsmen improve their technique. In some cases videotape is taking over from film. In the United States, many tennis professional coaches use videotape to play back to their clients various aspects of their play to show them where they are going wrong. One of the problems of videotape has been its inability to isolate a still picture with sufficient clarity.
Some years ago I was making a film for my company at Brands Hatch motor racing circuit as part of a programme on the Formula One car racing season of that year. I met one of our still cameramen at Druid’s Bend and asked him what job he was on. He explained that he had been asked by one of the racing tyre manufacturers to get some stills which showed the attitude of the rear wheel suspension assembly as the cars moved away from the camera out of the bend. I thought he had an impossible task and he agreed. It was left to him to choose a precise moment to take his picture when the cars were leaving him at over fifty miles and hour. The chances of his providing a picture which gave useful information were nil, since it could not be determined from a single picture whether the suspension had reached its greatest stress, whether it was about to reach that point, or whether it had already passed that point. I suggested to the client – who agreed – that movie film was the only solution to the problem because movie film would provide a sequence of events which would show every stage of the movement of the suspension assembly. It was decided to shoot the analysis film at Nürburgring in Germany two weeks later. We decided to use 35 millimetre film in order to allow the research department of the tyre company to produce still pictures from each frame they selected. We decided to shoot at one hundred and twenty frames a second for two reasons. Firstly, to provide approximately 240 frames of the vital two-second period we were looking for and, secondly, to reduce the exposure time for each frame. The faster shutter speed would obviously improve the picture quality of the still picture produced from each frame. The advantage of the system we used was that the cameraman was required only to follow each car and not to worry about a precise moment in the movement of a complex piece of machinery. The interesting part of this exercise was that the film obtained was never intended to be looked at as a moving film – we were providing 240 still pictures of each car.
I had long thought that cine film could be used to assist soccer clubs with their team coaching. I had thought about it a lot in terms of technique. Having played the game without much success, in spite of coming from a family of footballers, and having heard my father coaching young players with the aid of a blackboard and chalk, I felt in some way qualified to develop a technique. After all, I reasoned, I knew more about making films than most soccer coaches. When I felt I was ready to launch my system on the football world, I wrote to the managers of every English First Division club explaining what I could do for them. I received four replies. Three said they would think about it. The fourth letter was an invitation from the Arsenal Football Club manager, Bertie Mee, to meet him at Highbury, the club’s headquarters. I have to admit that I was more interested in proving my point than making a lot of money for my company. I was slightly apprehensive when I went to meet Mr Mee but I had my “sales pitch” ready. His first words were “You don’t have to sell to me; you’re preaching to the converted”. I had expected him to ask that our crew shoot specific items in the match because I thought he might have a particular problem he would like illustrated. In fact, he said “I’ll leave it to you”. That was the last thing I wanted but it made sense; it meant that we would have to film as much of the game as we could. We already had the technique; it was now up to myself and the film crew to get the pictures.
The technique was simple enough in concept but not easy to achieve. In order to allow a coach to analyse play from a film, it is necessary to him to be able to see each player in relation to all the others involved in a particular segment of the game. To achieve this, we had to use an Angenieux 12mm to 120mm zoom lens which gave us flexibility. Our camera position was on the roof of the East Stand at the Highbury football ground which gave us a view which was almost an aerial shot of the field of play. When we were discovered up there by the Press, one national daily newspaper called us “The Spy in the Sky”. However it was an ideal position and, when the film was finally seen on a screen, it was remarkable how the playing area offered the same viewing aspect as the blackboard soccer pitch traditionally used by soccer coaches.
We found that 40 millimetres within the range of the zoom gave us the best average shot of the playing area. If our lens angle was too wide, it would be impossible to identify the players; if it were too narrow, it would not be possible to see enough of the playing area. The zoom lens enabled us to narrow the lens angle as the play moved away from our central position. By this means we could maintain a regular “size” of the players on the screen.
The most difficult problem of all was the method of following play. Cameramen are trained to follow action. On the television screen we are used to seeing wonderful close-ups of players and athletes in action, sometimes at high speed. It is the art of the cine cameraman to follow such action. Here we had a situation where close-ups were of no use – there was not even a requirement to follow play in the normal fashion. When, in soccer, an attack is broken up and the defending side moves on to the attack, its forwards take up an attacking formation. As they move forward perhaps one of the midfield players moves forward with the ball. For the purpose of analysis, it is essential that the man with the ball is on the extreme edge of the frame. This enables the coach to see what opportunities he has in front of him when he decides to pass the ball forward. This is the main difficulty for the cameraman; it is contrary to all his experience to have the main point of apparent interest on one side of the frame.
Another difference between our technique and the filming of soccer for entertainment is when filming corners or free kicks near goal. For an entertainment film, it is quite normal to see a shot of the man taking the kick; for analysis it is more important to have the camera facing the target area to enable a coach to see what positions his players have taken up awaiting the arrival of the ball.
Frequently these films which were produced for the Arsenal Football Club were to be seen on the screen at sixteen frames a second, eight frames a second or even as single frames. As single frames, a cine film presents unclear pictures of action since the normal shutter speed of a normal cine camera is on-fiftieth of a second. With that speed of shutter, body action is blurred on the single frame. For a coach to study a single frame on the screen he needs clarity. We achieved this clarity by using a Cameflex camera which, amongst other things, offers a variable shutter. By closing the shutter we were able to reduce the exposure time and eliminate the normal blurring associated with cine film frames. To compensate, we were using fast black and white reversal film.
There is no doubt that Arsenal were making good use of the film. Having shot a match on a Saturday, we were able to deliver the film of the club by Monday morning. It is obviously essential that the film should be available at the earliest possible time while the match is fresh in everyone’s mind. The manager and coach were able to make notes before showing the film to the players and making their comments. Later the film was shown to the younger players of the club when lively discussions took place.
After we had been filming for several weeks, Arsenal improved their play considerably and in the next season went on to win the League Championship. It is not for me to say that it was the film that helped them.
When I saw in the August issue of The Journal the announcement of the “Sports Photographer of the Year” competition I thought about the many amateur photographers who must envy the professionals their privileged positions at the various sports arenas. It is certainly a difficult problem for amateurs although I think professionals will tell of the difficulties ,that even they sometimes encounter, trying to get permission to work at some sports centres. To add to the amateur’s problems, in some arenas it is forbidden to take pictures from the public seating. In any case, it would be difficult to imagine a winning photograph coming from a camera placed in such a position but, if anyone wants to try, I think it best to inquire first whether it is allowed.
There are, however, a number of sports which enable amateurs to operate close to the action: for example, water sports, yachting, canoeing, rowing, cross-country running, cyclo-cross, road cycling and car rallies. Finally, it should not be forgotten that excellent sports photographs can be obtained in the local park – you might even be able to learn on the goalpost and no-one will ask you for a pass!
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