Penny Arcade Goes Live with Help from Blackmagic Design Switchers and Cameras
Penny Arcade started as a thrice weekly comic strip in 1998 and has since become one of the most popular and longest-running webcomics online, creating and distributing gaming content to millions of readers globally. Over the years, Penny Arcade has grown its business to include PAX, the largest gaming festivals in North America, Child’s Play, the largest gaming charity in North America, PATV, home to its video and media content, merchandise, podcasts, and more.
In addition, live streaming has become an essential part of Penny Arcade’s business, especially for its several weekly online shows, which air live on Penny Arcade’s Twitch channel, “PennyArcade,” and are later uploaded to its YouTube channel, “pennyarcadeTV” (PATV), attracting tens of thousands of viewers. The shows include Dungeons & Dragons tabletop gaming series “The ‘C’ Team,” and the craft beer brewing show inspired by its characters, “Acquisitions Intoxicated.” Powering the successful live streaming workflow is a host of Blackmagic Design gear including ATEM Mini and ATEM Television Studio Pro 4K live production switchers along with Micro Studio Camera 4K, Pocket Cinema Camera 4K, URSA Broadcast and URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2 cameras.
Achieving a Smoother Live Streaming Workflow and Refined Look
In building out its video content, Penny Arcade wanted a more professional live streaming workflow and sleeker look for its productions. Producer Joshua Price and his team stepped in, transforming a meeting space into a production studio outfitted with a multitude of Blackmagic Design gear.
“When I originally received the ATEM Mini, I planned on using it as supplementary or as a travel switcher to help when needed. Once I started using it and learned how powerful it was, especially when leveraging its ATEM Control Software, ATEM Advanced Chroma Key and picture-in-picture functionality, I immediately put it to work in our secondary studio in my office. We run two Micro Studio Camera 4Ks and two computers as the four inputs in a sort of mirror setup on either side of my desk with one camera serving as a face cam with a green screen behind it, and the other on the opposite side capturing a couch and television set up for gaming content,” Price explained. “Because the ATEM Mini is so small and flexible, I still bring it with me wherever I go so that I have a switcher with me at all times.”
Initially, Penny Arcade selected the ATEM Television Studio Pro 4K to switch overhead Micro Studio Camera 4Ks in the primary studio, but quickly realized that it could also replace its main camera switcher.
“Now we’re using a second ATEM Television Studio Pro 4K with the URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2s and URSA Broadcasts, sometimes adding the Micro Studio Camera 4Ks to the mix if necessary,” said Price. “We try a lot of new things and bring in a variety of different board and tabletop games and other projects that require custom solutions to showcase them in the best possible way. Having the two switchers with full hands-on control of the camera settings gives us that flexibility.”
Lights, Camera, Action
Penny Arcade is relying on a combination of Blackmagic Design cameras to shoot the majority of its content.
“The ‘C’ Team” is comprised of five to seven players sitting together at a table playing Dungeons & Dragons. To capture the series, Penny Arcade incorporated two URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2s and one URSA Broadcast, all set up on stationary tripods capturing different angles to keep the show as interactive as possible.
“For us, the URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2 and URSA Broadcast cameras’ ease of use is incomparable. We can bounce from camera to camera for interactive multi-camera live streams, and because their build is basically the same, we can easily swap between cameras without needing to adjust, and the images work together seamlessly,” said Price. “In addition, the URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2’s large sensor allows us to get in closer and have a wider field of view in our small studio where space is premium without having to move to an ultrawide lens and deal with the inherent distortion of the image.”
For “Acquisitions Intoxicated” Penny Arcade uses three URSA Broadcasts to capture the series’ hosts brewing beers inspired by Dungeons & Dragons characters. The team uses one URSA Broadcast as the main camera, while the other two are used for side shots, and are all equipped with B4 lenses. All three cameras are paired with a Blackmagic URSA Viewfinder, Blackmagic URSA Mini Shoulder Kit and Blackmagic URSA Mini Mic Mount, allowing the team to move in the studio comfortably.
“Having the ability to use the lenses we need, like B4 on the URSA Broadcasts, allows us to easily zoom up close or out very wide without having to swap lenses or worry about keeping a consistent iris,” noted Price. “This is great for us, especially when we’re shooting scenes of the beer brewing. You can capture every detail, even the bubbles.”
Four Micro Studio Camera 4Ks are mounted in the primary studio’s ceiling capturing overhead shots of board games, dice trays and other top-down action. A fifth Micro Studio Camera 4K is on a monopod that can be moved around to shoot as necessary, and a few others are set up throughout the studio to capture shots from different angles.
Rounding out its camera gear is a Pocket Cinema Camera 4K that Penny Arcade uses to shoot advertisements, anything impromptu, and even behind-the-scene shots. “The Pocket Cinema Camera 4K is a workhorse. Even though it’s small, it’s extremely powerful and the images it captures are stunning. I even take it with me when I travel to events like PAX, giving me the ability to shoot anything quick and dirty,” said Price.
Penny Arcade partners with Reaction Audio Visual (Reaction AV), a nationwide event technology and production company, to handle AV at its PAX events. A Blackmagic Design customer since 2013, Reaction AV relies on URSA Broadcasts, Blackmagic Camera Fiber Converters, ATEM 1 M/E and 2 M/E Production Studio 4Ks, ATEM 1 M/E Advanced Panel, Blackmagic Web Presenters and Smart Videohub 20×20 router for general sessions, breakouts and booths at the PAX shows.
Jeff Stora, CEO at Reaction AV, said, “The simplicity and value we get from using Blackmagic Design at the PAX events is just amazing. Our team is always taking advantage of each update that is released by Blackmagic Design as it adds new features and functionality for us. We take pride in offering world class AV solutions to our customers and having Blackmagic Design gear as the backbone of our productions is definitely a plus.”
Behind-the-scenes Live Streaming
Penny Arcade also incorporated two DeckLink 8K Pros capture and playback cards to bring full 4K signals into the streaming computer for easy image manipulation in the streaming software and to make corrections to framing or for digital zooms without any loss of quality.
Price explained the benefits, “This is especially helpful when dealing with things that have tiny details over a large space, such as tabletop war games. With the DeckLink 8K Pro, we can digitally move into an area and still see the pieces and art in clear detail.”
Additionally, a DeckLink Quad HDMI Recorder is used for capturing a variety of HDMI signals during the live streams. Three HyperDeck Studio Mini broadcast decks are used for backup recording from the main cameras when shooting multi-camera content and as splitters to feed direct outs into the computer. Finally, a Teranex Mini SDI Distribution 12G converter is used to keep the wiring clean by running an SDI snake to it and having a single wire come out and feed the multi-camera signal to the cameras.
“Using a full Blackmagic Design workflow has really simplified our work. When you look at our streams, you can tell from the image quality and how smoothly they run,” Price concluded. “We are excited to continue using Blackmagic Design for future Penny Arcade projects.”