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Beyond the camera bodies and lenses Getty photographers will be armed with, the Rio Olympics will be captured by a number of robotic cameras. (Courtesy of Getty Images)

Getty Images has constructed a complex network infrastructure to prepare for the Aug. 5 start of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Before the Games close 16 days later, and the network is disassembled, Getty will capture and transmit imagery using technology in ways that it hopes will leave a long-lasting impression.

“It’s happening for real now,” after seven years of planning, said Ken Mainardis, vice president of sports imagery and services for the Seattle-based company, in a phone interview with GeekWire from Rio on Monday.

Mainardis said Getty will have 120 people on the ground — its largest team ever for an Olympics — and that there are two big projects that go into the set-up.

“The first is we build out a big office which acts as our operations hub and editing center, that, extraordinarily, during the Games, becomes Getty’s fifth-largest office anywhere in the world,” Mainardis said. “It pops up one month before the games and then the day after the Games it disappears again. So it’s an amazing logistical effort to build an office up like that.”

Ken Mainardis
Ken Mainardis, Getty Images VP.

The team is also laying cable from all of the competition venues. Mainardis called it “an incredible undertaking” as 100 km (62 miles) of cable connect all key photo positions to a network that brings every image live from the cameras back to an editing center. The network has been in the planning since the night Rio won the right to the host the Games seven years ago.

The speed and precision with which Getty plans to document and deliver action from the Games is mind blowing. Mainardis calls getting the pictures from the camera to the customer (via Getty’s dedicated Olympics site) in the fastest possible time the company’s leading objective. He compared what’s in store for Rio with the process he encountered at his first Olympics, the Atlanta Games in 1996.

“Twenty years ago, when I first did this, the fastest possible time would have been about 40 minutes, from the camera to the customer,” Mainardis said. “You were [developing] film, you were drying film, you were scanning negs and all of that kind of stuff. And then you were transmitting scans of negs. Today, when everything is working and humming along, from a key moment in the next two weeks, we will be able to go from the camera to a customer anywhere in the world in about 120 seconds. And that is an incredible evolution, I think, in 20 years — 40 minutes to 120 seconds.”

The rise of the internet and the near-instantaneous nature in which people consume news and photographic content, especially during a worldwide event like the Olympics, makes Getty’s need for speed all the more critical.

“We live in a world of enormously increasing volumes of imagery and no matter how great your photography — and we generally believe that our photography is the world’s best sports photography — if you don’t get it to the clients in seconds now, it kind of is dead. That’s why we really spend so much time focusing on speed from camera to customer,” Mainardis said.

While not only attempting to set itself apart at these Games with what it considers superior sports photography, Getty is relying on more technological tricks in its camera bag. The agency will have a gigapixel specialist shooting key venues and moments as 360-degree panoramas. All Getty Images photographers will be armed with 360 cameras and overhead and underwater robotic cameras will capture coverage daily.

“I’m super excited to see how our new robotic technology fares,” Mainardis said. “We’re deploying 20 robotic rigs around venues. [These] allow us to put cameras in places that humans don’t go, generally, on roofs and in floodlight pylons. And unlike the regular remotes, you have the full control of the camera through that robotic rig — zoom, pan, 360-degree movement — all the functions on the camera, which increase the chances of you making great imagery from difficult locations.”

Getty has made a strong commitment to 360 images as part of its creation of a Virtual Reality Group, which the company detailed in June. Mainardis finds a way to tie the making of cutting-edge visuals back to the origins of photography.

“What’s really interesting to me is virtual reality speaks, when it comes to photography anyway, to the history of photography, which started around the single moment,” Mainardis said. “Photography wasn’t always about telling stories with huge volumes of images. The history of photography was around the defining moment. And I think what VR does aside from obviously giving readers a sense of presence, which is incredibly powerful, it gives readers an opportunity to explore a single image again.

“And so in a way while the future looks very much different around immersion and around interactivity, from a strict kind of discussion around photography, it’s actually a bit of going back to basics, it’s all about the single image again, which I think is kind of interesting.”

Rio beach Olympics scene
Work continues this week on the Olympic Beach Volleyball Arena in preparation for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Matthew Stockman / Getty Images)

And Mainardis absolutely believes that, in a world in which broadcast television is taking greater steps to offer up more content, still photography technology could very well figure into delivering a moment that stands out above all others.

“Our job, as well as providing the moment, is to provide something different,” Mainardis said. “It’s what I call the ‘wow factor.’ It’s really a tough challenge and again it relies on the specialism and the skill of our guys and girls, because what we want is when you open your newspaper the next morning or you fire up your iPad after the event if you’re second screening, is to look at it and go, ‘Wow, I did not see that on the TV broadcast.’ And that is really a tough ask and it’s something we regularly achieve.”

Mainardis thinks the robots are going to do that “in spades.” But whatever images they capture will be among 1.5 million frames fired off from the Opening to Closing Ceremonies. It’s up to editors in the command center to narrow those to 90,000 offerings for customers.

“I always say this is the biggest challenge we do, but it’s also the most rewarding,” Mainardis said. “Because if you can do this you can pretty much do any event anywhere.”

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JULY 12: A sunset in the Museum of Tomorrow during the launching of the Official Collection of Rio 2016 Posters on July 12, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)
“I don’t think we’ve ever been in a city that is more visually striking,” said Getty’s Ken Mainardis. “The visual legacy of these Games will probably be stronger than anything we’ve seen for many many years. And sense of place is such an important part of telling stories visually.” The Museum of Tomorrow is seen at sunset in Rio earlier this month. (Photo by Buda Mendes / Getty Images)
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