RF Field Tests and the Silver Screen (Episode 2): Capture Critical Moments

When Marvel Studios decided to create the sequel to Avengers: Infinity War, they took on Anthony and Joe Russo as returning directors and assembled a long line of A-list actors, including Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper, and Gwyneth Paltrow, aka the Avengers’ surviving members and their allies. Much of the filming was done at Pinewood Atlanta Studios in Georgia and Downtown Atlanta, but additional off-site locations included New York, Scotland, and England. An estimated $356 million was budgeted for the film–maybe a small cost to repair the wreckage left by Thanos in Infinity War. The stakes were high when creating one of the most expensive and widely anticipated films in Hollywood history. While a budget for RF field tests may never amount to such figures, the stakes can be just as daunting. 

During one such RF field test at White Sands Missile Range, the engineering team knew how it felt to have all eyes on them after assembling a superstar cast in the ideal location where a fleeting performance needed to be captured. Just like a major film production, projects such as these require months of in-depth coordination across a variety of talent, financial stakeholders and regulatory agencies. When the green light is finally given and the work can begin, it’s critical to ensure that unproven, low-budget tech gear doesn’t sabotage success on the movie set or the test range. 

At White Sands, each of the RF field tests involves large teams of renowned experts at the top of their fields. Just like top directors seek out top actors, it’s not uncommon for signal processing PHDs to collaborate with program directors from the military’s strategic new weapons platform. The success of these missions hinges not only on having the right team in place, but also the right instrumentation to capture and characterize RF signals. When all the critical players and regulatory permissions come together culminating in a unique environment, a reliable, field-proven RF recorder needs to be armed and waiting to capture that critical moment that may never be recreated under the same conditions again.

Avengers: Endgame ultimately lived up to its expectations, not only grossing nearly $2.8 billion in less than two weeks, but drawing accolades for the directors, actors, musical score, action sequences, story arc, and visual effects, and became the highest-grossing film of all time. While blockbuster films are viewed by movie-goers and critics across the globe, field test data may only be seen by a few dozen leaders in a major defense program. However, the stakes are often much higher. Success is not measured in ticket sales or a critic’s acclaim, but the new capabilities in the hands of the warfighter. 

Stay tuned as we explore what happens to all the data after all the critical moments are captured and the stars have gone home and the engineers have left the test range.