BCS Production Brings 3D to College Sports

By Ken Kerschbaumer

College football’s biggest game, the BCS National Championship Game, enters the third dimension on Dec. 8. The game between Florida and Oklahoma will be produced in 3D and delivered to more than 80 movie theaters across the country and a Sony presentation at CES in Las Vegas. For 3ality Digital, which produced an NFL Network game in 3D last month, the production offers an opportunity to put into practice lessons learned from that game in a continuing effort to improve the quality of the live 3D sports experience.

“The NFL game gave us an opportunity to learn a lot about prepping for the production,” says Steve Schklair, 3ality Digital founder and CEO. “We learned how to cover a football game, what coverage worked, and how to deal with stereoscopic settings.”

A host of companies are involved with tonight’s production. 3ality Digital is responsible for the production, Fox Sports will be consulting, and Game Creek Video will provide the production unit. A Crawford Communication satellite truck will deliver the 3D signal to Cinedigm in California, and Cinedigm will then deliver the game to theaters across the country. Most important, Sony has stepped up to underwrite the production costs.

Jerry Steinberg, Fox Sports SVP of field operations, believes 3D can help attract the next generation of viewers who have grown up with videogames that often have 3D perspectives. “During the NFL Network 3D broadcast, I was speaking with the 11-year-old grandson of [Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer] Teddy Nathanson, and he thought it was the coolest thing he had ever seen,” says Steinberg. That reaction only intensified Steinberg’s desire to have the BCS National Championship produced in 3D, and, with the game scheduled for the opening night of CES, he approached Sony to see if the electronics giant wanted to get involved financially. Sony said yes, and the rest is 3D history.

“We’ll be re-creating the stadium experience, and theater-going will become a social event, almost like tailgating,” says Steinberg.

Tonight’s game will be at Miami’s Dolphin Stadium, a venue that provides a few 3D-production advantages compared with San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium, where the NFL game took place last month. Truck parking is closer to the venue, which means that cable runs are shorter, an important factor because Fox Sports is using the existing stadium cable infrastructure for the 2D production. The stadium also provides an advantage because it has much more sideline room for cameras and camera carts. The 3D and 2D productions will also be on opposite sides of the stadium, lessening cart traffic and eliminating the chance of the productions interfering with each other.

“It’s great for us, because every production company loves being on the sidelines,” says Schklair. The stadium is also home to the Florida Marlins, and, because the field needs to accommodate Major League Baseball, there is even more space on the sidelines than usual.

The production will be shot from eight camera positions, and there will be more camera positions on the field than in the NFL test. There will also be a change in the type of 3D cameras used: this production will have six 3D cameras that use beam-splitter systems and only two that are side-by-side. The NFL game had only three beam-splitter systems.

Shooting in 3D requires two cameras and lenses at each position” one for the left eye and one for the right eye. Convergence operators take those two signals and, with the help of 3D monitors, adjust the dimensional depth to create the proper 3D effect.

“During the NFL game, we found that side-by-side cameras in the end zone didn’t work because the shot would hurt the eyes,” explains Schklair. “The beam-splitter systems allow the images to overlap, and that allows us to manage the 3D space so that background images don’t separate out.”

One big addition to the production is the use of a Technocrane that will allow for a camera to offer sweeping shots. “Camera movement is great for 3D, and the big Technocrane can be extended out or pulled back and do sweeping shots over the crowd,” says Schklair. “It’s very versatile.”

Like the NFL test, which used a traditional 2D truck from Crosscreek, this production will also rely on a 2D truck: Game Creek Video’s Freedom. Integrating the 3D production into the 2D environment requires about a day and a half of wiring in 3D gear for multiplexing of signals, displays, etc.

As 3D productions continue to prove their worth, it is believed that remote-production-truck providers will begin building units pre-wired for 3D, a move that would cut setup time and lower the cost of the 3D productions even further. Schklair estimates the cost premium to have a 3D-capable truck to be about 15% above a 2D-only unit.

It’s expected that, eventually, a 3D and 2D production can be integrated and share cameras and graphics, but, for the foreseeable future, 3D productions will be separate.

“This is how we started with HD, with one truck doing 4:3 SD and another doing HD,” says Steinberg. “I don’t see any immediate solution to [an integrated 3D/2D production], but, if 3D continues to gain traction, manufacturers will come up with one-lens and single-camera 3D solutions.”

Adds Game Creek Video President Pat Sullivan, “I think you’ll see two trucks at every show for a while. But, eventually, you could see a 3D version of side-by-side trucks, with a single unit having two production switchers and two production rooms that share audio and routing. But our side of the industry will not drive this. It will ultimately be consumer demand for 3D that drives it.”

And demand for a theater experience might be there. For example, the New England Patriots have 60,000 fans on a season-ticket waiting list. The New York Giants and other NFL franchises are in a similar situation. Giving those thousands of fans the opportunity to head to a theater, take part in some scaled-down tailgating, and watch a game together could work. The Cleveland Cavaliers’ ability to have more than 17,000 fans watch a 3D version of the NBA Finals last year proves the concept even further.

“Success will be filling theaters across the country and having viewers be moved enough to want to see all the games in 3D in theaters and at home,” says Schklair. “We want to see them wishing they could have HD in the home later this year.”