SportsTechLA: 3D Can Build Sports Audiences Once Craft Catches Up With Technology

More than 200 industry professionals filled the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts on Tuesday for SVG’s second-annual SportsTechLA event, Inside 3D Sports Production. Leading experts from across the industry discussed their plans for 3D, the challenge of 3D-production distribution standards, and what lies ahead in 2010.

The event was sponsored by Bexel, Grass Valley, Intelsat, Panasonic, Quantel, and Sony. Panasonic also parked a 3D truck in the courtyard outside the standing-room-only event, offering attendees a look at some of the latest in 3D technology and content.

Professors from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts and the director of the school’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) gave the day’s first presentation, “3D, Sports, and USC: Building 3D Sports Together.” ETC CEO/Executive Director David Wertheimer set the tone for the day by describing to the audience the unique position that they are in.

“A week after CES, we are in a remarkable position here in this room to raise awareness about how this stuff becomes reality,” he said. “By being here a week after all these 3D announcements, you guys are in a great position. Think about all the things you’ve invented in the sporting world to make them work really well on 2D television sets and start to rethink them to make them work in 3D, so that people say, ‘I never want to see sports another way after seeing it like that.’”

The success of Avatar has changed a lot of people’s views on how real 3D in the home is going to be, Wertheimer explained, and sports is very much in the driver’s seat in that process.

He revealed some telling results from a recent research study done with the CEA. That study found that close to 25% of respondents believe they will have 3D TVs in their home within the next three years and only 19% said they would never own a 3D TV. By contrast, 33% of respondents said they would never own an HDTV.

“Sports plays a big role in the decision to go with a 3D TV,” Wertheimer said, “very much like it did with HDTV.”

But on the production side, the technology — cameras, switchers, distribution — has advanced faster than the art of producing content in 3D.

“We have over 100 years of understanding how to make great movies in 2D, but making great 3D for the home is something that people are just learning about,” Wertheimer said. “That’s what creates such an opportunity. We need to educate the next generation of folks in terms of how to create great 3D.”

As Perry Hoberman, research associate professor at the School of Cinematic Arts explained, just as the technology is ahead of the art, some of the students at USC are ahead of their professors. Avatar fans are clamoring for 3D courses, and the professors need to determine how to integrate 3D into the curriculum:

“The School of Cinematic Arts is divided into six divisions, and we realized that stereoscopic cuts across all six divisions,” Hoberman explained. Those divisions are production, animation, writing, interactive, critical studies, and active research.

Michael Peyser, professor at the School of Cinematic Arts, agreed that his team is most concerned about 3D storytelling, as the craft is not yet on par with the technology.

“3D uses a visual language that’s new to the audience’s eyes,” he said. “We’re concerned about creating a dynamic so that the newness is an adoptive practice, not something that you have trouble viewing.

“The opportunity and challenge for 3D sports,” he continued, “is to immerse the audience in a new perspective yet still deliver engagement. We’re committed to delivering that next generation of confidence and creativity.”

Hoberman equated the move from 2D to 3D with the shift from silent cinema to movies with sound. Just as today’s audio technicians can create sonic spaces that do not resemble what you would naturally hear at an event, stereoscopic 3D makes possible abstract spaces that bear no resemblance to what humans can experience in every-day experience.

“Sports are one of the areas where there’s a tight integration between graphics and the camera,” he said. “There are all kinds of possibilities for composing 3D with multiple elements.”

In addition to finding new revenues from the sale of 3D televisions, Hoberman added, 3D offers a chance for sports to find new revenues from drawing in new audiences. “If you use 3D in inspired ways, you can get a whole new experience, and this can become a fundamentally new medium. We can add intensity, realism, and make things feel more immersive. We can create new forms, new markets, and new audiences for sports.”