SportsTechLA: Most Equipment Is 3D-Ready; Creative and Workflows Are Not

Networks can plan to produce all the 3D content in the world, but, without cameras, lenses, and production switchers to do the work, 3D sporting events will never make it to air. During the final panel of SVG’s SportsTechLA event, held Jan. 19 at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, representatives from Grass Valley, Panasonic, Quantel, and 3ality Digital took the stage to discuss what it takes to cost-effectively produce a sporting event in 3D, what products they are rolling out to make that happen, and what challenges lie ahead.

“There are three things that a 3D camera needs to do,” said Michael Bergeron, chief technologist for Panasonic Broadcast. “Link two cameras, be able to operate 3D-ness like convergence and interocular, and fix all of the errors. To get camera size down, you have to overcome those three things, and you do that by integrating the system.”

Panasonic is integrating its optical system with a fixed lens, which should enable smaller, more portable cameras. Once the cameras are smaller, a film school like USC is more likely to use them for teaching purposes, and a generation of operators will come into the workforce with some experience in shooting 3D before they get behind the larger camera rigs.

“The biggest hurdle right now is getting qualified people understanding 3D,” agreed Ted Kenney, director of production for 3ality Digital. “If you mess up a shot in 2D, it’s just a bad shot, but, in 3D, you can actually hurt somebody’s eyes. So a big hurdle is training enough people in the industry on what makes good 3D versus bad 3D. That takes the onus of understanding what makes a great shot off of the sole shoulders of the director or TD.”

Camera Rig 1 of 2
Smaller cameras and rigs will also enable more ENG work, which will help bring some additional craft to the 3D medium. Also helping increase the craft is a better understanding of what the two available 3D rigs in the market can be used for.

The side-by-side version, which sets two full-body cameras side-by-side, is best for high, slash angles. “You’re not going to shoot somebody within a range of 10-15 ft. on a side-by-side because you can’t get longer lenses on,” Kenny explained.

The beam-splitter rig, on the other hand, is perfect for closeup work. Also referred to as an over-under rig, it uses polarized glass at a 45-degree angle.

“That glass you’re shooting through is just as important as the lens,” Kenny pointed out. “If you use glass that has imperfections, it creates artifacts, which creates eyestrain.”

Aside from the camera rigs, however, much of the existing video-production equipment can be used for both 2D and 3D productions.

“With the existing equipment, you can already route the signal through the system, and, by all accounts, that’s a good first step to 3D,” said Grass Valley CTO Ray Baldock. “I think we’ll live in a period for the next 18-24 months where we’re really understanding what the business model is and trying to configure trucks for least possible added cost. Can you share a router in a truck and deploy just the equipment that is different for the 3D shoot? These are issues that we’ll learn about as more trials are conducted.”

Making a 2D Workflow 3D
Quantel Creative Director Danny Peters pointed out that creating a movie in stereoscopic 3D is far different from producing sports in the format. In 2D, Quantel servers create a workflow that allow multiple people at different parts of the creative process to access the material.

“In 3D, you still want to be able to have those highlight packages ready,” he said. “Just because we’ve changed to a stereoscopic environment doesn’t mean that, from a creative point of view, we’re going to want to have packages ready for playout.”

The economics will not sustain two separate productions, one for 2D and one for 3D, and the technology is already in place to put both of those productions together.

“With routers the size they are today, there’s no reason why you can’t partition it for 3D on one side and 2D on another part of the router,” Baldock said. “The real challenge is the workflow, because you have to identify the files independently, keep the super-slo-mo files away from the 3D files.”

Creative Differences
The biggest problem with merging the productions, however, is in the creative. Using the left eye of a 3D shoot for a 2D production will not please the fans of any sport. And having a single director in charge of both productions is much further on the horizon.

“We’ve trained Americans to watch football the way we watch it today, with this fast-cut motion,” Kenny said. “We have to retrain some people in 3D to watch something much slower and enjoy the moment.”

For sports that have never been covered, however, 3D provides a great opportunity to train an effectively blind viewing audience.

“One advantage to the ESPN model of going dark when they don’t have any 3D programming is that they can go after non-traditional sports and not have a 2D broadcast,” Bergeron said. “No one has any preconceived ideas about how it should be shot, so they can really introduce new sports to the market.”