ESPN Sees Masters as Perfect for 3D

ESPN will take another giant step in the ongoing experiment that is 3D next month when it produces the 3D broadcast for The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club. The network will produce the 3D feed in conjunction with the club, and then Comcast will transmit the broadcast for free across its cable systems as well as stream it on Masters.com.

While golf may not seem the most obvious sport to showcase the potential of 3D to the masses, ESPN believes that it lends itself to 3D, especially on the greens, and that Augusta is the perfect venue to demonstrate this.

“I think there is probably no better venue to show off a course’s assets in 3D than Augusta,” says ESPN VP of Production Mike McQuade. “So much of the Masters is the golf course itself. The golf course is as much a star as the players playing. It is something that viewers have come to know. They know every hole by heart, which lends it so much more to 3D. So many people will never have the opportunity to go to Augusta, and 3D gets you as close as I’ve seen without actually being there.”

Testing the 3D Waters
Augusta’s decision to proceed with a 3D production at this year’s Masters came following a series of tests conducted at Augusta in February using amateur golfers, Sony 3D cameras and switchers, and an ESPN production team.

“We shot six of the nine holes on [Augusta’s Par 3 Course], so we tested quite a bit of angles and spots and jib placements,” says McQuade. “Then, on the following day, we did most of the back nine [on the main course] in some way, shape, or form, with the exception of two or three holes.”

After viewing the impressive results of those tests, both Augusta and ESPN agreed that it was time to take the next step. McQuade says that ESPN will use the tests as a guide for the live 3D production of the tournament in April but there is still much to learn about shooting golf in 3D.

“What we’re all going to learn together is how to shoot beyond the golf,” he says. “I think we’ve got a pretty good sense of what the golf is going to look like in 3D from the tests. But what we don’t know is what happens when there are crowds, when the flowers are in bloom, when there’s more of an event atmosphere going on. Each and every day, we’ll learn a little more because, obviously, it’s tough to re-create that in a test.”

Which Cameras for Which Holes?
Augusta National and ESPN have said they will provide at least two hours of live 3D coverage each day from the Par 3 Contest on April 7 through the four days of the actual tournament, April 8-11.

While ESPN has yet to officially decide which holes will be shot in 3D, McQuade guarantees at least three holes per day as well as “full coverage” on the 18th green. As for additional holes beyond that, Amen Corner (holes 11, 12, and 13) is the most likely target, but coverage looks to vary from day to day.

“There are days when you’ll see four holes, and there are days when you may see a combination of five. Plus, we’ll have full coverage of the 18th hole, so, obviously, we’re excited about that,” says McQuade. “Some stuff that will already be on tape from earlier in the day is possible. We’re still discussing that. Our big concern is the setup and the managing of those cameras. Because of the nature of the technology and its being so new, we will have to be extremely patient.”

Sony has said that the Masters 3D production would be a 12-camera shoot, but McQuade speculates that it could use “upwards of 12 cameras” over a variety of holes at Augusta.

One tool that ESPN is sure to rely heavily on is the jib camera, which McQuade considers his greatest weapon in terms of 3D:  “We believe the jib gives us the best 3D looks. It worked very well during the tests, and we’re going to use it for the tournament.”

Lucky 14
According to McQuade, the most fertile 3D opportunity looks to be the 14th hole, which boasts a sweeping green with significant undulations that gives players fits when putting.

“The one we are most excited about is on the 14th green using the jib arm,” he says. “With the contours and the slopes of that green, where we positioned the camera I think will give us some of the best 3D images yet. It was quite breathtaking [in the 3D tests].”