Underwater 3D Cameras Get NASCAR Test

Although it might seem an unlikely parallel, the stress placed on a 3D camera underwater is quite similar to the stress on that camera when a pack of cars repeatedly passes by at 200 miles per hour for two days straight. That parallel has been clear to Bill Lange for quite some time, and 3ality Digital and Turner Sports took advantage of his foresight earlier this month.

From High Seas to High Speeds
Lange is the research specialist at the Advanced Imaging and Visualization Laboratory at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, which is world-renowned for the advances it has made in 3DHD underwater filming. For the past few years, he has been applying those advances to other areas, such as feature-film and sports 3D production.

“A lot of the things that you do to make a 3D camera system work well in a hostile environment like underwater or on an aircraft are very applicable to the sports community,” he explains. “Smaller rigs, more-robust construction, high power efficiency, and long-range telemetry systems are all very appropriate for use in both hostile environments and sporting events.”

Lange and his team have been working with 3ality, ESPN, Game Creek Video, and Sony, among other companies, to come up with rig designs that will work well for robotic applications at sporting events. His smaller rigs can also be used to supplement the large beamsplitter rigs that have been used at the majority of sporting events produced in 3D thus far. On July 3, two of those compact, lightweight 3D rigs — the HDC P1 — were used for Turner Sports’ coverage of a NASCAR race in Daytona, FL. It was the first broadcast use of the rigs, which are made up of fixed side-by-side box cameras, designed for use on pan/tilt heads.

“It was our first time at NASCAR so we learned a lot,” Lange says. “I think it went really well. The cameras were at turns 2 and 4 so it was very interesting watching that part of the race in 3D. The crashes were, of course, more interesting than just watching the cars go round and round, and smoke was very interesting in 3D after the crashes.”

Luckily, none of the 3D cameras were involved in those crashes.

Small but Strong
“The thing that I’m most pleased with is the robustness of the alignment,” Lange says. “And the fact that through two races, both rigs held mechanical alignment really well. This is after being buffeted by close to 200-miles-per-hour speeding cars going by, which have a big shock wave going with them every time. I’m not really convinced a beamsplitter rig could have handled that kind of vibration and shock wave for that long, unless it was encapsulated in another kind of environment.”

His cameras were loaned out to Turner Sports through an agreement with 3ality. The interaxial, zoom, and coverage points on the cameras are fixed, whereas the larger rigs have adjustable settings, but the smaller rigs do have their advantages. 3ality used one of his rigs at a New York Rangers hockey game produced in 3D earlier this year. The small 3D rig was placed above the net, in a position where a larger rig simply would not have fit.

“We’re trying to specialize in the small, robust, easy-to-operate, easy-to-set-up 3D rigs that can catch shots that you probably couldn’t assign a beamsplitter for,” Lange explains. “What we’d really like to do is to start getting views in 3D that people don’t get in 2D. I think there is a lot more that can be done to get a better-than-being-there view of the game. I think it’s going to mean more cameras on a given show, but I think it’s going to be a much richer experience for people in the home.”

The Sky Is No Limit
The Advanced Imaging and Visualization Laboratory is working on two new sports-camera designs, one specifically for overhead systems like SkyCam. Prototypes for that system, which uses full 3-CCD studio remote-control cameras with a 1.5-in. interocular distance, should be out in the next few weeks.

“It uses all the familiar switching and camera controls that the truck operators are used to,” Lange explains. “That’s one of the things that we’ve learned in doing these sporting events: the system has to be truck-friendly. In the past, we’ve built some of our own custom control systems, but that’s not what the truck operators need. They need something that’s familiar and uniform.”