Turner Sports Applies NASCAR 3D Lessons to PGA Championship

In July, Tom Sahara, Turner Sports senior director of IT and remote operations, oversaw production of the first live 3D coverage of a NASCAR race. In August, ensuring that Turner stays on the bleeding edge of the technology, Sahara will oversee the company’s first live 3D broadcast of a golf event, the PGA Championship. On Aug. 12 and 13, Turner Sports will cover two holes at Whistling Straits in 3D, live on TNT and PGA.com, applying, perhaps improbably, some of the lessons learned on the racetrack to the golf course.

Turner Sports will use eight 3D cameras at Whistling Straits, spread across the par-3 12th and 17th holes. “We picked those holes because they are along the lakeshore, so, from a beauty perspective, they’re much more picturesque than the holes that are farther away,” Sahara explains. “Certainly, aesthetics played into that.”

Staying With the Classics
He and his team surveyed the course and considered which camera angles would give the viewers the greatest 3D impact. He settled on four positions, none of which are dramatically different from the optimal camera angles for a 2D broadcast.

“We have the classic behind-the-golfer shot, seeing them in the foreground and the green in the background, with the spectacle of the lake, the people, and the course,” Sahara says. “Then, we have another camera to the side to get the swing, the golfer’s reaction, and them approaching the ball, which is another classic view.”

That shot, he notes, is geared toward the golf enthusiast, who wants to see how the golfer approaches the ball, as well as his swing.

“From the green side, we have a somewhat classic back-of-the-green shot so you can see the ball coming in and where it ends up on the green,” Sahara continues. “We added a jib camera, off to the side of the green to get a different angle of the green. With that, we’ll be able to see the golfers putting from a different angle. It also gives a lot more movement, so we’re not just dependent on fixed shots.”

Although the four positions the team chose are not much different from where standard 2D cameras would be placed — they are ideal positions for storytelling — he is sure that the style in which the directors cut those shots will create a different viewing experience.

All the angles the team chose, however, will look great in 3D, he says, especially the side shots and the jib. “That will really bring the 3D across.”

Stability Reigns
All the cameras Sahara chose are stable cameras, since his team was not happy with the handheld rigs used in other 3D shoots.

“The handheld rigs are still very bulky,” he points out. “From our previous experiences, we found that the movement of the handhelds doesn’t do well in 3D. We opted to be a lot more stable on the shots, and, to get some movement, we added the cranes.”

Golf Lessons From Auto Racing
Although auto racing and golf might seem to lie at opposite ends of the sports spectrum, Sahara’s team did take some key lessons from their NASCAR 3D experience in July.

“One thing that NASCAR did help with is the distance,” Sahara explains. “Golf does have pretty long holes. No. 17 is 220 yards; that’s a fair amount of distance that we have to cover. We did learn from NASCAR that 3D can work on long shots; you just have to be careful how you compose it and how you put the shot sequences together.”

With one long-distance event already under its collective belt, Sahara’s team is now well-equipped to properly compose those shot sequences.

A New 3D Partnership
After working with 3ality Digital on the NASCAR event, Turner Sports is teaming up with PACE and NEP to cover the PGA Championship.

“We wanted to try everyone out there,” Sahara says.

PACE supported ESPN’s coverage of the Masters in 3D, so, by analyzing some of that footage, the Turner Sports team was able to get a good idea of what equipment would work best where.

“Because we’re using the same vendor [PACE], we understand how each of those cameras looked,” Sahara explains. “That’s how we decided what equipment goes where, because we were able to reference the Masters footage and understand what pieces created those shots. We got a good feeling for how each of the rigs performed.”

Infrastructure Is Key
For Sahara, the toughest part of turning the 3D focus from the racetrack to the golf course is not the change in sport or venue, necessarily, but the setup time required.

“3D takes a lot more effort to set up,” he says. “You have to be extremely careful about where the cameras are placed, and the infrastructure to support each camera is much more than we have in 2D. There is a lot more effort spent on just setting up the infrastructure to support the cameras.”

Turner Sports’ 3D coverage of the PGA Championship tees off on TNT and PGA.com on Thursday August 12 at 3 p.m. ET.