With Two Weekends of 3D Coverage, CBS’s Grant Has Time To Review

Labor Day marked the fourth day in a row that Mark Grant spent watching tennis in 3D. Beginning with camera and transmission tests on Friday, followed by live coverage of the US Open on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, Grant — who is directing CBS’s 3D coverage of the tennis tournament — had an opportunity to review his own 3D work like never before, and he is taking advantage of the opportunity to make his broadcasts better.

“After our live matches are over, we fill to our 6:00 time window with previous matches, so I can go back and watch,” says Grant, who also directed the Final Four in 3D for CBS in April. “You can really appreciate it when you’re sitting back, just watching and not directing. I watched some of the 3D from the Final Four, but never an hour’s worth, so this has been a lot of fun.”

Working in Shadow
There has been plenty of work involved as well, as Grant refines his camera positions, learning to share 3D shadow rigs with the 2D-camera operators. He has three of his own cameras to work with, while three additional CBS cameras are outfitted with 3D rigs atop the 2D lenses. Grant has access to those feeds but cannot talk to the operators, which sometimes leaves him in the lurch.

“I was a doubter at first,” Grant says of the shadow rigs. “The good thing about the Open is that the guys who run those cameras understand that they’re not just feeding CBS or ESPN or Tennis Channel, but they’re feeding a lot of different people who are taking their [feeds] blindly for the most part, so they’ve been really good about holding their shots.”

Occasionally, the CBS 2D show uses a side-slab graphic, with the players framed on the right side of the shot. Grant knows to avoid the shadow rigs at those moments. There have also been a handful of occasions in which the 2D director calls for one of his cameras to change its shot and Grant has no warning before the camera suddenly pans in a new direction, but he says those moments have been few and far between.

“We’ve been burned a couple of times but, for the most part, I couldn’t ask for a better setup,” he says. “We’re never going to get our own cameras in those positions, so this is the best option.”

Should the 2D director call for an extreme closeup, the shadow rigs are programmed to stay wider, which allows for a usable 3D picture.

“What’s neat about the 3D rig is that it can set limits,” Grant explains. “If the 2D rig were to zoom all the way in on the person’s face, we can set a limit so that the 3D camera only zooms in to their waist. That way, we don’t get caught with the score bug over someone’s face.”

A Real Estate Battle
Having the time to review the footage has given Grant the opportunity to evaluate his camera positions and ask for new ones.

“In 3D, it’s all about putting someone in a seat, and we use our slash position for that,” he says. “That camera doesn’t move, so the person really seems to be sitting in a seat, watching the match as they follow the ball on the screen. You can see the photographers and people in the stands, so there’s depth to the shot. It’s not always about coming at you and going away from you.”

However, one of Grant’s favorite positions does provide the opportunity to watch the ball as it comes straight at the viewer. “When you go to the low camera in the pit, Camera 5, you see how the ball moves in the wind, how hard the players hit the ball and put spin on it, and how fast the game is.”

Lessons Learned From Court to Court
That angle is similar to one Grant used during the Final Four, when he relied on low cameras on the court to provide play-by-play from the opposite end of the court.

“I love that angle,” he says. “I thought that was a home-run shot in basketball, and I was hoping that we could apply that here with tennis, but we haven’t been able to do that. It’s on the opposite side of the court, so I can’t switch back and forth between that and Camera 2 [the high play-by-play camera] because you cross the camera line and lose your perspective.”

Camera 2 offers a traditional play-by-play shot, but, because it is so high and lacks foreground elements, it does not offer the depth necessary to make 3D pop. Grant asked for a position on the near side of the court where he could add a camera to the pit, which could be used for play-by-play. CBS was able to find room during Labor Day weekend, but he will have to relinquish that spot next weekend, when CBS will use that real estate for a high-speed camera.

“For now, it looks great,” he says. “That’s the shot where you see the ball coming at you and you see players’ motion. It’s just incredible. When they’re about to return the serve, that shot makes you feel as if you are the player, and you can really appreciate how fast the players react. I like putting people on the court. I’m not really sure what I’m going to do next week, but that’s what 3D is all about right now: trying to find a spot that will make it work.”

For the past four days, Grant has succeeded in making it work. CBS’s 3D production will continue next weekend, and he hopes to continue paving the road to a promising future for 3D tennis.