Déjà Vu: CBS Sports Tops off US Open With Finals Weekend in 3D

CBS Sports was greatly impressed by the results from its 3D production of the US Open over Labor Day Weekend, which marked the first-ever 3D telecast of tennis in the U.S. As a result, its second 3D tennis outing, during Finals weekend at the Open, was more about tweaking than overhauling.

“It’s pretty much the same show, but it’s just a more polished telecast,” CBS Sports Director of Engineering Bruce Goldfeder said over the weekend. “The more we do this, the better the production gets and the more pleasant it is to watch from my standpoint because we’re able to add even more elements into it each time.”

The second serving of 3D coverage began on Friday Sept. 10 and, thanks to a rainout on Sunday, ran through Monday Sept. 13.  The production covered the men’s doubles final and women’s semifinals on Friday, the men’s semifinals and women’s final on Saturday, and the women’s doubles final and men’s final on Monday.

The production featured seven PACE 3D rigs — three traditional and four ShadowD — fitted with Sony cameras and Fujinon lenses. NEP SS9 was once again the dedicated 3D production unit, while a PACE 3D truck was on hand for convergence operations.

“Not much really changed [for the second weekend]. We were really just looking to improve on [last weekend],” says Ken Aagaard, EVP, engineering, operations, and production services, for CBS Sports. “We think we had a very successful run here. It’s just a great sport for 3D, and we feel really good about it.”

Making Room for the Super-Slo-Mo
After Labor Day weekend, it looked as if CBS Sports would lose one of its most compelling camera positions, a 3D rig located in the photo dugout behind the baseline, because of the addition of a super-slo-mo camera for the 2D telecast. However, in the end, Aagaard and PACE CEO Vince Pace were able to find a solution that would provide enough room for both the super-slo-mo and the 3D show’s camera five.

“The camera in the dugout ended up being one of our best shots,” says Aagaard. “Then the super-slo-mo came in for 2D during [Finals] weekend, so we had to make adjustments. Vince Pace ended up just building another, slightly different Shadow rig in two days in L.A. Then, he just brought it with him on the airplane, hooked it up, and made it work.”

This “hammerhead” ShadowD system features a side-by-side 3D rig mounted next to a 2D camera and does not feature the automated control of the ShadowD rigs.

“It isn’t a true Shadow rig,” says Goldfeder. “It isn’t automated in any way; it’s just mounted  on the side of the camera. Since it’s in the photo dugout, it does not need to move or track very much.”

The Beamsplitter That Was Not
Given the uncertainty surrounding the camera five position in the photo dugout, CBS Sports moved the beamsplitter rig that had been at camera five to camera seven, behind the opposite baseline. Because the beamsplitter rig adjusts more easily than a side-by-side rig does when a linesman runs directly in front of the camera, it is better suited for these court-level shots.

“Because we weren’t sure where camera five would end up [because of the super-slo-mo] early on, we hedged our bets and put the beamsplitter on seven,” says Goldfeder. “A beamsplit there would make it so that, when somebody runs in front of the photo pit, it’s not as bad.”

When CBS Sports found a way to facilitate both the super-slo-mo and the camera five 3D position inside the photo dugout, Aagaard deployed a side-by-side rig with the intention of switching it out for a beamsplitter on Saturday. However, this proved more difficult than expected and was abandoned.

“We didn’t end up being able to use the beamsplitter because it was just too big to put on that [hammerhead Shadow rig],” says Aagaard. “So [we used] a side-by-side system on that low camera in the dugout. You get hurt when a linesman runs in front of it, but it’s still a great shot and we still wanted to use it.”

Fixing the Score Bug
One of the chief issues during the Labor Day weekend telecast involved CBS Sports’ placement of the score bug within the 4:3 safe area. The graphic often clashed with the on-court action, resulting in some occlusion when a player on the screen collided with the graphic.

As a result, CBS Sports and graphics provider Reality Check rebuilt the score bug in a matter of days in time for Finals weekend, moving it into the outer edge of the 16:9 frame and solving the occlusion issue.

“We had to reprogram that whole [score bug],” says Aagaard. “We sent it out to Reality Check on the West Coast; they reprogrammed it and got it into 16:9.  They at least gave us the ability to adjust the convergence, but we can’t adjust where it sits on the screen. It always stays in the same spot. But it’s not in the shot and irritating your eyes like it was before, so that’s fine. We got it where we wanted it.”

Out of the ShadowDs, Into the Spotlight
The US Open marked the first widespread use of PACE’s ShadowD system, which mounts a 3D camera rig atop a 2D camera and can be operated by a single cameraperson. Judging by CBS Sports’ reaction, the system appears to have passed its first major test for sports.

“I would absolutely use the Shadow rigs again. We used four Shadow rigs on this show, and it worked very well,” says Aagaard. “Obviously, it would be a lot better if we could have our own camera positions, but, when you can’t, the Shadow rigs are very good. Sure, the director had to jump off the shot a lot of times, and he did get burned with a couple of quick pans for [the 2D show], but that’s all part of the early days of getting this done.”