UFC, Cinedigm Enter 3D Octagon for Round 2

On Saturday, the Ultimate Fighting Championship will enter the 3D octagon for a second time, and, for the first time, the 3D UFC pay-per-view event will be available to MMA fans in movie theaters across the country, courtesy of Cinedigm Digital Cinema and NCM Fathom.

Much like a boxing ring, MMA’s compact setting lends itself to 3D, allowing cameras to shoot fighters up close rather than from the sidelines.

“You obviously get high-impact 3D when you can get your subjects as close to the cameras as possible,” says Craig Borsari, SVP of production and operations, UFC. “In our sport, we are able to get within arm’s reach of our subjects. It is exciting to be able to cover live fight action in a cage that is only 30 ft. in diameter when you have five cameras all within a few feet of the fighters.”

The 3D production of UFC 143: Diaz vs. Condit on Saturday is part of UFC’s annual fight in Las Vegas the day before the Super Bowl.

2D, 3D Remain Independent
UFC and its long-time production partner ConCom will produce the 2D and 3D shows independently (rather than via the combined 5D model used by ESPN for boxing), as was the case in March 2011 when UFC teamed with Versus (since rebranded NBC Sports Network) to produce the first-ever UFC fight in 3D for Comcast XFinity and its affiliates.

The 3D side will operate out of NEP’s SS28 and use six 3ality Technica 3D camera rigs; the 2D production will roll out NEP SS21 and deploy 14 dedicated cameras. In addition, the 2D show will have access to the left-eye feed from two of the six 3D rigs. The producer-director team of Jon Norton and J.J. Szokody will return to the front bench on Saturday after running the show last year during the first 3D UFC production.

“We’re doing a bit of hybrid [production model],” says Borsari. “There is a bit of crossover between the two shows, but our primary goal is to make sure that 3D can co-exist with 2D without compromising the 2D show at any point.”

Half Dozen 3D Rigs and a New Graphics Package
The six 3ality Technica rigs are a mix of side-by-side and beam-splitter rigs, with four dedicated to fight coverage and two Steadicams covering the fighters backstage and as they walk out, as well as providing crowd shots. The four cage positions are composed of a main-coverage camera rig on the deck of the octagon, two robotic rigs fastened to the overhead lighting grid on opposite sides of the octagon (one of which will be fastened to a panograph arm), and a Sony 3D camcorder that will be fastened to the cage during the fight and used for backstage coverage before and after the fight. The 2D show will take the left-eye feed from the main-coverage rig and one of the Steadicams.

Borsari and company have created entirely new 3D graphics packages for its clock-and-score display and its insert look. The new package, which is based on the 2D look, was built using the Chyron Duet HyperX3.1 graphics platform.

A Night at the Theater
The fight will be delivered to approximately 140 theaters around the country. Two separate feeds will be delivered to the theaters — one for locations with Sensio projectors and one for RealD projectors. The fight will also be available via pay-per-view to subscribers of participating cable and satellite providers that have a 3D-capable television set.

“We will be in the truck and will have plenty of folks in the theater giving us feedback,” says Jonathan Dern, president, Cinedigm Content and Entertainment Group. “On the Sensio side, we will be pushing close to 60 Mbps, so it is a big, fat signal. To give you some perspective, the [2010] World Cup went around the world, and we had to hit the lowest common denominator to reach [thousands of theaters], but, for this, we are pushing a much stronger signal so it will be available in a much higher resolution.”

The left- and right-eye signals will be muxed on-site in Las Vegas, sent up to a satellite, back down to Cinedigm headquarters in Chatsworth, CA, back up to a satellite, and then down to theaters, where it will be decoded just before the signal hits the projector.

“This is the first fight that we’ve ever done of any kind,” says Dern. “Our exhibitor partners are thrilled. They have been asking for UFC for more than three years.”

Building the Audience
Saturday’s event is the first installment in a four-fight deal that will play out quarterly over the next year. According to Dern, the footprint for live sports events like this will expand greatly over the next year as more and more theaters switch to digital projection systems. By Cinedigm’s estimate, 85% of the theaters in the U.S. will be digital by the end of this year.

“We will be building our audience throughout this year, and we think people will be coming out of the theaters amazed,” says Dern. “As more theaters go to digital, it will allow us to expand the footprint of live [2D] and live 3D to a much larger segment of the country.”

UFC 143: Diaz vs. Condit begins at 10 p.m. ET from Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. CLICK HERE to find the nearest Cinedigm theater showing the fight in 3D. CLICK HERE for more information on how to order the pay-per-view event online or through a local cable or satellite provider.