X Games Live: ESPN, CPG Jump into 5D Production With Both Feet

Since the launch of its 3D network just over two years ago, ESPN has gradually begun to blur the line between its 2D and 3D productions. And this week at ESPN’s 18th installment of Summer X Games in Los Angeles, that line will become truly indecipherable.

Every single event at every single L.A. Live venue will be a full 5D production (a 2D-3D unilateral production using a single mobile unit and crew), meaning that every minute of the planned 21 hours of 2D X Games coverage on ESPN, ESPN2, and ABC will also air on ESPN3D.

“Last year [at X Games], it was kind of a one-foot-in-one-foot-out approach,” says X Games and ESPN 3D Coordinating Producer Phil Orlins. “Everything at Staples Center [Moto X events] was in full 5D, but we were just trying to get enough cameras out to the other venues to have any kind of 3D [programming]. This year, though, we are 5D across the board.”

Off and Running with 5D
Based on the total 5D production model laid out at Winter X Games in January (which also aired all 2D programming on ESPN 3D), ESPN has consolidated what was a three-mobile-unit operation last year into a two-unit operation.

The duo of NEP SS-32 (ESPN’s dedicated 3D truck) and Cameron-Pace Group’s ShadowCaster 15 are servicing Venue A, which consists of the Nokia Theater (Vert Ramp), Event Deck (Park and Street competitions), and the Big Air ramp. Meanwhile, NEP Denali Summit (which has been modified for 3D capability) and ShadowCaster 25 are handling Venue B, which is made up of the Staples Center (Moto X), the Rally Car course, and the newly added Hot Wheels Double Loop. (A third truck, NEP’s SS25, handled the Nokia Theater and Event Deck venues last year).

“This year’s setup is less complex in that we had the Staples Center truck covering every single venue for 3D last year, but this year, each truck also has a lot more to do,” says Steve Raymond, associate director – event operations. “Instead of doing one or two disciplines apiece, they are all doing four. So camera repos are very aggressive – there are cameras flying all over the place. It requires a lot more fiber infrastructure and people on the ground to test stuff in advance.”

3D Rigs Aplenty
In all, ESPN will deploy 29 CPG 3D rigs (mostly with Sony cameras and Fujinon lenses), and 17 Sony 2D cameras for its coverage. Per the normal 5D methodology, the 2D show will take the left-eye feed from the 3D rigs, while the 3D show will create a left- and right-eye feed from these 2D cameras and slightly offset them to create the illusion of a 3D image.

“In my opinion, this [production] is 18 months to two years ahead of anybody else that is in the business,” says CPG Co-Chairman Vince Pace. “They are extracting the left eye for 2D and delivering the whole show in 3D, which is the true goal for us. Not all projects can afford that luxury. The correct definition of 5D is what you are seeing here at X Games.”

Among the 3D rigs on hand at L.A. Live: four jibs, two I-MOVIX ultra-slo-mos (integrated by Fletcher Sports and, for the first time, featuring the new Vision Research Phantom v642 cameras), a FlyCam aerial system over the Big Air ramp, a 90-foot Strada Crane on the Rally Car course, five robotic systems (integrated by Fletcher and featuring CPG rigs), two in-car/on-board wireless cameras for the Rally Car competition, and the first appearance of a 3D JITACam (30-foot, 360-degree jib) hung from the Staples Center overhead grid.

While CBS Sports’ coverage of The Masters still stands as the largest 3D sports show to date in terms of total rigs (38 in total), X Games’ 18 presents an even more challenging and complex show for CPG.

“We may have had more rigs at The Masters but it is far more complex out here because 70% of those rigs, at any given time, are going to move to another location,” says CPG’s 3D Sports Department Chief Paul Tobyansen. “At the Masters, you basically know where your [rigs] are going to be from the start. Here, it’s four days of shooting like The Masters, but it’s 80 events, so it’s more like a symphony where you better be hitting right notes or else someone is going to notice.”

Don’t Forget the 2D
Although the 2D and 3D shows are completely intertwined this year, ESPN will once again incorporate a large complement of 2D cameras into the production, as it has in its 5D productions for several months. These cameras are positioned at far-way angles that require ultra-wide lenses, which cannot currently be integrated with 3D rigs.

“The purist view of 3D needs to be left behind,” says Pace. “We’re in the business of entertainment, and if that means that the best way to tell the story is to team 2D cameras with 3D rigs, then that is what needs to be done. Shadow technology and sharing of eye can help that along, but if there are certain limitations that we can’t overcome right now, we should take advantage of these 2D assets.”

In addition to taking the left-eye feed from the various specialty 3D rigs, ESPN will deploy eight HD on-board cameras for its RallyCross coverage as well as four robotic cameras for booth shots (integrated by Fletcher).

Stay tuned for more of SVG’s live coverage from X Games 18 on Friday at sportsvideo.org and in the SVG Insider newsletter.