3D Cameras for Final Four Toss Up New Production Challenges

CBS Sports director Mark Grant handpicked his crew of camera operators for the 3D production of this year’s NCAA Final Four, but even the industry’s best and brightest have their hands full — literally — in Indianapolis. The 3D cameras weigh close to 50 lbs., and the operators switch off at halftime to give their shoulders a break. In addition to sheer size, speed, framing, and operations are all distinctive in the 3D realm, making this shoot a whole new ballgame.

“The dimensions of these cameras are so big, it’s like moving a truck,” explains Chuck Denton, one of the camera operators. “But they are designed to be well-balanced. You’ve got focus on one hand and zoom on another, so you’re moving what looks like a joystick control, but, instead of reaching with a normal tilt action, it’s more or less moving your whole trunk, so you have to allow more reaction time.”

That slowed reaction time does work to the medium’s advantage, however.

“I do not think abrupt moves are what you want to see in 3D,” says operator Nate Spearman. “You want to see more of the whole story, so I try to anticipate my moves a little earlier and move a little bit more deliberately. That way, I can stay wide and see the whole thing.”

The handheld-camera operators can see only the output of the left eye, because convergence is left to the professional operators in the PACE 3D truck. The hard-camera operators can look at the convergence if they choose to, but, for the most part, these technicians already have plenty to keep their eyes busy.

Wide-Angle Views
“3D is very different in the way you shoot,” explains operator Michael Aagaard. “In 3D, there’s so much more information for people to process. If you’re shooting a handheld and someone’s got the basketball, you’re following that guy, but, in 3D, you have to follow other people around that ball. You have to keep your shot wider and let everything come to you, versus a regular game, where you’re being aggressive.”

Adds Spearman, “Now there’s a story in the foreground and the background, as opposed to focusing on just one guy.”

A tight shot on the hero, for example, might miss another player’s falling toward the camera, which is the perfect shot for 3D, so these operators must do their best to stay wide and take it all in.

“Everything now has to have some foreground in order to see the depth and dimensions that we’re trying to create,” explains Grant, who directs the 3D production out of NEP’s SS9 truck. “We picked spots for our cameras that have people in the foreground that you’re going to be able to see, as well as the subjects in the convergence point.”

Six Cameras, New Angles
CBS is using six cameras for the 3D production. The first is a traditional mid-court play-by-play position. To the left of that sits a slash camera, situated between the end zone and the play-by-play camera, at a 45-degree angle to the court. A robotic camera over the left basket can work both ends of the court, providing an overhead view of layups and blocks as well as a look down the court at defensive formations.

A low slash camera in the right corner sits behind the student section and offers a unique 3D perspective. “What we’re hoping for is, when the students erupt and they’re cheering, we’ll be able to zoom right past them, and, when we push past, that should really create a unique look,” Grant explains. “We expect that to be our home-run shot.”

Two handhelds are positioned closest to the court, one beneath each basket, but their operators are working with a different mindset than usual.

“On a regular HD show, every director says the tighter the better,” says camera operator Charles Hill. “They want to see the biggest face they can see on the screen. In 3D, it’s totally the opposite. The wider the shot is, the more perspective and layering you see, so you have to play it a little wider than you normally would, which is something you have to be conscious of.”

Adjusting to the Silver Screen
Something else the operators are conscious of is the size of the screen their audience is viewing.

“These fans are watching in a movie theater on a 40-ft. screen, not a 35-in. TV,” Denton says. “They can see and pick out so much more information on that size screen.”

Adds operator Michael Smote, “We are basically learning that the fans will see more than we will. So we try to be cognizant of that.”

Grant chose each of these operators because he has worked with them before, though not in 3D. Each has seen footage in 3D and worked Friday night’s All-Star game as a warm-up for Saturday and Monday’s Final Four productions, and with 3D veteran PACE CEO Vince Pace on hand, the production team is in good hands.

Going Back for the Future
So far, these operators say, the early days of 3D resemble the early days of HD.

“When HD first came out,” Aagaard says, “it was a side-by-side production, the camera was huge, and everyone said this thing is never going to take off.”

Adds Denton, “And it was always no quick pans, no quick zooms, since that will be too jarring. And now you basically shoot HD the same way you shoot SD.”

Whether these operators will soon be shooting 3D the way they do HD, only time will tell. But, for Monday night’s Championship game, the production team is prepared to deliver a top-quality, 3D-specific movie-theater experience.

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