CBS Sports Shares Lessons Learned From Final Four in 3D

The Final Four in 3D last weekend gave CBS Sports and its production team an opportunity to learn much about producing in 3D. Ken Aagaard, SVP, operations and production, for CBS Sports, says it was a really good experience but there is still a long way to go: “One reporter asked me, if this is a basketball game, where are you with 3D? I told him we’re maybe 30 seconds into the first quarter.”

CBS Sports director Mark Grant, who was in charge of calling the shots alongside producer Ken Mack, is already looking forward to his next opportunity to work on a 3D production. With only one weekend under his belt, he is already one of the seasoned veterans of the 3D movement.

“I’m very excited about it,” he says. “It was great directing a show and turning around to see 12 people in the truck [wearing 3D glasses] and looking like Secret Service agents. There is an appetite for 3D in a lot of different sports, and, hopefully, we planted seeds for others who will want to do 3D productions. It’s just going to get better and better.”

Those seeds are already sprouting ideas at CBS Sports. Aagaard says the network is looking at 3D for a lot of events.

Partners Needed
Plenty of challenges remain in making 3D all it needs to be. But the biggest has less to do with covering the game and everything to do with finding consumer-electronics companies willing to defray the high cost of 3D productions.

“As long as the manufacturers are willing to support the costs, we will continue [to produce events in 3D],” says Aagaard. “We’re not going to be able to do this on our own nickel like we did with high definition. It’s just not going to happen.”

In the case of the Final Four, it was LG Electronics that made the investment (Sony is heavily involved with ESPN’s efforts and Panasonic with DirecTV’s programming).

Different Camera Techniques
Grant says that some of the lessons learned involved helping the camera operators understand the differences in working in 2D and 3D. For example, shots need to be wider than usual to allow more players, objects, fans, and coaches to lend depth to the image.

And, while there is a “wow” factor to 3D that can impress fans, sooner rather than later, there will be a need for more 3D-camera positions to ensure that the director and producer can cut the show to tell the storylines the way they want.

“We only had four cameras that could effectively cover the game in 3D,” says Grant, “so I had to cut more aggressively than I would have liked.”

One solution, he believes, is to find camera positions that can be shared by both the 2D and the 3D production, with the 2D signal coming out of one of the cameras.

Camera Weight Is an Issue
There is also a great need for much lighter 3D handheld cameras. With cameras weighing in at 60 lb., operators needed to rotate every 20 minutes to stay fresh. And, as they work the game, reacting to the action and getting the right shot is more complex and difficult given the weight of the rig.

Editorially, the 20-minute shifts, a necessary evil to ensure the safety of the crew, prevent the production team from getting into a groove. “They all do things a little bit differently,” says Grant of the way camera operators approach their craft.

One camera angle that both Grant and Aagaard consider a success was the ActionCam flying over the court. “I went into the show thinking we wouldn’t use it a lot, but it made our coverage better,” says Grant.  “We used it more than I expected, and it gave a cool look.”

The Stadium Effect
One unique aspect of the production was that the game took place in a stadium instead of an arena. Grant says there were good and bad aspects to shooting a 3D game in a stadium. For example, there was more space for the 3D cameras to be placed, but they weren’t as close to the action as they would have been in an arena.

The raised floor also had both positive and negative effect. It helped get better shots from the slash position, which otherwise would have been blocked by fans sitting behind the baskets. “The elevated floor lent itself to putting viewers in the stands,” he says. “It really worked well for us.”

The downside was that the cameras were lower than they would be in a typical basketball arena, where the lower section of seats tends to rise steeply from the floor. As a result, it was hard to use shots from the slash position for play-by-play, especially since fans in the student section stood for the entire game. But the slash position still was effective in capturing the hometown Butler fans’ reacting to the action.

And even the fans, and their unpredictability, can be an issue. “If you get camera positions where even the smallest of fans jump up in front of the lens, that’s kind of annoying,” says Aagaard. “So all of us are going to have to look at camera positions even more selectively to make sure that it’s really going to be able to work properly.”

This weekend, the 2D production of the Masters golf tournament is the most important task at hand for CBS Sports, but the team will have an eye on the ESPN’s 3D production of it.

“Golf is going to be a natural,” says Aagaard. “I guarantee it will be a big success, and we will be looking to do more golf. And certainly the U.S. Open tennis championship is a natural as well.”

Additional reporting by Carolyn Braff

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