Special Report: Audio for 3D

It’s the bottom of the ninth, and the batter hits a searing line drive up the middle. The 3D camera behind home plate records the initial travel of the ball, but then the director cuts to the 3D centerfield camera, making the viewer at home feel visually closer than ever to the action. But what about the audio? Does the audio plant the viewer in centerfield or somewhere in the stands?

That’s one of thousands of potential scenarios that audio mixers are going to have to work out as sound follows video into the realm of 3D. It’s one that Fred Aldous, senior mixer and consultant for Fox Sports, will face when he mixes some 3D “warm-up” broadcasts in July, when DirecTV, YES Network, and FSN Northwest will collaboratively produce two New York Yankees-Seattle Mariners games from Seattle’s Safeco Field in 3D, prior to Aldous’s mixing the All-Star Game in 3D on July 13 in Anaheim.

“I’ve just started making a plan,” says Aldous, who expects to use his standard 5.1 mix as the starting point, enhancing the mix incrementally to support the 3D broadcast. “We’ll be adding more microphones and doing some closer microphone placement, so that, when we take a close-up shot of the player, we can get the audio in closer and more intimate, too.”

All the bases will be miked, and Aldous hopes to put body packs on the umpires as well.

In 3D, perspective is everything, and that goes for audio as well. “We learned doing football in 3D that high, wide shots tend to lose the depth of field and destroy the 3D image,” he explains. “We want to promote that sense of depth, so we’re bringing the microphones closer in.”

These pre–All-Star games will be a turning point in broadcast sports’ transition into the 3D era. “It is important to learn not only how to produce baseball in 3D but also how to make it part of day-to-day baseball productions,” Eric Shanks, EVP of entertainment for DirecTV, told SVG this week.

But the specifics that Aldous is planning for the All-Star Game and its lead-ins underscore bigger decisions that lie ahead. Sports that have a predictably linear, left-to-right narrative, such as NASCAR and its endless left turns, will be simpler to present than, say, baseball, which has multiple storylines on the field of play at any given time. 3D potentially changes the game enough to allow him to consider breaking the most cardinal of all rules of multichannel sound: putting the voiceovers anywhere but straight down the center channel.

“3D is going to highlight all of the different storylines going on on the field, and we have to figure out how best to portray that,” he says. “We’ll be learning as we go along.”

Anthony Montano, who has mixed the Winter Olympics as well as hockey and other sports for CTV, Canada’s largest privately owned network, says that 3D offers sports audio a chance to reinvent itself the way 5.1 did but such a transformation may require some radical steps. That includes putting the mixer on-site rather than in a remote truck.

“I don’t want 3D mixers to be just glorified intercom operators,” he says. “We need to become more like sound designers. The surround field is going to get more emphasis, and we’ll use [front-to-back] panning to create a more fluid sound field.”

Dennis Baxter, sound designer for the Olympics broadcasts, says that 5.1 still presents plenty of challenges and audio for 3D will require its own set of standards and definitions that will likely take years to assemble and codify.

“It’s almost impossible to mix surround in a TV truck, let alone 3D,” he says. “And what is 3D sound? Is it 7.1? Is it 22.2? We’re just beginning to think about mixing for 3D, and it looks like there’s going to be a lot to think about.”

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