World Cup in 3D: A Learning Experience for All

The World Cup is winding down this week, and next Monday, the global sports-production community will have new 3D production personnel available for work, with the teams involved in producing 25 tournament games in 3D ready for their next project. And Duncan Humphreys, 3D consultant to Host Broadcast Services (HBS) for the World Cup and partner in UK-based 3D-production company Can Communicate, believes that the successful completion of action in 3D, and the experience of crew and production personnel, is great news for 3D’s future.

“This is an incredibly exciting moment for television,” he says. “When we started conversations with HBS and Sony 18 months ago and where we have come today is quite remarkable. The crew is getting better, and we have fine-tuned the small issues that are resolvable, and we have been able to address issues that we couldn’t address just three months ago.”

At the core of the productions are two production units, one each from Telegenic and AMP, outfitted with a Sony MVS-8000 production switcher controlling Sony 1500 cameras mounted on Element Technica 3D rigs with 32 Canon HJ22ex7.6B portable HD lenses.

“The support from Sony, Canon, and Element Technica has really come together,” says Humphreys, “and we have a robust system.”

The biggest challenge facing live sports in 3D, he says, is figuring out how, as an industry, the cost of production can drop from two or three times the cost of a typical 2D production to about a 20% or 30% surcharge.

“As we are asked to do more and more 3D projects, we need to get to a budget level that is acceptable,” explains Humphreys. “To date, 3D has been very targeted to one-off events that can afford to spend the money. But, if 3D is going to be done on a day-to-day basis, that model won’t work.”

One way Humphreys and his team have tackled that problem is the use of standard Sony cameras instead of relying strictly on “T-block” Sony 1500 cameras that are harder to find. With a T-block camera, basically, the front is sawed off the camera to make it a small block. At the World Cup, a regular, full-body Sony 1500 camera is used with a T-block camera hanging off the bottom.

“The Canon lenses have been fantastic, but, again, they are standard broadcast lenses that are easy to come by,” says Humphreys. “What is difficult is matching them.”

The lenses have also been subjected to some lighting challenges. It is midwinter in South Africa, and the shorter days mean that floodlights and other lights at the stadiums are turned on earlier in the day.

At the stadium in Durban, for example, the lights are low. “Sometimes, the lights will pop into the shot, and you won’t get the same burn on both lenses,” he says. “We have been shielding the lenses to get rid of those problems, so it’s controllable, but that is an issue that 3D faces.”

And while 3D rigs are the obvious focus, Humphreys believes there will be a role for 2D cameras that are upconverted to 3D. At the World Cup, for example, 2D shots from a helicopter and Spidercam rigged over the field have been upconverted.

“Most purists will say 2D-to-3D conversion is horrendous, but, to work in a live sports broadcast, you need to give viewers shots from camera positions they are used to seeing,” he explains. “If you don’t, you have a weaker product.”

Humphreys says his company is now spending about 50% of its time working on 3D projects. 3D, unlike HD, will excite the general public more than the technologists.

“When people pop the glasses on,” he observes, “they can immediately see the difference, and that will get people to spend more to get a 3D set and, then, creating the demand for 3D programming. And the TV industry is very good at creating something when there is demand for it.”

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