MLB All-Star Game Helps Prove Viability of 3D Baseball

The 3D production of the 2010 MLB All Star Game in Anaheim, CA, on Tuesday night capped a memorable four-day stretch when 3D baseball was top of mind for the sports-production industry. And by all accounts, the closing event was a success.

“Seeing how well baseball translated to 3D was a shocker,” says Jerry Steinberg, SVP, field operations, for Fox Sports. “And it translated so well because we were able to get some 3D-friendly camera positions from Major League Baseball.”

The buy-in from MLB began at the highest level when Tim Brosnan, EVP, business for MLB, became a believer while watching the two New York Yankees-Seattle Mariners games that were produced in 3D last Saturday and Sunday. Those two productions had six Pace 3D camera rigs featuring Sony cameras and Fujinon lenses, and the plan, as of Sunday, was to produce the All-Star Game as well with six cameras.

“I was surprised by how polished the All-Star Game production felt,” says Vince Pace, CEO of PACE, the 3D-production company that played an integral role in all the events. “The angles worked, the coverage worked. I was impressed with how it came together as a sports production as opposed to coming out saying ‘that camera looked great.’ It felt like an instant transition to 3D baseball.”

An Expanded Arsenal
The All-Star Game production originally was supposed to be only six cameras, but that changed on Monday night after the Home Run Derby was broadcast in 3D by ESPN. “We added the sizzle stuff at the last minute,” says Steinberg. “But you still need to make sure there is fiber and infrastructure to support it.”

Added to the mix were two Panasonic AG-3DA1 cameras in the bullpen, small robotic cameras in the dugouts, and an aerial shot, which was processed from 2D to 3D with an HD Logix converter.

It was in Seattle that the production team learned how to get the most out of the six main camera positions: low home, low first, low third, centerfield, a mid-home robotic camera, and a handheld. The challenge was to deliver a compelling 3D experience, something that often requires shots that are close to the action without compromising the storytelling. It was still unclear heading into Seattle whether both of those goals could be met, because, unlike many other sports, baseball action does not simply go from left to right. Once the ball is in play, there are countless places it can go, and wide camera shots are often required, shots that can kill the 3D viewing experience.

“We learned a lot from Seattle,” says Michael Davies, VP of field operations, Fox Sports. “It was an investment we made that made the All-Star Game come out exactly as we wanted.”

A Quick Turnaround
The broadcast was produced in NEP’s Supershooter 32 unit, the same unit used by ESPN for the Home Run Derby on Monday night. That tight changeover required crew members to work from 9 p.m. Monday to as late as 5 a.m. Tuesday as they repositioned cameras and reprogrammed the routing switcher, audio, and monitor wall.

“The most difficult part was putting together in 12 hours what we had 60 hours to put together in Seattle,” says Davies. “As much as it seems like it would be easier to have the truck parked and powered and then just have to reposition cameras, it was still extremely difficult to get done.”

Sense of Depth and Movement
Once the game began, it was clear that the 3D coverage was a winner. The low-home shots from behind home plate added a tremendous sense of depth, especially during shots when the umpire, catcher, batter, pitcher, and even infielders and outfielders were all visible. As the pitch came into the plate, there was also a great sense of the movement of pitches, in particular breaking balls and sliders. Toss in the occasional ball to the backstop for the 3D wow effect, and it was just as good as being in the ballpark.

The centerfield shot and low-home and third shots also proved extremely effective, giving viewers a better sense of the length of a lead, positioning of infielders relative to the base, and more.

“The core of the production was those six cameras, with the other cameras adding a little entertainment like player reactions,” says Pace. “In the beginning [of 3D sports production], we didn’t have that ability, but we have seen a lot of technology that is coming to the table and complements the core cameras.”

Complementary Technology
At the All-Star Game, one of those technologies was the Panasonic 3D camcorder. In Seattle, one of the camcorders was used in the broadcast booth, but, in Anaheim, additional units were used in the bullpen area and the clubhouse.

“It has its own technical constraints, but it is simple to use, and having two HD-SDI outputs makes it easy to connect to the truck,” says Davies. “It will be an integral part of any future 3D productions.”

Pace adds that the Panasonic camcorder still has some issues in proximity situations but definitely has a role. “There is no one camera that fits all 3D-production needs,” he says. “That is a little different from working in 2D.”

Audio To Match
And then there was the audio side of the production, handled by Fred Aldous, lead audio mixer for Fox Sports, and Joe Carpenter, Fox Sports lead mixer for MLB. The audio featured a punched-up on-field mix that matched the visuals, with the sound of the balls hitting gloves and even the bat hitting the plate on release by a batter all clearly present in the mix.

“We now have a great combination of visuals that complement surround sound,” says Pace.

Aerial Shots, Other Elements Converted
Davies also credits the HD Logix Image IQ 3D 2D-to-3D converter with helping convert aerial shots as well as promos, features, wipes, and graphic elements to 3D.

“It is a Swiss Army knife of tools that, for example, helped convert DirecTV promos that were in a panelized format to dual-stream mode,” says Davies. “It was extremely valuable to have on-site.”

While the Panasonic camcorders and HD Logix gear enhanced the production, Davies says the core camera systems, provided by PACE, really shone during the weekend’s events.

“The PACE cameras and ingenuity and expertise of Vince and his team are incredible,” he says. “They made it possible for us to weave in the other elements.”

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