3D Graphics: Taming the Wild West

Graphics are an integral part of any sports production, but they can make — or break — a 3D production. At SVG’s 3D & Beyond Summit hosted by CBS Sports yesterday, experts from the 3D-graphics and editing space took the stage to discuss their experience so far and how a library of sample 3D sports footage would help move the needle on 3D-graphics production.

“Graphics has been a real Wild West,” opined Bill Hendler, chief technology officer for Chyron. “An awful lot of decisions have been made in the truck at the last second rather than planning ahead of time. We’re all used to building graphic packages offline without having to worry about what the source material looks like; we don’t have to think very much about where we put them in volume. Now we have to think about the depth budget between the front-most plane and rear-most in a scene. Where do graphics live there? Do they pull you away from the scene or lead you in?”

Hendler showcased a series of 3D graphics that his team developed with the NBA for the 2011 All-Star weekend, noting where certain graphics tend to be riskier than others when it comes to plane violations. He also explained that one of the unsung benefits of 3D is being able to frame 16:9, which gives the graphics team more flexibility in placement and allows the image to utilize the full size of the screen.

Juliana Barbieri, former director of graphics for CBS and currently co-founder and managing partner of Manuka Sports Event Management, agreed about the 16:9 space — especially after working on the US Open tennis tournament, where the graphics were originally positioned for 4:3.

“We’re so conditioned in the world of graphics that we forgot,” she said. “When we got out there, we saw we could move the score bug completely off the screen. It’s a mistake you won’t ever make again.”

Triple the Effort
To prevent such mistakes in the future, Hendler proposed building out a library of rights-free discrete-left- and right-eye sample material with different depths, so that graphics designers can build out packages and not be surprised about placement or their depth across live sports footage. In fact, when Barbieri’s team converted its 2D replay wipe into true 3D, the operator created three versions of the wipe, with varying degrees of offset.

“In New York, on our monitor, we said the one with the most offset looked the coolest,” Barbieri explained. “We didn’t have capacity to look at it over live video. When we got out to the truck, the one with the least amount of offset was the one that we ended up going with. You end up creating three times as much content for a single wipe, and some of the elements that work in 2D really don’t work well in 3D at all. Things coming out at you that are used so much in 2D really don’t work well in 3D.”

In the editing world, Matt Schneider, of PostWorks NY, agreed that not all displays are created equal and, once graphics teams move out of the physically small spaces in which they develop the content, the distance of their graphic from the display turns out to be different from what they had originally intended.

“Judging Z depth has taken people by surprise,” Schneider said. “Cutting for theatrical or broadcast TV, with the proliferation of displays that people are using to create the graphics, when we get into a finishing room, we find that the graphics really don’t line up.”

Custom-Built for 3D
Still, at this point, very few graphics packages have been created for sports with the original intent of being used for 3D, so the creative surface has only begun to be scratched.

“Where we should start pushing is on the animation side, in the TD elements,” Barbieri said. “Up to this point, we’ve been converting the TD reel of insert graphics and show opens. What would it be like to really create a show open in 3D?”

She also mentioned creating a virtual score bug, which would alleviate some of the plane violation that occurs when players jump in front of the score bug, no matter where it is placed on the screen. Hendler suggested adding some transparency to the graphics or simply moving the bug to the upward portion of the screen.

“Score bugs can be tough, unless there’s a way of superimposing the graphic on the field or background so that it doesn’t disturb you,” Barbieri said. “When you have time to digest it, you can let the 3D shine.”


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