At Little League World Series, ESPN Continues to Blur Line Between 2D, 3D

ESPN’s single truck, unilateral 2D-3D production method looks to take another giant leap forward this week when it hits the baseball diamond for the first time at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA. The “5D” single-truck model has already been deployed by ESPN in various capacities for boxing, NBA and college basketball, and Summer and Winter X Games. However, this will be the network’s largest 5D undertaking to date – at least in terms of total programming – producing 22 2D/3D games in 11 days entirely from NEP’s Supershooter 22 mobile unit.

“We haven’t done anything yet that is quite this long or has quite this many games,” says ESPN 3D coordinating producer Phil Orlins. “Functionally, the fact that we have 22 games in 11 days in one location makes this an ideal opportunity.”

All Little League World Series (LLWS) games from Lamade Stadium in Williamsport will be produced in 2D and 3D using a single truck and crew, while early-round games in the adjacent Volunteer Stadium will solely get 2D treatment using an independent mobile unit.

2D Cameras Seep into 3D Coverage
Thus far, the 5D model has predominantly utilized 3D camera rigs at the primary 2D positions and taken the left-eye feed from those rigs for the 2D telecast. The use of 2D cameras has been a rare occurrence.

However, that is about to change following extensive discussion both internally and with 3D guru/Cameron-Pace Group CEO Vince Pace. In Williamsport, ESPN will integrate five 2D cameras into the 16-camera show in an effort to capture certain baseball-centric shots that would be next to impossible with a 3D camera rig (i.e. the slow-motion spin of a pitch, a close up on the eyes of the batter/pitcher, etc.).

“We have made a determination that the goal should not be to use 100% [native] 3D shots,” says Orlins. “The goal should be to create the best overall visual experience. So, in the case of LLWS, we are going to [use 2D cameras to] mix in some of the conventional tight long-lens and super slo-mo shots that you’re used to seeing on baseball.

The majority of the primary coverage positions will continue to be populated with 3D rigs, but the five 2D cameras at LLWS will be the most ever deployed in a 5D production. The 2D camera feed will be doubled for the left/right eye feeds and set slightly off-center to create the illusion of 3D in the ESPN 3D telecast.

“We feel in order to create the best experience for both [2D and 3D] audiences, you need certain cameras to do different things,” says Orlins. “We need a camera with a long lens to shoot the right fielder’s eyes extremely tight. That is something that you can accomplish with a 2D camera that you can’t with a 3D camera. Even if you could, shooting a close-up of a player from 200 feet away would [eliminate] all the 3D principles anyway.”

The 2D camera complement will consist of two super slo-mos, an overhead shot, and low-first and a low-second positions. ESPN will also deploy 3D rigs alongside the 2D cameras at low-first and low-third in an effort to capture the wide range of shots needed from those positions.

“The 3D cameras have trouble making a shot work at 10 feet away and at 500 feet away,” says Orlins. “For that reason, we’ve added cameras at low-first and low-third to have one that can do the tight stuff at a distance and one that can shoot the really good 3D stuff around the infield – the batter, pitcher, and so on.”

…But 3D Still Holds its Own
Nonetheless, 3D rigs (and their left-eye feeds) will continue to supply the bulk of the 2D and 3D coverage. Positions for the 11 3D rigs on hand include the primary pitch camera in center field, high-home, left field, a jib in the corner of the field, and a mid-home camera eight feet high on the backstop that will serve as a secondary pitch camera.

ESPN’s LLWS has relied on heavily on this mid-home camera as a pitch camera in the past, and will continue to do so this year. However, the 3D aspect adds – for lack of a better term – a whole new dimension to the position.

“That mid-home backstop camera will be an amazing 3D shot,” says Orlins. “It really doesn’t get much better than that in terms of layering: the catcher and batter 30 feet away from the camera and the pitcher 70 feet away. Being able to set up those layers with eight feet of elevation is going to be beautiful and, in terms of coverage, very predictable. I think you’ll see a pretty even mix between the mid-home and centerfield [positions] for pitch [coverage].

Size Matters
A central factor in ESPN 3D’s decision to add LLWS to the programming slate was the event’s diminutive field and the close proximity that it offered. The 60-foot diamond and 46-foot mound-to-plate stretch create a smaller playing environment, which is more conducive to 3D coverage than the 90-foot base paths found at higher levels (ESPN 3D currently has no official plans to produce MLB or NCAA baseball).

As a result low-first, low-third, and-low home cameras are about 30 feet away from the action, rather than 60 feet on a college or Major League field. Meanwhile, the main center-field camera is about 200 feet from the batter and 150 feet from the pitcher rather than 400-plus feet.

“There is no question in my mind that the size of the field compared to the size of a major league field makes this much more suited to 3D,” says Orlins. “The proximity of the camera positions to the diamond is considerably closer, which is essential for 3D.”

Score Bug to the Top
The 2D and 3D telecasts will be nearly identical with one exception: the 3D score bug will be moved to the upper corner of the screen in the 3D show, as has been the case for nearly all of ESPN 3D’s live game coverage. The 3D score bug is smaller and redesigned with more depth in an effort to avoid an uncomfortable eye sore or depth conflict in the 3D telecast. The 2D score bug will remain in the lower corner of the screen.

A Melding of Crews
ESPN 3D lead director Doug Holmes (who also happens to me the long-time lead director for LLWS) will direct all 22 games from Lamade, while LLWS veteran Tom McNeeley will produce alongside him. The majority of the LLWS production crew returns and will be joined by a several members of ESPN 3D’s technical crew.

ESPN’s coverage of the Little League World Series on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN 3D, begins Thursday, Aug. 18. The International Championship, U.S. Championship, and World Championship will air exclusively on ABC Aug. 27-28.

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