A Broadcast Unlike Any Other: ESPN 3D, CPG Master the Masters

ESPN’s 3D coverage of the Masters golf tournament has grown in two short years, from nine cameras in 2010 to 28 this year, an expansion that finally allowed the production to tell the story of the event, moving beyond simply highlighting the beauty and unique terrain that makes Augusta National a golf treasure.

Bubba Watson prepares to hit the shot of his life on the second sudden-death playoff hole en route to his first Masters Championship.

“We could go anywhere without compromise, and that was a huge step forward,” says Phil Orlins, coordinating producer, ESPN 3D. “In the past, we could show how wonderful the course looked in 3D. But, when working with 10 or 15 cameras, there are compromises. So this year’s coverage was truly a step forward and shows what we are capable of when covering golf in 3D. It’s a tangible, big step.”

Vince Pace, co-chairman/CEO, CAMERON PACE Group (CPG), a key partner in ESPN’s 3D efforts, agrees with Orlins’s assessment of the leap taken this year: “The revolution of the Masters in 3D was, first, showing the course. And, this year, we had the evolution to telling the story of golf.”

The 28 cameras included 10 CPG Shadow D rigs, which mount a 3D camera with a 2D camera, reducing the number of 3D camera operators by 10. There were also five 3D handheld units that roamed the course and were able to tap into camera drops around the course and send signals back to the NEP SS32 production unit and CPG Shadow 15 unit, where the production team, led by director Jim Cornell, cut the show.

ESPN’s 3D efforts have been focused squarely on figuring out how to have a single production that can produce the 2D and 3D feed using the same cameras. So the increase to 28 3D cameras laid a solid 3D foundation for the production team.

“You can get the right shot of the ball in the air from 300 yards away in 2D and then spend the rest of the time showing beautiful 3D shots of the landing area,” says Orlins.

There was also a technical tweak to the 3D camera rigs that allowed the camera operators to get better shots of golfers on the fairway. The obstacle facing the crew is that it is not possible to have both a 2D camera, used by CBS for its coverage, and a 3D camera, used by ESPN, roaming fairways at the same time. But changes to the rigs allowed the 3D handheld cameras to increase their zoom from 16x to 23x, making it possible to get solid shots from the edge of the fairway.

“It allowed the handheld camera to sit up on a pair of sticks and be used on the fairway [like a hard camera],” explains Pace.

Additional camera drops were also available this year, making it easier for the 3D cameras to get tied into the fiber network that sends camera signals back to the compound.

Another new technology that made its debut was a CCU unit that can send as many as three 3D-camera signals on two strands of fiber.

For CPG, the timing of the Masters could not be better. At the NAB Show next week, the company will be looking to get the word out that it has moved closer to having a 3D production that achieves equality of coverage with 2D in a way that is financially viable.

Pace says the eventual goal (and it is much closer than some may think) is to achieve production equality with 2D and then have one strategic plan where the 2D show is extracting one eye or the 3D rigs piggyback on the 2D camera. The Masters coverage and the quality of this year’s production reinforce that message.

“The guys at ESPN did a great job,” says Pace. “They have a style to their coverage that entertains and gives a perspective that is like being there.”

Says Orlins, “While there are many sports that can be enhanced with 3D, there are few that can be as thoroughly enhanced as golf and the Masters in particular. It comes to life in 3D in ways that it can never in 2D, with beauty and depth cues that exist thanks to the course, the hills, and the patrons. It’s as close to being there as you can get.”

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