Few sports lend themselves to 3D better than golf does, and even fewer venues offer a feast for the eyes like Augusta National. Naturally, that makes The Masters an ideal event to occupy the front lines in the advance of 3D sports technology.
As the centerpiece of SVG’s 3D & Beyond Summit last week, “Case Study: The Masters” brought together CBS Sports executives to discuss their partnership with ESPN in producing and directing its 3D coverage of the back nine at one of golf’s premier events of the year.
While most of the sports industry is still just dipping a toe into the 3D-production pool, ESPN got its feet wet last year, producing two hours of 3D coverage per day at the 2010 Masters tournament. When Augusta National’s Will Jones and Lee Benedict approached Ken Aagaard , EVP of Engineering, Operations and Production Services for CBS Sports, about the 2011 broadcast, they wanted to go even bigger.
“Augusta National is always looking to be on the front edge of technology,” said Aagaard. “When they approached all of us, they asked about doing the entire second nine in 3D and, instead of just showing a couple of holes to show the 3D effect, [said] let’s see if we can really do a show, a show that will tell a story like we do in 2D.”
Both Augusta National and CBS Sports wanted the production effort to remain as invisible as possible, which can present a challenge in trying to line up captivating shots for 3D. To do this, Aagaard decided to use an approach implemented during the network’s Sports Emmy Award-winning 3D coverage of the 2010 US Open tennis tournament: the integrated 2D/3D Shadow D rig from PACE (now CAMERON-PACE Group).
The unit places a 3D rig alongside a longer-lens 2D camera and allows one operator to control and drive both with one set of controls, capturing 2D and 3D images simultaneously. This cuts down the number of operators needed, allows virtually any operator to shoot 3D with minimal additional training, and, much to the network’s delight, cuts costs.
“I’ll be honest, I didn’t think these cameras were going to be able to get up, capture the ball in the air, and follow it down,” said Aagaard. “It ended up going pretty well.”
The Shadow D rig does add an extra wrinkle into the broadcast, since much of the work of creating fantastic images falls on the shoulders of the director, who must be very specific with the crew in what is wanted.
“The thing is, the cameramen are seeing it in 2D,” said CBS Sports director Jim Cornell. “They wanted to shoot tighter, but we needed to be cut in with something wide. In the 2D world, I direct and tell them the shot that I want. I don’t have to tell them how to frame their shots. I’m past that; they’re past that. In 3D, you do need to direct their framing in order to get the most out of the 3D.”
In the infancy of live 3D broadcasting, manpower is essential to both operate and direct the complex technology. This year’s Masters broadcast saw significant improvements in streamlining workflows to get the most out of the 3D technology. CBS Sports had an estimated 80 workers on its 3D crew, with a convergence operator for almost every camera.
“If we had tried to do the same thing the year before,” said Aagaard, “I’d say it would have been about 150 people.”
Among the hardware, the production deployed six Shadow D cameras, three hard cameras, and one high-speed camera.
“We had 10 cameras with flippers, and I don’t think we used any of them because the 3D looked so spectacular,” said Aagaard. “We ended up doing an almost entirely 3D show.”
The Course as the Star of the Show
The panel at the 3D & Beyond Summit was highlighted by a demonstration of the 3D coverage, which included a spectacular slow-motion shot of Tiger Woods’s swing. Even that, however, was dwarfed by the visuals of what would have otherwise been simple shots of golfers walking the fairways and lining up putts on the greens.
“As much as it is the golfers, it is the course,” CBS Sports producer Ken Mack pointed out. “With a basketball court, the floor is flat so you need to find other ways to utilize and enhance the 3D. With a golf course, there are so many nuances and twists and turns, that it just fits the medium so well.”
Converting the Skeptics
The paramount concern for any network looking to invest in 3D technology is whether the average viewer will embrace the presentation. It will likely take some time for the industry to, essentially, “train” the eyes of the viewing public, who have grown accustomed to watching sports a certain way. CBS Sports and ESPN, though, have received rave reviews for their work at The Masters.
“For weeks after the event, so many people came up to me and said, ‘I’ve seen this event for 20 years, and it didn’t look anything like it did when I watched it in 3D,’” said Mack.
“Not too many people have seen [3D], and now all of you have,” said Aagaard, addressing the audience. “I think a lot of you are going to walk away and say, ‘Wow!’ That’s the kind of thing that is going to be huge for 3D.”