NBA, Pace Continue Evolving 3D Productions at All-Star Weekend

This weekend, the NBA, along with Pace, the league’s 3D production partner, will once again shoot All-Star Weekend activities in 3D but with one big change. The emphasis this weekend is on experimenting and gathering video for a future video rather than delivering a full live 3D production to viewers in theaters.

“We’re going to deploy a couple of cameras to shoot the event but also take coverage to the next level and tell the story that surrounds NBA All-Star weekend,” says Mike Rokosa, NBA Entertainment, VP of engineering. “In the past, we have just focused on the event, but this time we have a producer and will go for the full story arc with 3D coverage from the locker rooms, talking to players, and going behind the scenes of the buildup to the All-Star game.

Rokosa has dedicated much of his energy in recent years to the production of NBA events in 3D, working closely with others on the NBA team as well as Vince Pace, CEO of Pace, a 3D production company that has been working with the NBA for four years and also played a key role in the production of Avatar. Pace was director of photography on the blockbuster.

The NBA’s 3D efforts will be produced from a 3D production truck owned by Pace (it was also used for last year’s NBA All-Star Weekend) and begin on Saturday afternoon. They kick into overdrive at American Airlines Arena for the NBA All-Star Saturday Night that features the slam-dunk contest and other skills competitions. Then, on Sunday, the trailer will move into position at Cowboys Stadium for the big game Sunday night.

“The vastness of Cowboys Stadium should be impressive in 3D,” says Rokosa.

Two cameras will be used for 3D coverage, including a handheld camera and a camera located at the slash position. Unlike previous NBA All-Star game 3D productions, this one will not be displayed to the public during the production. Instead, it will be edited for later use, a move that allows for the use of fewer cameras and also provides an opportunity for more experimenting. Signals from the cameras will be sent by fiber back to the Pace truck.

“We think Vince is still the best technology on the block and his commitment to quality is unbelievable,” says Rokosa. “It’s too easy to mess this up, and, if you do, it isn’t just a bad experience, but it’s a terrible one.”

Rokosa credits Pace with a very natural approach to 3D that doesn’t force 3D effects. “It’s about giving the viewer a sense that they are there [live],” says Rokosa. “If something naturally comes into the foreground, great, but you don’t try and force it.”

One interesting aspect of the production is that the ENG camera will be tethered to a cart that will allow for a convergence operator to be located on-site with the camera. That will allow the camera to be used at the convention center (where the NBA Jam Session is taking place) or to shoot exteriors of the Cowboys Stadium and the American Airlines Arena.

Steve Hellmuth, NBA Entertainment EVP, operations and technology, says the league’s interest in 3D is similar to early efforts in HD, when the league’s NBA TV network became the first to produce games in HD.

“When we did HD, no one sat down and said, ‘How will we make money with 3D?,’” says Hellmuth. “We think 3D is the best way to deliver an NBA digital experience. And we need to solve format and standards issues, but, when we do, 3D is going to be a superior experience.”

Should other leagues follow the NBA’s 3D efforts? While both Rokosa and Hellmuth say that decision is ultimately up to each league, there is little doubt in their minds that the coverage of the NBA in 3D by league broadcast partners will be improved by the NBA’s efforts.

“A sport like baseball will need different camera positions for 3D to work, and we found that out for the NBA as well,” says Rokosa. “And right now, we are allowing our productions to help develop the tools for 3D production. It may cost to do this, but we need to figure 3D production out now or later.”

For the NBA, later is now.