Versus Tackles 3D Football With Coverage of Oregon-Cal

Versus became the latest network to jump aboard the 3D-sports bandwagon last weekend, producing Saturday’s Oregon-Cal faceoff in 3D and taking the format higher than it has ever gone before — at least in terms of camera positions.

“We went a little higher in coverage than any of the other networks have done for football to date,” says Leon Schweir, SVP of production at Versus. “But we’re very happy with how the [high cameras] worked out and you ended up getting a great 3D perspective from the up cameras.”

The 3D telecast was an independent production, separate from Versus’s 2D HD production, as has been the case for nearly all 3D sports thus far. Versus used NEP’s SS32 truck equipped with three EVS servers (six total replay channels) and deployed six Element Technica 3D camera rigs at California Memorial Stadium — three up in the stands and three on the field.

Three Up, Three Down
The network’s coverage comprised two high-up positions at the 30-yard lines, a right end-zone robotic above the vomitorium in the stands, two traditional end-zone angles, and a cart-cam along the sidelines. In addition, Versus borrowed a high, wide shot from the 2D production and converted the feed to 3D using a Miranda converter box.

“The [Miranda box] gives you a sort of faux-3D,” says Schweir. “Because it’s so high up, even if we would have had a 3D camera up there, you would barely have been able to see the 3D [effect].

The right end-zone position above the vomitorium was about 30 ft. into the stands and featured a robotic pan-bar system from Fletcher. The system was operated remotely via a monitor in the bowels of the stadium and avoided the potential seat kills that would have been required to place a cameraperson in the stands.

Although Versus was happy with the results from the high cameras, the low angles, not surprisingly, produced the most captivating 3D images.

“We had our full complement [of cameras] down low, and the two low end-zone cameras were definitely the best,” says Schwier. “The low angles always give you the most dramatic 3D look, and, as a result, you cut a game differently than you would in normal 2D.”

Schweir points to a specific incident in the game when Cal was forced to punt from its own end zone. The director planned to shoot the punter up close with one of the low end-zone cameras and then cut to the return man using the 30-yard-line cam after the ball was kicked. However, the latter camera was not available because the rig was still being converged by the Element Technical convergence operator.

“The up camera was still being converged a little bit, so we had to wait and [hold the end-zone shot]. At that point, we were forced to stay with that shot for the [whole play],” says Schwier. “The return man ended up running the kick back for a touchdown right back into the camera. It was an incredible sequence. You saw the ball leave right in front of you, and then it came right back at you.”

3D Graphics? No Problem
Versus’s in-house graphics team recently redesigned its football package with 3D in mind. As a result, the transition to 3D graphics for the Oregon-Cal telecast was almost seamless.

“If I had to say there was one thing that totally exceeded my expectations, it was the graphics,” says Schwier. “We thought we would have a dozen basic templates that we would make into 3D. But it turned out that our insert was designed so well that we were able to come up with about three times as many templates, and they looked fantastic.”

One graphic element was missing, however: the 1st-and-10 line continues to present a major problem for 3D football.

“That is something that no one has been able to do yet,” says Schwier. “The XYZ axis presents an issue on plotting because the 1 and 10 doesn’t take the Z axis into account. I’m sure, once there’s that tipping point of enough people doing 3D, they’ll put the money into it.”

Improvising for Commercials and Halftime
Versus did not run commercial spots during the 3D telecast, opting instead to stay on the air throughout the entire game. When the 2D show went to commercial, announcers Wayne Larrivee and Erik Kramer would send it down to sideline reporter Heidi Androll to fill time.

“Heidi probably had more airtime than any football sideline reporter in the last 40 years,” says Schwier. “She had something for every timeout. For example, [Green Bay Packers quarterback] Aaron Rodgers was there to cheer on his old school, Cal. So, on the 2D side, we had a quick snippet from Rodgers, and then we were able to have a full three-minute interview with him on the 3D side.”

The network’s studio halftime show also presented a potential problem, because it would not be shot in 3D. Versus, however, made do by converting the 2D studio show to 3D using the Miranda converter box, providing the handful of 3D viewers watching with halftime scores and stats.

More To Come
Although nothing has been announced officially, Versus says more 3D sports telecasts are already in the works and the second event will be announced soon.

“The response was overwhelmingly positive, and we are confident the next time out will also be great,” says Schwier. “Even the announcers embraced it. At first, they went into it concerned that they wouldn’t be able to see the HD show with the higher, wider angles. But when I talked to them after the game, they said they were looking at the 3D telecast 99% of the time because it gave them everything they needed to see.”