Outdoor Setting Complicates 3D Coverage for NHL Classic in Calgary

As much of the U.S. enjoys a brief warm-up heading into the long Presidents’ Day weekend, stereoscopic 3D is in the forecast for Calgary, AB, where the National Hockey League heads for the 2011 Tim Horton’s NHL Heritage Classic on Feb. 20.

Besides being played outdoors, this year’s matchup between the Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens at McMahon Stadium, home of the Canadian Football League’s Calgary Stampeders, will be produced in 3D by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC) and televised in 3D by the CBC in Canada and Versus in the U.S.

Using What Was Learned in Toronto
The match is the CBC’s second experiment with the stereoscopic-3D format, following a Dec. 11 broadcast of a game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Canadiens at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. As it did there, the network will rely on Bexel’s 53-ft. BBSOne mobile-production trailer, 3ality Digital 3D rigs, and a host of cameras from Panasonic, which is partnering with the CBC on its 3D efforts.

When the CBC started discussing potential 3D productions with Panasonic last fall, the outdoor game in Calgary “was a no-brainer for us to pick,” says Trevor Pilling, executive producer of the CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada.

“It’s a marquee event for the CBC and NHL, and it was natural for us to bring 3D to this venue and bring an even more unique experience to hockey fans,” says Pilling. “You can’t go wrong when playing hockey outdoors in Canada, as most of us grow up doing that. It’s going to be very exciting, to see the breath coming out of their bodies as the players get back to the bench, the big lights, and the military airplanes flying by overhead.”

Five 3ality 3D Rigs
To capture the Classic action, the CBC will use five 3ality 3D rigs equipped with Panasonic 1500 cameras and Fujinon lenses, including two TS-2 beamsplitter rigs close to the glass at the lower-right and -left corners of the rink, two TS-4 side-by-side cameras for wider shots, and a beamsplitter unit in the announce booth to bring talent to air. Two Panasonic AG-3DA1 3D camcorders will travel around the stadium to capture locker-room interviews and the like.

For graphics, the network will deploy the Chyron 3D package it developed for the Toronto broadcast.

The Challenges of Hockey in 3D
Pilling says that CBC is “still learning” how to shoot hockey in a way that delivers a powerful 3D effect while capturing the flow of the game. Although the Toronto and Calgary venues are very different, many of the same challenges remain, most relating to the available camera positions. One of the biggest stumbling blocks is shooting through the glass surrounding the rink to deliver the low-angle shots that work well in 3D, without getting an unpleasant effect from the dividers between the glass panes or the reflection of the large 3D rigs in the glass. Those are not typical concerns in 2D production.

“The shots from the corner glass were successful, but they were also the ones that created the most challenges, as the stanchions in the glass create a visual intrusion that is not appealing to look at in 3D,” says Pilling. “The stanchions in the glass are too close to the lenses, and that’s one of the obstacles we have to find a workaround for.”

Five 3ality 3D rigs will be utilized for the production

“Also, because the rigs are so large, they’re not handheld but on tripods. You do have some reflection in the glass that’s unavoidable,” he adds. “When it’s on a guy’s shoulder, they can just shift over a little bit to lose the reflection, but you don’t have that same flexibility to move an inch with a tripod.”

Smaller Would Be Better
Overall, what’s needed to “really bring 3D to another level,” says Pilling, are smaller rigs and robotic cameras similar in size to existing 2D units, which would afford much better access.

Bexel VP Craig Schiller agrees that access is a challenge, particularly when juggling camera positions with the main 2D production.

“It’s tough. We’d love to be just right above the glass in the corners,” he says. “Of course, in indoor stadiums that gets in the way of spectators. Outdoors, they’ve used jibs in previous games and put cameras on it and had some success with that. But, with the 3ality rig we’re using, you need a pretty large jib to facilitate that.

Bexel's BBSOne truck will park in Calgary 12 hours earlier than usual

“You also have to work alongside the 2D production,” he adds. “That’s the toughest part overall, knowing how great it could look if you get it in a position where you could serve it well.”

Keeping the Equipment Warm
Besides camera positions, a particular challenge for 3D in Calgary is keeping the intricate 3D rigs at the proper operating temperature in potentially frigid conditions. Unlike conventional hard cameras used for sports coverage, the 3D rigs have a lot of exposed motors and gears, notes Schiller. So Bexel is building custom rig covers that have small heating elements in them. The company is also considering placing light bulbs under the rigs, a trick Canadian broadcasters use frequently for skiing coverage.

In addition, Bexel will be parking the truck 12 hours earlier than usual to get it powered up and make sure all the gear is warmed up.

Fortunately, the latest forecast for Sunday in Calgary is for temperatures to be around freezing, which Pilling notes is relatively balmy for western Canada in February. He also wouldn’t mind a little light snow to add to the 3D experience.

“I’m hopeful a light dusting of snow will add a layer of depth without creating an intrusion,” he says. “It probably will create a bit more of a challenge for the stereographer, but that’s what they’re there to do. Those guys know their convergence points.”

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