NBA Proves Out 3D-Production Efficiencies at All-Star Weekend

NBA Digital continued its commitment to 3D production with the NBA All-Star Game and All-Star Saturday night this past weekend at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Not only did the production keep a 3D streak alive, but it also continued the league’s evolution to more cost-effective 3D-production techniques.

“We want grow our 3D library and don’t want to leave an NBA Finals or All-Star Game behind,” says Steve Hellmuth, SVP of operations for NBA Entertainment. “This is great content, and this protects its value into the future.”

Integrated Camera Positions, Feeds
The NBA and partner Turner Sports worked cooperatively on integrating the 3D camera positions into the venue production layout and also identified camera locations where a 3D camera could supply a signal to the 2D feed and where PACE 3D Shadow rigs, which mount atop existing 2D cameras, could be positioned.

“We were all in together on expenses and revenues, and, fortunately, the revenues worked out, as it was a break-even production,” says Hellmuth. American Express sponsored a 3D viewing party at the Regal Cinema, and SENSIO distributed the game to more than 100 movie theaters outside the U.S.

The 3D production was overseen by NBA Director of Engineering Mike Rokosa and the production team from PACE.

Piggybacked on 2D
PACE CEO Vince Pace described the production as another step in 3D production, with 3D cameras piggybacking on 2D cameras, including a crane-camera configuration that proved useful during the musical-entertainment segments of the production.

“We were able to master the crane camera, and the entertainment side was phenomenal for the first time,” says Pace, who has been involved with NBA 3D efforts since 2006. “It was a true piggyback rig that didn’t influence the 2D production. We managed to get under the weight load with some last-minute tweaks, and the camera, during the show, was able to be in the right position at the right time.”

3D Capabilities in a Truck
PACE provided two production units: an A unit, housing the front bench, audio, and replay, and a  Shadowvision unit, with convergence operator stations and stereoscopic quality control.

“The Shadowvision truck is designed for any mobile-unit provider,” says Pace. The unit can roll up alongside any existing 2D production unit and provide 3D capabilities, simplifying the 3D production process.

“We want to make 3D a business model that works and find out how, together [with the 2D productions], we can get there,” says Pace.

Nine 3D camera positions were available: a slash position, a handheld, a Steadicam, a super-slow-motion camera, an “up-top” position on the second level, two jib cameras, a fixed robotic on the backboard, and a miniature rig mounted within the basket stanchion.

“Well-placed positioning of low slashes and handhelds are key,” says Hellmuth. “It’s go low and stay low [for basketball]. The up camera is not really that necessary.”

Rules for 3D, Rules for 2D
The biggest advance is that All-Star Weekend proved out the case for a combined 2D/3D production. Having a few cameras that follow the rules of 3D production and a few others that follow 2D rules can allow a single truck to produce both the 3D and the 2D production.

“It’s very doable to share cameras across the 2D and 3D production,” says Hellmuth. One caveat is that the 2D production needs to be directed for true HD without the need to maintain a 4:3-safe area.

Improvements in the PACE ShadowD 3D rigs went a long way towards making a unified production a reality.

“They have improved greatly and worked very well,” says Hellmuth, adding that they bring 3D functionality to the production without the need for a camera operator.

“We were also surprised at how well the crane camera worked,” he adds. “In the slam dunk contest, it got some tremendous shots.”

Pace says 3D cameras where one camera signal is output for the 2D production are a nice complement to the ShadowD rigs. “It’s great because you can double up and steal one eye.”

The goal, he notes, is to still provide the 3D director what is needed in terms of available camera positions. “You need to provide the least amount of compromise for a good show,” he says. “You want to give them more to cut to.”

Learning What Works
It also means giving directors and production teams a chance to get real-world experience in 3D to learn what works and what doesn’t.

“The greatest shots are when the ball is going away from the camera and the director stays with it and the ball comes back towards the cameras,” Hellmuth points out. “Some of the aha moments don’t require cutting back and forth but just letting the action play.”

Giving production teams those real-world experiences today requires putting a great deal of energy into learning how to more effectively share resources between the 2D and 3D shows, something that the NBA and PACE accomplished this weekend.

But, says Pace, that will take time: “You can’t rush that relationship.”

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