ESPN’s E:60 Sharpens Its Focus on 3D Features

Feature stories on ESPN have made the leap to the next dimension. Last night, ESPN 3D aired The Great Throwdini, a feature produced by E:60 and profiling Dr. David Adamovich, the world’s fastest knife thrower.

“The beauty of E:60 is, we want to use cutting-edge technology to make viewers feel like they are part of the story, and 3D makes us rethink how we have to shoot and edit a story differently,” says Robert Abbott, senior coordinating producer. “We want people to feel like they are right there, and 3D is another tool.”

The decision to shoot The Great Throwdini in 3D was made after the 2D production had been completed, but Abbott and principal systems analyst Mark Augustine had discussed it last Thanksgiving while watching ESPN 3D.

“We started talking and went into it with the idea that it may completely fail,” says Augustine. “But we wanted to learn about it and have some fun. And it actually worked out better than we thought.”

With the help of panes of plexiglass, mirrors, and another 15 hours of time from The Great Throwdini, the team was able to give viewers a very real sense of what it is like to be on the receiving end of tossed knives. The action was captured with a beamsplitter 3D rig with Sony P1 cameras, a Phantom high-speed rig, and the Panasonic “Wall-E” AG-3D1 camcorder. Editing was done on a Quantel Pablo system located at ESPN in Bristol, CT.

“At this point, it is still a little bit of a science project,” says Abbott. And as with any science project, lessons have been learned.

“We tend to edit with fast cuts,” he points out, “but we realized that fast cuts don’t work for 3D.”

One shot captured by the Phantom high-speed camera was one of the best shots but the least effective in terms of 3D effect. It was a shot of Adamovich lighting a knife on fire against a black backdrop, and it lacked other objects in the frame. “In the future, we will stagger some things in the background,” says Abbott of the need to create depth.

One shot that did work was interviews captured with the Panasonic AG-3D1 camcorder in Adamovich’s attic. The colorful and artifact-filled space provided an ideal backdrop for the interview. And the small form factor of the AG-3D1 made shooting possible.

“Without the Wall-E camera, it would have been cramped,” explains Abbott, “and to not have to bring a 3D rig up the attic ladder worked out well.”

He is certain that, given the opportunity to shoot it again, the result would be improved. But that opportunity will have to wait for the next story, which Abbott and Augustine are certain will happen even though ESPN 3D programming is currently limited to event coverage.

“We loved this experience,” Abbot says, “but we aren’t going to rush into 3D unless there is a story that can maximize the 3D effect and also be done cost-effectively.”