SVG Exclusive: One-on-One with James Cameron and Vince Pace

Academy Award-winning director James Cameron and innovator/director of photography Vince Pace have served as the chief drivers of 3D technology and content in the entertainment industry for more than a decade. Fresh off the announcement of a new company, Cameron-Pace Group, SVG associate editor Jason Dachman sat down with the two long-time friends and colleagues to discuss the state of 3D sports production.

SVG: What will be the biggest change in live 3D sports production over the next 12 months?

Cameron: Ultimately, it’s going to be all one production where the 2D and the 3D coverage are not at odds with each other. Right now it’s two separate productions, which is like two people trying to make a movie on the same set at the same time. Obviously, that would never work. And trying to shoot the same game at the same time is not going to work either.

Pace: We can all agree that having a 2D and 3D crew on location for every sporting event means a very short life for 3D sports coverage.

Cameron: Think of it as a Venn diagram. It started out as two completely separate productions where the 3D guys got the crap camera positions and didn’t know the sport because they were solely 3D experts, while the experienced 2D guys got the good camera positions. Now, it is starting to overlap. Eventually you have to come out of this process, whether it is a year or two years down the line, with one single production that yields two feeds – one in 2D and one in 3D.

SVG: What can we expect from the new Cameron-Pace Group? Will you have any product releases in the near future?
Some of our IP (intellectual property) has come through with some of the technology that we used for Avatar. I think you’re going to see a much more automated process for the camera systems to deliver a better result in stereo without direct participation of a crew. It is almost a given that the systems will go into a self-calibrating and self-aligning mode in the near future.

Cameron: We will have a suite of new software and hardware tools based on the IP that we’ve just successfully papered, which is based on those [automation] principals. It is essentially a smart camera that works out the stereo space for you without an excessive number of humans in the loop to do it.

SVG: The widespread philosophy is that directors need to cut less and hold shots for longer when directing live 3D sports. Is that accurate?
Pace: Not necessarily. I think that the whole perception that we have to engage the space and sit and watch it in an almost still fashion is going away. Early on, people thought the director needed to be on his best behavior or else the whole 3D show was going to completely implode. But if a person knows sports entertainment and knows how to cut cameras, they are going to do that aggressive cutting in the context of 2D or 3D. Even if we have that situation, we now have technology that can work around it.

Cameron: You may need to cut the 2D and 3D feeds slightly differently, but it is not a must. I didn’t cut Avatar differently between the 2D and the 3D release of the movie. It’s exactly the same cut. To be honest, I think people need to look at their cutting practices in general. 3D makes us aware that cutting rhythms might be too fast. And I don’t mean too fast for 3D, I mean too fast in general. The two highest grossing movies in history, since I happen to have done both of them [laughing], are both cut very slowly relative to the industry standard. Both Titanic and Avatar are cut slower than the average slam-bang action movie. Yet, it is obviously not interfering with the audience’s enjoyment and may even be enhancing it without a blizzard of A.D.D. cuts. I think 3D is showing us a flaw in general cutting technique. If there were a 10% decrease in cutting as a result of 3D – whether in sport or film – I don’t think that would be a bad thing.

SVG: Just how important is it to have low camera positions for 3D sports?
Pace: I think certainly we’re seeing a transition in the industry from the knee jerk reaction, which was the idea that we need lower cameras and we’ve got to put them in play as much as possible. We are finally trying to come off of that model. We’re starting to see that it’s better to piggyback on successful 2D than to entirely recreate the 3D model. It’s the path of least resistance. Make it about the story first and compliment it with the 3D. But too often we came in focused on the dimension: That’s a cool shot and the play by play is not so cool, so therefore don’t use the play by play, only use the low angle shot. But you’re missing the fact that the low angle shot is not going to give you the whole storyline.

Cameron: Absolutely. The storytelling must come first, no matter what.

Pace: My theory in sports is this: If I can extract 3D from 60% of the cameras on a 3D production- whether I take a left eye feed or piggy back a 3D [rig] on top of it – those 60% of those cameras are usually on air for 80% of the time because they are the foundation of game coverage. Even if that other 40% of the cameras had to be in 2D, it’s still a far more engaging presentation where you have both told the story and elevated the 3D experience.

SVG: How far away are we from automated 3D rigs for live production and how much will these innovations drive down the cost of 3D production?
Cameron: Live sports is very crew heavy right now because not only do you have a 2D and 3D crew, but the 3D crew requires more humans in the loop than they will in six months or a year. You’re going to start eliminating positions by [automating] the cameras. Vince and I are aggressively moving in that direction with our new software and hardware. People will not have to fight as hard to find a revenue model that makes sense because it will just be the existing 2D revenue model.

Pace: The pricing point is a huge factor for us. We want to mitigate those excessive costs and a big part of that cost is personnel.

Cameron: The real cost comes in hotel rooms, per diems, and airfares for the crew more than the cost of the hardware.

SVG: Will the Cameron-Pace Group make an effort to educate the industry about 3D as well as educate the next wave of stereographers?
Pace: Education is a huge part of our business landscape. I can’t tell you that I’ve been happy with a lot of stuff that has been done before. We have elevated that position of stereographer without having the right foundational framework. Most of these guys have maybe one project on their resume and then the next thing you know they’re commanding the next major 3D project that the public is going to see. That’s frustrating because you’ve put that Ferrari in the hands of someone who barely knows how to drive. It’s not the right way to approach the business.

Cameron: We don’t want entry-level people coming in and becoming overnight specialists in 3D. We want to take 10-15 year veterans with hundreds of projects under their belt and we’ll add 1% to what they know and they’ll be ready to do great 3D in the way they had done 2D.

SVG: Is there a viable market for live 3D sports to be shown at movie theaters?
Cameron: I think there is certainly going to be a market to see pay per view sports in theaters. Because now that we’re going digital in theaters, you can create high-ticket-price live sports events that go out on this new network of theaters. And it really is a network. It’s the 20,000 or soon to be 30,000 3D digital screens all over the world.

SVG:Cinemas continue to show 3D films at 24 fps, but 3D HD sets can deliver sports and other content at 60fps. What are the benefits of delivering 3D at a higher frame rate?
Cameron: I’m a huge advocate for higher frame rates. It creates a huge perceived improvement in resolution.

Pace: In terms of the cinematic experience, we’re starting from the ground floor with 24 fps. We firmly believe that going to a higher frame rate is the right way to go. Sports is already headed that way. [Sports broadcasters] already do it in higher frame rates and it’s headed towards 1920×1080 at 60fps. ESPN is already working on their 1080p/60 effort. For us, it is refreshing to have other people at the table who want to go in that direction.

Cameron: In the movies, 3D shows us that the frame rate is too low. But it has always been too low; the 3D just makes us aware of it. Right now we’re just starting to have a controversial discussion about which frame rate to select for movies. I don’t think anyone doubts that we can and should move to a higher frame rate for authoring and displaying movies.

SVG: What sport has looked best in 3D thus far?
Pace: I’ve come to the conclusion that if it is entertaining in 2D, then you have a 3D product on your hands – plain and simple. However, there are some sports that really eclipse the whole 2D barrier.

Cameron: It’s the same as movies. There are some sports where the difference between 2D and 3D is only 20% and there are some sports where it is 50% or higher.

Pace: I would have to say that Golf gives you the biggest jump when you do it in 3D. There is absolutely no comparison between a 2D and a 3D image of golf.

Cameron: I hate golf and I loved watching it in 3D [laughing].

Pace: Yeah, if I had to choose a specific sport – it would have to be golf. At the Masters last week, there was a long shot of Tiger [Woods] on the green waiting for the other golfers to put. It was on the end of a long lens and nobody could get off of it because it was just so damn impressive. It is a long lens shot but it brings in the entire course and gives you a great 3D image.

Cameron: But even when you’re forced onto long lenses, you can get great 3D. Sports like NASCAR and X Games Motocross are amazing despite the long lens.

SVG: What sport would you most like to see in 3D that has yet to be produced?
Pace: Is ballet a sport? [laughing] If that counts, I’d love to see ballet in 3D.

Cameron: I want to see more hockey. I want to see the fights in 3D! [laughing]

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