ESPN Embraces ‘Different’ Approach to 3D Production of BCS Championship
By James Fisher, SVG Correspondent
ESPN 3D viewers will see a very different presentation of the Discover BCS National Championship Game tonight from Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, FL, than those watching ESPN HD. And that’s just how director Doug Holmes likes it. “The whole point is to give viewers a unique 3D experience, not mimic what’s available in HD,” he says. “You want to do things differently because you’ll have a more dynamic presentation in 3D,” adds Senior Coordinating Producer Matt Sandulli. “We’re really catering to the 3D audience. No one’s doing what we’re doing.” Unlike with 2D game coverage, which is filled with cuts and tight shots, Holmes tends to minimize camera movement and keep shots wider to enhance the 3D experience. Sure, the production has to follow the action, but the preference is to have the players move, not the camera. Even zooming is discouraged because, Holmes explains, it can ruin the illusion. As an example, he describes a shot of players sitting on the sideline bench. In a typical 2D production, the camera operator will often zoom into the players’ faces, maybe one in particular, then cut away to a new shot. For 3D, Holmes prefers to keep the shot static and hold it longer: “You want to feel like you are there.” In almost three years, he has directed a variety of sports in 3D, including boxing, basketball, and baseball. When it comes to camera angles, he always looks for more layers, which can enhance the 3D effect. “You’re constantly learning,” he says, adding, “You get surprised often.” For ESPN, 3D is not just a novelty. Its ESPN 3D channel has stayed busy this college-football season, with a weekly game and five bowl games produced in 3D. According to Sandulli, ESPN 3D produces more than 137 3D events each year, but the HD and 3D championship-game telecasts will operate as two independent productions in Miami, rather than the tandem 5D production model used for most college-game coverage this season. This 5D workflow allows the two ESPN shows to share cameras, trucks, crew, and other resources, rather than operating as two independent side-by-side productions. However, the scale of the BCS Championship show is so massive (more than three dozen 2D and 3D cameras in all) that ESPN opted to go with a separate 3D production complete with dedicated trucks, 3D rigs, and crew.
ESPN is using nine CAMERON PACE Group 3D cameras (including a handheld) for tonight’s game, plus one HD camera for additional footage. CPG’s Shadow 15 truck is also on-site, tasked with 3D conversion. The 3D production will be switched in the NEP Broadcasting SS32, a truck built specifically to support ESPN 3D, on a Sony MVS-8000X multiformat production switcher. Seth Madway, who will serve as TD on the broadcast (and has been called ESPN’s “godfather of 3D” by Holmes), says the switcher is ideal for 3D broadcasts because of its extensive keying and layer capabilities. “Everything on 3D requires double sources,” he points out. Although the 3D presentation will feature analyst Kirk Herbstreit and play-by-play announcer Brent Musburger from the HD production as commentators, Sandulli says the 3D production will offer bonus coverage during some commercial breaks. ESPN personalities Joe Tessitore and Rod Gilmore will offer additional analysis from the sidelines. The ESPN 3D production will have its own graphics produced through a Vizrt system and other resources. “ESPN doesn’t do small,” notes VP of Event Operations Bob Braunlich. “We wrap ourselves around events. The fan comes first.”