Behind the Scenes of ESPN 3D’s coverage of the Ducks vs. UCLA

I will admit I have not gotten on the 3D bus…yet.   At NAB I avoided all 3D presentations regardless of the manufacturer.   But since ESPN 3D came to Eugene for the Thursday night game featuring the #1 ranked Oregon Ducks I thought I would take a look at the technology involved.

One of the numerous trucks supporting ESPN 3D's College Football

So the first thing you’ll notice is that there are no real 3D cameras.  Except for the Panasonic AG-3DA1 which they used to shoot ENG elements (and maybe for the wire cam, but I didn’t get a close look at it), all of the other cameras were rigs with two cameras side-by-side.

This was the "handheld" sideline camera that had used two Sony Exmor optical blocks. A second person is required to carry the camera power supplies

ESPN 3D "Handheld"

Back to the Future - sideline 3D camera requires two people to move around the field.

One of the most striking changes between HD and 3D production is the placement of the “game” camera positions.  The typical high angle shots that are currently used don’t give you much 3D perspective.  It seems kind of obvious, but the lower the angle, the more 3D perspective you see.  To make this work ESPN had pan/tilt cameras mounted on wheels that were rolled along the sideline.  Below you see a cart camera (using two Sony full sized cameras) was well as a pan/tilt camera all on one cart.  There was also another camera that was just rolled into position.  The also chose to break the basic “don’t break the plane” rule and shoot from both sides of the field.

2 for 1 - two Sony cameras in front and a pan/tilt camera in back of a sideline cart.

Here's looking at you - twice

Two "super slomo" Phantom cameras mounted side-by-side

So I guess the ultimate question is “How did it look?”

I was able to watch a few minutes on a 3D set in the press box.  I was quite impressed honestly.

The moving wire cam suspended over the playing field was the most compelling – I think it also had the smallest ocular distance between the two cameras of any unit being used.  The pan/tilt cameras were the biggest disappointment.  The low angle was great, the shakiness of the camera platform and the clunky camera controls were distracting.

It’s not quite ready for prime time, but I think 3D sports won’t be a fad (especially among younger viewers).

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