ESPN Shares 3D Production Tips


Las Vegas -- In
the run-up to the launch of a 3D channel in June,
ESPN executives are sharing what they've learned about the format.

Executives from the total sports network showed clips of
their 3D efforts and shared production notes with an audience of more than 500
at a National Association of Broadcasters show panel session here.

"We want to be as transparent as we can about what we've
learned and share with everyone so that we can all learn together," ESPN vice
president of emerging technology Anthony Bailey said in a lengthy interview
after the NAB session. "It is too expensive
for us or someone else to go off and do something and then find out that our
friends at Sky [the U.K.
satellite-TV provider, which launched a 3D service in April] have already done
that and come up with the same result.

"We need to all work together to get the technology
standardized and, hopefully, get the costs down because that will benefit all
of us."

Among the key issues ESPN has faced in its early efforts: camera
angles; the limitations of some existing technologies; high costs; translating 2D
production techniques to the 3D experience; adapting production techniques to
the vagaries of different sports; and the importance of training.

Costs pose a particularly thorny problem because the
different camera angles, technologies and editing techniques used in 3D live
events mean that ESPN and other producers are currently using two crews and
trucks to produce two entirely separate 2D and 3D productions.

"Right now, the problem is in how the content is created," Bob
Toms, ESPN's vice president of production enhancements and interactive TV, said
during the session. "The camera locations we need for the 3D effect require us
to be a little tighter and a lot closer than 2D."

Recently, ESPN was successful in using the same crew to
produce 3D and 2D experimental telecasts of a Harlem Globetrotters basketball
game. But ESPN executives have stressed their opinion that such an approach won't
work for major events.

ESPN will use two crews for all of its planned 3D events
over the next year, said Bailey, and believes it will need to use two trucks
for quite a while.

But the total sports network is looking for ways to share
resources, such as having some crew members work on both productions. "We don't
plan on having one for one for the two crews," he said in the interview.
"Instead of having maybe 50 extra people, we would have 25," so that costs
would rise, say, 50% rather than 200%.

Adding more automation to the 3D production process could
also reduce costs, but this too will take time, noted Vince Pace, CEO and
cinematographer at PACE, who is working with ESPN on its 3D productions.

ESPN is only in the early stages of developing a language
for 3D production, Pace noted, and needs human operators to experiment with
various shots and techniques.

"When the time is right and we start to see a repetitive
nature to targeting of the subject matter, we will start to integrate more
automation," Pace said.

The panelists also stressed the need to balance 3D effects
with the viewer's expectation of being able to easily follow the game.

"That is the yin and yang of every event we attack," Phil
Orlins, coordinating producer, ESPN 3D and X Games, said "How do we maximize
the incredible dynamic aspects of 3D and at the same time not lose the basics
of covering a football game?"

For example, in some earlier productions, a number of fans
found certain 3D graphics to be distracting. As a result, ESPN is now trying to
make certain it doesn't overuse 3D effects.

During recent 3D coverage of The Masters golf tournament,
ESPN also decided to mix 2D and 3D shots as a way of better covering the event.
Typically, the 3D camera would be used to set the scene, then the 2D cameras
would follow the flight of the ball.

"The 3D experience is compelling but once the guy takes a
swing, you want to know where the ball is going," Orlins said.

Last year, ESPN opened an Innovation Lab inside its Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando,
Fla., and it is using the facility for
training and to test a wide range of 3D technologies.

Prior to the 3D production of Major League Baseball's All-Star
Home Run Derby from Anaheim, Calif.,
in July, ESPN will be test camera angles and other production techniques in
Orlando, Bailey said.

"Training is big," Bailey said. "I do believe that the more
repetition we have of going out and doing games day in day out is the way we
are going to take it to the next level."