World Cup scores goal for 3D technology
2010 3D coverage led to rapid advances in live broadcasting3D releases rolling out in 2010
Innovation in stereo 3D production has been occurring at warp speed, but in live broadcasting, nothing has been as rapid and ambitious as developing the technical configuration used for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
The 3D coverage encompassed 25 live soccer matches that took place in 31 days. Those matches occurred in five different cities in South Africa, and they were filmed by two separate mobile production crews -- meaning that setup had to be fast, and the tool set had to be efficient enough for live broadcasting.
When the possibility was first broached, participants didn't think this was feasible. But in late 2009, the combined forced of FIFA, Host Broadcast Services (the World Cup production company) and key sponsor Sony pulled the trigger, leaving about six months for crucial research and development.
Now that development work -- as well as other 3D event coverage -- will not only assist live broadcasting, but will also help bring down the costs of 3D feature and TV production.
"Everything that we are doing for broadcast makes the feature film side more cost effective," says Steve Schklair, founder and CEO of 3ality Digital Systems, which supplies 3D gear to clients including U.K.-based satcaster Sky for live broadcasting, as well as director Peter Jackson for feature production.
"3D is about camera alignment," he adds. "The tools built for live broadcast make it very efficient for feature filmmakers to save money in post.
"The efficiency of automated alignment also means that you don't lose time realigning cameras during the shoot," he adds. "You can build your schedule based on a 2D schedule, which can also save a lot of money."
Automated alignment, along with color balancing, are key capabilities offered by 3ality's stereo image processor (SIP) box, a key part of its tool set. Jackson recently adopted 3ality tools for location shooting.
"He has bought a lot of kit, and we have been over there training his crews," Schklair says. "When you walk off the set, the images are as near perfect as you can get, so they don't have to spend weeks and weeks fixing color, alignment, differences in post."
Speaking in general terms about 3D filmmaking today, he adds: "The mantra 'fix it in post' became acceptable in 3D -- and it is not acceptable. Post should be for creative work, not repairing pictures."
Sony also offers a stereo image processor box, the MPE200, which was developed for the World Cup. It was used for various tasks, including to correct any mechanical misalignment and to match color correction between the two cameras.
"We set up simplified rigs, and all the compensation was done electronically instead of mechanically," says Olivier Bovis, head of AV media for Sony Europe, speaking of the World Cup setup. "The beauty of this is that the majority of the control was done in the box."
Sony's image processor box was essentially developed in cooperation with HBS, along with World Cup lens supplier Canon and rig supplier Element Technica.
Stephen Pizzo, Element Technica's co-founder, says in the months leading up to the FIFA tournament, his company was also looking for production to cost less by making the tools more accessible to production teams.
"An issue for so many productions was that the only way to shoot high-quality 3D was to bring this entire 3D layer -- 3D-specific equipment and specialized technicians," he says. "The equipment was very expensive and there was all this additional labor. Often the labor component was much larger than the equipment cost. We saw a need for high-quality [equipment for] existing crew that are very skilled. We wanted to create tools that they could learn to use in a reasonable amount of time."
Element Technica is also looking to bring down the costs of the gear itself, now offering a range of stereo rigs with various price points. For instance, its Quasar rig starts at $67,000, and the more sophisticated configuration that was used at the World Cup is priced at about $83,000.
"If you added the stereo image processing from Sony, you're looking at around another $40,000, so for around $125,000 you can have a very complete system," Pizzo says. "Two years ago, to get something with a similar capability would have been around $250,000. The price is coming down."
But what is the price point that might tip 3D into the larger production marketplace?
"The sweet spot is where people say, 'a 15%-20% price increase is acceptable,' " Sony's Bovis says.
More developments are on the way.
AJA Digital Systems, a postproduction equipment manufacturer, has unveiled a mini-converter at $495 that would allow a production to monitor 3D on set with consumer monitors, as opposed to professional ones.
Sony, meanwhile, is working increase capabilities and automation in its tools: The manufacturer is developing new 2D-to-3D conversion software for the stereo image processor box.
Still, manufacturers emphasize quality above cost. "Nothing is worse than a bad 3D experience," Bovis says. "And bad 3D is easy to make."
Entering a new dimension
A proliferation of conferences is spreading the word about the latest in 3D technology.
Consumer Electronics Show, Las Vegas
Digital Hollywood Media Summit, New York
NAB Conference, Las Vegas
3D Gaming Summit, Universal City, Calif.
Cinema Expo International, Amsterdam
E3, Los Angeles
IBC Conference, Amsterdam
3D Entertainment Summit, Burbank, Calif.
3D Experience, New York
ShowEast, Orlando, Fla.