Automatic for the (3D) people – 3ality’s Steve Schklair on the future of sports in 3D

For 3D sport to really take off, simple economics dictate that the current stage of side by side productions needs to be a short one. And, according to Steve Schklair, CEO and Founder of 3ality Digital, that is going to require compromise and automation.

Schklair is standing on a train platform waiting to go back to London after visiting the set of a film that’s being shot using 3ality rigs, but manages to drag his focus off film and into sports with ease. No wonder really, as in partnership with the likes of Sky and Sony, sports has been very good at driving demand for 3ality Digital products worldwide.

“Sky jumped in early, which is good, because they’re now leading the world in the live broadcasting of sports, but they also jumped in at the first generation of technology,” he says. “We’re about to enter the next generation of technology, which we’ve already started testing, and this is starting to make a better business case for all this by reducing the structure and the number of people necessary to do a sports broadcast.

“The biggest way to chip away at that is to develop software that will deal with this position of ‘convergence puller’,” he continues. “At the moment everyone is shooting 3D sport with one convergence puller per camera, so if you’re shooting with 8 to 12 cameras, you’re employing an extra 8 to 12 people, which is costly. Software to do that is in a beta state at the moment; we’re continuing to refine it and it’ll be releasable in the next couple of quarters.”

Schklair says that the software produces pictures that are not only as good as those produced by a human operator, but better. “It’s steadier,” he says. “For a human operator to follow a camera operator who is flying all over the place looking for his next shot…well, software is faster than humans in terms of being smooth and following it. And it’s not easy to stay focussed for three hours. Software doesn’t get bored, or distracted, or need to make phonecalls, or need to use the restroom…”

Or indeed need paying.

Other areas 3ality is investigating right now are new alignment programmes that will negate the need for specialists and extra headcount in that department. And its also looking at improving the on-screen presentation too. “Graphics have been a huge problem,” Schklair says. “Where do you put the graphics? To avoid collisions with the shots everyone floats the graphics way out in front of the screen, but we have this new software that lets you put a graphic anywhere and lets objects that appear closer to the audience actually occlude the graphic. That’s brilliant – I’m in love with that piece of software.”

Schklair maintains that the holy grail of co-production with 2D is getting closer, but it’s not quite there yet. What’s needed is a bit of a re-think

“Both 2D and 3D will end up compromised to make it a single broadcast, but I don’t see the 2D as being compromise,” he says. “Maybe from the way it’s currently done, but over the years, as we’ve increased the number of cameras at events, the shows have got cuttier and choppier. The idea of using fewer cameras and slowing the edit down doesn’t seem a bad thing to me – personally I’d prefer that coverage.”

And on that note the train arrives and all the seats are in the Quiet Carriage where mobiles are forbidden on pain of death (or at least stern looks from the other passengers in the English Home Counties). So, quickly then, with more and more competition in the marketplace, what’s the focus for 3ality Digital?

“The focus for 3ality right now is to build better software to automate all of the non-creative functions,” states Schklair. “Creative function should be left to people, non-creative functions should be left to machines. That will do a great deal to reduce the costs of creating the media, which at the moment is very hand-crafted.”


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