Inside the game: Wimbledon 3D debrief

Wimbledon: According to CAN Communicate’s Duncan Humphreys, the broadcast of Wimbledon in 3D around the globe this past weekend was deemed a success for all those involved as a week of trials and practice allowed the team to get used to the new format, new camera angles, and a new way of telling the story of arguably one of the most prestigious events in all of sport.

“The tweaks during the week were mostly in production style as we tried to use shots from the cameras [on opposite ends of the court] as the master shot but we found that made it confusing to know where you were,” says Duncan Humphreys, CAN Communicate creative director. “So we settled on camera 5 as our master shot. And as the cameramen became more confident with what they were doing we slowly ramped up color coverage and also worked on closer shots.”

The efforts this week complete the first step in a three-year commitment from Sony and Wimbledon to produce the tennis championships in 3D. UK-based 3D production company Can Communicate was in charge of choosing vendors and staff for the event and when NEP Visions stepped in with the massive Gemini 1 and 2 OB units (used for top Premier League Football matches) selecting the OB provider was a no brainer.

“Gemini is lent ideally to 3D production because it has a dual production area that in year’s forward could give us a chance to expand the production to other courts or add in a presentation studio and run that out of the second area because we are not using its entire abilities,” says Humphreys.

Gemini 1 has two production suites with the first being used as a production office and the second as home for the main production unit that cut the 3D coverage. Gemini 2 is basically a large engineering truck that housed the 3D department, the EVS units, 23 Sony MPE200 processors, and a Quantel Pablo edit suite.

One big difference between the Wimbledon 3D coverage and the U.S. Open 3D production last fall was there were no 3D rigs mounted on top of 2D camera positions, a move that would have negatively impacted both the 2D and 3D show given the tight physical space on the court.

“[Mounting 3D rigs on 2D rigs] would have worked in certain positions but not all,” says Humphreys. “That kind of rig doesn’t work well with the pit cameras because the cameraman is shooting up and the framing has to be altered on the 3D side to compensate for the tilt.”

The production relied on six native 3D rigs from Element Technica: two Pulsar rigs, three Quasar rigs, and a mini-locked off rig that was located about eight feet off the ground on a wall behind a corner of the court. A Pulsar rig was located on each end of the court with two Quasar rigs in the pits alongside the court, another Quasar on an ENG camera, and another on the same side as the Royal Box getting crowd reactions.

“We were lucky to get great camera positions,” says Humphreys.

One of the biggest challenges was remaining conservative with the 3D effect, a requirement given that the event was being shown live in hundreds of theaters around the world.

“You can dial up 3D for a 47-inch TV experience but you have to bear in mind that some people are watching on 70-foot screens so we were only allowing images to appear two percent into the screen and half-a-percent out of it,” adds Humphreys. “That is the maximum you want to see in the cinema.”

The native 3D rigs were complemented by images from the 2D cameras that were converted to 3D using Sony MPE200 image processors.

“When you are doing a production with the richness of 2D storytelling you have to engage some of the 2D camera,” says Humphreys. “Ideally they would all be 3D native but there is still a need for some compromise.”

Some of the camera angles that were converted the most included the main camera one position and a tracking rig that was locked on a rail underneath the main camera. The latter provided a nice sense of movement behind the baseline, settling in behind the player to provide a solid cross-court view.

Beauty shots were also converted (from the crane over the entire complex as well as shots of crowd) and shots from a Wescam gyro-stabilized camera captured images of players walking on and off the court.

One step toward moving beyond converting 2D cameras will be the introduction this fall of Sony’s twin-lens 3D shoulder mount ENG camera. The Sony 3D sponsorship of Wimbledon lasts two more years so there is a good chance those will have a role in next year’s broadcast.

“The twin lens cameras will start to come in and those could be deployed around Centre Court for color, close-ups, and other shots. We will have a chance to get a hold of them and test them,” says Humphreys.

Then there are the advances that will simply occur courtesy of feedback to equipment manufacturers from events like this.

“After the World Cup we had a to-do list and posted them to various manufacturers in the production chain and that had a big effect,” says Humphreys. “For example, Canon developed a clutch zoom and while we used full-body Sony HDC1500 and T-block cameras during the World Cup here we have Sony P1 cameras feeding into an HDFA which offers a huge time savings during rigging.”

As for 3D graphics, a graphics package from IDS was fed into a 3D graphics engine that mirrored the 2D coverage but in graphics rebuilt for 3D.

“When we first looked at IDS back in March and early April we saw that they had a handle on what to do as we wanted a little bit of movement in the full page graphics that would use the Z axis,” adds Humphreys. “They hit everything bang on and used a package that could put reflections in and match each eye identically even thought the reflections are slightly different.”

The Quantel Pablo, not necessarily known as a “road warrior’s kit,” was on site because the CAN Communicate team has one in house.

“It’s a natural fit to bring one here and product the 3D packages,” says Humphreys. “We now it works, how to maximize space and clip and share with the main edit stations and do minor fixes.”

One year ago the CAN Communicate team was vuvuzela deep in producing the 2010 World Cup in 3D, one of the first global 3D efforts and one that lasted nearly a month and required plenty of coordination that went beyond simply making sure cameras were set up.

“This is an exciting project,” says Humphreys. “The World Cup was stressful and we wanted to know if it was going to work but things are different now.”

And if 3D takes off in the next two years they may never be the same.

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