By Jason Coles, Can Communicate.
Can Communicate’s involvement in Wimbledon in 3D can be traced back to the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa when Sony and Host Broadcast Services (HBS) contracted us to film the tournament in 3D. Given the unique opportunity and world stage, it was paramount to Sony that the 3D coverage was of the highest possible quality. Using a complete Sony production solution, the 3D coverage and the efficiency of the production workflow proved highly successful.
With the FIFA World Cup™ 3D production winning praise and awards from IBC and AIB, it was a natural progression to look at other major sports events that could also be successfully broadcast in 3D using a similar Sony-based production solution and workflow.
Can Communicate (CAN) approached The All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC), the home of the Wimbledon Championships, in August 2010 to open discussions on filming the tournament in 3D. Mick Desmond, the club’s Commercial Director, was impressed by the suggested workflow and saw 3D as a great way to celebrate the 125th anniversary of The Championships with the next step in a history of Wimbledon broadcast milestones.
With the success of the FIFA World Cup™ broadcasts, Sony was the obvious choice as Wimbledon’s technical partner, given their track record in 3D broadcasts of global sporting events. An agreement was duly signed and Sony became the Official 3D Partner to The Wimbledon Tennis Championships for three years.
For both Sony and AELTC the quality of the 3D output was essential to provide a world-class 3D experience. To guarantee this, Sony enlisted the support of Peter Angell from Host Broadcast Services (HBS) to act as executive producer, completing the already-proven team of Sony, HBS and CAN.
Following negotiations and planning with AELTC, BBC and IMG, Sony, HBS and CAN began to consider what type of operation and technology would be required to successfully broadcast the tournament in 3D. Given the effectiveness of the 3D production workflow deployed at the FIFA World Cup™, it was decided to use an evolution of the same workflow, incorporating advances made by Sony and CAN’s production experience from the event.
Following the tender process, NEP Visions was appointed as the Outside Broadcast partner. Visions’ Gemini 1 and Gemini 2 trucks would provide a state-of-the-art OB facility to process the feed and direct the 3D coverage using a complete Sony Professional system to deliver a seamless 3D HD transmission.
In May 2011, the team performed a test of the planned production workflow and camera setup at the Wimbledon All England Club in what was effectively a dress rehearsal for the main event.
Six 3D camera rigs were positioned in the Centre Court to cover a Junior’s match, so as not to damage the court. The tests were designed, firstly to identify what coverage was possible from each camera position and if there would be any impact on the host 2D coverage. Secondly, it gave the production team a chance to test their skills and give them time to discuss and make changes to benefit the overall production.
For the first year, it was decided that only the Men’s Semi-Finals and the Women’s and Men’s Final matches would be broadcast in 3D. However, to maximise time for preparation and ‘bed in’ the equipment, the full production team was installed at the AELTC for the duration of The Championships.
The first live 3D broadcast from Wimbledon was the Men’s Semi-Final on the 1st of July 2011 (Tsonga v Djokovic).
Six 3D camera positions were used around Centre Court. The equipment comprised:
2 x Sony HDC-P1 cameras.
2 x Canon Clutchless HJ22ex lenses.
Element Technica 3D rig (3 x Quasar, 2 x Pulsar and a ‘cut down’ adaptation of CAN’s own Calcutta rig, now known as the NOVAC, for a locked off position).
Vinten Vector head and legs.
At each camera position the cameras were fed into a Sony HD Fiber Adapter (HDFA) and then a single fibre delivered both signals to the OB truck where Sony’s dual-stream RCP (remote control panel) balanced exposure/colour/etc. The two discrete HD feeds from each position were then configured through the Sony MPE-200 processor and the pictures exactly matched for any vertical/horizontal disparity. Convergence was pulled by individual operators within the OB unit.
Each camera used a pair of 22:1 lenses (except Camera 5 which used 18:1), in mirror rig configuration, with the exception of Camera 6 which was a side-by-side configuration.
The position of the 3D cameras was slightly lower than the 2D camera positions in order to provide the best 3D effect possible. The combination of the Sony P1 cameras and compact-but-fully-dynamic rigs meant that on the already camera-crowded Centre Court, the impact of the additional 3D rigs was minimised.
The rigs were placed in the following positions:
3D Camera 1: Centre Court North end pointing over the court wall. Provided replays of points ending towards or away from the position. Using a wide frame to contain the players and to avoid panning, it was closer and lower than its 2D equivalent.
3D Camera 2: Placed in the media dug-out on the West side of the court, approximately half-way between North end baseline and the net. Mainly provided live player shots in the North end of the court in addition to replays. Also covered the players’ box, scoreboard and crowd.
3D Camera 3: Placed in the media dug out on the West side of the court, approximately halfway between South end baseline and the net. Provided live player shots of the South end of the court including replays. Also provided coverage of the players’ box, the scoreboard and crowd.
3D Camera 4: Positioned at the radio commentary position in the South West corner of the court. Provided replays of points ending towards or away from the position: i.e. at the South end action that ended in the South West corner, and at the North end action that ended in the North East corner to avoid excess panning.
3D Camera 5: Positioned on a platform at the South end pointing over the wall similar to Camera 1, but at the opposite end. Also provided replays of points ending towards or away from the position. Additionally provided shots of players at either end of the court between points and also coverage of the umpire.
3D Camera 6: Positioned to the right of the scoreboard in the North West end above the commentary hut and used to cover beauty shots.
Based on the production team’s previous live 3D event experience it was decided that to ensure a quality 3D viewing experience, the cameras would frame wider to avoid forcing a cut, panning and zooming. Longer-duration shots and longer-duration-but-less-frequent replays were used. There was also an emphasis on composing shots that included foreground and background layers to provide depth.
Stereoscopic alignment was within a depth budget of 2% operating within a positive disparity (into the screen) not exceeding 2.5% and a negative disparity (out of screen) not exceeding 0.5% for the majority of shots.
Additional content was supplemented by converting feeds from the BBC’s broadcast production using SONY MPE-200 3D processors. This included shots of the London skyline and bird’s eye views of the AELTC from a crane camera. Conversion was also necessary during the prize-giving ceremonies as there was no possibility to use a 3D Steadicam on court, and so the signal from the 2D Steadicam was converted to 3D.
Graphics and Hawk-Eye
The coverage was also enhanced by 3D replays from Hawk-Eye and 3D graphics and statistics. Hawk-Eye provided the same system used for the 2D broadcast to the 3D production. It was provided via a dual-stream HD SDI (left and right) output generated by 10 fixed Hawk-Eye cameras (five on each side of the court).
As with Hawk-Eye, the graphics coverage by IDS reflected the style of the 2D broadcast but with specially-produced 3D graphics. Each graphic was animated to take advantage of 3D, and full-screen graphics rotated and tilted subtly to produce a perception of depth. A 3D version of the Wimbledon logo was used when breaking between live pictures and replays.
Production of the 3D broadcast took place in NEP Visions’ Gemini OB facility, comprising two trucks, the Gemini 1 and the Gemini 2.
The units were the hub of the 3D operation and housed the convergence operators, working under the direction of the stereographer and the stereo engineer. Six EVS operators managed replay feeds to the director. The EVS machines offered replays and images of a Sony picture stitch application for integration into the live signal, 3D analysis and the feed from the 2D production for conversion into 3D.
Also based within the Gemini 2 truck was a Quantel Pablo Stereo 3D edit suite used to create highlights and promotional material for Sony. These films were produced at the end of play each day.
The 3D Production Team
The 3D production team consisted of 35 people:
Head of Production
5 x Camera Operators
5 x Convergence Operators
2 x Rig Technicians
6 x EVS Operators
The main audience for the Wimbledon 3D production was cinema and 3D TV broadcast with over 200 cinemas and 15 international broadcasters taking the 3D feed. The live cinema distribution rights owned by Sony Professional, were distributed by SuperVision, and the international 3D TV broadcast rights were sold by IMG on behalf of AELTC.
Two 3D feeds were produced, one for live cinema and one for live TV broadcast distribution. Satellite uplinking from Wimbledon to cinemas was managed by Arqiva, with GlobeCast handling uplinks for broadcasters.
From a production perspective, Wimbledon in 3D was a very successful project. This was attributable to the use of a proven workflow and a great team of 3D-experienced professionals from Sony, CAN, NEP Visions, and HBS. Many of the production team were part of the successful FIFA World Cup™ 3D broadcast team.
The same can be said of the technical solution used, which was an evolution of the one developed by Sony for the World Cup and other live 3D events. The fact that the technical aspect of the project was already proven meant that the team could concentrate on the creative production issues and telling of the story of the game.
Technical glitches were remarkably few. The team experienced some frame sync problems early on with the signal leaving the truck, however these were easily resolved.
Looking forward to the 2012 Wimbledon Championships 3D coverage, there are a few things we would look to tweak. Where possible, we would slightly alter the positions of the main cameras.
2011 was very much experimental, and we had to accept certain limitations. For example; coverage of the prize-giving ceremony was 2D Steadicam shots converted to 3D. We would look to use a 3D Steadicam instead for greater 3D quality. We also found that the frequency of the 3D replay wipe became slightly irritating and we are looking at alternatives for 2012.
The 3D coverage was well received with critical reviews, and enthusiasm for the broadcasts was better than anticipated.
An estimated 18,000 viewers watched the BBC’s 3D HD coverage, which, given the currently limited number of 3D TV sets in the UK, was impressive. Feedback and reviews from consumers and journalists was overwhelmingly positive, proving how compelling the 3D coverage was. As well as heightening the televised Wimbledon experience, much of the feedback focused on the fact that viewers felt they could see more of the technical aspects of the game, such as the swerve and slice on the ball.
Danielle Nagler, Head of BBC HD and 3D said, “It exceeded my expectations: it showed us tennis in a new and different way, giving a perspective which placed viewers court-side. I felt that it emphasised the speed and power of the tennis.”
Sony’s Mark Grinyer said, “From a technical point of view, it was great to be able to show how far we have progressed since the World Cup last year. For the World Cup, we were really in a technology run to achieve the project, however for Wimbledon we were able to use technology which has been constantly improved from the World Cup through the Ryder Cup, UEFA Champions League Final and at Wimbledon. This meant we were able to concentrate on the production values for 3D. We are very happy with the output, and the reports coming back from both cinema and broadcasters show that we were again able to raise the bar for live 3D.”
The 3D coverage of Wimbledon and its reception by the public and media reinforced the view that 3D can and does provide a compelling experience to audiences. In what at the time was an early and difficult period for 3D, Wimbledon in 3D proved that given the right event, 3D can make an engaging and exciting difference to the viewing experience.
Jason Coles is Head of Creative Services for Can Communicate, one of the leading 3D production companies in Europe offering end-to-end creative solutions for filming, post, screening and distribution.
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