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Addressing the issue of 3-D camera positions

As more live productions begin to be shot in 3-D, the issue of where to place the cameras around a venue so as not to interfere with the existing 2-D positions — and not block any fan seating — is being looked at from several angles. Several live sports and entertainment productions to date have provided invaluable experience in how to make 3-D look its best (e.g., 3-D cameras should be positioned as close to the field as possible to immerse the viewer in the action).

At the 2010 NAB Show, there were “beam splitter” rigs, with one camera shooting horizontally from the back of a dual-lens configuration and the other shooting vertically from the top or bottom. Some refer to it as the “half-mirror, 90-degree approach.” The latter, displayed in the Ikegami Electronics booth, is designed to maintain the lowest profile for the camera position (and save some sight lines).

Scattered around the NAB exhibit floor in every traditional camera manufacturer’s exhibit booth (though not all showed the same systems) were rigs from 3Ality Digital, Element Technica, PACE and P+S Technik, to name few, with two of the respective vendor’s cameras — existing camcorders and box-style models — mounted on them at either a 90-degree angle or side by side. Still, there were many discussions about where such rigs would work best.

The general consensus is that a wider field of view requires the camera (and lenses) to be farther apart, but not too far or convergence will be a problem. At this point, the field is wide open and there is no “perfect” camera system for 3-D.

3Ality Digital announced it had completed field testing and would begin making its 3flex camera rigs available to production companies soon. The rigs automatically align and correct mechanical and optical imperfections, using artificial intelligence and image processing. The systems include semi-automatic setup and alignment capability as well as S3D metadata file output.

Element Technica, manufacturer of the Technica 3D family of 3-D rigs, said it has delivered 50of its Quasar beam splitter rigs, reflecting the current huge momentum behind 3-D production in all forms.

P+S Technik’s Freestyle Rig offers the ability to capture stereoscopic images with dual Sony EX3 camcorders in a handheld Steadicam system. Developed in collaboration with Philippe Bordelais (an experienced Steadicam operator and stereographer), the prototype design uses Carbon Formula One technology and carbon fiber parts for light weight and easy maneuverability.

Canon showed what it called a “separation box,” which enables one zoom controller and one focus controller to simultaneously control a stereoscopic lens pair with high tracking precision (expected to be released soon). The company also showed a new zoom demand controller for simultaneous control of two lenses. New software is under development to make stereoscopic tracking (lens zoom and focus) even more precise and allow differential offsets to be made — through the digital drive unit’s display — to compensate for minor zoom and focus tracking differences between any two lens pairs. Also under development is another separation box, which will allow Canon’s ENG controllers to be used for controlling zoom and focus in 3-D lens pairs.

Supporting simultaneous control of two productions, PACE showed an innovative way to allow camera operators to shoot 2-D and 3-D with the same camera position. The operator has two joysticks — one for 2-D and the other to control dual lenses mounted on a Shadow-D rig that is mounted on top of a box-style lens. The rig was demonstrated in the Fujinon booth by camera operator Deena Sheldon, who said saving seats in a stadium while also allowing production companies to cost-effectively produce a dual telecast are critical to the success of 3-D.

The rig was shown using two Sony HD box cameras and 16-bit encodes inside dual Fujinon HD lenses mounted side by side for wider and stadium (overhead) shots. (Beam splitter rigs are recommended for tighter shots and cameras located closer to the field.) It also employs a Frame Link software and hardware system.

Sheldon said the rig allows the camera operator to think about 2-D widescreen framing while shooting 3-D images simultaneously. There are also two tally lights for talent, if necessary.

Several sessions at NAB addressed the issue of camera technique and overall 3-D production, including the fact that a TD or director should stay on a 3-D shot longer than they would with 2-D, and there should be less cutting between cameras to minimize audience disorientation.