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All England Lawn Tennis Club serves up Wimbledon in 3-D

This year’s 2011 Wimbledon Championships tennis tournament finals matches are being broadcast live in 3-D by the BBC with support from UK-based production company Can Communicate.

Crews are using five 3-D camera rigs from Element Technica (ET) with Sony MPE-200 HD cameras mounted in different configurations.

Duncan Humphreys, head of production of Can Communicate, said the ET rigs with Sony cameras “provide, in our opinion, the most durable and robust 3-D platform available in the market.”

Of the five ET rigs, three are the large camera Quasar rigs, while the other two are smaller Pulsar rigs that accommodate smaller cameras that make them less obtrusive to the tennis action.

ET said its rigs are configured in the “broadcast mode.” Most beam-splitter 3-D rigs mount the mirrored camera above the rig, which does not allow conventional placement of the operator’s viewfinder monitor, and can block spectators’ views of the event. The under/thru configuration is not as high, which cuts down on the need to eliminate spectator seating. It also allows use of a full monitor and operator controls in the back, which provides a familiar look and feel to a camera operator new to 3-D production.

The broadcast mode also provides for the pairing of a portable digital camera with a smaller but electronically identical box-style camera. The portable camera provides for operator viewfinder, intercom, tally and other controls for the camera operator. Employing a box camera for the second camera on the rig reduces the total weight and obtrusiveness of each 3-D camera position. Cabling from camera position to production truck has also been streamlined and slimmed down for Wimbledon.

ET co-founder Stephen Pizzo said that during a number of tests for last year’s World Cup Soccer production, they re-engineered the rigs’ control-electronics and protocol to support the use of fiber and bidirectional metadata. Another key development from this, he said, was reduced power consumption.

“We maintained the same torque and speed while consuming less than 30W,” Pizzo said. “This allows the SMPTE fiber cable to power the rig and everything attached to it. The Element Technica/Sony system is the only full featured single fiber system, and it comes in three sizes and nine configurations.”

The on-air 3-D graphics for the milestone production were produced from prebuilt templates, designed by Information & Display Systems (IDS) of Jacksonville, FL.

The company created an HD 3-D graphics package with Brainstorm Multimedia’s estudio 3-D render engine for its client, IBM — the official Information Technology Supplier and Consultant to the All England Lawn Tennis Club (home to the Wimbledon Championships).

Assisted by UNREEL, Brainstorm's North American partner, IDS created a design specific for tennis based on a joint review with IBM of a new BBC Graphics design and subsequently produced a Wimbledon Graphics Reference Guide that was used to build the Brainstorm graphics package.

In January IDS conducted parallel testing at the Australian Open, and a full technology test was conducted in late April. The Brainstorm graphics package incorporates the full 3-D design and animations used by the BBC but is adjusted to reflect the look, feel and colors of Wimbledon.

IBM contracts with IDS to provide a range of technology-related services including the provision of broadcast graphics as well as systems, software and staff to produce the graphics from multiple courts, live, throughout the two-week tournament.