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Doing 3D for Less

High production costs, coupled with the small number of homes with 3D TV sets, have convinced many programmers to take a wait-and-see attitude toward 3D television production. But in the run-up to the National Association of Broadcasters convention next month, some producers are finding a way to cut associated production budgets, while vendors such as Panasonic and Sony are hoping to help jump-start the market with lower-cost equipment.

An example of that development could be found recently 12,000 feet up in the San Juan Mountains outside Telluride, Colo., where the producers of a series of original 3D productions for In Demand were struggling to shoot an episode on snowboarders. “We had this blizzard, almost a whiteout situation where we had tents blowing over and had all our equipment getting covered with snow,” recalls Adam Friedman, producer/director of the project and founder of production company Vertical Ascent.

Despite the conditions, the crew captured the action with a relatively low-cost Panasonic AG-3DA1 Full HD 3D camcorder. Unlike the massive 3D rigs that hold two separate cameras commonly used in theatrical productions or high-end documentaries, the 3DA1 combines the two lenses needed for stereoscopic production into one camera body and weighs less than 6.6 pounds.

“It is small and light and allowed us to do stuff we couldn’t do with a larger, more expensive rig,” notes Marty Mullin, director of photography on the series, In Deep.

Tinkering With Cameras for Better Views Lighter, less expensive 3D production gear has its limitations in terms of the lenses they use and how close they can get to the subject, but producers have been working to overcome such issues.

During its work for In Demand’s original 3D series In Deep, the crew modifi ed the Panasonic AG- 3DA1 full HD 3D camcorder by adding Zunow lenses, notes Adam Friedman, founder of the production company Vertical Ascent and producer/director of the series. That provided a 30% wider angle of view and reduced the problem of frame violations, which break down the illusion of depth in a shot. The production also used dual systems of recording, capturing footage to the 3DA1’s SDHC cards as well as on two AJA Ki Pro recorders, which allowed for high-quality 10-bit video.

The In Demand series of 3D productions has included a number of subjects, such as snowboarders and circus performers, that feature 3D’s ability to capture depth and dangerous feats. But Friedman says the biggest surprise so far has been the power of 3D to capture more intimate moments during interviews with performers and athletes.

“It can make you feel like they were right there in your living room talking to you, and that is the great wonder of 3D,” Friedman says. “It allows you to get closer to your subject.” —GW Even better, it proved to be a perfect low-cost solution, adds Friedman, who recently completed six 3D episodes for In Demand. He has been hired to produce another eight, which will cover such subjects as the Kentucky Derby and the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.

“I’ve been hearing people say that 3D production runs as much as 120% higher, but we’ve found that the costs can be quite comparable,” with 2D, Friedman says. “The camera allows us to work in places we couldn’t with a traditional 3D rig, and we can do it with a smaller crew. I think we can show people incredible images on a modest budget.”

Currently, lower-cost 3D cameras lack the image quality, the ability to easily attach high-end lenses and a number of other features needed on shoots for theatrical films, where tightly scripted action and hefty $100 million budgets make bulky 3D rigs less of a problem.

But they seem to be gaining traction for other uses. Last year, Panasonic was the first to introduce a smaller 3D camcorder in a single body. And the company recently announced it has already sold hundreds of the AG-3DA1 camcorders in the U.S. alone.

Other camera-makers are also eyeing the market for lower-cost 3D solutions. Earlier this month in Japan, Sony unveiled a small, lightweight, shoulder-mounted 3D camera with two lenses in a single body that will launch into the U.S. market at NAB with an expected price tag of about $3,500.

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-- George Winslow, Broadcasting & Cable