‘It’s just not your average 3-D,’ Pace says

Fourteen thousand Cleveland Cavalier fans packed Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland June 10 to watch the second game of the NBA Championship series from San Antonio projected in 3-D HD.

With the experience gained from shooting the 56th NBA All-Star Game in 3-D, PACE shot the second game of the championships using four of its Fusion 3D cameras, a proprietary stereoscopic HD system that relies on a pair of Sony F950 HD cameras per 3-D camera. Bexel Broadcast Services provided the production facilities for the event and Evertz Technologies supplied the timing and JPEG-2000 transmission equipment used to get the production back to Cleveland.

HD Technology Update spoke with PACE CEO Vince Pace about the system, the event and where the technology might lead.

HD Technology Update: Could you please describe the 3-D HD production of the NBA Cavaliers’ away game? How many of your Fusion 3D cameras were used? Was the production switched in 3-D HD? Were there 3-D replays and graphics?

Vince Pace: The effort for the Cavs game was put together with a week’s notice. On Sunday, prior to the game, we received the green light to move forward. What we supplied to the project as a co-production with the NBA was the 3-D infrastructure. We supplied four Fusion 3D camera systems to acquire the images, the recording platforms and the engineering support of that equipment.

Bexel, much like at the All-Star Game, built out the audio portions, the video center and the actual mobile structure. In this case, it was a doublewide trailer for the director and the producer to use for the broadcast.

Evertz came to the table with the timing and the transmission of the images to Cleveland. So, Evertz was involved in San Antonio with sending the images out, and they provided personnel and equipment on the other end in Cleveland to receive the images using their latest JPEG 2000 equipment.

OSA handled much of the exhibition side of the effort where they took eight Barco projectors and put up four 40ft screens to receive the image on the Cleveland side.

Amazingly enough, most of these partners were available or exposed to the All-Star Game and were in a mode of preparation to handle the finals in a very short period of time. The package Evertz was putting together was called for one day and on a truck the next.

I think the All-Star Game was an effort to find out if this is doable. The finals game was “Let’s do it.” Certainly, within a matter of days, our systems were on the road and Bexel was on the road. Evertz was on two roads trying to get to Cleveland and San Antonio at the same time.

HDTU: Do you see Fusion 3D system applications being used more for these sorts of special events, or do you see it becoming more commonly used?

VP: I think in the beginning we are looking at tent-pole projects. Certainly, the finals with the NBA is a tent-pole project that we would like to see go down this path. Currently, it’s not the cheapest method. It’s also not the easiest method to get images to the viewer. So, we are in that phase of asking if people are going to want it. Will the franchise want it? Do they feel it respects their overall business plan for putting their franchise in front of the public?

Some of those questions are being answered. This NBA effort was a first; we demonstrated to everyone involved that this could be done. That’s where we need to start. A lot of people ask, “What about all of these hurdles you need to go through?” I say, “Let’s address those after we’ve proven it can be done and people like it.” I think that the All-Star Game was a selected audience compared to the Cavs’ game, which was a general audience. In both instances, the reception was tremendously successful.

HDTU: Are the challenges you refer to primarily technology challenges or business challenges?

VP: It’s amortization of technology over a broader demographic. We started with 1000 people. We climbed up to 14,000. I think we are taking a smart approach to this new medium of entertainment. By doing more events, we will be able to amortize the investment over a much wider range and be successful. Some technology is being exposed to the sports market for the first time. The good news is that each time we step up for a three pointer, we make it.

Then what we do is go back and do a post mortem to find out how we can improve and where we can put some investment money toward making this easier for an NBA or other sports franchise to access. The reason we can have those conversation now is because they have proof that it can be done. People are being entertained in a whole new way. It is facing some financial hurdles. The fact that some of this equipment is the only equipment in the world capable of doing this contributes to the challenge. It’s a time thing at the end of the day. For us, we started in features, and certainly that is on a much more secure track of going forward — it’s happening, it’s the buzz in the industry. I think what you are beginning to see is that the 3-D is becoming more and more a buzz in the sports community. The train has left the station.

HDTU: Could you please review with me the major pieces of equipment used to produce the Cavs away championship game with San Antonio in 3-D?

VP: These are Sony F950 cameras. There are two of them. They are specially designed for our type of acquisition in 3-D. Sony has been working with us for about seven years. The lenses are a combination of Fujinon and Canon lenses for 3-D production. The actual sled is designed by James Cameron and myself, so it’s referred to as the PACE Cameron Fusion 3D system.

Bexel provided the entire infrastructure for the mobile unit in this case — audio, video engineering. The whole control room was provided by Bexel, the cameras by PACE, the Evertz system for the fiber transmission to Cleveland — all under the wing of NBA’s Mike Rokosa, who’s very skilled with structuring this. We worked with him on the All-Star Game, which placed a tremendous thread through it all because he understands every level of the effort. He is pretty much a conductor, if you will, to make it all happen in a timely manner to make all the component levels become an integrated unit. OSA provided the personnel and support in Cleveland for the exhibition. We also had a person from PACE there as well to qualify the 3-D deliverable. That was the team of people who got that call on Sunday only a week before the event.

HDTU: In the production trailer, was the director sitting there with the glasses on watching his previews in 3-D as he was calling his shots?

VP: Good question. I sat at the first meeting having shot thousands of hours of 3-D material prior to the All-Star Game, and Mike Rokosa made the request that the director see and cut in 3-D. I just said to myself, “I don’t know if that will work.” Certainly, he is looking at an image that can be good or bad, and will that interrupt his train of thought in cutting together a good show?

I agreed to move forward with it, and we put in place preview and program in 3-D for the director fully prepared to drop one projection system and give him a single eye and take the glasses off if needed.

In the end, it was a huge benefit in delivering the right product to the viewer because he was making decisions based on his interpretation of the 3-D up on the screen. I guess that is the kind of difference in where we are headed with 3-D. It’s no longer a mathematical formula where we are trying to tell you two plus two equals four. It’s a person looking at the image, making a determination that he’s liking what he’s seeing and using more of that shot. We’ve gone into the visual world with 3-D.

To answer the question, the director was looking at program feed and preview in 3-D, and the TD was also looking at the same thing, really making decisions that benefited the end product.

HDTU: What does HD bring to this stereographic system? In other words, the clip I saw at the Sony press conference during NAB2007 of the All-Star Game in 3-D truly gave me the feeling that I was at the game. HD must play an important part in creating that illusion.

VP: I think what people weren’t prepared for was the perfect combination that HD makes with 3-D. It’s a real-time viewing environment, it has a high resolution and the image gets to the point of what we would consider transparent to human sight. It’s a transparency factor of feeling like you’re there.

Again, I don’t think any of us were prepared when we saw the images in proper 3-D space, proper HD space, that it would trigger another element which is something that is very immersive. I think the best comment I heard, which was from one of the producers of “Avatar,” was a comment about off-screen and behind-the-screen effects. Good 3-D is when the screen disappears. That is so true, because many times when we are looking at crafting a shot, I try and imagine that if I were standing right there looking at the image, what it would feel like to me. That means I am no longer trying to determine should I put this off the screen or put this on the screen. I am determining how that would feel to me if I were just standing there. That’s where I think we are hooking you. And the only way to do that is a high-resolution feed like HD and some powerful systems that can capture images in real time for you.

HDTU: Does playback rely on a digital stereo projection with the viewers wearing polarized 3-D glasses?

VP: There are multiple levels of playback. There’re twin projection systems, there’s single projection systems. There’re Real-D systems for theater display using a single projector. There’re shutter glasses. But it all starts with two sources of information, which is great for me because it keeps us in business. At the end of the day, there are many ways of getting it to the viewing public, and I think some of what we are triggering is the feature world has been strong at 23.98; we’re at a higher frame rate, so we are starting to see the industry say, “We need better delivery methods.” Development is starting to be triggered by the fact that sports will be a deliverable in 3-D. Nobody can make that argument, or I’ll have them talk to all 14,000 fans.

HDTU: Do you anticipate the use of this 3-D production technology will continue to be a close-circuit presentation, or is there room for another format for presentation in the home?

VP: Absolutely. It’s destined. One of the things we find is that the scalability factor of a lifelike image is a non-issue. I could show it on a 40ft screen, or I could show it on a 50in screen, because I am not creating an effect on the screen. That scalability of display only changed the viewing experience; it doesn’t change the affect of the image. So, the potential for it getting into the home is something that I think will be eventually in our future.

Obviously, where it is going to start is certainly these tent-pole projects, kind of the ultimate pay-per-view, if you will, and leading into the ultimate deliverable, which would be two feeds — a cable selection whether you want the 3-D or the 2-D. You are going to see prototype display devices early next year for home viewing, but that is all in its beginning stages.

So, I don’t mind if everything falls into place correctly as opposed to having them ready to see it in the homes, but we can’t generate the content cost effectively or in a quality manner. I tell most people that 3-D started with duct tape and two cameras, but that formula failed. We don’t want to do that formula. We want to really create lifelike images for the viewer, and that’s going to take a progressive approach as opposed to an overnight sensation.

HDTU: Are there more sports or entertainment-related projects planned, and can you give me any specifics?

VP: I don’t think we have left any stone unturned for demonstrating to folks that we want to do this as a company. I think the NBA is the first to step up to an ongoing relationship that takes advantage of this new entertainment medium. For us, the answer to your question is, yes, there are other sports very interested. At the same time, they’ve had their concerns whether we can put a proper business model around it. Well, that business model is beginning to take shape every time we do one of these projects.

HDTU: Has shooting begun for production of James Cameron’s “Avatar?”

VP: We’ve done the tests. They are in performance capture mode right now. We’ll be doing some plates from now until September, but live action really starts late September, early October. That will be done in New Zealand.

This is something we’ve been preparing for about seven years. It’s the reason we started developing the tools. I’ve done some great projects with Jim, “Ghosts of the Abyss,” “Aliens of the Deep” and so forth. This will be finally a chance to do exactly what we started out to do seven years ago, to capture a feature film in a whole new medium.

HDTU: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

VP: It’s just not your average 3-D. My biggest thing with most people is that I have to get them in front of the image because until I do that, they have no idea of what is on the screen. Once they see it, they get it and they want more.

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