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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

E:60 3D: Coming at You


Making of the Great Throwdini in 3-D from E60 on Vimeo.

          ESPN pioneered sports television 3D with a college football game in 2009, and continued in 2010 with World Cup Soccer, the Home Run Derby, and college and pro basketball.  Viewers find live action enhanced by a depth of field enjoyed by the athletes.
          In April E:60 will debut ESPN’s first 3D feature presentation: “The Great Throwdini” – about the daredevil act of a knife-thrower, David Adamovich.  Viewers will see sharp gleaming knives fly through the air, in ultra-slow motion, in various directions.  Some come straight at the screen, others go toward a woman attached to a giant spinning “wheel of death”.
          What they won’t see is the 10-12 hours of trial-by-error that went into shooting the 4-5 minute piece.  That was in February, at a Hofstra University theater, in a session that required a small army of 15 to 20 specialists.  Nor will they see the hours of editing.
          “It took James Cameron nine years to do ‘Avatar’ in 3D, and I’m like, ‘That’s all?’,” said producer Martin Khodabakhshian,
          “Everything takes longer in 3D – field planning, pre-production, shooting and editing.”
           Khodabakhshian was on his first 3D shoot, as were producers Robert Abbott and Brian Liburd.  They were challenged to get a shot of a knife hurtling toward a $200,000 Phantom camera – without damaging the camera.
          The camera was protected with one sheet of plexiglass, then three.  A mirror was set up, and a reflection of the knife was shot as it hurtled through the air.
          Wearing 3D glasses, the producers watched replays on monitors.  But, for an unexplained reason, the slow-motion shots would not replay in slow motion.
          Producers experimented with unfamiliar 3D technology and arrived at a few conclusions:
          1) Conceive and layer shots differently than in 2D – the more layering the better.  Create depth between the camera, the subject and the background.
          2) Cameras and rigs should be static.  Movement should come from the subjects. 
          3) Abundant lighting is required for Phantom cameras, which enhance 3D with ultra-slow motion.
          4)  In edit, avoid fast cuts.  Viewers need more time to adjust to the depth and dimension of a 3D shot.   Shots should be longer with movement toward and away from the camera.
          At the end of the day, Khodabakhshian was intrigued by the creative potential of 3D.
          “You don’t have to be throwing something at a camera – it doesn’t have to be Friday the 13th,” he said. “If you have a story on rowing, and there’s layers of kayaks, it will look cool.  If a girl is honoring her brother at his gravesite, and the tombstone is in your living room, and she’s coming to kiss that thing with emotion, why not?
          “You could do almost anything with 3D.  It just takes a lot of time and money.”

(Posted by Steve Marantz, March 22, 2011)