Steve Boland – the best 3D experiences are still to come

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Steve Boland, Director of Market Development at Presteigne Charter talks about their new 3D nightvision camera and his ideas about the future of 3D sport.

review dividing line Steve Boland   the best 3D experiences are still to come

Steve Boland 200x300 Steve Boland   the best 3D experiences are still to comeSteve Boland currently heads Presteigne Charter’s market development. The company boasts an extensive 3DTV project portfolio including a 3D multi-camera fly pack for MTV’s World Stage in Malaysia, Sony’s ‘Lens to living room’ live 3D production at IFA Berlin and single-camera 3D documentaries for Electric Sky.

In 2010, Steven Boland received a BAFTA nomination in the ‘New Media’ category along with the Sky Arts team and Antony Gormley for ‘One and Other’, a 24/7, 100-day live project in Trafalgar Square, London.
In this exclusive MIPTV interview, we start by asking Steve Boland what message he has for MIPTV delegates about Presteigne Charter’s strategy and ambitions.

Steve Boland: MIPTV is a very important event for 3DTV and encouraging to see conference coverage is growing from last year.  From a technology and support perspective I think the industry has moved to an advanced stage in a very short period. There are now more intuitive tools to create 3D than ever before and the cost of production is reducing helped by faster set up times and experienced crew. The challenge is to continue developing the creative language and engage viewers in new ways. Presteigne Charter remains committed to a long term view of 3D development and continues to invest in education, people and technology to support the format.    

3D Focus: I understand you have been working on a night vision 3D camera – can you elaborate?

Steve Boland: Presteigne Charter commissioned the build of a portable single-bodied 3D camera around 2½ years ago. Called the RT-1000 the camera has been used extensively on 3D sports events since. We were approached by wildlife producers to look at ideas of translating 2D programmes to 3D. An area of interest was night filming. With software and control interface adjustments we are able to switch the camera remotely from colour day-mode to a monochrome night-mode. With minimal infrared lighting the camera offers a surprising level of detail in monochrome 3D. As the camera also operates wirelessly we are hoping the night vision feature may stimulate some creative ideas for music, factual or reality-style programming.

3D Focus: Is there an argument that 3D television could outshine 3D cinema as home screens get bigger and there is no ‘per viewer’ glasses premium anymore with passive sets?

Steve Boland: I think this will be driven largely by appropriate content for the viewing environment. Premium live events could benefit from larger screens at home and cheaper passive glasses. Getting people in front of TV screens at certain times is an ongoing challenge particularly against other media outlet options in the home. A shared experience that offers a closer viewer proximity to a live event is clearly attractive to both cinemas and television. 

3D Focus: Live sport can include frequent edge violations, sun flare issues or sports men and women suddenly appearing very close to the camera creating extreme negative parallax. In a live scenario, when there are no post fixes available, will there always be these problems? Could footage be slightly delayed?

Steve Boland: In February 2010 Presteigne Charter worked with Inition and SIS Live on the Six Nations Rugby in 3D. Our prototype 3D radio camera was used on the touchline Steadicam. At the time portable cameras for live 3D broadcasts were embryonic but produced some really engaging shots, particularly when the play was close to the touchline. The sense of proximity to the physicality of the sport was very powerful, but the most interesting aspect for me was the reaction by the OB truck crew when the linesman stepped in front of the camera and obscured the play. Whilst viewing the main 3D monitor, almost all (myself included), moved sideways in an attempt to see around the obstruction.

From a technology perspective there are now QC devices that can alert and/or limit instances of uncomfortable 3D. But ‘live’ is the potential of the unexpected and to offer viewers as a sense of proximity, for me, is a key appeal of live 3D.  Looking ahead we could conceive a future of live cameras producing depth data, real-time processing such as the stitching of high resolution images and viewer eye/movement tracking technology, converging and working together to enhance the viewer’s physical engagement with the action. Perhaps looking even further at developments in ‘light field’ capture by ‘Lytro’ moving into video and paired with technology to track real-time viewer convergence and focus?  Perhaps when we do move our heads because of unexpected obstructions we can see around the linesman?

Maybe all far-fetched, but believing in the value of an enhanced viewer experience through spatial proximity can act as a springboard to continue refining the technology and production techniques.   

3D Focus: Are you still excited/optimistic about 3D?

Steve Boland: Yes on both counts. With recent examples of how to creatively and intelligently use the format, the best experiences are still to come. 

3D Focus: Can the 3D industry be accused of ‘doing an ostrich’ when it comes to the lukewarm response from the public?

Steve Boland: I’m not sure I recognise 3D as an ‘industry’ as such and certainly not one with a collective response. I suspect most of us commercially involved in 3D see it as a longer term commitment and recognise the need for ongoing support and continued education. I think a lukewarm response could be due to the nature of the question (which is often too generalised).

3D Focus: Why do you believe there has been a push to get 3D in the home when there was little evidence people were willing to pay a premium to watch it?

Steve Boland: I think there must be a huge value for creating unique viewing experiences in the home. In the UK Sky have been raising the bar through alternative and innovative programming – Sky Arts is great testament to this. Extending such innovation to 3D programming is an exciting and amazing goal for a broadcaster and has the potential to re-engage audiences with TV content in new ways. This clearly isn’t without its challenges and perhaps the biggest one being that 3D is such a different viewing experience. I’m sure taking time to develop that experience is fundamental to realising a larger audience.      

3D Focus: Do you think 4K and Super Hi-Vision will outshine 3D?

Steve Boland: I think they are very different formats in terms of what they offer the viewer. The nature of 3D lends to a physical/proximity viewer relationship with the subject. 4K and 8K explores that relationship through higher resolution and detail. What I find most interesting about Super Hi-Vision is the accompanying 22.2 audio and the incredible sense of spatial orientation it provides.

3D Focus: Do you believe a 3D show should be 100% 3D?

Steve Boland: I think the debate falls away when the content or story holds up and engages audiences whether in 2D, 3D or a mixture of both. For live events there are limitations achieving rounded 3D using very long lenses. There are also practical considerations and ideal camera positions are not always possible.  Used carefully, I think conversion can be a useful tool to complement native 3D without destroying the overall experience. 

3D Focus: Many people say they would rather watch their sport in 2D HD because they do not like the loss in resolution with 3D. Do you think the resolution issue is driving viewers away from 3D or do you think there is a greater issue than that?

Steve Boland: I don’t think the reduced resolution helps, but we are in still in the early days and most productions are mastered full frame for archive. If the content is engaging enough resolution shouldn’t detract too much from the 3D experience.

3D Focus: Do you believe there is a lack of imagination in 3D productions for television? If so, what needs to be done to change that?

Steve Boland: I think it is easy to lose sight of the fact that 3DTV (and digital 3D cinema to an extent) is still in its infancy. The push to monetise 3D content has largely eclipsed the creative opportunities the format presents. In my view there is a still a language to be developed to help nurture the format. For the last year at least, the dominating voice has been one of the business case and evidence of consumer adoption (or not). At shows, conferences, educational talks etc., I’d like to see more specific examples of where 3D techniques provide a unique experience, as this is where I believe the language needs to be developed.

I recently experienced great examples of viewer proximity working its way into 3D narrative while watching Scorsese’s Hugo. One aspect of 3D production that seems to stimulate most debate is how and when to use negative parallax (positioning objects out of the screen). During Hugo I believe it was used to amplify the emotive sequences. During a scene where Hugo is interrogated by the Station Inspector, a sense of suspicion is targeted towards the audience by using a close up of the Inspector’s face advancing into theatre space. The impending danger of a speeding train is exaggerated by the brake lever being pushed out into theatre space or a captured Hugo’s hand reaching out for assistance, but in 3D, towards the audience. Subtly, these instances build through the movie and stimulate a spatial engagement which is very different from conventional 2D storytelling.

There are increasing examples of engaging viewers using 3D techniques across genres: Wim Wenders using Steadicam shots to guide the viewers spatially through dance sequences in Pina, wildlife documentaries where shots are composed to exploit spatial relationships between habitat, hunter and prey. The key to the success of such examples is where spatial proximity is considered as part the narrative or scene.  
This is where I hope the long term 3D commitment by broadcaster’s such as Sky will lead the way and give a chance for this creative language to develop and mature.

3D Focus: Will Presteigne Charter rigs be used by any broadcasters to produce ancillary footage surrounding the Olympic 3D coverage?

Steve Boland: Yes. Presteigne Charter is in talks with broadcasters and production companies regarding ancillary 3D requirements to the main coverage.

3D Focus: What is your reaction to the fact that less 3D movies will be released this year compared to last year?

Steve Boland: Quality over quantity is the important factor to keep audiences returning and Hugo (amongst others) has demonstrated how successful dramatic storytelling can be using 3D intelligently. 

3D Focus: Is it time to accept 3D TV is not going to transform the television landscape as expected?

Steve Boland: I think 3D will complement and broaden the TV landscape, continuing to refine and evolve. It has the potential to offer a different viewing experience and as such needs to transform the viewer’s expectations of a ‘Television’ experience.

For more information about Presteigne Charter click here.