Docs

ESPN charges into 3D for the X Games

Phil Orlins, producer of X Games 3D: The Movie, never envisioned he'd be involved with movie production and 3D was the farthest thing from his mind. But two years ago, after noticing that 3D was all around him at NAB, the light bulb went off. What better sport than extreme games to launch the sports 3D theatrical experience? Orlins tells realscreen what went into making the first sports doc in 3D.
August 20, 2009

Phil Orlins, producer of X Games 3D: The Movie, never envisioned he’d be involved with movie production and 3D was the farthest thing from his mind. But two years ago, after noticing that 3D was all around him at NAB, the light bulb went off. What better sport than extreme games to launch the sports 3D theatrical experience? Orlins tells realscreen what went into making the first sports doc in 3D.

Directed by award-winning filmmaker Steve Lawrence and with director of stereoscopy, Pete Routhier, on board, X Games 3D follows skateboarding, motocross, snowboarding and rally car racing stars as they compete at the 2007 X Games.

The ESPN Films doc, distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, is a true feat of technology, with a massive list of equipment used to make the film a three-dimensional experience. The film took 10 simultaneous camera rigs, from fixed position to shoulder-mounted rigs, stabilized harnesses and multi-axis remote controlled heads, to ensure that the viewer would feel like they were right there with the athlete. The filmmakers captured more than 100 hours of footage.

Orlins says he and his team weren’t dealing with completely foreign territory. The producer has held the title of coordinating producer of the X Games telecasts since 2006, and was producer for the Winter X Games from 1997 through 2006 and the X Games in 2004 and 2005. Since the X Games are an ESPN event, the crew also had unprecedented access.

First, Orlins says they tested filming a football game in 3D last September, to show the crew what it would be up against. The X Games in particular were suited to the 3D treatment more so than football, Orlins explains. ‘The basis of great 3D is reliant on proximity of the subject, and that proximity of the subject is easier to achieve if that action takes a predictable path,’ he says. On the football field, a ball can be thrown either left or right down the field, whereas a skateboarder can only go up and down a designated path – the skate ramp.

With the practice run over, Orlins said that everything, from ‘convergence angles and camera set up, [to] the distances of the subjects, [to] the color of the lighting and the cameras,’ had to be perfectly in sync for the X Games film. For example, Orlin says if they’d been filming the Winter X Games and a snowflake fell onto one camera lens and not the other, it would throw everything out of whack. ‘Suddenly it becomes a non-human experience where your two eyes don’t match up, and it becomes disconcerting,’ he says.

The cameras also had to be set up with a range of 50% in either direction of where the center of interest would be. ‘If [the athlete] is going to get within 10 feet of the camera, you want a conversion of that shot of 20 feet away,’ Orlins explains. ‘You want proximity but not for every shot.’

The future of sports docs may be all about 3D and Orlins believes that X Games 3D could be the tip of the iceberg. ‘I do think there’s a significant chance that this will whet people’s appetite [for sports 3D],’ he says. ‘I truly believe that HD was a very significant evolutionary improvement but I think 3D is more revolutionary that evolutionary.’

The doc will be hitting digital 3D theaters across the U.S. beginning on August 21.

About The Author
Meagan Kashty is an associate editor of realscreen, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Meagan is an award-winning business journalist. Prior to joining the realscreen team, Meagan was online editor of Canadian Grocer, named Magazine of the Year at the 2015 Canadian Business Media Awards. She can be reached at mkashty@brunico.com, and you can follow her on Twitter @MegKashty

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