Doing 3D for Less

Smaller, lighter camcorders are helping to reduce production costs

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.

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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