Press Office

Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

Speeches – 2011

Danielle Nagler

Danielle Nagler

Head of BBC HD and 3D

Speech to the 3D World Forum 2011

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Last year in this forum I talked about questions – where 3D was going and all that was unknown.

Today I still have questions, but I want to fill you in on what the BBC has been doing – and what we are doing – around 3D.

I want to reflect on what has been learnt over the last year, and talk about the areas on which I think that we all need to focus.

We're all sitting here because to a greater or lesser extent we're immersed in 3D TV issues. For the world outside the broadcasting trade shows and these kinds of events, though, there have been a limited number of 3D TV moments over the last year.

Of course, an increasing range of displays are available in stores, in the UK Sky and Virgin have launched 3D content offers, and – again thanks to Sky – there has been a lot of marketing around some big 3D programmes. It was difficult to miss David Attenborough's Flying Monsters, or US Masters 3D on the billboards for example.

An increasing number of people have no doubt seen some 3D TV content – via 3D experience booths, through football in pubs, or within a sales environment – and awareness has grown.

But 3D TV feels almost as far away from the mainstream today as it did 12 months ago. And while there is considerable enthusiasm for some of the content available, I've yet to encounter someone who is passionate across the board and believes that 3D TV will be a wholesale revolution.

I say that because I think that it's vital we understand audiences and where they are in relation to 3D if we're fully to exploit 3D opportunities.

We can play with the technology however we like to create things that we ourselves are proud of – whether it's content or ways of broadcasting – but in the end we are in the business of connecting with people freely or for a fee to provide them with content that they engage with.

Content

Every entertainment revolution has been about building out reliable, consistent delivery capability, coupled with content. But technology potential doesn't always get realised. And that is because for most of us we only use, and then love, technology which – like broadcasting – can inform, educate and entertain us.

Look at any recent revolution – from broadband to texting – and the model holds true as far as mainstream usage goes.

Our analysis of previous waves of 3D enthusiasm in the cinema shows categorically that audiences take to 3D once you can guarantee a consistent experience.

We aren't yet doing that, and I'm not sure whether between all of us gathered here, and those others engaged in 3D TV production, we are yet generating enough content for 3D to come anywhere close to a compelling audience proposition.

Many new hours of 3D have been made over the last 12 months – some of it has been fabulous, some of it has probably not advanced the cause of 3D. We are all at this point making our mistakes in public – no one sets out to make a bad piece of 3D any more than they set out to make a bad movie or TV programme – and it's important that we can share learnings to increase the rate at which, hopefully, we can all move to delivering consistently great 3D if that's what we want to do.

So in the interests of full disclosure, because we are in the end talking about pictures to audiences, not the technology which makes them possible – and since it would be absolutely wrong not to practise what I'm preaching – let me share with you our own experiments.

Please put on your glasses, and here's a small selection of what we've been working on.

[CLIP]

You saw there test shoots carried out by BBC producers in Bristol, a small taste of Planet Dinosaur which is currently in production in 2D and 3D from a BBC team in London, Africa 3D test footage shot by the BBC Natural History Unit working with independent 3D natural history experts, and an excerpt from Strictly Come Dancing, or as it is now known around the world, Dancing With The Stars.

Strictly

I'd like to talk about our Strictly Come Dancing experiment at greater length – because in some ways it allowed us to test out our theories about the relationships around how we work in 2D and in 3D most comprehensively, and to work in real time on the challenges familiar to most of us at this stage in development, including how we produce and optimise simultaneously for 40inch TVs and cinema screens.

I believe that as far as possible what the BBC does in 3D should seek to extend our knowledge and understanding of how 3D TV works, rather than simply replicating work that others were doing.

I also believe that the BBC has a responsibility to try to understand what a mainstream audience proposition should look and feel like – since that's the audience we exist to serve. That means we need to look at our big, popular programmes and ask how far 3D can help us to extend the audience experience.

Since I think none of us believes that 2D will disappear overnight, we also wanted to explore the relationship between 2D and 3D – both in terms of the approach to production and the audience take on a different way of seeing content with which they were already familiar.

So the slice of Strictly produced in 3D to support the BBC charity Children in Need campaign last year was slipped into what is already a busy production environment. It used the regular studio and set for Strictly, and featured a dance choreographed for the regular Saturday night show, albeit with an awareness that it would also be captured in 3D.

It was important to us that the look and feel of the show were reflected effectively in 3D – and for that reason we paired the regular Strictly series director with an experienced film and TV stereographer, while BBC S&PP (BBC Studios and Post Production) who routinely service the show in 2D worked alongside other 3D experts.

Having prepared all the pieces in the background, we went into the studio after rehearsing for the day had finished, got cameras up and running and tested in the space of less than 2 hours, and had around 45 minutes to shoot the single dance. Editing took around three days – or a day for each minute of the finished film – in a labour of love to prepare the piece for cinema transmission, and to be shared with 3D TV set demos, and to polish it as well as we possibly could.

It won't surprise you that we learnt a lot – not least that moving a steadicam that weighs twice as much with the same degree of fluidity is painful to watch.

And it could all have gone horribly wrong with so little time for breakdowns or mistakes. Our hunch that it's important to retain the directorial links to the 2D seems to be right – and the pairing of a 2D brand-experienced director with a 3D expert worked well.

We found though that the mix of camera shots shifts from 2D to 3D – some positions which deliver stunning camera work in 2D are simply underwhelming in 3D – and with more time to play we would have experimented further.

We discovered too that within a studio space the sense of depth is incredibly important – and fortunately the Strictly set, new for the series, could have been designed to support that need.

Working live with an audience which was intended to be in shot made us realise the care needed in the way that that kind of background is handled in 3D – close-ups can look slightly odd.

We also concluded that putting 3D cameras on to a 2D set up can deliver good – or even very good 3D – but that in an ideal world you would optimise choreography and costumes for 3D, although that wouldn't necessarily limit the 2D effect.

In other words, having gone through this exercise everyone involved understood more about how the 2D production could have been configured to enhance what could be achieved in 3D.

I'm of course being highly critical of what I believe – and what feedback told us – was one of the most polished pieces of studio-based 3D TV from the UK. But that's because I feel that whatever the BBC engages in TV should aspire to be as good as it possibly can be – and I hope and believe that what we do next can be even better.

Those who saw the experiment enjoyed it – some of them even more than watching the filming live. Some of them felt that it made Strictly even more real, some that it was less life-like but fun nonetheless.

BBC future plans

We are – and will – be doing more. But we're looking for range in our experiments and so you certainly won't see the same kind of initiative again from us.

We'll be looking at different kinds of content, in different settings, with different durations, relationships to 2D, and different forms of distribution.

Increasing our understanding of the audience will be an important part of all of those. But what I've realised as we've been working on our project slate is that it's important to set a high bar for what you tackle – and to walk away from things which you are doubtful can deliver really good 3D, or which don't fit entirely with the objectives set.

Filming the Royal Wedding in 3D obviously didn't happen – but actually, given the architectural structure of Westminster Abbey, and the number of 3D cameras that could ever have been located within it discreetly, I'm not convinced that it could have provided anything as extraordinarily impressive as was possible in 2D HD.

On the other hand, talking to the Executive Producer from our Specialist Factual team working on Planet Dinosaur, a CGI dinosaur project which will have a 3D element to it, he's incredibly excited at the opportunity provided by 3D to show audiences the models actually created for the programme.

For CGI, 2D loses a huge amount of the real picture for viewers because of the limitations of capture. So in CGI, the 2D/3D relationship potentially mirrors the quality uplift that we're familiar with from SD to HD. He raises a question though that we should all think about as we continue to make and develop 3D: if good 3D in some areas requires us to slow down pictures and storytelling, to simplify what we do in order to compensate for the limitations on flexibility that the technology imposes, and indeed because of what we are asking audience's eyes to do as they view, is it really a tool to help create better television?

Conclusion

I'm not qualified to opine on 3D cinema – I'd observe that there are significant interests who see real benefits in the continuing growth of 3D, and there's evidence of continuing audience appetite.

Hope over the next year to see creative development – 3D in the hands of the great directors, really integrated into their powerful cinematic vision, could take us to places beyond Avatar.

The BBC's business is television – and mainstream television at that. Television and its purposes have been organised in an infinite number of ways over time. I'd like to suggest that if we strip all the theories away, there are in the end only two kinds of television: television which is real, showing us things and events as they are; and television which is imaginative, and helps us to escape, and to dream.

HD makes both better. If you want to feel that you're really there, to see a scene on the TV that you can almost reach out and touch, and breathe, HD will help to dissolve that TV screen barrier. That applies whether we are talking about jungles, oceans, stars, a football match, a Royal wedding; or the drama of real life with EastEnders in Albert Square, in the courtroom, on the streets of Norwich with Five Daughters, or with Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock Holmes on the back routes of London.

And if you want from your television another kind of world, a lovingly crafted and clearly created world, in which you can lose yourself, with daleks, superhumans, monster plants, the past, or the future, HD can conjure the most convincing level of unreality possible on the small screen.

To understand whether 3D can make TV better, we need to consider whether we, and our audiences, believe it can significantly enhance either the feeling of realism or escapism that we look for in TV.

To be honest, we don't really know that yet. And we won't know unless we play around with the technology and work to understand in detail audiences' response to what we are doing.

There's so much we have to learn about what an audience takes from a 3D – as opposed to a 2D experience – which makes it worth more to them and therefore justifies a premium on both production and sale. It may enhance storytelling, or it may be a distraction and a gimmick, peripheral to the long-term development of television.

I hope that we will work together to find out, to share our findings honestly, and together to decide on the right areas of focus for development for audiences. Thank you.

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