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Mastering the Stereo 3D Learning Curve

By Christine Bunish

Stereoscopic 3D
Stereo 3D comes to the living room in Samsung’s “Wonder-full” spot directed by TWiN.

Stereoscopic 3D is nothing new as our 19th-century forebears would attest as they slid a new dual-image photographic card into their handheld stereopticon viewers. A 3D movie process was patented in the 1890s and a stereo camera rig in 1900. Great Train Robbery director Edwin S. Porter showed 3D tests in 1915, and the earliest confirmed 3D film showing followed in 1922. The Depression and World War II sidelined the technology, but 3D movies were back in force in the 1950s, often for horror and sci fi titles.

Interest diminished as moviegoing declined and TV viewership peaked, but 3D enjoyed a revival in the ’60s and ’70s and a true resurgence in the next two decades fueled by IMAX theaters and special-venue content. With major technological advances and the unparalleled success of Avatar, 3D no longer occupies just a niche in the industry. It’s already moving to homes with the ESPN 3D cable network launch June 11 and Discovery, Sony and IMAX partnering on a 3D network slated for 2011.

With the pulse of stereo 3D quickening, it’s not too soon to master the learning curve.

Stereoscopic 3D
Dad prepares to remove a block from the aquarium in Samsung’s “Wonder-full” spot directed by TWiN.

Directing Duo TWiN Creates “Wonder-full” Samsung Spot
Makers of 3D displays are among the first to produce commercials in 3D and use the spots for 3D cinema exhibition, 2D broadcast and Point of Sale content for their products. “Wonder-full,” from Leo Burnett/Chicago, introduces the “world’s first 3D LED TV” from Samsung and answers the question, “Ever wonder how amazing it would be to experience life in another dimension?”

Helmed by Josh and Jonathan Baker, who direct under the name TWiN and have been affiliated with production company Rabbit (www.rabbitcontent.com) since it opened in New York City in 2008, “Wonder-full” follows a family that literally brings its aquarium visit home. After the father’s magical, light-tipped finger carves a solid section from the aquarium’s glass wall, he straps the fish-filled block to the car roof, carries it into the house and pushes it into his Samsung 3D LED TV until it vanishes. Then he dons his 3D glasses and joins his family on the couch to watch the 3D sea creatures burst through the TV and swim into the room; his son reaches up to touch a ray.

The commercial marked TWiN’s 3D debut although the directors have the extensive VFX expertise the spot required. To shoot “Wonder-full” efficiently they assembled a Dream Team of partners, including Academy Award-winning Avatar cinematographer Mauro Fiore (who got word of his Oscar nomination on the fourth day of shooting), Jim Haygood of Union Editorial who’s cutting Tron Legacy 3D and Digital Domain for post and VFX. “We put together an A-list 3D team from the feature world,” says Rabbit executive producer Joby Barnhart. “You have to be fairly precise when you shoot in 3D, so we wanted to assemble a crew with previous experience in the medium to advise us.”

TWiN was determined to shoot the spot “handheld and keep our signature shooting style,” says Jonathan Baker. “We didn’t want to let stereo 3D lock us down too much.” At its core the commercial offered “a story we liked and the potential for great VFX,” notes Josh Baker. Shooting in stereoscopic 3D added “an extra layer on top, for people who would be seeing it in 3D in cinemas and stores.”

According to Jonathan, the duo discovered that “more of a circus goes along with 3D production. We had a tent with a 55-inch 3D TV, cables, drives, the stereographer and space for everybody to watch and discuss details like interocular and convergence. It was fun to watch all the depth pop out while we were directing the talent.” Fiore and the Digital Domain team helped the directors establish the 3D parameters on set taking into account the size of cinema screens and the visual comfort of the moviegoers. “There’s no room for error,” Jonathan emphasizes, “or [3D] becomes uncomfortable to watch.”

Fiore manned a Pace/Cameron Fusion camera system for the location production, which enabled him to capture footage handheld throughout the entire shoot. The actor playing the father mimed cutting the aquarium block and, in a greenscreen sequence, carried a prop box so his hands were fixed to a tangible object. Reference footage of the sea creatures was captured at the aquarium; Digital Domain animated the ray in post.

As former designers themselves, TWiN typically remains involved in a spot through post. They discovered that “the normal tricks you do, things like simple wire removals or paint outs, can become more difficult in 3D,” says Jonathan. Digital Domain’s ability to screen the spot in stereo in its theater proved extremely helpful enabling the post team to “test out what a cinema audience would see.” The 2D spot for television broadcast was then output from the 3D version by simply rendering one eye.

After “Wonder-full,” Rabbit is “poised to handle” more requests for 3D production, says Barnhart who expects 3D spots to increase once the 3D cable networks launch. “Avatar opened it up for the public. They discovered that 3D doesn’t always have to be flying at your face. You can create a world with depth, amazement and wonder. That’s what grabs people.”

Vendors Support Stereo 3D with Products, Information
  • For details on 3D products from Panasonic, Sony, JVC and Autodesk, see the NAB feature in the March/April issue of Markee (www.markeemag.com).
  • Maxell’s four-part series on stereoscopic 3D history, production and postproduction and the technology’s potential impact on consumers is a must-read (www.maxellpromediablog.com).
  • At NAB Canon U.S.A., Inc. showcased 3D-related lens features currently available in its HDTV lens systems along with its new SPB-10 separation box (www.usa.canon.com).
  • Fujinon, Inc. introduced six news lenses in conjunction with its 3D Synchronous Control System for 3D production at NAB (www.fujinon.com).
  • Element Technica, designer and manufacturer of the Technica 3D family of camera rigs, has delivered its 50th Quasar 3D rig; its compact Neutron rig for smaller cameras debuted at NAB (www.technica3D.com).
  • Distributor ZGC offers an array of P+S stereo 3D rig camera packages, the Stereotec 3D side-by-side rig and Transvideo 3D monitors (www.zgc.com).
  • Check out Pablo and other stereo 3D post solutions from Quantel (www.quantel.com).
  • SGO drew crowds at NAB where Mistika Version 5.0, a turnkey realtime postproduction finishing system with a new set of stereo 3D and 2D tools, made its North American debut (www.sgo.es).
  • CineForm Neo3D delivers a comprehensive 3D editorial workflow on both Mac and Windows platforms and is compatible with most nonlinear editing systems, including those from Adobe, Apple, Avid and Sony (www.cineform.com).
  • Powered by FXFactory, Dashwood Cinema Solutions’ Stereo3D Toolbox is a plug-in designed to work with After Effects CS3/CS4, Final Cut Pro 6 and 7, Apple Motion 3 and 4, and Final Cut Express 4 applications (www.timdashwood.com).

Stereoscopic 3D
Dzignlight’s Eric Deren (dark suit) capturing behind-the-scenes footage of a freefall for Human Flight 3D.

Dzignlight’s Deren Taps Decade of 3D Experience for Features
Eric Deren, owner of Atlanta’s Dzignlight Studios (www.dzignlight.com), did his first stereo 3D project in 1999 and continued to take on 3D jobs primarily for industry trade shows. When he was among a group asked by Paramount to do shot tests to explore the viability of 2D-to-3D post conversion in 2007, he realized he wanted to get more involved in 3D stereography.

His own “glorified camera tests” became the award-winning Stereoscopic Skydiving short that has been showcased at 3D film festivals and is now licensed as content by the major 3D display manufacturers.

Last February, Deren became on-set stereographer for the indie thriller Hidden 3D, produced by Don Carmody (A Christmas Story, Chicago) and shot in Quebec. He deployed Sony F23 Cine Alta HD cameras with Zeiss DigiPrimes in an ImARTis SwissRIG beam-splitter rig and averaged 14 set ups per day, all on location, during the 33-day shoot.

“Once the lens alignment was done, and that usually took 45-65 seconds, 3D didn’t slow down the production at all,” he reports. “My goal as stereographer was to make sure nobody was ever waiting for 3D on the set.”

Stereoscopic 3D
Dzignlight’s Eric Deren (left) on location in Oka, Quebec for the feature, Hidden 3D, with DP Bennoit Beaulieu.

Earlier this year Deren was brought on board Human Flight 3D, a docu-drama from Carl Samson’s Sky High Entertainment featuring members of the Red Bull Air Force. He’s now acting as on-set stereographer for the final phase of the estimated $15-milion movie, which is expected to wrap shooting in Florida, Lake Tahoe and Las Vegas. He will capture the ground narrative with a pair of Silicon Imaging SI-2K cameras in a SwissRIG; the cameras’ small form factor also enable them to be used in a helmet-mounted rig for aerials.

Lab 601 will do the stereoscopic post finishing for Human Flight 3D with Deren collaborating. The company’s toolkit includes an Avid 3D Media Composer, the Iridas line of software and The Foundry’s Nuke. “People have the perception that, like when we migrated to HD post, you buy the 3D hardware and displays and you’re ready to go,” says Deren. “That may be true from an editing standpoint, but stereo depth grading and finishing is a pretty big issue. You need someone with a knowledge of 3D from a what-you’re-putting-on-the-screen standpoint so the footage will offset correctly. It’s not just putting the output of two cameras together.”

Deren, who teaches classes in 3D stereography, finds it exciting to discover there’s so much still to learn. “After doing this for 10 years I’ll go on set and find new situations and no precedent for how a particular shot should be done.”

Stereoscopic 3D
Interior of the research truck NEP built to enable it to gain stereo 3D sports and concert experience.

NEP Rolls Out Pair of 3D Trucks
After building a 3D research truck that allowed it to gain substantial experience in 3D sports production, Pittsburgh-based mobile giant NEP Broadcasting, LLC (www.nepinc.com) is rolling out two, 53-foot expando 3D trucks and companion 50-foot support vehicles. One will be primarily dedicated to ESPN’s 3D cablenet with the other available to the marketplace at large.

Last fall NEP teamed with 3D visionary Vince Pace and ESPN to cover the Ohio State/USC football game that ESPN broadcast into theaters. A series of trials and ENG shoots for the sportsnet followed, including a Harlem Globetrotters basketball game in Orlando, which tested 2D viewability of a 3D production. NEP supplied two days of NCAA Final Four coverage in Indianapolis to CBS for delivery to select theaters nationwide. Soon after, NEP shot the Par 3 Tournament at the Masters in Augusta, Georgia and provided limited hole coverage of the Masters itself; ESPN produced the Comcast telecast. The company also captured several tracks of the Black Eyed Peas in concert at Madison Square Garden for a Samsung TV promotion.

“Each has been a learning experience for all parties,” declares Mike Fernander, president and GM of NEP’s U.S. mobile units. “We’ve retired our research truck and are ready to roll out our two new trucks in July.”

CTO George Hoover says the vehicles have “signal flow, routing and distribution purpose-built for 3D production” along with “dedicated stations for convergence operators and stereographers.” They feature Pace/Cameron Fusion rigs for Sony HDC-1500 and 950 cameras plus the new small form-factor HDC-P1s.

There are still some missing links in the equipment roster, however. “We’re just beginning to see viable 3D graphic solutions — Chyron and Vizrt have them,” says Hoover. “We haven’t seen a 3D wireless camera beyond the prototype stage, and the biggest long lens we have is 42x. We’re starting to see Skycam in 3D and very small POV cameras for over hoops and hockey nets. A lot of gear will make its first on-air appearance in the next couple of months.”

He reports that NEP has learned that “what works best in terms of 3D imaging is positioning the cameras low and close to the field of play, like the best seats in the house.” Fernander quips that, “getting Jack Nicholson to free up his Lakers’ seats (for our camera positions) is going to be a challenge!”

NEP has also discovered that shooting a single, simultaneous 2D/3D show “doesn’t work very well,” says Hoover. “2D sports and concerts cut fairly rapidly for TV and pan and zoom a lot, but if you do that in 3D all you get is an audience that doesn’t feel too good. 2D and 3D require different production techniques and different language to tell the story.”

NEP’s first 3D truck will be in Anaheim to cover the All Star Game’s Home Run Derby for ESPN 3D; a 60-game package of various events for the new cablenet follows.

All Systems Go
Stereoscopic 3D

Cinematographer James Neihouse tapped the OConnor 2575 head for the 90-lb. IMAX 30-perf 3D camera he deployed to capture Kennedy Space Center footage for the recently-released film, Hubble 3D IMAX. Shooting around NASA and the launch support systems on a “non-interference” basis, Neihouse (who served as DP for the film’s ground shooting) and his team had to be able to pick up and move quickly. He gave kudos to the OConnor head’s manageability, tilt range and “incredibly smooth and light to the touch” performance. Hubble 3D IMAX is an IMAX and Warner Bros. Pictures production, in cooperation with NASA; Leonardo DiCaprio narrates.

Digital Jungle Paves 3D Post Path
Hollywood’s Digital Jungle (www.digijungle.com) was “on the bleeding edge” of stereo 3D postproduction “before everybody jumped on the bandwagon,” reports president/founder Dennis Ho. “About four years ago, when we first acquired Quantel’s Pablo, they had no idea the box had stereoscopic potential. When we showed them what their box can do and created a 3D anaglyph image, Quantel’s jaws dropped. We then assisted Quantel in developing an early 3D anaglyph test plug-in for the Pablo. Now, many software versions later, Pablo is touted as the best 3D post solution out there.”

Digital Jungle has been engaged in 3D post R&D for the last three years. It completed DI or partial DI work for 3D Sun, a special-venue film from K2 Communications shot by satellites with stereoscopic rigs for NASA; Universal Pictures’ Jaws 3D and Taza, Son of Cochise, for the home 3D market; a Coca-Cola 3D promotion for the company’s Atlanta headquarters; and Animalopolis, a special-venue 3D film. Digital Jungle finished the 3D showreel for Panasonic’s booth at CES and NAB and displayed a compilation of Digital Jungle’s 3D post credits at Show Biz Expo.

Stereoscopic 3D

Stereoscopic 3D
Digital Jungle completed the DI for 3D Sun, a special-venue film shot by satellites outfitted with
stereoscopic camera rigs.

Ho would like to see “more content creation” and to that end Digital Jungle does “a lot of consultation for first-time 3D filmmakers” to help them through the learning curve surrounding “the workflow and the pitfalls.” The post house is currently fielding a lot of calls from clients asked to promote 3D products, he reports.

There are already “clear-cut rules about what you can do and can’t do in 3D post,” Ho points out. For example, depending on shot composition, MTV-style quick cuts may not give the eyes enough time for the brain to accommodate the 3D image. Careful consideration also has to be given to how to color grade and converge each scene for maximum 3D effect and viewer comfort. After all, “there’s no such thing as a perfect 3D image: It’s still an illusion that fools the brain,” Ho reminds us.

In addition to Pablo, Digital Jungle’s 3D toolkit includes Adobe After Effects and Imagineer Systems’ mocha software; the company can also access Assimilate’s Scratch and Autodesk’s Maya, Smoke and 3ds Max. “A variety of software and hardware is available depending on budget and time constraints,” Ho explains. “We’re agnostic as to glasses,” he adds, using both active XpanD shutter glasses and passive polarized glasses for viewing.

Stereoscopic 3D
Digital 3D Edit/Screening Theater.

Cinema Concepts Leads in Theatrical Pre-Show 3D Content
Among the creative, postproduction and theatrical distribution services offered by Atlanta’s Cinema Concepts (www.cinemaconcepts.com) is 3D production, encoding and wrapping. The company focuses on creating custom pre-show promos, corporate ID and policy trailers in stereoscopic 3D as well as converting 2D-originated content for stereo 3D exhibition. These are all services that Cinema Concepts has been providing for a number of years to an impressive roster of clients all across the globe.

“3D production is nothing new for us — we have been producing theatrical content for over 30 years, and the evolution to digital cinema and now 3D digital cinema has been a natural progression for us,” says studio director John Price. “When we pitch new creative to our theatrical clients we are offering both 2D and 3D options. We have even gone back into some of our legacy projects and reconstructed them for stereo 3D playback.”

Price emphasizes that “Avatar changed the timeline for everyone. 3D was certainly gaining momentum before, but now the awareness has been heightened to a new level and the demand for 3D content is stronger than ever. Our 3D conversion process has certainly gained popularity this past year. Until native 3D production becomes the norm, conversion is a viable option for many advertisers looking to maximize their exposure with placement in front of 3D feature films.”

According to Price, Cinema Concepts’ 2D-to-3D process “is an intimate one and begins with a thorough evaluation of the spot in its 2D form. Tearing it down shot by shot to indentify the potential strengths and weaknesses once it’s reborn in the 3D environment is a very important step.”

Stereoscopic 3D
Cinema Concepts’ Autodesk Smoke 2K edit suite.

He also points out that, “It’s our responsibility to guide our clients in the right direction by helping them identify if there is, in fact, a 3D benefit (in converting) their spot. Most ads have a higher retention rate and entertainment value in the 3D world, but just because you can make it 3D, doesn’t always mean you should.”

One of the most notable 3D conversions Cinema Concepts has performed was for The Coca-Cola Company’s “Arctic Beach Party” polar bears spot. “That project posed several interesting challenges,” Price notes. “The short turnaround was no surprise — only a month to complete it — but we needed a 30-second cut of the spot, which at that point didn’t even exist in High Definition. The only element available was a 60-second HD version that was produced almost four years ago. We had to cut it down to a :30, create a new theatrical 5.1 mix and perform bottle label replacement before we could even begin the labor-intensive 3D conversion process.”

Although some tools are available for automatic 2D to 3D conversion, “for the level of quality we want to offer clients there’s no magic push-button solution,” Price explains. “3D conversion is VFX work, and if you cut corners it will certainly show. We bring years of creative and technical experience to the table, and we’ve taken industry-standard tools and integrated them in a way that’s unique to us.”

One of Cinema Concepts’ biggest assets is the ability to work on the big screen in realtime stereo 3D. “We’re able to patch an artist or editor into our 3D screening room so they can design, edit, color correct and even depth grade in an actual theater environment,” says Price. “Our Digital Edit/Screening Theater is a tremendous asset for almost any project.”

He says the company is “confident in our processes and services, and we’re continually developing new ways to do things faster and more efficiently, whether it’s encoding existing content, converting 2D material or producing 3D creative from scratch. We never stop evolving.”

December 10, 2012