Make your own 3D Film on a budget??

3D TV: in the home, on a budget and… on the news?

This is the final part in a series of blogs based on a seminar by Buzz Hays, chief instructor for the Sony 3D Technology Center in Culver City, California.
It’s the most important consideration when it comes to filming in 3D: what types of production does the technology really suit? The huge vistas of Avatar used the 3D effect better than any film we’ve seen so far, but can shots still look good when scaled down to less epic proportions? Buzz Hays believes it may be something far smaller scale than cinema that eventually shows what 3D can achieve.

Filming on a hand-held budget

If we move way down the scale from Avatar towards smaller productions, one technique crops up more and more. The hand-held style – as used in Cloverfield (above) and the Bourne films, and increasingly aped by lower-budget productions – just doesn’t work well in 3D. Buzz calls it “very much a 2D convention”, which goes where the action goes, keeping the wobbles and shakes intact. That supposedly immerses the viewer, but when combined with 3D it ratchets that motion up several notches.
“Say you’re riding a bicycle down a very bumpy mountain road. Your bicycle’s going to be juddering up and down, but your eyes stay much flatter, while your visual cortex is making a lot of corrections. We never see the world in that juddering way unless we’re subjected to some very erratic motion. So to then shoot an image like that and stick it into the head of somebody? That’s going to make people sick. We’re happy to help people figure out a way to shoot 3D like that, but it does not work out like they think – it doesn’t give a scene that level of excitement, it just makes people nauseous.”
Buzz gave the example of a US TV show that’s shot on the high seas, where the makers suggested filming in 3D to enhance the excitement. “I’m thinking hang on… if we’re standing on that boat any one of us would be throwing up over the rail after two seconds, and you want to recreate that in my living room? Certain situations are just very much 2D-centric.”
It’s not impossible to create a 3D scene using the hand-held approach, but for a watchable experience the level of motion has to be toned down. As Buzz says, “if you don’t want to change the style of your film then don’t shoot it in 3D. Once you use a Steadicam and smooth it out a bit, it’s no longer the film you were trying to make.”

3D in the home

3D TVOne common complaint of 3D in cinemas (as made on this very site) is that the glasses make things too dark to fully appreciate the picture. Buzz agreed, but had more to say.
“You do need to compensate for the fact that you’re losing at least a full stop of light to each camera. But this is an issue unique to cinema; 3D television has the opposite problem. You have a luminance of 17fL* for a 2D cinema projection, yet we have 35fL in a 3D television, so we typically have to adjust these things for each particular style of display.”
Whether this brighter picture makes home 3D more palatable to a sceptical public remains to be seen, but it’s at least one hurdle cleared. The other is getting different types of content made in 3D, at a time when the blockbuster is the clear king.
“Live action 3D, especially in dramas, is a very new concept to a lot of people, and a lot of studios just haven’t been willing to go there yet – they figure it has to be the big tentpole, the big visual effects, the big action picture. That’s changing, and will change more with 3D television – not everything has to be the big blockbuster event.”
Sky 3D
We’ve already seen Sky launch its 3D channel in the UK, initially for pubs and bars with the necessary 3D Ready projectors, but eventually making its way into homes. By now Sky has plenty of practice with sports, but the 3D team has also experimented with programmes intended for Sky Arts and even news. Could it be the more intimate productions that really harness the effect?
“There’s a truth to a 3D image that we will never get from 2D,” explained Buzz, “especially if you look at news photography. When we photograph war in 2D, it’s interpretation; regardless of how the filmmaker’s trying to present the facts, it’s a filter. Once you present the same images in 3D there’s a very visceral response to it, very truthful and honest, to the point where I think there’s a certain responsibility now with filmmaking, that you have to regard the fact that you’re about to show people something very real.”
That may sound surprising to those of us who see 3D purely as a way into fantasy worlds full of blue catpeople, but it’s being taken seriously in some quarters already.
“We had a situation in Beowulf, where the ratings board didn’t want to give the film a final rating until they actually saw certain objectionable scenes in 3D because they thought they might be more graphic.”

The DIY future of 3D

While Bob Zemeckis and James Cameron have been the ones putting the high-profile 3D productions out there for the world to see – and to criticise – Buzz sees the future as more in the hands of people with less money and more creativity.
“There’s already the possibility, especially in the CG world, for people to get involved in 3D. There’s a little group who did a film for a Bjork song called Wanderlust, it was shot by a duo called Encyclopedia Pictura in New York. They didn’t know the first thing about 3D. They researched it, they talked to [stereoscopic guru] Lenny Lipton, they talked to a bunch of people, they built their own camera rig, they shot this thing and it’s great. They knew nothing and it cost them almost nothing. If people have the wherewithal to figure it out they’re going to do some amazing stuff.”
People like us? People at home with everyday jobs, no specialist knowledge and nothing but a camera and some imagination?
Panasonic HDC-SDT750
“It will become more accessible, especially as consumer-grade cameras come out. We already have a couple of still camera systems right now that can shoot 3D, the Sony NEX series can shoot 3D panoramas.” [Panasonic has since announced the HDC-SDT750 3D camcorder, right.]
“Once you put 3D cameras into the hands of general consumers, that’s when we’ll start to see amazing things. I am convinced that the best 3D we’ll see is going to come completely out of leftfield.”
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