Sony Pictures 3D scripted production trials – The results

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EXCLUSIVE: Sony Pictures has released the results of its trials into 3D series programme production and concludes that 3D TV shows can be made cost-effectively writes Adrian Pennington
review dividing line Sony Pictures 3D scripted production trials   The results

This article is brought to you in association with 3D specialists Presteigne Charter

As 3D Focus reported during our MIPTV 3D coverage, Sony Pictures have been experimenting with the production of episodic 3D content, an activity long being alluded to by 3ality Technica founder Steve Schklair.

In a draft white paper titled ‘3D Television and Motion Picture Production’ (April 2012),seen by 3D Focus, the studio describes the methodology behind tests for scheduling 2D and 3D shoots on an episode of multi-camera NBC daytime soap Days of Our Lives and an episode of ABC’s Happy Endings, a single-camera style sitcom, both not intended for broadcast. The paper also examined the use of 3D on a 2D budgeted feature Battle of the Year: Dream Team about street dancing which is set for 2D and 3D release in 2013.

Its conclusions are not in themselves startling but significant because they come from a major studio, stating: ‘The project clearly demonstrates that 3D TV shows can be produced cost effectively.’

It further concluded:

  • Productions need to plan for 3D. Directors, cinematographers and other crew need to be properly trained in the aesthetic, technical and practical aspects of 3D [this was done at Sony’s own 3D Technology Center in LA but there is no mention of whether this was an additional production cost].
  • It is very important to ensure that the desired 3D effect is captured on set rather than post which can incur added cost and delays.
  • The integration of 3D systems into the production workflow had minimal impact on the production schedule.
  • Increased production costs – additional crew, additional cameras etc – were relatively modest.
  • Talent blocking, shot composition and other directorial choices require subtle adjustment for 3D. Camera positions and movement also need to be reconsidered to create better 3D effects and avoid issues [such as occlusion]. Choices that the director makes to maximise the effectiveness of 3D do not need to compromise the quality of the 2D version.

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Each shoot used 3Ality TS5 rigs mounted with a pair of Sony PMW-F3 cameras. The lenses were cine style Angenieux Rouge zooms with focal lengths of 16-42mm and 30-80mm. These were swapped for Nikon stills camera lenses on Happy Endings to enable zooming. 3Ality Digital rigs were selected in a test over ones from Element Technica before the companies merged to form 3Ality Technica a year ago.

Producing a multi-camera daytime drama in 3D was the most challenging of the productions tackled since it moves faster in terms of schedule and can require more equipment and crew. The soap may also seem an unlikely candidate for stereo production – its setting are primarily interiors which would appear to limit visual possibilities. On the other hand Sony believes 3D can be used to enhance character-driven drama in significant ways (by increasing the emotional bond viewers feel for characters).

A main problem lay in the selection of lens and cameras which were chosen to meet the needs of the other two productions. Days of Our Lives normally shoots with HD broadcast cameras fitted with broadcast-style lenses and mounted on pedestals. These lenses have a very wide depth of field, everything is in frame and essentially in focus. It also minimises the need to change positions and allows for zooms.

According to the paper, the F3s (with Super 35mm sized lenses) compromised the shoot because of their depth of field, but would be changed to 2/3 inch HD cameras in the event of an actual production. A pair of Sony HDC-P1 cameras, for example, ‘would have allowed the use of longer ENG lenses with similar focal length to the ones currently used in production. That would have enabled the crew to zoom and capture shots as they do in 2D and would have yielded a similar look to the show’s current look without post production colour processing.’

The depth budget for Days never exceeded one percent background (positive parallax) and 2% in the foreground (negative parallax). Sony Pictures states: ‘A 3% depth budget, with screen action kept more positive than negative, is a good rule of thumb for multi-camera TV productions.’ ‘Even within those constraints the 3D effect can make a big impression. 2% forward on a 48-inch screen is a large amount of parallax. As a result, effects of that magnitude should be reserved for the shows more dramatic moments. In an emotionally charged scene, a character might be brought forward past the screen plane to increase viewer empathy. For most scenes, however, the action would be kept behind the screen plane.’

The production required a 3D monitoring station on-set to which dual stream media from the three rigs was recorded to Codex recorders and a stereographer would control depth. During the shoot, the stereographer monitored all three camera pairs on three 42-inch 3D screens – similar to what viewers would see at home. Additionally the 3Ality rigs required a stereo image processing (SIP) station operated by 3D technician.

The paper states that a multi-cam series would not require a separate 3D monitoring station since this function could be built into the production control room, possibly without adding extra crew. ‘Convergence adjustments could be carried out by the director and engineers on the set, while the current control room technician performs their normal work. With proper training, a single control room technician could learn to make many of the required stereography adjustments. In addition advances in rig automation may mean that convergence can be completely or partially automated.

‘Some extra costs are unavoidable. A three-camera show would require three additional cameras and three rigs. In post, a show would have twice as much data to manage. While editing could follow a standard 2D schedule, the productions may entail an extra conforming step. A final convergence pass will be required to fine tune a small number of scenes. Productions can avoid many other added costs and experience virtually no impact on schedule.’

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