With reference to CNET's "Are 3D movies a waste of money?" we ask Phil Brown (known as 3D Phil) whether studios have been too conservative with their use of 3D.
It’s all down to what the stereographers on the film decides is a good depth budget for that particular shot in the film. I don’t believe that studio bosses are dictating to him or her how much 3D there can be in the film.
Like good and bad lighting and good and bad cinematography, there are inevitably going to be good and bad stereographers. We as stereographers have to make sure that the 3D shots we produce are comfortable to view, immersive, without ghosting, and does not make the viewer nauseas We have some technical limitations that we have to be aware of such as frame rates, fast pans and fast movement etc, but hopefully new equipment and frame rates will help in these areas in the future.
We have to make sure that the 3D we produce will be comfortable for both large screen Cinema and eventually also work for a smaller screen 3D-Blu-ray release.
I have a problem with having things popping out of the screen constantly as this I feel cheapens the film and makes the film too gimmicky. Unless of course the film is supposed to be a fun 3D movie where this is expected, rather than a serious narrative film. That's not to say I am totally against it, it just has to be done in the correct way.
A better way to do this shot is to have the camera on a forward track, slowly getting closer to the actor as he swings the gun up and starts to get in to his aim position. At this point the action is behind the stereo window. As the track continues we are getting closer and closer to his face and so the rifle is naturally being pushed further and further out of the screen. By the time he fires, the 3D effect is completed in a less gimmicky and more stylish way.
Examples of elements and objects that feel natural coming out of the screen are…
Rain, Snow and smoke
Autumn leaves falling off trees
Explosions and debris flying out the screen.
Particle, animation affects
Small pointing objects like a sword, or rifle
The biggest mistake I see from bad stereographers are when they base their IO on Human vision. Stereography has nothing to do with human vision, as we are dealing with camera lens optics not human eyes,
At best, 3D is a reproduction of reality, and so I am trying to create a 3D image that is pleasing to the viewer but not necessarily what they would see with their own eyes in real life. For instance, if I did a close up shot of a person’s eyes and nose, in real life if your eyes were that close the chances are your vision would be slightly out of focus and if you were able to converge, it would be quite painful to view, so you get a very distorted image. This is due to our eyes being bout 65mm apart.
Recently when filming this type of shot using only a 3mm separation, I was told by a horrified crew member, “this will never work, nobody films with less than 40mm separation”. I told him that I had been doing 3D for 25 years and not to worry. A few weeks later he emailed me to say he that had just seen the shot on the big screen and he had to admit that it had lots of 3D and the shot looked great.
Of course when I am doing a big wide view of mountain or city, then a 65mm separation is not enough and so it’s going to end up looking like 2D. So then of course we give it much more in this instance.
Everyone is talking about trying not to take any longer in 3D than a 2D shoot would take. So perhaps this is also having an effect, like any craft, time and consideration is for each shot. Considering a stereo shot and getting the right angle and movement within the set or scene inevitably will take some time and I can’t stress enough the importance of avoiding close up occlusion.
Remember 3D is not like other filmmaking techniques because if you don’t get it right on the set then it’s almost impossible to fix. The saying “Fix it in Post” simply does not apply for stereography
On “Spiders 3D” we were slower on the first 2 days but on the 3rd day we found we were waiting for other departments to be ready. We were getting up to 36 setups a day, so the director Tibor was delighted. At this pace though, some 3D shots will have to be compromised in that I would have liked to have more time to do more with some of the shot. Ideally though I would not recommend working at this speed. You have to take a view of the whole shooting schedule and budget, this will then dictate what has to be done and what speed you have to work at. So it’s simple, if you want a great 3D film then it’s going to take a greater amount of time. But if your stereographer is good then a good 3D film can still be achieved but with some compromise.
3D Films can of course have too much or too little depth, some of the early productions in this latest renaissance of 3D films like "Dark Country" and "Fly me to the Moon" had way too much 3D.
"Avatar" was very conservative on about 40% of the shots, 10% was a little too much 3D and about 22 shots were in fact 2D, but the rest was very good 3D. Overall though “Avatar” was a very good 3D film experience.
Most of the animated films I feel have got it just about right, probably because you can control the virtual camera with such precision and quickly do 3D test renders to check for problems. There are really no excuses for bad 3D. Sadly though there are still many mistakes being made and sometimes still too much separation in films like “Sammy’s Adventures” and “Puss in Boots”. Another common error in animation is not checking for high contrast areas and density of shadows. The best animated film so far for me is “Ice Age 3” Simply wonderful. "The Three Musketeers" had very good 3D for a natively shot 3D film.
I feel I must stress that a 3D movie is only going to be as good as the experience and artistry of the stereographer and the collaboration between the Director and the DOP.
It seems to me that I have seen far too many films where the 3D is so poor that I can hardly believe that the producers did not check the experience of the so called stereographer before booking them for their film. I have even heard of some big 3D movies that used the DOP as stereographer because he said “he thought he could give it a go”, this was to have disastrous results for the film in question.
Stereographers I feel have to have many skills in order to do the job correctly. The obvious skills of setting the cameras IO, should it be shot with converged or parallel settings, choosing the correct lens for the shot and creating as many layers in the shot as possible. The stereographer right from the start of pre planning of production must have an input into the set design, making sure the sets work for 3D. In other words making sure that if the director wants to move the camera though windows, doors, along corridors, over roof tops and ending up on an actor’s face or flying through objects like plants or materials, then I make sure I can do that and also making sure that the rig can fit the space so the shot is possible at the perspective that gives the best 3D. This then will dictate the types of rig I would choose for the types of shots that may be required like Steadycam, Techno Cranes, Jibs, and Tracks.
A stereographer should have a good knowledge of special effects, animation and virtual camera techniques, in order to have the confidence to ensure that the effects are going to fit in the space when you are shooting the back plates for later cgi composition. This will of course save a lot of time and effort in post.
Choreography of both camera and actors is very important so that the best camera movement can be seen to enhance the shot and that actors are entering and leaving the shot in a stereoscopically safe area.
The skills of any stereographer must be shown and proven to any producer considering a stereographer for their film. It is within any aspiring stereographers interest to get up to speed on all the areas I have outlined to ensure good 3D production for the future and helping give the audience a good and comfortable 3D experience.
Stereography must be as artistic in its contribution to a film as any other major crew member’s artistry on the film set. It takes lots of planning, collaboration, consideration and precision to get it right.
Hopefully any stereographer reading these few tips will find it benefits them to become better artists, and contribute towards the public’s acceptance and enjoyment of 3D films in the future.
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