Freelance Journalist Adrian Pennington has joined forces with entertainment technology Journalist Carolyn Giardina to explore the grammar of stereoscopic filmmaking for a new book.
After research began in August 2011, Exploring 3D: The New Grammar of Stereoscopic Filmmaking has gone on sale in the US and is available for pre-order in the UK. The book features contributions from Jeffrey Katzenberg, Martin Scorsese, Dean DeBlois, Baz Luhrmann, Jon Landau, Barrie M. Osborne, Wim Wenders, and more, providing an insight into the leading minds in 3D.
3D Focus: What is the book about?
Adrian Pennington: Filmmakers have traditionally represented depth using a variety of techniques which have become ingrained in our understanding of what it means to watch a motion picture. Techniques such as depth of field, movement, framing, perspective and other cues like shadow and texture can convey the depth of a scene.
Yet, as director Wim Wenders told us, “We have to deal with an art that has established itself over a century, with an incredibly intricate and elaborate grammar and vocabulary that we love and cherish, but we which we should perhaps see as some sort of a mistake – a two-dimensional film with the second eye missing.
Wenders added: “If we agree that 3D is indeed not only a new technology, but also a new film language, it is obvious that it needs its own grammar and its own vocabulary.”
Getting there means shifting the focus of what it means to think about 3D from a technical discipline or a cost equation toward the creative potential of stereo to enhance mood or emote character or help convey a connection with an actor’s performance, a landscape or a narrative. Exploring 3D is intended to further this conversation.
3D Focus: How did the idea for writing such a book come about?
Adrian Pennington: As part of our journalism covering the development of digital 3D from 2008 we interviewed producers, directors and stereographers and other artists and we both noticed – independently – a recurring theme running through them. This was that certain filmmakers got really fired up and enthusiastic when talking about the potential of 3D as a device for storytelling rather than about the nuts and bolts of aligning lenses or adjusting convergence or how to make it work financially. In turn, that fired us up and as we pursued it we found more and more filmmakers taking this view – and putting it into practice.
3D Focus: Is it a technical book?
Adrian Pennington: No, quite the opposite. There are plenty of ‘how to’ manuals for stereo filmmaking out there. With technology still evolving at a breakneck pace, any article trapping technology at a certain point in time will quickly pass its consume-by date. Yet the ideas and approaches to using spatial information in film and the creative thinking behind the decisions to create a 3D effect are just being born. So we decided that, through the words of filmmakers, we would examine the potential of 3D to better tell a story through adding elements and features that 2D can never achieve.
In any case, the technology has matured and is in many ways no longer the issue. Cost still dogs proceedings but this too will be ironed out in time. While there will continue to be technological developments, from here on in the focus should be on exploring the editorial potential of 3D.
3D Focus: Who has contributed to it?
Adrian Pennington: Since we selected to highlight this argument by showcasing some of the very best 3D work in different film and TV genre since the inception of the new age of digital 3D filmmaking in 2008, in one sense, the interviewees were self selecting. Certainly, those filmmakers we interviewed believe passionately in 3D as a creative discipline. We were are fortunate enough to include contributions from Martin Scorsese (Hugo), Wim Wenders (PINA), Henry Selick (Coraline), Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders (How to Train Your Dragon), Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin (The Great Gatsby) and Catherine Owens (U2 3D) as well as the creative teams behind Avatar and Flying Monsters 3D and live sports productions like the FIFA World Cup 2010. We are extremely grateful too to DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg who wrote the book’s foreword.
3D Focus: During your research and interviews, was there anything that especially surprised you?
Adrian Pennington:That Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder remains an inspiration and has perhaps not yet been surpassed in terms of what it achieved. Both Martin Scorsese and Baz Luhrmann cite the 1954 3D classic as a key influence on their decision to make their first 3D films and both screened it especially for their key cast and crew. The reason? The very fact that this is not a special effects action film but a relatively low-ley suspence drama which is acted for the most part by three people in a single room and which, Scorsese and Luhrmann say, used 3D to subtly evoke character, narrative and tension. It’s soon to be re-released by Warner Bros. in remastered digital 4K and 3D and should be well worth revisiting.
3D Focus: Did you sense any sense of concern that 3D was not living up to the promise of the Avatar revolution?
Adrian Pennington: Absolutely – it fuels the passion with which filmmakers like Scorsese, Wenders or Luhrmann want to articulate a different vision of a 3D which is treated as an artform. All these filmmakers were inspired by James Cameron’s achievement in Avatar but they are also filmmakers with a different artistic sensibility. They instinctively reach for artistic metaphors – that of dance or sculpture – with which to describe the new medium and want to bring that kind of sensibility back into a form of filmmaking dominated by visual effects and the use of 3D as a gimmick.
“Everybody thinks they know what 3D is for—for big action movies and science fi ction worlds,” director James Cameron told us. “But if you are already spending $200m on a movie to make it visually great the addition of 3D will improve it only slightly. If you spend only a few million on a production but you have a great script and great actors then the amount that 3D can improve your sense of being physically present and involved in that drama is huge. That is the piece that people are missing.”
If the grand-daddy of modern 3D recognizes the creative impact that stereo can have on smaller-scale filmed stories then we should all be listening.
3D Focus: Who would you suggest buys this book?
Adrian Pennington:We hope that the book appeals to anyone interested in TV and film. It’s not a technical book so it supposes no great depth of knowledge of technology or of stereoscopic technique. Arguably it is a film theory largely written using the words of some of today’s leading filmmakers – directors, cinematographers, stereographers, producers and visual FX artists – who are all advocating a creative and inclusive approach to 3D and one that deliberately avoids using jargon. The intention is to illuminate the argument with, what we hope, are interesting case studies.
3D Focus: What core points did you personally learn during the writing of the book?
Adrian Pennington: As we talked with more and more filmmakers, the strength in their belief that 3D is a natural storytelling tool became stronger and stronger. It’s important to emphasise that our interviewees do not believe in 3D for 3D’s sake. In most cases 3D shouldn’t stand out from the crowd but be subsumed into the production process at inception and used to complement other crafts like framing, set design or lighting in the service of narrative. Movies or TV shows shouldn’t be marketed at a premium simply because they are in 3D. 3D will remain a novelty while films and TV channels are sold on the hook of 3D alone.
Dreamworks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg said “Adrian Pennington and Carolyn Giardina have written this fascinating and authoritative book to explain the future to us. In it, they detail everything you need to know about this amazing new technology: what goes into the making of a digital 3D film, how it is used to enrich the storytelling experience, and why this is the most important development for the movie business in more than seven decades.”
Exploring 3D: The New Grammar of Stereoscopic Filmmaking, Adrian Pennington and Carolyn Giardina, will be released in the UK on November 6th and is available to pre-order from Amazon UK. The book is already available in the US on Amazon.com, both as paperback and Kindle versions. The book is published by Focal Press [Sept 26 2012].
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