In our exclusive interview, Steve Schklair, CEO of 3ality Technica, reveals a new fund for 3D producers to speed up 3D TV content creation.
Steve Schklair is the Founder and CEO of the Burbank based company and, like other 3D rig manufacturers, believes 3D television is essential for the growth of the 3D industry as a whole. 3ality purchased Element Technica last year to form 3ality Technica. The company’s stereoscopic systems are currently being used on The Hobbit, Prometheus, The Great Gatsby and Stalingrad 3D – the first Russian film to be picked up by IMAX of which Steve Schklair will be 3D producing. BSkyB also use 3ality Technica rigs for a lot of its live 3D sports coverage on Sky 3D.
As part of our MIPTV 3D coverage, sponsored by Presteigne Charter, Steve Schklair took some time out to talk to 3D Focus readers and we started off asking him what message he had for MIPTV delegates about 3ality Technica’s strategy and ambitions for 3D television…
Steve Schklair: Let’s start with the premise that 3D TV content creation is not growing quickly enough to support a large mainstream audience. Obviously there are pockets of active production such as BSkyB and what is happening in China, but from a global view there is not enough content. From a US centric view there is even less. The large one-off sporting events such as World Cup and Olympics are fantastic and need to exist, but they alone are not enough to shift the market toward 3D television. From a 3ality Technica point of view, the content that is vitally necessary is episodic television. And not just trial episodes, but entire seasons so that there is something new to watch every week, and this something happens to be the favourite show of a very large audience.
3ality Technica has a strategy to help deal with this. We have raised the beginnings of a “3D Delta Fund”, which is a fund that can be used to cover the cost differential between an episodic show shooting in 2D and one that would shoot in 3D. With this fund, there are episodics that can now start shooting in stereo at no additional cost to the show. There are two main laws in episodic production that cannot be violated and to some extent are tied closely together – Time and Budget. 3ality has proven time and time again on episodic show tests and on the features that are using our systems, that it is completely possible to shoot 3D on a 2D schedule. So we maintain the law of Time. With the fund we are able to cover the budget differential so the law of Budget can be adhered to.
The fund also includes any additional post production costs for the 3D version, but since the 3ality Systems shoot accurately enough for the material can go to air immediately, we are comfortable doing this because we know there will be no unknown costs to fix alignment and geometry problems in post. The fund will even cover the costs of visual effects in some shows, although for complex effects we are recommending that they be done in 2D and converted to 3D. We are making this as uncomplicated as possible, and request no rights to the 3D version. All we ask is that it goes to air, and we can help with the plan for 3D distribution.
Other strategies 3ality has for television is to continue developing better software and image processing algorithms to make it less expensive and improve the image quality for 3D shows.
3D Focus: Have you got an exclusive announcement you can share on 3dfocus.co.uk?
Steve Schklair: This is close to an exclusive since we have not done a release on this yet. BSkyB has tested the automation software packages and pending further testing will be using them more extensively in the future. These packages are IntelleCal providing for one button automated alignment of the camera rigs, and IntelleCal which eliminates the need for convergence operators on every camera. The Stereographer sets the depth for the scene and the other cameras work within the established depth automatically. Even on zooms and when the operators are searching for the next shot. This is all based on proprietary image recognition and processing algorithms, and the results are smoother and much more watchable than when humans convergence pullers are trying to keep up with camera operators. The use of this software dramatically lowers the set up time and the costs for 3D broadcasting.
3D Focus: Is the 3D television production side of your business growing or declining?
Steve Schklair: The television production side of the business on a worldwide basis seems to be growing, but this year we can thank the recent mandates in China for that. In some territories it is static, but as a whole it is growing.
3D Focus: Can you share any information about new products you are working on?
Steve Schklair: The coolest thing we are working on is…… no, I can’t tell you that. I can tell you that we are working on a new rig which is a synthesis catalysed by the acquisition of Element Technica. It will have the best parts of both 3ality and Element Technica baked in, and we will be showing the first ones at NAB this year. We think everyone will be as excited about this new rig as we are. It will work as part of the 3ality System, so there will also be control and feedback loops between this new rig and the SIP.
3D Focus: Is there an argument that 3D television could outshine 3D cinema as home screens get bigger and there is no ‘per viewer’ glasses premium anymore with passive sets?
Steve Schklair: Not really. That argument has come up before and has always proven to be a non-issue. When television first came out there were fears that it would cannibalise cinema. When the HD sets came out and the picture was almost “cinema quality” there were fears that it would cannibalise cinema. When Blu-ray came out there were fears that it would cannibalise cinema. Even though cinema box office is slightly down this year, I don’t think that Blu-ray players are the reason. Frankly, the larger threat to cinema is in the form of alternate screens such as computers, phones and tablets.
3D Focus: Can you share any progress about your work on Stalingrad 3D?
Steve Schklair: Stalingrad went on hiatus for the winter and will resume shooting soon. The images are phenomenal, stunning, and ten other adjectives. IMAX viewed a short edited sequence from the movie and announced that it would be the first ever Russian film that IMAX is picking up. Looking at sequences from Stalingrad is one of the best arguments for originating in 3D instead of converting 2D movies to 3D. The staging and shots in 3D have an emotional impact that you just cannot get in 2D, even with conversion. It makes a better story, and is a reason for an audience to pay the 3D tax of higher ticket fees and having to wear glasses. This movie (among others like ‘Gatsby’ and ‘Hobbit’ of course) show what can be done when you put the right technology into the hands of talented directors and DoP’s.
3D Focus: Would 3ality Technica ever consider producing its own 3D content for television?
Steve Schklair: Producing content for television is not our charter, but “never” is a word that we try not to use. If sometime in the future a show feels right, and it also accomplishes the goal of moving the television medium forward, it is possible that 3ality would produce its own show. We are very conscious of not being in a position where we may be competing with our customers, however producing our own show would not put us there as technically, that show may not exist if we did not produce it.
3D Focus: I am surprised at how varied the quality is for shows filmed ‘as live’ like sport including frequent edge violations, sun flare issues or footballers appearing suddenly very close to the camera creating extreme negative parallax. In a live scenario, when there are no post fixes available, will there always be these problems? Could footage be slightly delayed?
Steve Schklair: We strongly believe that most of the issues you point out are something that can be solved through better technology. The Intelli-suite of software products addresses these issues directly, and BSkyB will be in round two of the testing phase soon. One year from now, I will ask you if you’ve noticed a vast improvement in the images compared to what you are seeing today.
3D Focus: Remaining on the sport theme, I have been surprised as to how much 2D footage is included – does 3ality Technica believe a 3D show should be 100% 3D?
Steve Schklair: Not in this interim transition phase. There are so many factors involved with shooting 3D events right now, many of which have nothing to do with the technology, that the inclusion of 2D images is important to telling the story. Even a live sports broadcast has to tell a story. We believe that story comes first and foremost, and that you have to use whatever tool you can get your hands on to tell a better story. Some of the things we are working on, that I cannot tell you about, will change the ratio of 2D to 3D footage that is used in broadcasts.
3D Focus: Many people I speak to say they would rather watch their sport in 2D because they do not like the loss in resolution with 3D. You can see individual lines on Sky 3D on a passive set making it look like the game is being filmed with a VHS camcorder. Do 3ality Technica hope, or have any knowledge on, whether full HD 3D passive sets will be available soon.
Steve Schklair: I could be wrong, but I believe that the sets are already available. There is also new software that enables the full HD 3D sets to work but it takes time and money to change the head end to work with these new tools. 3D, like any new technology, still has much room for improvement and 3ality, along with other companies, are working on those improvements on a daily basis.
3D Focus: It looks like Sony and Samsung are dropping active 3D technology. What are your thoughts about that?
Steve Schklair: Hurrah! I have always been a strong proponent of passive viewing technology as I see the active viewing as a barrier to entry for much of the market. Eventually passive will give way to autostereo, but we as an industry are not quite there yet. In the interim, the passive sets are fantastic. And to be very clear, there is no reason to hold off today with buying a passive set as the autostereo technologies still have quite a way to go.
3D Focus: I still believe good 3D, where it is better than 2D, commands time, lots of cameras and money of which a lot of television companies don’t have. Will 3D be the preserve of high end documentaries and films in the future?
Steve Schklair: Like any new technology hitting the market, the costs go down every year while the level of technology goes up. I would argue that 3D is the preserve of high end * and * mid range documentaries, films, and television right now, and with enough dedication on the part of the filmmakers, even can reach the low budget independents.
3D Focus: I don’t expect any names, but is 3ality Technica equipment being used/trialled by TV producers outside of the sports genre? Can you elaborate on episodic 3D content?
Steve Schklair: Yes it is and you are correct that I cannot give you names quite yet. We have been involved in a great many tests for episodic shows well outside the sports genre. I am pleased to say that one of my favorite shows, the only one I record on the DVR, has committed to 3D. They recently purchased the equipment so outside of the initial capital investment for the purchase, shooting in 3D costs then very little more that the 2D version.
3D Focus: If people are not prepared to pay a premium for 3D, won’t it be over in a few years? Where is the incentive for broadcasters to go 3D?
Steve Schklair: People will pay a premium for 3D when the 3D content is more compelling than the 2D version of the same content. That rules out most conversion, and shows that are shot identically to the 2D version, but with additional 3D cameras. I pay for all kind of premium packages with my satellite provider, and it is easy to imagine one of the 3D channels being a highly desired premium package. This is a circular argument that goes back to compelling experiences. The audience is hesitating to pay for a 3D channel today because there isn’t very much to watch yet.
3D Focus: Does 3ality Technica Group think establishing the business model for 3D TV/tablets/computers has taken longer than the company originally expected?
Steve Schklair: Yes it has.
3D Focus: Will 3ality Technica rigs be used by any broadcasters to produce ancillary footage surrounding the Olympic 3D coverage?
Steve Schklair: Of course. And during key parts of the games as well. The system (as opposed to just rigs) is universally acknowledged as the fastest and most accurate capture system in the market. So of course it will be used during the Olympics.
3D Focus: Do you plan to open a UK office?
Steve Schklair: When there is a market need to do so. Right now if you want to use 3ality gear on a shoot you can go to Panavision or Arri Media. Or call Vision 3 who will provide crew services as well as help package the gear from Panavision or Arri.
3D Focus: What is your reaction to the fact that less 3D movies will be released this year compared to last year?
Steve Schklair: Um…. Sadness. Gloom. No seriously, fewer 3D movies is not a reason to celebrate. But I agree with many of the critics. Until better movies in 3D come out, it will be the path of slow growth. “Better” is a nice word for a lot of things. Better movies story wise. Better technical quality for those that are in 3D. Better means more compelling than the 2D version. Which means converting entire movies should not be done because so far the audience is saying , “eh”. That doesn’t make them fans of the medium and they are not compelled to always watch the 3D versions of movies.
3D Focus: Is it time to accept 3D TV is not going to transform the television landscape as expected?
Steve Schklair: Not at all. Its time to accept that the path is going to be one of slow steady growth. And it probably will not be lead by a US broadcaster. Or maybe not even by a European broadcaster.
3D Focus: Does 3ality Technica still sense a nervousness/cautiousness about 3D in the broadcast industry?
Steve Schklair: Not so much a nervousness as a uncertainty about a good business case. The technology is here. It is now all about the business cases. The broadcasters all took a pretty hard hit during the transition from SD to HD. They had to invest in an entirely new infrastructure but did not earn a farthing of additional revenue for this conversion. While the transition to 3D is much less expensive capex wise, no one is going to blindly jump into it until they understand completely where the additional revenue is going to come from.
3D Focus: Has 3D yet to be fully creatively exploited?
Steve Schklair: Absolutely not. Although it will be much further down the road with the release of the Hobbit, The Great Gatsby, Spiderman, Prometheus and a few other shows we have worked on. That’s actually one of the most exciting aspects of working in 3D today. There is an opportunity to help develop a new language for storytelling. Opportunities such as this do not come along too often.
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