A group of production and post production experts in 3D filmmaking sat down to talk about what they've learned from their experiences, how they define best practices and why they love 3D filmmaking. Creative COW was there to report on the conversation.
A general view of attendees during day one of the 3D Entertainment Summit held at Hollywood & Highland Center on September 19, 2012 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/WireImage)
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," said Arthur C. Clarke, one of the science fiction writer's three laws of production. His words were quoted by Buzz Hays, stereo 3D film/TV producer and consultant, who voiced a second rule germane to 3D film/TV produces. "The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible," he said.
Vince Pace, ASC Co-Chairmen & Co-Founder, Cameron/Pace Group (L) onstage during day two of the 3D Entertainment Summit held at Hollywood & Highland Center on September 20, 2012 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/WireImage)
Those who pioneered 3D production have certainly had the experience of pushing into the impossible or, at least, the unknown. But, for Hays and other pioneering 3D filmmakers, the motivation is compelling. "We can create intimate connections with our audiences that aren't possible in 2D," he said.
For some of them, at least, the allure of 3D began in childhood; Goodman described seeing "Journey into Imagination" at Epcot and Huggins recounted her "magic moment" with Disney 3D. "I've never not produced in 3D," she added. "What I do is tell stories and I like to experiment, which is why we're all here -- to break the bounds of technology and what it can do."
"I used to say that a good 3D movie is one where 3D is a character in the story," she continued. "In Journey to the Center of the Earth, the center of the earth was the character. But I've changed my mind since then. I think if you can see it in 3D, it's a good 3D topic. We do these blockbusters in 3D but smaller movies also might be better served in 3D. The technology has gotten so good, what we need are good stories, good stereographers and easily available crew. My passion right now is to create more opportunities for young people to participate in 3D movies and learn on the job."
Journey into Imagination at Epcot - Walt Disney World
Hays asked everyone about recent 3D movies. "The more mature this becomes, the me we can have a meaningful discussion about what makes good 3D," he said. "What are examples of 3D that you've seen that speak to you as a great use of 3D storytelling?"
Huggins named Storm Surfers 3D, as well as Wim Wenders' Pina, about the dancer/choreographer Pina Bausch. "Pina transcended my personal 3D experience," she said. "Wim said he has been waiting his lifetime to make that movie until 3D made it possible. It's so beautiful to watch in 3D that you can't imagine watching it in 2D. It's a remarkable use of the medium." Hays agreed. "It left me speechless," he said. "Pina will transform your thoughts about human movement"
Routhier didn't want to single out a specific movie, but said that what he's seen in the last two years has been more successful. "The movies that have been successful are those designed, thought of and marketed as a 3D experience," he said. "Just making a run of he mill movie and adding 3D is not what I want to see. When people embrace the medium, you have to make it so that there is really no other way to see it but in 3D."
Ferrazzano mentioned 3D content that excited many to the possibilities of 3D: the Olympic Games. "In viewing a sense of place and setting the texture of games, the Olympics came alive," he said. "The shooting conditions limited what they could do in 3D, but even so, seeing it in 3D, you felt transported to that location. I don't know if it would have been so moving in 2D." James noted that, "a different kind of storytelling goes on with sporting events and concerts."
"You grab people to make them feel there," he said. "Watching the Masters Golf Tournament in 3D, I had a completely different perception of the place and the challenge that golfers were up against. We were involved in a 3D shoot for a professional bull riders association, and that was absolutely breathtaking. I couldn't take my eyes off the screen. It was an intense, visceral, engaging event."
Hays pointed out that getting audiences to watch and enjoy 3D is a learned behavior. "We're going through a phase of refinement," he said. "The hallmark of 3D is when you lose track of the fact you're watching 3D. I strongly believe that is a learned behavior. We're becoming hyper aware of the camera being involved, especially with HFR. Some of the criticisms of The Hobbit are that you feel like you're watching people making a movie. It's a craft we'll have to fine tune and audiences will have to learn how to watch it. 3D is becoming another one of those things we become accustomed to, but we keep running into the fact that people expect more from 3D, perhaps because we charge more for it. We're setting up an expectation and we have to give the audience amazing glimpses into the world of high quality 3D."
Director Baz Luhrmann, who is making a 3D version of The Great Gatsby, is most interested in the intimacy created by 3D, said Hays, noting that Martin Scorsese has come to the same conclusion. "I like to ask how many people have seen live theatre and how many of watched a play on video," he said. "It's not the same experience of being there. We have a visceral experience in live theater. It's a locked-down wide shot but we feel engaged because we have another dimension in our favor."
What are the rules in making 3D content? Huggins believes that technology needs to be invisible. "It has to be spectacular, intimate, engaging," she said. "But people really don't want the magic spoiled. The technology has gotten so good we can hide the magic and make it invisible. We can now let the masters and experts create the magic and the audience just experience it."
Goodman said the most important factor in making 3D is that "the director has to be on board with the process and enthusiastic about 3D," an assertion that was met with enthusiastic assent from everyone. "If not, the entire production will follow the director," he said. He also stressed that technical precision is often missed in 3D. "We've really got to insist on high quality 3D," he said. "I don't mean to bash any particular production, but those who have jumped on the bandwagon with automatic 2D to 3D converters...it cannot work. You need high quality 3D and audiences engaged. Good storytelling, technical perfection -- we should accept nothing less."
Routhier emphasized another hazard of 3D filmmaking. "I'll talk about quality from the comfort of viewing standpoint," he sad. "The hassle about the glasses is not really an issue when the film is compelling. Glasses are an issue when the content isn't formatted properly or it's contaminated. This is the first time that we have a technology that we put on the screen that can make people physically sick or nauseated."
He also brought up the topic of resolution in 3D. "It's nice to talk about resolution in 3D terms, which is X and Y but we don't talk about resolution in the Z axis," he noted. "It could be narrow depth, what James Cameron calls 2.5D. When there's not enough, you take your glasses off and on."
Ludé seconded Routhier's observations. "First, do no harm," he said. "Unlike 3D, there are many ways you can screw up a good 3D image. Where I've been most disappointed is when something is good but there's an optical problem. We have to overcome these technical issues so we don't introduce gross errors into the picture."
Hays noted how 3D productions have changed. "Recently a lot of technology has developed that's changed 3D productions," he said. "We take pride that it takes no longer to shoot 3D than 2D. On The Amazing Spider-Man, cinematographer John Schwartzman said the had an incredibly long schedule and were one day behind but they never had to wait for 3D because they had a really great trained crew."
Blute agreed that 3D production has changed. "The biggest thing that's happened is that no matter what your budget, you can make a 3D production," he said. "From a couple of hundred dollars to a couple of million, there's a technology out there for you. The barrier to entry for creating engaging 3D content is gone and you're seeing productions that only a couple of yeas ago only a few people in the world could do."
Huggins also agreed that 3D production has changed -- completely. "I have to laugh because I almost brought the budget for the movie we wrapped 48 hours ago," she said. "The budget is 126 pages long, but the 3D part is about 1.5 pages. It's gotten to the point where 3D is just another department, not more or less important than any other department."
"I could not agree more with Jason Goodman's comment that it starts with the director and the financiers or studio," she added. "We were making a 3D movie and everybody was on board and everyone watched every frame in 3D. We didn't think about it any other way. That's very different than how 3D movies have been made in the past."
Routhier addressed "the importance of surrounding yourself with people who have a lot of experience." "People who've made one or two 3D movies don't have the breadth," he said. "Please surround yourself with people who have been in lots of different environments and in the cinema environment. Most of what I see is people who have under-estimated the complexity of 3D."
Goodman countered that, "3D isn't that complex. "I think over-complication has been a problem for some productions," he said. "There was never anything wrong with the 3D portion of Spider-Man that people ran around like crazy to solve. In Spider-Man, everything was being developed as we went along, but it all came together and it's on the screen."
"You work on high end movies but we also work with low-budget movies," said Routhier in rebuttal. "We've brought in some young filmmakers to give them the basic principles of shooting 3D, and they came out with impressive results." Hays noted that much of the talk of complication boils down to whether or not the director is on board. "If the director isn't involved, who's doing the 3D?" he said. "To oversimplify, some people think two cameras equal 3D, but it's not true with the amount of color correction you might have to do."
But Routhier held to his point that 3D productions have to be careful to work with experienced 3D talent. "There's a very big disconnect of peoples' understanding of 3D in absolute terms and their relative perceptions of where they're at in the scale of expertise," he said. "In the last two years we've seen hundreds of stereographers emerge."
What do these experienced 3D producers say when people tell them 3D is dead? "I tell them we have a larger infrastructure for 3D than ever before," said Goodman. "I tell them there are millions of 3D TVs installed and that YouTube has a powerful 3D player. I tell them the stage is set. It's a matter of producing something that's good."
Blute tells them that, "more stereographic content has been created in the last 12 months than the entire history of cinema." My big hope is that 3D could be the rebirth of the music video world," he said. "So much experimentation for young people that came out of the period when the music video world was thriving. Young audiences love 3D, and now 3D can be made without the huge budgets, so the timing is right."
"The most resilient technology is stereo," added Routhier. "It's never really gone away. Now we have the infrastructure to sustain it." Ludé noted that the "chicken and egg" scenario of 3D infrastructure and 3D content mirrors that of HD ten years ago. "Back then, people bought HD TVs but there was no HD content," he said. "It's an established transition that we're going through. As the content becomes more available, people will become hooked and we'll forget there was a transition problem."
Perhaps Ferrazzano summed it up best. "I'm all for the novelty of 3D wearing off," he said. "I think it's the best thing that can happen. The fact that it was trendy drove a lot of mediocre 3D. The sooner it just becomes a tool for storytelling, the sooner we stop talking about it being 3D, the better."
Some of these people have been working in 3D before there was a market outside location-based entertainment, so they are truly the pioneers and among the most experienced in the industry. They have watched their circumscribed turf become a national conversation in the entertainment industry, and they continue to advocate for best practices. If their assertion is correct (and I think the are) -- that committed directors drive good 3D -- clearly we're in good shape. It is, indeed, a good time to be enthusiastic about the future of 3D storytelling.
Title image: HOLLYWOOD, CA - SEPTEMBER 20: A general view of atmosphere during day two of the 3D Entertainment Summit held at Hollywood & Highland Center on September 20, 2012 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/WireImage)
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