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While running with the bulls for a 3D shoot, filmmaker Chris Cary realized there was no camera system that was compact and flexible enough for his needs. The answer? Cary and Jonathan Kitzen enlisted imaging scientist Matt Whelan to design a stereographic camera in one body. Find out how they designed the camera that they hope will make 3D filmmaking as easy as 2D.
Filmmaker Chris Cary
Filmmaker Chris Cary was hard at work on a 3D IMAX film about the running of the bulls in Pamplona and struggling with the parameters of shooting 3D in "an extremely hostile environment."
He recalls, "We looked around for camera systems and there was nothing small enough or agile enough or doing high-speed frame rates at the resolution we wanted."
Cary decided the solution was to make his own camera to fit his specifications. This was no trivial matter. "Since 1905, filmmakers have been trying to make two cameras produced a 3D image," says Cary. "While it delivers a result, it's not THE result." Why not create a single body that comprised both cameras and was small, agile and light enough to treat like a 2D camera?
"After we finished filming, we realized that if we were faced with this problem, so was everyone else," says Cary, who had brought filmmaker Jonathan Kitzen -- an early importer of the Russian Konvas
cameras -- on board as president of the nascent company. They both felt strongly about changing the paradigm of the 3D camera system. "Films currently produced in 3D are generally shot with two cameras linked together with stereoscopic grip equipment or two cameras sandwiched in one camera body with very little control or synchronization," says Kitzen. "A simple analogy would be, if you glued 2 motorcycles together, would this produce a car? It's a vehicle with two control systems and four wheels, all trying to do one job."
That kludge of two cameras is the genesis of all the problems that needed to be corrected in post production, says Cary, who says that those corrections are the cause of viewer headaches and eyestrain. "Every correction of color, noise, re-sizing, re-converging, axis correction and focal length correction lead to data loss, image aberration and expense," he says. "Corrected 3D is not good 3D."
Funded by two unnamed private investors, 3D Visual Enterprises opened its doors in March 2010 as the investment vehicle for what has become Meduza Systems, the hub of R&D into and manufacture of S3D camera systems.
Starting from scratch, Cary and Kitzen enlisted imaging scientist Matt Whelan to design and create a single camera with two eyes in which convergence control, inter-axial control, frame rate control are all motorized and synchronized. The result is the Meduza MK1, which was initially shown in prototype at NAB 2011 and then in its deliverable version at IBC.
Meduza MK1 - professional quality Stereoscopic digital 3D camera. Please click on image above for larger view.
"The underlying principle was to make a 3D camera in one simple system," says Cary. "At the same time, we were very aware that image and sensor technology is moving fast. Only yesterday, we were excited about 1080, then 2K and then 4K. We decided to buck the trend of obsolescence and build a camera that was modular."
The MK1 camera body will stay the same, and be available as a rental for $27,000 a year. "We guarantee to constantly service the camera with software upgrades as we change the parameters," says Cary. "Year on year, your camera's electronics will always be the most up-to-date version."
The front end of the camera can either be purchased or - as rental houses buy them - rented. "It will be like having your own lens set or choice of film stocks," says Cary. "You may own one and rent others." Available head configuration is the Anaconda - Compact Variable IA Head in three sensor configurations. Those sensors include Sensor 1 CV2K with a 1080x2048 maximum resolution and 340 fps maximum at 12-bits; Sensor 2 OM4K with 3312x4416 at 15 fps; 2048x4096 at 24 fps; 1080x1920 at 60 fps (at 10-bit) and 1080x1920 at 30 fps at 12-bit; and Sensor 3 API4MP with 3288x4384 at 13 fps; 1714x4096 at 24 fps; 1107 x 2048 at 60 fps; and 1080x1920 at 60 fps. Integrated inputs and outputs include HDMI, 4xHDSDI, RS232 and cam link.
"The big sensor we're waiting for is a 4K sensor in the 4x3 format, which is the same aspect ratio as an IMAX screen," says Cary. "What it means is that pixel-for-pixel you can film in 4K direct into our camera for IMAX." The sensors will range from a low of $35,000 to about $55,000 for the IMAX 4K sensor.
Other features of the camera include a robust and accurate mechanical system designed to permit changeable inter-axial adjustments from between 38mm to 110mm without the use of a mirror rig - and with the accuracy of a ½ micron.
At IBC 2011, Meduza Systems showed off its prototype and compiled a list of nearly 200 interested potential customers. They also had an epiphany. "We discovered the pent-up demand isn't in theatrical, it's actually in TV," says Cary. "The hardware manufacturers have invested hugely in delivering at-home technology in 3D, and many broadcasters have signed up to do a 3D channel or stream. They know that to develop the audience, they have to provide some level of content, but there isn't enough."
To create enough TV programming in 3D requires adding new equipment, more personnel and a longer schedule. "But with TV, where you start the allocation of the budget with a noose around your neck it's not possible to accommodate all the extras as it is with movies," explains Cary. "The broadcasters who are talking to us told us the MK1 was more than they needed. They won't be shooting beyond 1080 for a long time and they don't need it to be modular. They want a small, compact, easy-to-set-up camera that has all the functionality to make good 3D."
To answer the demand in this market, Kitzen and Cary decided to release the TV version of their new S3D camera - the Titan - and market it in parallel with the MK1. The Titan is a simpler camera that will be priced in its entirety between $55,000 and $59,000, says Cary. "It's designed to work right out of the box," says Cary. "The camera re-sets itself, you put on the lenses and get going."
The Meduza TITAN - fully controllable, lightweight, 3D precision single HD camera with 1080p dual sensors, a solution for 3D television production. Please click on image above for larger view.
Meduza Systems has also created optics -- the matched Delta 4K S3D Meduza optics -- for use with the Meduza MK1. Designed by Kenji Seumatsu, the Delta optics, which were also first shown at IBC, are made out of the same batch of glass and sold in pairs. With the motorized focus and iris controls, they're specifically designed for the precision required for 3D and 4K cinematography. Each lens has also been constructed to fit into a compact 38mm wide mechanical barrel for the close inter-axial positioning required for S3D cinematography. Users can choose the Meduza mount for the Delta optics or, if they prefer, a C-mount for their own glass. "What we're trying to provide is as near as possible a perfect match system," says Cary.
Beginning in December, the first Meduza Systems cameras will roll out of the plant near Irvine, California, and Cary and his colleagues will begin meeting with interested customers, starting with the first on the list. Cary reports that they plan to build an assembly facility somewhere in the U.K. to handle Meduza Systems cameras for the rest of the world. "We'll be doing the demos the minute I have a camera in my hand," promises Cary, who notes that stereographer Michael Verity will be doing demonstrations in Asia.
Will this easy-to-operate camera help stimulate production of more 3D for the in-home entertainment market? If the Meduza Systems' Titan and MK1 cameras fulfill their promise, they may indeed play a role in helping to build momentum for 3D - especially in the home - by lowering the barriers to S3D production.