3D Post: A Business Model in Progress
COW Library : Stereoscopic 3D : George Bellias : 3D Post: A Business Model in Progress
I still find it hard to believe that my little post-production studio has been around for 17 years. I find it even more amazing that two years ago, I had an opportunity to do one 3D project, and that now 3D editorial and finishing makes up more than 50% of my work -- and 2011 already looks like it could be even more.
When I decided to integrate stereoscopic editorial and finishing to my business, I had a strong belief that 3D was the future. Two years into it, 3D is no longer the future. It is the now. When you are a small company, it is all about finding your niche. 3D is mine, and here is how it happened.
I think my business is probably like most small post studios out there. We have a limited number of longterm clients that we have built relationships with over the years. We are very cautious about our equipment purchases because every dime we spend is money out of our own pocket. Our spouses have put up with years of explanations on how some new piece of gear was going to revolutionize our world. After years of hard work and perseverance, we ultimately find our niche and get known for being accomplished in that type of editorial.
For me, that turned out to be editing live music projects. It first started with promos and trailers, and eventually led to editing large multi-cam concerts. Being a lifelong musician, this was a dream come true. The trick was not just knowing how to edit and finish a concert but how to handle all of the miscellaneous deliverables to the band/artist, management, record label, and production company. Meanwhile, I had to keep the editorial process moving forward and still deliver the final master on time and on budget.
THROWN INTO THE 3D FIREIn the beginning of 2009, my biggest client informed me that they were planning to shoot four major music festivals throughout the year in 3D.
Even though the majority of concerts I had previously edited for them were for HD broadcast, a few were for limited-run theatrical release. I can only assume that the reasoning behind shooting these festivals in 3D was to increase the opportunities for theatrical releases, while still being able to deliver a 2D version for broadcast. 3D domestic broadcast was not even an option yet, but the client already had previous relationships with theatrical distributors whom I knew were excited about putting 3D concerts in theatres.
They wanted to know if I was interested in taking on the postproduction. I, of course, said yes, but deep down, I knew that I really had no choice. If this is where my biggest client is going, well, that's where I need to be.
I then began the overwhelming task of learning everything I could about 3D. The biggest challenge was figuring out how I was going to edit nine cameras in 3D. The projects I was about to work on did not have the budgets or timelines like "U2 3D" or any other live action 3D feature. The budgets were tight, and the turnaround time was short. The typical workflow of offline editing on an Avid or FCP, then conforming the sequence in 3D on a high end finishing system like a Quantel Pablo, then go back to the offline for changes was not even an option. I needed to edit in 3D with the same speed and efficiency as I have edited dozens of 2D concerts.
I clearly remember going to NAB in 2009 and meeting with every company who had anything to do with 3D editorial or finishing. They would tell me all about their product and as I told them what I was working on and what I needed to accomplish, they politely shook my hand and wished me good luck. It was obvious to me as I flew home that I would need to figure this out on my own. It took a while, but after many months of research, experimenting, and testing various pieces of gear like video boards, graphic boards, RAIDs, 3D converters and 3D monitors, I finally came up with a way to edit 9 (or more) cameras in real-time, in 3D. The solution involved muxing the 2 eyes into one video stream as an interleaved file. This can easily be done in After Effects or Final Cut using a matte I made, and allows me to view the footage as a single 2D image when I want to, without dealing with separate overunder or side-by-side views. I put on my glasses, flip a switch, and see the footage in 3D on the big screen, even though it looks like normal 2D on my editing timeline.
My main 3D monitor did not support interleaved, so I used the Doremi Dimension 3-D to convert the interleaved signal into the 3D format my monitor supports.
This was all put to the test in the fall of 2009 when I edited "Larger Than Life," a 3D concert film featuring Dave Matthews Band, Ben Harper & Gogol Bordello. The edit went very smoothly. The biggest challenge was media management. I basically had 3 versions of every piece of media; left eye, right eye & interleaved. Organization and strict naming conventions was a must.
A look at the official website for George's first 3D editorial project, "Larger Than Life 3D."
The end result was as I hoped: I was able to work in 3D with the same features and ease as 2D, delivered to theaters less than 70 days after it was shot. The next thing I knew, I was in the 3D editorial business.
THE WILD 3D RIDE BEGINS2010 was gearing up as the big year for 3D to explode. "Avatar" was finally released at the end of 2009 and lived up to the hype and expectations, other 3D features were doing reasonably well, and all of the major TV manufacturers were releasing 3D TVs. There also were a few months where it seemed like every week a new network announced they were starting a 3D channel. It reminded me of the Internet boom. It seemed like everyone was jumping on the 3D bandwagon.
But I began to have concerns that 3D was going to be a bust for my business in 2010. I had numerous meetings with production companies interested in taking on a 3D project. These meetings mostly turned into training sessions as I educated them on 3D production and post. As I discussed with them the complexities and liabilities of a 3D shoot, I could see the excitement about working in 3D quickly leave as reality set in.
Even though many of these projects never came to fruition, a business opportunity became very clear. I quickly realized that there were not many small shops focusing on 3D editorial and finishing, and the "big" shops were extremely expensive. The price tag did not always bring experience with it, as I heard from many clients who felt they were paying these houses to learn 3D on their job. This was very reminiscent of the industry when HD first came on the scene.
With all of the false starts, countless meetings on projects that never happened and the normal twists and turns of this business, 2010 actually turned out to be a very busy year for me in regard to 3D post. I did the 3D version of the "We Are The World 25 for Haiti" music video, three 30-minute shows for DirecTV's 3D channel, a 3D product launch video for Lexus, and worked on a few product demos for Panasonic's 3D cameras, among others.
"We Are the World 25 for Haiti." Jade Productions handled 3D editorial and finishing.