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.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR ALL OF USIf there is one thing I learned from the past few years regarding 3D post, it is that there is room for both big and small post houses. It is really no different than 2D in that respect.
I spend a lot of time consulting with post facilities of every size that are looking to get into 3D. The first thing I tell everyone is that the current 3D post workflow is similar to the traditional offline/online workflow. When you are working in 3D, they really are 2 different skill sets, but you do not have to provide a complete 3D finishing solution to get in the game. I encourage people to just focus on getting set up to edit in 3D and get into the finishing later, once they have learned the craft better.
Luckily, it is not a huge undertaking to begin editing in 3D. The only piece of hardware you need to buy is a 3D monitor. There are numerous software solutions out there, and I expect to see even more options come out this year. You actually do not even need to purchase 3D software or plugins depending on the type of project you are working on. I don't want to oversimplify it, but 3D is basically 2 streams. You just have to be organized since you are dealing with twice as much media. To a degree, all of us in post-production are spectators, watching to see what will happen to 3D and what opportunities it will bring to our businesses. My guess is that a lot of things will be thrown at the 3D wall, and we'll see what sticks.
"We Are the World 25 for Haiti." Jade Productions handled 3D editorial and finishing.
I am a firm believer that every show shot and edited in 3D does not have to be eye-popping and mind blowing. I have often said that the best 3D content is where the viewer forgets they are watching the show in 3D. Some of the first shows I edited for DirecTV's 3D channel were music interview shows. These were simple 2 to 3 camera shoots, and the shows were largely just interviews with a few performances.
When I showed people the final product, many were surprised that the show itself was even shot in 3D. When I asked them if they felt like they were actually sitting in the audience watching the show, they all replied that they did. I knew then that the goal for shooting this show in 3D was achieved.
LOOK ACROSS THE SEAOne of the reasons I am so optimistic about the future of 3D is the success I have seen overseas. Europe in general, and England in particular, is years ahead of us in their deployment of 3D in the marketplace. They were installing 3D sets in pubs years ago.
England's Sky Network is definitely one to keep your eye on. They are creating the framework that all other 3D networks across the globe will follow. I'll never forget receiving Sky network's 3D deliverable spec document. The 3D deliverable documents I had received in the US just dealt with typical video and audio codecs and formats. Sky's document instead had a large section which defined technically what constitutes good 3D versus bad.
It made me see that, in the same way that we have 2D broadcast specs which regulate the content for networks, there can be and hopefully soon will be a universal 3D spec. At a minimum, the parameters should include maximum divergence between left and right eyes, and maximum allowable vertical, horizontal and rotational disparity between eyes.
MY 3D FUTURE & YOURSIt is an exciting time to be working in 3D. It is a rare opportunity to be involved with a technology in its infancy and watch it develop. These moments do not happen often in anyone's career in this industry.
I am very happy that I jumped on the 3D train a few years ago. I encourage as many people as I can to seriously consider it. It has definitely given my business an edge, which we all need in today's market. Yet when I look at my equipment investment to edit and finish stereoscopic content, the majority of it was also beneficial to my 2D content.
George's equipment bay
Only a few pieces of gear are used exclusively for 3D work. I also am on the continual quest to learn more and refine my 3D post workflow. Every project is different, so the more knowledge I acquire about the various software and hardware tools coming out, the better equipped I am to deal with the curve balls that always come on every project.
One of the reasons I consult with and encourage so many small shops to get into 3D is because I am convinced that the viability of this new technology is based on the ability of small shops like mine to edit and finish stereoscopic shows. If the only way 3D content can be shot and edited is with million dollar productions and top-tier post houses, the format will not survive. I fully recognize the complexities in 3D productions, and the added expertise required to edit and finish large-scale projects.
But like all things, new tools will only make it easier and more affordable. Unlike other new technologies, I was able to jump in the game with minimal expense. The biggest investment for me is the time and effort to keep learning the art and science of stereoscopic work.
Here is the bottom line for me. I don't care whether 3D is a fad or not. Right now it is a viable business opportunity and there is money to be made. While most people theorize about the future of 3D, I am making a living from it. I am an evangelist for 3D because I want to see it succeed. I am not threatened by other facilities moving into the 3D arena. Right now, the more the merrier.