Adventures in the Z Plane
COW Library : Stereoscopic 3D : Angela Wilson Gyetvan : Adventures in the Z Plane
Stereoscopic 3D (S3D) film and television production has dominated the news for the past two years. The advent of digital filmmaking and projection has enabled the rebirth of a medium that humans have been striving to perfect since the days of the earliest cameras. Our fascination with bringing a more realistic version of the world to the screen existed long before the days of "Bwana Devil."
It might come as a shock to hear that Harold Lloyd was an early 3D experimenter -- can you imagine what he would have done with "Safety Last!" in 3D? -- and that the 1939 World's Fair featured a 3D movie presented by Chrysler, titled "In Tune with Tomorrow." (Look for it on the thoroughly-modern YouTube).
"Jackass 3D," courtesy Paramount Pictures (Title image above). Harold Lloyd in "Safety Last!" (1923).
Most of the conversation over the past two years has been occupied by the how of S3D: How do you shoot it? How do you create a workflow? How do you display it? The entertainment ecosystem has been consumed with learning the basic structures of the medium, such as understanding real production and post-production costs, distribution channels, and the difference between shooting S3D for live sports and S3D for scripted features. (Hint: with the former, you can't fix shots in post).
[Ed. note: see Sidebar: S3D Mythbusting.]
Here's why I founded Digital Whisper: I noticed that there was no truly independent resource in the market for people and entities who are interested in live-action S3D production and distribution. The only way to gain knowledge over the past few years has been to talk to people who have a vested interest in selling their particular suite of solutions, or their particular point of view about what is "right." There are basic rules in S3D that should not be violated, but beyond that, there are multiple solutions for any problem. I've assembled a team of very smart people with years of experience in the medium who can serve as friendly guides to help filmmakers, production companies, advertising agencies and broadcasters make good decisions -- achieving the quality they want while minimizing the impact on their bottom line.
As we as a community, start moving past the mechanics of S3D, the artists among us will start thinking about its visual language, and the opportunities it presents for creative filmmaking. Much as the introduction and manipulation of color and sound changed the movie-going experience forever -- can you imagine "Gone with the Wind" as a silent, black and white film? S3D has the potential to stretch the boundaries even further, pushing entertainment closer to being the totally immersive escape we long for.
I learned about the visceral power of S3D while working at 3ality Digital, hearing the audience response to our movie "U2 3D," which is regarded by many as the best modern execution of live-action 3D filmmaking to date. There is a shot in "Sunday Bloody Sunday" where Bono reaches into the camera, and sings "wipe your tears away…"
Band above, "U2 3D," courtesy Revolver Entertainment.
Time and time again, someone would say "that moment had me crying like a baby," or "I felt like Bono was singing only to me." And these were only the individual reactions. The group reactions to the movie were even more affecting: people bouncing in their seats, putting their hands in the air, clapping between songs. I half expected to see lighted cellphones hoisted and swaying. At the end of the movie, audiences invariably jumped to their feet and applauded madly, then looked around, as if they had forgotten that they were in a cinema.
Music always has the potential to move you emotionally, even when it's not paired with Bono's showmanship. So, it's immediately understandable why "U2 3D" was a catharsis of sorts. However, what happens when you pair the possibilities of S3D with the techniques of scripted filmmaking?
Years at 3ality Digital and the "wild west" of S3D have helped me drill down to the most commonly asked questions and the mythfilled answers that are often served up as truth. Here's my list of the seven biggest. If you're not getting these answers from the folks you're working with, time to move on, cowboy.
1) 3D takes at least twice as long to shoot as 2D. In truth, there's no reason a 3D shoot can't be completed on a 2D schedule.
2) There's only one "right" workflow for 3D. There are multiple workflow choices. Selecting the one right for the production company can be overwhelming.
3) Conversion to 3D is either a) Faster, cheaper and better, or b) Faster, cheaper and worse. Neither is true. Conversion is currently neither faster nor cheaper. At the same time, there are a number of circumstances where conversion might work best, or where a combination of live-action and converted footage would be best suited to the production.
4) 3D imposes severe constraints on creative. As in 2D production, there are some things to look out for, but the "rules" of 3D are no less onerous than the rules for 2D. 3D is actually a creative goldmine, as it presents an entirely new visual language to be explored, much as the advent of color in movies created nearly endless opportunity for filmmakers.
5) Only animation and action/adventure movies are suitable for 3D. There is no genre limit. Filmmakers like Martin Scorcese ("The Invention of Hugo Cabret"), Baz Luhrmann ("The Great Gatsby"), and Werner Herzog ("Cave of Forgotten Dreams") have either made or are making features in other genres. Go where the visionaries are going.
6) No one's going to watch the news in 3D. People are already watching cooking shows ("Guy's Big Bite") and "Unplugged"-style concerts ("The Guitar Center Series") in 3D. It may be a few years off, but the day will come when you'll be enraptured by Katie Couric's latest 3D interview.
7) The lack of 3D TV broadcast standards is strangling the market. The lack of standards is certainly putting some pressure on the market, but the reality is, in the days of increasing fragmentation in forms of delivery and the advent of IPTV to the homes, this is no longer.
But it's not only the overall depth in a scene that affects our emotional response. It's also the relative placement of objects and characters in the space that moves us, as well. We're all familiar with the oft-used gimmick of tossing objects at the audience -- we flinch when paintballs come flying "out" of the screen in "Jackass 3D." We tear up when Bono appears to stroke our faces.
But what about the distance between characters in an argument or in the throes of passion? In S3D, we can tighten the space between characters as the tension heightens, and spread it out as it begins to relax. We can make the approach of a shady character more and more menacing by moving the apparent "window" of a scene closer to the audience in time with the character's movements. We can enhance the feelings of mourning and loss by pushing objects and people far away. We can call up the memories of warmth and comfort by enhancing the textures of a soft blanket or a flickering fire.
The application of action sequences also changes when the "z-plane" enters the picture. One of my favorite stories from 3ality Digital happened during a concept production of a short martial arts sequence. In 2D "flatties," (as Mr. Gardner likes to call them), action sequences are choreographed parallel to the screen plane: it's the only way to effectively capture their motion.
After some conversation with 3ality Digital's stereographer, the martial arts director no longer thought "flat," and the fight sequence was choreographed on an angle, with one fighter moving forward into the audience space, and the other moving backwards, sinking into the depth of the shot. The effect was that the audience became a participant in the fight, rather than viewing it at a distance.
The last year has seen the advent of a number of pre-visualization tools that can help film and television producers fully leverage the language of S3D as they start planning their shoots. One of the most effective, and least expensive, is the stereo 3D version of Frame Forge, which supports viewing on multiple 3D-capable monitors, allows you to export your movies in a variety of 3D formats, and even goes so far as to allow you to print out anaglyph (color-separated) 3D storyboards for on-set viewing.
It's encouraging that master storytellers such as Martin Scorcese, Baz Lurhmann, and Alfonso Cuaron are venturing into S3D in genres other than animation and action-adventure. It seems that the next two years will see the advent of new and exciting explorations of the visual language of S3D, with momentous -- and moving -- results.