Fields of Valor: the Civil War in 3D
COW Library : Stereoscopic 3D : Debra Kaufman : Fields of Valor: the Civil War in 3D
Despite the insistent buzz about 3D TV, few large-scale original productions have launched. Stereoscopic TV production is still a fledgling in the bigger nest of 3D content. Enter Fields of Valor, a four-part original miniseries about the Civil War that 3D cable TV network 3net has dubbed "the most ambitious 3D project ever produced for television."
That network, the joint venture of Sony Corporation, Discovery Communications and IMAX Corporation, is focused exclusively on 3D stereoscopic content for 3D TV, so its executives are in a prime position to know the state of the art. When Fields of Valor came to 3net via Towers Productions, it was clear that this was a show that could only be pulled off with the grandest scale, says Tim Pastore, 3net VP Production & Business Development. Pastore is responsible for commissioning, production and development of original 3D content for the network, and is also a key contributor to the 3net's strategic planning, direction and operation. He, along with Towers Productions' Jonathan Towers, executive produced Fields of Valor.
"It was either go big or go home," says Pastore. "We knew from the outset that the series would require lots of resources and energy. That was the vision."
The Fields of Valor creators also conceived the idea of focusing on a single regiment as a device to tell the Civil War story, an idea that evolved into telling the story of both sides and two regiments, one Union and one Confederate. The researcher/writer Patrick Brennan, director/writer David W. Padrusch and writer Jonathan Towers found the right two regiments that were part of major battles, danced around each other on the battlefields and ultimately faced each other at Gettysburg. Another plus was that the members of these two regiments had also left behind a treasure trove of letters, diaries, and journals that the filmmakers could exploit to good use within the series.
A great deal of work went into prepping the show for production: the scripts were tweaked and the show was pre-visualized. "Lots of energy had been put into pre-production to stay on budget and on time," says Pastore. "Shooting in stereoscopic 3D definitely adds a lot more moving parts to a project. It's not just the sweat equity that goes before filming. When shooting 3D, you have to be more efficient and pay attention to the technical standards."
The other key factors in making the production go smoothly were to put the right team in place, says Pastore, and to iron out every detail of the technical workflow. "That way you mitigate any unexpected hurdles in the middle of production," he says. By determining the details of the technical workflow in advance, everyone on the production is apprised of how it's supposed to work, also cutting down the possibility of inadvertent errors.
"Our pipeline started with those technical conversations about what cameras and rigs we're going to use, and what rigs will allow us to shoot in our environment that we're going to shoot in," says Pastore. "We built a workflow document and worked closely with the production team and post production company. As a collaborative team, we sat down several times with our technical experts from the Discovery and Sony team and continued to address it until we were all comfortable that it's the right path. It was very much a team approach."
Storytelling in 3D also presents creative challenges. "It's up to us to determine how 3D will make the best show and how we'll use 3D differently than telling it with 2D," says Pastore. "We continuously work on finding the way that 3D can help push a story." For Fields of Valor, in addition to live action re-creations, all those historic stereoscopic photos served as strong elements to not only make the most of 3D but to create a unique feel to the storytelling, often serving as bridges in the program.
The on-set team included stereographer Ross Heran and cinematographer Thomas Danielczik. For Danielczik and other members of the production team, Fields of Valor was a first-time experience in creating 3D programming. Pastore notes that in the cable TV environment, he's found that good results can come from marrying very experienced stereoscopic technicians with cinematographers and directors who may not have worked in the 3D space but are very collaborative. "Part of what we want to do is grow the 3D production community," he says. "Not everyone has 3D experience but it's not something to be afraid of. If you put in some sweat equity, you can tackle it successfully. For us the goal is to bring storytellers in the fold and support their transition to 3D storytellers."
The production shot the series with the RED One and the RED Epic, using the 3ality Technica Quasar rig. A 50-foot Technocrane was used to get some of the series more dynamic shots, including the large battle re-creation scenes. At times, the RED Epic was on Steadicam for run-and-gun battle re-creation scenes.
Union soldiers charge into battle
On location, the production had 3D monitors so the director could keep track of the stereoscopic aspect of the production. DIT stations in the field also brought the footage into the Avid Media Composer system, to double-check it to make sure it was technically sound. The show was cut with the Avid, with CineForm. Towers Productions also created the 3D graphics, using tools that included Nuke and Occula.
The most challenging scenes in the series were the big battle re-creation scenes, which involved hundreds of Civil War re-enactors. "We had talent of course, but we also had great support from the Civil War re-enactment community," says Pastore. "In those battle scenes, the challenge was not just technical aspects of shooting 3D but also monitoring and managing thousands of re-enactors. Those were our more daring moments."
Also key to creating the end look and feel of the series, says Pastore, was those historic stereoscopic stills. "Everyone has seen photos from the Civil War but the moment you view a stereo still from that time period, it changes how you react to them," he says. "The first time I saw some of these photos in their full 3D nature, it was a visceral experience. It closes the gap between you and the Civil War and the 1860s. It brings you closer to the experience in a different way."
Although the majority of the stereo stills used in the series came from the Library of Congress and a few came from private collections, what made the search more challenging was that they needed photos that illustrated the story of the two regiments they focused on. "The majority of viewers has never seen these photos in 3D," says Pastore. "Bringing them to TV was the next step in being able to tell the story of the Civil War."
The TV series -- which premiered on 3net on December 3 -- was multi-cast: the Military Channel and Velocity took the 2D version, and 3net, of course, ran the 3D effort. Making sure all the scenes worked equally well in 2D and 3D was part of the production, says Pastore, who noted that it was not a significant issue.
"Besides the technical hurdles involved in producing 3D, there were no real surprises," he says, although he notes that 3D made the production less mobile. "The biggest challenge in any production of this scope is sticking to the timeline and making sure you capture everything at the highest quality."
There are no metrics on how many of the 19 million households for whom 3net is available watched Fields of Valor in 3D. "Our audience is constantly evolving, constantly growing and will continue to be as the market becomes more saturated with 3D TV," Pastore says. "But because it's a moving target, we have to produce programming suitable for a broad audience, family friendly and good for early adopters."
By the end of 2011, 3net will have put close to 200 hours of 3D programming on the air, but Pastore says that Fields of Valor was one of the network's most ambitious programs to date and that everyone involved learned a lot about making 3D TV on a cable budget. "Especially as single body 3D cameras come online, we're beginning to close the gap with 2D - not only with costs but time frame and the necessity for extra bodies," he says. "We continue to strive to close that gap."
Fields of Valor is also a fresh kind of program in that it is a hybrid of factual and scripted. "We took a topic that people are familiar with and breathed new life into it," says Pastore. "It shows the ability and capability of what you can really do in 3D TV, that there's a range and scope broader than most people anticipated. There's a way to delve into history deeper than people could have imagined before. We're happy about how the series showcases the potential of 3D TV." The series is expected to re-run on the network; the next episode of Fields of Valor will run on 3net on January 28, 2012.
3net will air a special encore presentation of FIELDS OF VALOR: THE CIVIL WAR on Saturday, March 24 (8PM ET/PT).