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Fields of Valor: the Civil War in 3D

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CreativeCOW presents Fields of Valor: the Civil War in 3D -- Stereoscopic 3D Feature


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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."





A sampling of the iconic Matthew Brady
Civil War photographs.
Please click on individual images above for larger view.
One of the primary inspirations for telling the story of the Civil War in 3D was the massive number of historic stereoscopic still photos. Stereo photography was quite popular in the era and well represented in collections found at the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution. The well-known photographer Matthew Brady had documented the Civil War in stereo photos.

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."



Confederate soldiers


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).






Comments

Re: Fields of Valor: the Civil War in 3D
by James Houghtaling
Wow, maybe something worth watching on my 3D capable TV... I'll have to check if there's a 3Dnet app on my Samsung TV.

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Re: Fields of Valor: the Civil War in 3D
by Michael Hutchinson
Working in a new field I haven't been keeping up on 3D news, but I'm guessing from your response that there's still a major lack of content? And why is 3net only available on DirecTV? I have Comcast/Xfinity, so guess that counts me out of the viewing.

I hate to say it, but I'm not feeling too optimistic about the future of 3DTV right now. Can't understand why these companies (who all share a mutually vested interest in the success of home theater 3D) haven't figured out a way to work together in the short term.
Seems like a lot of zero-sum thinking is holding back the industry. I'm not an economics expert, but from what I know, that's the worst thing you can do when trying to get a technology like this into peoples' homes.

Really hoping I'm wrong because 3D CAN BE an excellent storytelling tool (and I'll bet they did a great job with this). Unfortunately, there are so many barriers to access that I just don't see how the industry can sustain itself.

Am I wrong? Has your experience been different? Hoping I'm just out of the loop.

Michael David Hutchinson

"That most limited of all specialists, the well-rounded man."--F. Scott Fitzgerald 'The Great Gatsby'
Re: Fields of Valor: the Civil War in 3D
by Allynn Wilkinson
I've been enjoying some of the 3d documentaries on UK Sky TV and the Titanic documentary was good 9especially the underwater footage). I'm afraid I have to agree with you, though. There just isn't any great programming on.

Maybe we can convince Brian May to make a video of his "Village Lost and Found"

Michael, I take it your idea to do a 3d podcast never went anywhere. Too bad...
Re: Fields of Valor: the Civil War in 3D
by Michael Hutchinson
Haha! I pitched this exact idea at my old job. Seemed obvious to me that with production costs being the main barrier to creating 3D TV content, it might not be a bad idea to make use of the tens of thousands of public domain stereographs in the Library of Congress collection (especially if you want to demonstrate that 3D can be a storytelling tool, not just a gimmick that gets rediscovered by each successive generation of moviegoers).

Of course I'm certain I wasn't the first person in the world to come up with this idea. I just probably went further than most by actually developing a workflow and editing a few of the image pairs together for viewing (it's honestly amazing, and done right, creates a whole new window to the past.)

Anyway, really hope they did a good job with this and can't wait to check it out when I get a chance. Quick question for any of the crew who may be reading this...need any help with the next history in 3D project?

Michael David Hutchinson

"That most limited of all specialists, the well-rounded man."--F. Scott Fitzgerald 'The Great Gatsby'


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