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Stereo 3D Post Perfection for Russian War Epic Stalingrad

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CreativeCOW presents Stereo 3D Post Perfection for Russian War Epic Stalingrad -- TV & Movie Appreciation Editorial


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Director Fedor Bondarchuk's Stalingrad uses a fictionalized account of a small band of Russian soldiers keeping German troops at bay in World War II's bloody, five-month Battle of Stalingrad to frame two very different love stories. In both of them, soldiers attempt to preserve their humanity by protecting a woman, even at great personal peril.

The production of the film took a number of risks. The first of them was daring to take on a World War II story at all. With Soviet losses of well over 20 million souls during the war, and the Battle of Stalingrad itself and its over 1 million casualties proving to be the turning point in the war that led to Hitler's defeat, these stories remain near and dear to the Russian public.

As Bondarchuk has noted in numerous interviews, contemporary Russian cinema also tends toward the visually and thematically conservative -- not at all inclined toward either a Hollywood approach in general or 3D in particular. Stalingrad is in fact Russia's first IMAX 3D picture, and takes contemporary Russian cinema in some new directions.

These risks contributed to his desire to treat the 3D aspects of Stalingrad with particular care. This started by shooting in 5K with RED Epic cameras on 3ality Technica rigs, with 3ality Technica CEO Steve Schklair serving as 3D Producer, and Matthew Blute as the Stereographic Supervisor.

Principal photography began in the autumn of 2011, with17 days on location with 900 actors and extras. Shooting resumed for nearly three months in the following spring on massive sets that were built to reproduce every detail of the downtown war-torn Stalingrad and the specific burned-out buildings that were the center of the film's action.

The care he took clearly paid off: not only did its opening weekend in Russia set records; Stalingrad quickly became the highest-grossing picture in Russian history. After a very successful Chinese run, Stalingrad opens in 45 territories worldwide on February 28, including the US, where Stalingrad's first week will be shown exclusively in IMAX 3D theaters.


DEPTH GRADING
As with all of today's filmmaking, DI and grading are an integral part of the production process. These take on special significance when managing pictures from two cameras. Each set of images has to be aligned, corrected for scale, position mismatches, and keystoning, and in the final pass, finessing convergence and picture depth.

Moscow-based RSS Production handled all of the stereoscopic 3D post-production, led by Post Production Producer Alexander Dukhon. "When we first laid eyes on the material, we were impressed with the DOP's work as well as that of all the artists involved," he said. "The textures were incredible, whether they were those of the surface of a wall, for example, or the face of the main character – they were so realistic and it looked tangible. Our job was to then work on the stereoscopic 3D elements with the given footage, which was really brilliant, but we had to work hard to bring it up to the required standards that large formats such as IMAX® 3D dictate."


Fyodr Bondarchuk's Stalingrad, which tells the tale of the Russian perspective of the famous WWII battle against the Germans. Photos © Non Stop Productions and Sony Pictures Entertainment.
A scene from Stalingrad. Photos © Non Stop Productions and Sony Pictures Entertainment.


They divided their work into stages. The first was a speedy alignment pass, then isolating the shots that would need greater attention. Their platform of choice was SGO Mistika, which allowed them to correct polarization artifacts and distortions non-destructively. "We then received the ungraded materials in DPX 2K Log and we aligned the color and polarization issues, and were pleasantly surprised that even after a major color grade of the corrected image, there were no color misalignments and no need for fine-tuning at all."

DI Specialist Daniel Ovrutskiy was fully responsible for the stereoscopic 3D in the project, devoting over 3 months to it. He also had the good fortune of being on the set as part of the crew from the very beginning. This allowed for a level of efficiency in the set-up that was accelerated by the arrival of freelance stereo 3D artist Alavaro Barrassa from London to RSS's Moscow facility. Alvaro's task was to focus on the footage in the left eye, which would allow matching back the right eye to those corrected images.

Parallel workflows enabled by Mistika allowed artists to work simultaneously on color matching and color grading. Daniel had observed, "We had massive polarisation and colour issues especially regarding the tank's metal plates, the soldier's helmets, water reflections, muzzle flashes and tons of non-matching lens flares." Some of the more complicated of these required the use of rotoscoping, compositing and tracking, but a remarkable number of these were fixed by Mistika's one-button correction tools.


Fyodr Bondarchuk's Stalingrad, which tells the tale of the Russian perspective of the famous WWII battle against the Germans. Photos © Non Stop Productions and Sony Pictures Entertainment.
A scene from Director Fyodr Bondarchuk's Stalingrad, which tells the tale of the Russian perspective of the famous WWII battle against the Germans.


MATCHING AND MORE
Any alignment mistakes jump out of an IMAX screen. Small errors can be blown up to sizes easily visible from the back of the theater, leaving precisely zero margin for error. "We had to fix more than 800 shots in just under 2 months on material that had several stereo misalignments," says Daniel. Perspective, scale, axis shifts, and lens distortions, and even more, might be present in a single shot. As well as other technologies also mentioned, RSS also took advantage of optical flow and image warping for pixel-by-pixel matching.

Additional distortions might manifest themselves in the corners of images, which often required considerable zooming in to find the problems. Anaglyph overlays provided a guide, as did exchanging right and left eyes to isolate problem areas.


Fyodr Bondarchuk's Stalingrad, which tells the tale of the Russian perspective of the famous WWII battle against the Germans. Photos © Non Stop Productions and Sony Pictures Entertainment.
A scene from Stalingrad


At that point, the final depth grade was ready to begin. Daniel points out that his work with post stereographer Nick Brown was completed incredibly quickly. "We were able to do all dynamic convergence pulls and animated floating windows for the whole 2 hour feature in just 5 days of work! It was almost too easy, because all we had to do was push Mistika's 'AutoKey' button and make all creative decisions in a 'click-to-converge-here' fashion."


Fyodr Bondarchuk's Stalingrad, which tells the tale of the Russian perspective of the famous WWII battle against the Germans. Photos courtesy RSS Production. © Non Stop Productions and Sony Pictures Entertainment.
Post production images Courtesy of RSS Production.


The relative speed and ease of the 3D DI, color grade and depth grade were a big part of Stalingrad's ability to deliver epic storytelling on a relatively modest budget of approximately $30 million – "relatively modest" being a relative term, of course. That's a lot of money for a Russian film, especially with nearly all of budget provided by the Russian government, the state-owned VTB bank, and the filmmaker's own money.

As RSS Post Production Producer Alexander Dukhon also notes, "It is a very exciting time in Russia as Stereo 3D is only just developing and is still a very new format here – but there is a growing demand for it, as audiences enjoy seeing the screen come alive in 3D. Producers are still afraid of the format and that is why our company aims to dispel the myths about 3D production with cutting edge and performance-leading technology, such as Mistika, for 3D shoots and post production."

Russian and Chinese audiences have already begun their record-breaking responses, with the rest of the world awaiting their turn.







Stalingrad Official Trailer


Note some of the details in this article were provided by The New York Times, The Hollywood Reporter, and SGO.



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