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3D Post Rocks Hollywood

"The move toward 3D cinema is as important as silent movies were to talkies," Christopher Townsend, VFX supervisor of this summer's 3D hit, "Journey to the Center of the Earth," told a packed symposium on Aug. 12, during the SIGGRAPH convention in Los Angeles. "It is as significant as the move from black and white was to color."

There is no doubt that the challenge of producing and marketing feature films in an added dimension ("Z space") is rocking the halls of Hollywood since recent 3D, or "stereoscopic," features have earned up to four times the box office per screen as their 2D versions. Add to that the appearance of the first 3D flat-panel displays from Mitsubishi and Samsung along with the first DLP home theater 3D projector from projectiondesign, accompanied by rampant (speculation) and increasing industry interest in a 3D Blu-ray disc format for delivery—it looks like 3D productions are gaining viability. So, post-production pros can benefit from those who have walked the 3D path already.


One of the hidden advantages of modern 3D production is that the two cameras used to shoot them are recording in HD, which is considerably less expensive than 35mm film. The magic happens when the two "eyes" are frame-sequentially combined into a 3D digital intermediate (DI) for release with the spatial illusion determined by their convergence. FotoKem is a prestigious Hollywood production and post-production facility where the upcoming Jonas Brothers 3D concert film is currently being posted.

Among many other 3D hits, FotoKem was responsible for the DI finish on Disney's hugely successful "Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert," a production exhibited only in 3D. John Nicolard, head of digital production for FotoKem's digital film services tells us the editors usually just cut the left eye recording using an HD-capable Avid Media Composer Adrenaline system. The left eye, by the way, is the recording of choice since if the (dual) camera rig is using a beam splitter; the right eye camera's images are reversed.

"When the editor completes cutting a scene, we do a fast 3D 2K conform so the editor and director can view it in a 3D screening theater," Nicolard said. "That lets us evaluate how we need to creatively adjust the 3D convergence points to pull the images backward or forward by moving the frames left or right on the conform. After all, if you get the convergence wrong, audiences will leave the theater with eye strain."

Nicolard is convinced the extra steps are going to pay off.

"Years ago 3D film exhibition required two projectors and it was difficult to get enough light on the screen," he said. "Now with digital 3D cinema, a single projector can handle the whole job and put out plenty of lumens. Even the required polarizing glasses will provide additional advertising options for marketing the films. I think 3D is the future of filmmaking."

Cameras capture live action shots for the "U2 3D" movie.3D ROCKS

Another of this year's music 3D blockbusters was the "U2 3D" movie that was produced and posted by 3ality Digital Systems of Burbank, Calif. Steve Schklair, founder and CEO of 3ality Digital Systems said, "Audiences tend to want to explore a 3D frame longer than they would a 2D frame. Since there is more information to be imparted, most shots tend to stay on the screen a bit longer in 3D. That's why editors should view their dailies in 3D, cut in 2D to tell the best story they can, and then evaluate the work in 3D again."

Schklair has his own opinions about the use of 3D convergence.

"Conventional thought dictates you should always set your convergence on the main subject. But suppose you have a wide shot of a broad field with the subject isolated on the rear horizon. If I converge on him, I'll lose the vastness of the scene. So I prefer converging way in front of him, and letting the subject walk toward camera in Z space, which means he'll be walking into the convergence point. We used the ability of 3D to play with the position of Bono and his mates within the perspective of space extensively in the 'U2 3D' project."

Schklair also recommends avoiding "edge violation."

"Take, for example, an over-the-shoulder shot," he said. "If the foreground character's shoulder is half out of the screen but you converge on the rear person coming forward, it will look as if the OTS character is in front of the screen plane. So it is better to converge on the shoulder of the foreground person and let the person he is talking to appear well behind the screen plane. That's another reason you don't always converge on the point of focus."


All of this is new to everyone.

"There is a lot of camaraderie in 3D post production today since we are all blazing new ground," said David Kenneth, president and executive producer of I.E. Effects where the upcoming 3D indie film "Little Hercules" is currently being finished. But he tells us editors need to understand the nuances of cutting HD for 3D.

"Typically you lose a lot of depth when shooting in HD compared to celluloid," Kenneth said, "but when shooting for 3D everything (is) multidimensional. That means all the objects seen on the screen are typically in constant focus as they are with human vision. That is one reason a rack focus effect in 3D looks uncomfortable to the eye and should be avoided."

For editors, Kenneth explains understanding 3D is similar to tackling the unique requirements of other production genres.

"3D requires a different cadence of editing," he said. "Editors should be cautious of extreme fast cuts, excessive camera shake, or jumping from broad wide shots to tight close-ups. We've already had to apply these rules to cutting 'Little Hercules' to improve the viewing experience."

One of the main progenitors of modern 3D filmmaking is Vince Pace, the co-inventor of the Fusion 3D Camera System first used on James Cameron's 2003 "Ghosts of the Abyss." As CEO of PACE, a creative partnership company specializing in 3D hardware, production and post, Pace wants 3D editors to respect the power they are harnessing and not overuse it.

"3D is very similar to the human experience," Pace said. "It should be understood outside of the effects world and more as a complementary storytelling tool. We just wrapped on 'Final Destination 4' and made a point of using the movie's 3D depth to enhance the plot but not as an effect in itself. You don't need to exploit the 'Wow' factor of spears flying out of the screen all the time. Frankly, the 3D medium is already more mature than that."


It's worth noting that 3D exhibition is growing faster than many expected. After all, previous 3D releases have grossed up to four times the box office per screen as their 2D versions. Digital Cinema Implementation Partners (DCIP) is a consortium of exhibition industry leaders AMC Entertainment Inc., Cinemark USA Inc. and Regal Entertainment Group. DCIP represents more than 14,000 digital projection installations in the U.S. and Canada alone. All of them could potentially be converted to RealD technology, the dominant 3D presentation platform in the industry.

"In reality, we expect to convert 25–30 percent of the DCIP screens to RealD presentations capabilities," said Michael Lewis, CEO and co-founder of RealD. "Our first film was 'Chicken Little' in 2005, this year's 'Journey to the Center of the Earth' is our ninth, and we expect 13 new titles to be shown in RealD in 2009, with 40 films getting 3D release dates over the next three years. This is a fundamental shift in the history of cinema."