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Editing in Stereo


Editor Niven Howie cut Resident Evil: Afterlife in stereoscopic 3D on an Avid Media Composer.

We recently sat down with Niven Howie, editor on Resident Evil: Afterlife (3D) to get a bit of insight into how he approached cutting his first 3D feature, how he changed his approach to editing and what advice he would give to fellow editors about to embark on their first 3D film.

Below the Line: Can you provide us with a bit of background on the workflow of Resident Evil: Afterlife?

Niven Howie: It was fairly unique. We shot on the Sony F35 cameras using the PACE 3D rig and had Phantom Cameras for the high-speed shots, which there were quite a few of.

I was able to get an early copy of Avid Media Composer 4, and I was confident it was stable enough to do what we needed to do for this film and take advantage of some of the advanced stereoscopic features in the software. We had to turn over visual effects really quickly so I decided to ditch the idea of carrying a 2D copy of the dailies and edited solely in 3D. I was the first editor to decide not to carry a 2D version of the rushes as well as 3D. Up until that point, everyone had cut in 2D and then conformed the 3D to project it. That’s how they did Avatar.

We actually had an on-set lab supplied by our camera company (Pace) and it was like a U-Haul trailer with a very expensive kit. It had a Quantel SID, an Avid Media Composer and a 3D video projection system. And they basically transferred all the camera dailies into a format that I could use in Media Composer and also we projected our dailies every evening after wrap in this same trailer.

BTL: How much time would you estimate that you saved in the postproduction process as a result of cutting in Stereo 3D, rather than shooting 2D and converting like they did on Avatar?

Howie: Well having not experienced that way it’s difficult to guess, but I would assume quite a lot with substantial savings overall. Cutting in stereo 3D in Media Composer, I was making editorial decisions immediately because I could see the 3D footage as I was cutting. Whereas on Avatar they were cutting 2D then they’d conform it in 3D, project it and then go back and adjust. We were on a tight timeframe and in fact, had to turn over 300 visual effect shots before we finished wrapping the shoot.

BTL: How did working in Stereoscopic 3D change the way you cut the film? Did you feel that your creative process was hindered in any way in the sense that when you screened the scenes back that you had to make changes?

Howie: It didn’t really change the way I edit. However, in the final post process, we did play with the amount of 3D depth we had in each shot. The footage transferred for my Media Composer had a fairly tame amount of 3D, it wasn’t too strong. As I was cutting, I was seeing 3D but it wasn’t at its strongest dimension. Therefore, the cut wasn’t really affected when we screened it.

I’ve cut several feature films now so I’ve become used to getting the pace right when you’re cutting on a video monitor and understanding how it would look when you see it projected. The pace of the editing was much slower than I would have done with 2D. But the shots were much more interesting to look at.

BTL: Were there any other things that caught you by surprise having cut in 3D for the first time?

Howie: Well, we had a bit of concern going into this project because today’s MTV generation are so used to seeing these big and stunning visual stunts in films, which are normally surrounded by five to 10 cameras. And there is pressure on the editor to use every single shot in some fashion. With those events, the editor would have to chop and change from close to wide to mid to overhead, using all the different angles to make that stunt really exciting.

For this film, the fact that we were shooting in 3D, meant that they couldn’t afford to have ten 3D rigs on set. At most, I had three cameras on a scene and the fact that it was 3D meant that we didn’t have to cut it so many times to keep it interesting. For instance, to see someone run up a wall and do a back flip in three shots was absolutely beautiful to watch in 3D whereas in 2D, I would’ve probably wanted to try and put lots more cuts in it and lots more camera angles to keep it interesting.

I learned that 3D wants to be a little slower because the shots themselves are more beautiful and I think it takes the viewer a little longer for their brain to take in the three dimensions.

BTL: What advice would you give to other editors that are going to cut their first 3D picture?

Howie: Don’t be frightened to cut at a good pace. I found that some of the action is cut pretty fast and it doesn’t hurt your eyes or confuse as long as it’s not just cut for cut’s sake and you’re able to follow the action. When the scene was cut very fast, we tended to make the 3D much more shallow and less pronounced so it wasn’t jumping from a very deep 3D shot to a very shallow one; this ensured there was no danger of it hurting in the cinema.

I was kind of forced to cut a little slower, but this wasn’t a bad thing. It’s just that this film was shot in a more traditional style with choreographed, longer developing camera moves. Overall, I’d say don’t do anything different from how you would cut a 2D film.

BTL: Is there a learning curve just using the features in the software to cut stereo 3D like balancing the left eye/right eye, over/under or do you feel like it was a pretty simple concept to pick up on?

Howie: It was pretty simple to pick up on. Except when we got into image manipulation, where for instance a shot was done as a lock off and then we feel that in post it needs a slight move on it, you have to first of all split out the two sides and then do the zoom correctly in 3D space on both sides. On a 2D show, that’s really simple, you just literally put a zoom on the shot and it’s done in less than a minute.

Once we’d figured out a workaround, we saved those effects for future use. We had various stereo zooms set up and I could just lift them off and drop them onto the shots when I wanted to use them, making small adjustments to suit the new shot. So, it’s a little more involved because you’ve got left and right eye together and you have to split them off to do anything with them.

Chroma key was more complicated because when you’ve got a few layers of chroma key, then you can mount up all the tracks because you’re splitting off left and right each time into pairs. I went up to about seven tracks of video. Some of our chroma key shots had foreground, background, mid-ground and it was a little more complicated because of that. But, in terms of working, it took me about a month or so to really get my head around how 3D is delivered, how you see it and how your brain actually works it out. Once I figured that out and learned all the physics of it, then it wasn’t at all mystifying for me, I completely got it.

BTL: Do you think 3D is going to stick around for a while?

Howie: I think that 3D is going to be around for a long while and I’m sure that they’re developing ways to actually deliver 3D without glasses, which I think is the next big hurdle for the technology. I think sports will be a driving force for television. And, I’m sure that watching a basketball match or American football or any kind of high-momentum sport like that will be so much more fun to see in 3D, even golf. You know, being able to actually have some depth when you see this white ball run off in the distance.

As for cinema, I think it’s definitely here to stay. Our film was one of a few that was actually shot in 3D this last 12 months. There have been a great number of films that have been done where they’ve actually shot them in 2D and then converted them in post and that really doesn’t have any comparison to 3D original. I think that there will be a lot more films shot in 3D now that the rigs are getting smaller and easier to move around.

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