Some of the first experiments with stereoscopic 3D films were shot in the 1890s by pioneering British filmmaker William Friese-Greene. In the 1950s and ’60s, 3D, based on the classic red-and-blue anaglyph glasses, went through a bit of heyday as the film studios sought to combat the rise of television via a different kind of movie-going experience, but it never rose above being more than a gimmick. Also, production processes for 3D were incredibly awkward and slow, and in the theaters audiences complained of headaches just a few minutes into a film.
But today, almost 120 years after the first 3D patents were filed, walking the halls of trade shows like NAB and IBC, you’d think that 3D was invented in 2007. With a range of 3D tools hitting the market this year from companies like Quantel, Assimilate, Iridas and Rising Sun Research, 3D filmmakers finally have the tools to see what they’re working on in real time, and the technology to produce realistic and compelling 3D content.
“3D films have always had a lot of problems, which is why they never worked in the past,” says Steve Schklair, CEO of Burbank-based 3ality Digital Systems. “Most of those problems were in exhibition, and there were problems on the production side because it was just so time-consuming and so expensive to make the 3D film. They were just novelties for the past 30 years in theme parks.”
At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, set for Jan. 17-27 in Park City, Utah, 3ality will premiere U2 3D, a stereoscopic concert film shot during the band’s recent Vertigo concert tour. The film was lensed by DP Peter Anderson and directed by Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington.
“We make movies but we also build the technologies that we make the movies with,” says Schklair. He added that 3ality shot nine U2 concerts in six South American cities, using up to eight 3D camera packages. The company’s 3D rigs consist of two Sony CineAlta F950 cameras per rig.
The company relied heavily on Assimilate’s Scratch system for previews, dailies, rough cuts, playouts, and conforming, as well as Iridas SpeedGrade for color grading, and proprietary in-house software called Ripo View to manage 3D editorial.
Ripo View enables the company to transition between Z-axis depths during editorial transitions, giving the viewers a chance to adjust their focal point.
“The biggest issue with 3D movies has always been editing,” Schklair says. “The problem with editing has always been, you’re watching a shot and in 1/24th of a second you make a cut to a new shot, so in a 24th of a second your eyes are trying to adjust to the depth of the different shots, and in 10 minutes you start to get a headache because it’s so fast.”
“What we’ve done is we’ve transitioned the depth across the edits, so when there’s an edit, the depth from the first shot is handed off to the depth from the second shot, so there’s a depth transition in every edit. The way we achieve that is we now have total control of depth now in postproduction. We can move things forward or backward.”
The technique helps avoid the headaches common to 3D films.
“The first thing that really bothered people about 3D films is headaches,” he says. “The primary reason for headaches when you watch a 3D film is the images aren’t aligned properly. Your brain puts the left eye and right eye images together and creates this illusion of depth. And if there’s misalignment, especially vertical misalignment, you’ll start to get a headache. If there’s color or geometry mismatch, you’ll get a headache.”
The film will be distributed by National Geographic Entertainment to RealD digital theaters and IMAX 3D theaters starting in late January.
“In post now, with this capability to transition between multiple layers, it gives directors a whole new language,” says Schklair.
Written by Scott Lehane