With Creativity and Expertise, Budget-Conscious 3D Is Possible

As advances in sensors and image processors improve production quality across the video-camera spectrum, producers and filmmakers on limited budgets now have the ability to capture high-quality 3D with low-budget prosumer camcorders.

Low-budget 3D camcorders, which incorporate a fixed focal length and fixed interaxial, are both easier to operate and more cost-effective than a traditional two-camera and beam-splitter setup. 3D on a shoestring budget is possible, but several factors must be considered, including director vision, crew expertise, and supplemental production costs.

Above all, when weighing the merits of a 3D production, the most important question to consider is: Why 3D?

Replicating Real-Life Depth
While the 3D camcorders’ fixed interaxial poses problems for close-up, high-detail shots, it is particularly conducive to shooting from a distance.

“Sports cameras are so far away from the playing field,” said Tim Dashwood, stereographer, Dashwood Cinema Solutions and Stereo3D Unlimited, speaking at Content & Communications World in New York last week. “Say it’s a football game. You’re actually creating artificial depth by using a much wider interaxial.”

Panasonic’s AG 3DA1 camcorder has a 64-mm interaxial, which is roughly the same as the human eye. Thus, when placed on a football sideline, it can replicate a three-dimensional depth similar to that experienced in real life.

Not All 3D Is Good 3D
Latest-generation camcorders from such manufacturers as Panasonic, Sony, and JVC put 3D production within reach for blockbuster producers and independent filmmakers alike. However, the ability to make 3D does not necessarily mean the ability to make good 3D.

“We see this all the time,” said Dashwood. “Bad action scripts come our way, and [the producer will] say, ‘It’s in 3D, it’ll sell.’ Not necessarily.”

In addition to debunking the myth that a bad script can make a good movie if shot in 3D, Dashwood cautioned against applying a 2D mentality to a 3D production. Shooting a project in 3D may creatively compromise a producer’s original vision, particularly if that vision includes fast cuts, which will make the 3D viewer dizzy.

A mistake many producers make when experimenting with 3D is to constantly bombard the viewer with objects flying off the screen plane.

“It doesn’t help with your sale,” said Dashwood, “and broadcasters are very smart people. They know what is good 3D and what is bad 3D, and they’re not going to be impressed by a whole bunch of stuff flying out of the screen all the time. Once in a while, [around] 1% or 2% of your total run time, is fine, but don’t make it wall to wall.”

Adapting the Scene to the Camcorder
Because low-cost prosumer 3D camcorders remove the ability to adjust the focal length and interaxial, they require producers and cinematographers to get creative.

“The small cameras take some of the expense and difficulty out of shooting 3D,” explained Jan Crittenden Livingston, product line business manager, Panasonic Solutions Co., “because you don’t have to worry about how your cameras are paired: whether you’re shooting at the same exposure, movement values, color values and whether they are lined up on the vertical axes. You only have to deal with frame violations and your parallax.”

In order to avoid frame violations and parallax problems, adjustments that would normally be made with the camera must be made instead with the objects in the scene.

“Usually, we have the scene blocked out the way we want it, and we adjust the cameras,” said Dashwood. “We choose the focal length and the interaxial that we’ll need to fit that depth into any given parallax budget. So it’s kind of an opposite way of thinking.”

In 3D Production, Planning Trumps All
When shooting in 3D, regardless of budget or environment, the panel of experts assembled at CCW stressed that the most important part of the 3D production process is preproduction.

“When you decide that this is going to be a 3D production, take the time to plan out exactly how you’re going to move from shot to shot,” urged Livingston. “That is going to save you so much money in the long run because you’re going to walk in, you’re going to know exactly what you want to do, and you’re going to be able to execute without a lot standing and waiting.”

As with any production, time is certainly money in a 3D shoot. Before shooting begins, a strong stereographer can work with the production designer to determine the depth of the set, what equipment will be needed, and what camera positions work best.

Spending a little extra on the front end by hiring an experienced stereographer and crew and purchasing a high-quality rig enables producers to lessen the time redoing lackluster shots and fixing bad 3D in postproduction.

“Preproduction planning,” concluded Livingston, “is everything.”

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