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Why not shoot movies with stereoscopic 3d cameras instead?

In today’s world, where the 3D bug seems to have bitten moviegoers, especially children and the youth, 3D filmmakers are often challenged with the inevitable debate: whether to shoot the film in ‘native 3D’, shoot in 2D and convert to 3D or use a hybrid approach. More often than not, filmmakers often commit the error of opting to filming in native 3D without conducting proper research or analysis regarding the relative costs and technical considerations while filming in native 3D versus the rapidly evolving 2D to stereoscopic 3D conversion, which is currently hailed as the future of 3D cinema. What stems from this, is usually an unsatisfying and exorbitantly expensive directorial experience.

Avatar, the highest grossing movies of all times, set the wheels going for a major change-over worldwide to digital projection. This movie very deftly used a combination of motion capture technology, live environments shot with Cameron-Pace proprietary rigs and a host of computer-generated characters and sequences. According to Cameron, the film is composed of 60% computer-generated elements and 40% live action, as well as traditional miniatures (Wikipedia).

Among other top movies that were masterfully captured using this combination of ‘native’ 3D and conversion were Hugo and Life of Pi. In fact, the converted shots in these movies were woven so seamlessly throughout each film that it was practically impossible to differentiate whether the scenes were shot using a stereo camera or converted.

It’s a general notion that stereo rigs are two cameras positioned side-by-side in a manner similar to the way the human eyes are positioned. However, in reality, this configuration is appropriate for filming wide-angle shots, scenic landscapes and shots that require a focal length of more than 25ft. For any other shots, a different type of camera rig would be required, which only incurs more procurement and setting up charges.

While this configuration is normally is effective, it is nevertheless plagued with technical issues. The lenses and mirrors require constant polishing, which causes color shift between the cameras, vibration, misalignment and distortions. This often results in focus mismatches, in-field production slowdowns and most importantly, a lack of depth continuity from shot to shot which, in turn, would require significant post production processing; add to this, maintenance and operation of the rigs and additional crew to operate the shoots and one may safely rest the case against native 3D film capture.

These days, most studios and directors are steering clear from native 3D camera rigs, especially in VFX heavy films. Those who have chosen the path of conversion understand that post-fixes for conversion are quite minimal or non-existent when compared to the higher budgets, longer shooting schedules and subsequent post productive costs while using 3D camera rigs.

Though both processes have their pros and cons, constantly emerging advances in conversion technology are shifting the emphasis away from using camera rigs exclusively. 2D to 3D stereo conversion, whether full or partial, has now become an integral tool in any feature filmmaker’s arsenal to offer top quality, enhanced story telling in stereo 3D.

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