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Stereo 3D Format Is Taking Hold

Five companies show the depths that stereo 3D can deliver.

By Christine Bunish

Justin Bieberís music video of ìSanta Claus Is Coming To Town,î with stereo 3D postproduction by In A Place Post, inhabits a Steampunk Santaís workshop.
[Top Left] Justin Bieber’s music video of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” with stereo 3D postproduction by In A Place Post, inhabits a Steampunk Santa’s workshop.
[Top Right] Steele Studios created a massive stereo 3D graphics package for 3net, the joint venture of Sony Corporation, Discovery Communications and IMAX Corporation.
[Above Left] 3D timelapse footage of Victoria Peaks, Hong Kong in Space Junk 3D, edited by Splice Here. | Photo credit: Copyright ©2011. All rights reserved. Space Junk3D, LLC.
[Above Right] Nice Shoes used stereo 3D to enhance the visual storytelling in “Found,” one of three, self-produced poetry pieces in its Verses series.


After the success of his Academy Award-winning Hugo, Martin Scorsese announced that he expects to use stereo 3D in all his future projects. Embracing 3D for cinematic storytelling – not just action-fueled gimmickry – is just one example of how the format is taking hold. Feature films for the big screen – and bigger screens – music videos, broadcast graphics and deeply personal productions all show the heights and depths that stereo 3D can deliver.

Dzignlight Studios ramped up to 85 people to prep VFX shots for the stereo 3D conversion company for Titanic 3D.
Dzignlight Studios ramped up to 85 people to prep VFX shots for the stereo 3D conversion company for Titanic 3D.

Dzignlight Climbs to New Heights with The Amazing Spider-Man

  Dzignlight Studios ramped up to 85 people to prep VFX shots for the stereo 3D conversion company for Titanic 3D.
  Dzignlight Studios ramped up to 85 people to prep VFX shots for the stereo 3D conversion company for Titanic 3D.

Atlanta-based Dzignlight Studios (www.dzignlight.com) has been doing stereo 3D projects for more than 12 years. Beginning with a pharmaceutical trade show piece, the company has expanded its 3D client base, which now comes from many market sectors.

“We started our 3D work as a VFX/animation company and are now regularly integrated with production – the cameras and equipment required to shoot 3D. And we consult on projects to assess the pipeline from prepro to finishing and delivery because there’s a lot you need to be aware of in stereo 3D production,” says Dzignlight President Eric Deren.

Dzignlight has invested in camera support systems for compatibility with the RED cameras, Sony’s F35 and F23 and Canon EOS Mark II 5D and 7D. It also has devised a custom motion control system for stereo 3D, including time-lapse photography.

Clients include corporate giants such as Kia Motors, Shell and AGCO; several feature films; and a tourism spot, the latter 2D to 3D conversion for broadcast and cinema display. Dzignlight was one of about 10 vendors working on pieces of Titanic 3D last summer. “We did about 13 minutes, prepping VFX shots for the conversion company,” says Deren. “We ramped up to 85 people to accomplish that.”

Deren served as on-set 1st unit stereographer for The Amazing Spider-Man, due to hit screens in July. “I’d never been on a shoot with such a Dream Team of consummate professionals – it was a methodical, efficient set,” he recalls. The first 3D installment in the franchise was shot with RED Epic cameras and 3ality Technica camera rigs.

Deren was tasked with making per-shot creative decisions about how to capture the stereo elements and oversee the technical process. He was mindful to use 3D to support the story as well as the other shots in the sequence “whether they were shot the same day or at a different location a month later.”

Deren notes that some people “like to nail 3D as some sort of gimmick. A lot of times it’s used as that, but sound and color were considered gimmicks once. Many content producers are trying to integrate 3D in a creative way to tell a story; the more that happens the more 3D becomes part of the vocabulary of filmmaking.”

He reports that The Amazing Spider-Man does the franchise’s usual great job with the action sequences – now enhanced with 3D. But audiences also will see how 3D “helps them get into the story and experience the world of Peter Parker and Spider-Man. It makes the characters feel more real and human because you’re in the same space with them, and that’s more engaging.”

Currently, Deren is acting as stereoscopic VFX pipeline consultant for a stereo 3D IMAX film in production. Dzignlight has previous experience in the field with several different 3D IMAX productions, including the extreme sports feature, Human Flight 3D.

Dzignlight Studiosí Eric Deren on set with a hanging stereo 3D rig.
Dzignlight Studios’ Eric Deren on set with a hanging stereo 3D rig.

Splice Here Goes Out of This World for Space Junk 3D

In Minneapolis, Splice Here (www.splice.tv) edited the new 3D IMAX film, Space Junk 3D, which premiered earlier this year. The 38-minute film, directed by Melissa Butts of Melrae Pictures, explores the expanding ring of manmade debris that threatens our planet’s orbit.

Splice had edited Butts’ IMAX film 3D Sun several years ago and already had the SAN storage capacity and flexible workflows to take on the new project. “The 4K files were huge, and we had one set of images for each eye. We looked at over 750,000 frames, which took up about 30TB of space,” says Editor/Postproduction Supervisor Carl Jacobs.

  Debris field as depicted in the film, Space Junk 3D. | ©2011. All rights reserved. Space Junk3D, LLC
  Editor/postproduction supervisor Carl Jacobs of Splice Here, the media hub and creative edit house for Space Junk 3D, a stereo 3D IMAX film.

He says Splice acted as the “media hub” and creative edit house for Space Junk 3D. Lead designer Brian Olson created the end titles and the company’s VFX team supplied 3D VFX for the final shot of the picture, the live-action sequences of which were shot on 15-perf 70mm film.

Splice converted its 14-seat theater into a screening and edit room for the project, adding a large 3D plasma monitor and, later, 3D projection. Several outside vendors provided the stereo 3D animations, live-action and time-lapse elements. Any required adjustments were done ahead of time, so once Jacobs got the shots and dropped them in his timeline “we had 3D images ready to go. 3D did not drive the edit; it was mostly ‘prebaked.’ So I could concentrate on organizing the media, putting it together in the timeline and creating a comfortable environment for Melissa and [producer] Kim [Rowe] to fine tune it.”

Jacobs cut on Apple’s Final Cut Pro; the Splice VFX team used Autodesk Flame and Adobe After Effects. Olson employed MAXON CINEMA 4D to create the end titles’ text animation; he built a 3D camera environment in After Effects and CINEMA 4D for “dimensionalizing” the elements and composited them in After Effects.

Jacobs notes that editing for stereo 3D is a “very iterative process. You’re always looking at things, making adjustments, evaluating again, making more adjustments until things are exactly what you want. That’s one of the reasons that 3D takes a little longer. In some ways, IMAX 3D goes back to the roots of film editing when editors were examining each frame with an eye for detail. IMAX 3D requires a level of detail and scrutiny that 2D cinema doesn’t – after all, the frames are seen 70 feet tall!”

The original IMAX theaters have an unusual 4x3 display aspect ratio, “like an old TV set, but unbelievably huge,” says Jacobs. “We had to look at everything in several different ways: 4x3 for the IMAX 4K giant screens; 16x9 for the digital IMAX theaters; and 2D for the dome theaters where the center of interest is relatively far down the frame. All of our framing decisions had to work for all three formats.” A new version of Space Junk 3D for broadcast television will be coming up.

When Jacobs attended NAB 2012 “all the talk was about 4K – the coming tools for acquisition, editing and distribution,” he says. “But wait – we just did 4K and in 3D! We’re already doing what a lot of people are just thinking about.”

IMAX aerials of a meteor crater in Space Junk 3D, edited by Splice Here. | ©2011. All rights reserved. Space Junk3D, LLC.
IMAX aerials of a meteor crater in Space Junk 3D, edited by Splice Here. | ©2011. All rights reserved. Space Junk3D, LLC.

In A Place Post Dances to Bieber’s Tune

LA’s In A Place Post (www.inaplacepost.com) completed its first stereo 3D project late last year when it performed color correction and online editorial for the music video for Justin Bieber’s Christmas single, “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” released in conjunction with the animated feature, Arthur Christmas. The video gives a new twist to the classic tune with a Steampunk Santa’s workshop set full of break-dancing helpers and mechanical toys.

“We already had the software upgrade for our Quantel Pablo so we could work in stereo, and we had a stereo plasma monitor brought in,” says Dominique Martinez, one of the company’s owners and head of operations. “What’s always important for stereo is knowing the deliverables first then backtracking. Once we knew the DCP and digital deliverables, we could figure out the best way to handle the online and color.”

She notes that, “Pablo automatically outputs Left Eye/Right Eye digital files when it recognizes a stereo project. The only difference to our editor, Augustine Arredondo, was seeing Left Eye/Right Eye on two different tracks. It was like a normal online session with Left Eye/Right Eye synch. Everything was really seamless.”

Justin Bieberís music video of ìSanta Claus Is Coming To Town,î with stereo 3D postproduction by In A Place Post, inhabits a Steampunk Santaís workshop.
Justin Bieber’s music video of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” with stereo 3D postproduction by In A Place Post, inhabits a Steampunk Santa’s workshop.

Additional time was spent adding floating windows for the video’s theatrical release and convergence for all the deliverables. “DP Alice Brooks and director Charles Oliver were in session for color and the convergence geometry,” Martinez reports. “The director choreographed the video so he had stereo in mind for certain dance moves – they planned the choreography to work well in 3D.” Some toys were dimensionalized so they popped out of boxes.

Milton Adamou colored the video and did all the stereo work for the project. Brooks shot the music video with a pair of RED Epic cameras on a Helios stereo rig by ParadiseFX. Adamou used a REDlogFilm gamma curve and REDcolor as his color space. “REDcolor gives me a little more saturation in the ‘negative,’ which is better than adding it later on with the potential of introducing noise,” Adamou says in a blog post. “As usual, from here I established my base contrast and density level.”

To achieve the Steampunk look, he pushed toward a much cooler palette with varying degrees of blue. He settled on “a cool, shadowy image with glowing highlights and red costumes bleeding through. Our coolness didn’t come in the form of a blue tint, though. We simply added ‘white’ to the scene. Care was taken to ensure that the image didn’t feel ‘monochromatic’ by retaining enough color in the image,” he reports.

Stereo 3D gave new dimension to dance moves in the Justin Bieber music video, ìSanta Claus Is Coming To Town,î set in a Steampunk Santaís workshop and posted by In A Place Post.
Stereo 3D gave new dimension to dance moves in the Justin Bieber music video, “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” set in a Steampunk Santa’s workshop and posted by In A Place Post.

“Neutralizing the colors involved adding a ton of blue gain, as well as taking out blue points using printer lights. This got rid of the rusty tint, but left us with a desaturated image,” he explains. “From there I began sculpting, using a luminance key to select and suppress the shadows and low mid tones, which was also where the background fell.”

On the other end of the scale, Adamou used “a hi-con key to pick off the highlights and really bloom them, adding both gain and defocus.” For the red costumes and skin tones, he selected the upper range of reds and slowly eased them back into the picture, pushing the saturation a little further. “A final S-curve pulled it all together and gave the image more ‘snap,’” he says.

In A Place Post is slated for upcoming stereo 3D commercial and feature work. “Some clients are interested in converting classic big-brand commercials into stereo to test the market for 3D spots,” says Martinez. “We’re getting more and more calls every week. ‘Are you set up for 3D?’ ‘What do we have to do to prepare?’ I think we’re building to a good amount of work this summer and fall.”

Steele Studios Gets Graphic for 3net

  Steele Studios created a massive stereo 3D graphics package for 3net, the joint venture of Sony Corporation, Discovery Communications and IMAX Corporation.
  Steele Studios created a massive stereo 3D graphics package
for 3net, the joint venture of Sony Corporation,
Discovery Communications and IMAX Corporation.

For more than a year, the bulk of work done at Culver City, Calif.’s Steele Studios (www.steelevfx.com) has been in stereo 3D and much of it for 3net, the joint venture of Sony Corporation, Discovery Communications and IMAX Corporation, and the nation’s first and only fully programmed 24/7 3D network.

Steele Studios helped 3net assemble content for its debut in February 2011 and Jerry Steele, who co-founded the company with wife Jo, has been a consultant for the network’s stereo needs. Last November, Steele Studios designed, created, composited and delivered a massive on-air graphics package for the network, which comprised more than 60 elements from main logo opens and IDs to promotional and sponsored elements, interstitials, program opens and closes, and many other transitional and supplemental elements.

Steele Studios used bold geometrics in a blue palette, shot through with golden light, to convey 3net’s dynamic, forward-thinking position in the industry. “For these new graphics, we wanted to create really dynamic shapes that exaggerate depth, but at the same time, we were limited to a minimal [stereo] 3D depth and inter-axial distance. The way we could do this was to use really wide-angle lenses and shoot objects which we’d move only a few nanometers at a time,” Jerry says.

“We had crazy big lenses, giving us massive distortions, which allowed us to exaggerate depth and to ‘stage’ the 3D space appropriately. All the elements in the composite were ultimately shot with different sized lenses and then placed carefully within our limited space. We layered a combination of solid and amorphous objects, so that we could ‘bend’ the rules as needed to fit all our pieces in the composites.”

One of the biggest challenges, according to Jerry, was being “limited to the dimensional budget we could apply to 3D graphics for television. For the theater, the 3D cannot extend as far into the screen relatively as it can for TV; and for TV, the 3D cannot extend as far out of the screen as with movies. It is a result of the maximum positive divergence that the viewer can comfortably watch. We had to figure out a way to deliver interesting graphics which, when edited together, didn’t represent distracting convergence shifts, leading to eyestrain. In addition, the graphics had to be consistent and represent a norm that all the content around them could work with.”

Steele Studios created a massive stereo 3D graphics package for 3net, the joint venture of Sony Corporation, Discovery Communications and IMAX Corporation.

All the animations were crafted in CINEMA 4D, says Jo Steele, and finished in Quantel Pablo 4K, which boasts a suite of stereo tools. “We designed beautiful 3D stills that blew the network away,” she recalls. “But they thought they’d be impossible to animate. But by working back and forth in CINEMA 4D and Pablo we created something new and groundbreaking.”

Jerry notes that, “in creating these 3D animations, we made sure that the [stereo] 3D was emphasized and de-emphasized appropriately. It is important to create drama within the 3D and allow the impact to play out. Timing and content are controlled to give the viewer the chance to rest and then feel the extent of the [stereo] 3D again.”

Jerry Steele, co-founder of Steele Studios, which created the stereo 3D on-air graphics package for 3net.
Jerry Steele, co-founder of Steele Studios, which created the stereo 3D on-air graphics package for 3net.

Chris Williamson was the design and art director for the on-air package with CINEMA 4D artist Kurt Miller, and producer Mark Edwards.

Prior to 3net, Steele Studios had completed a number of stereo 3D projects, including “Waka Waka (This Time For Africa),” a music video starring Shakira created for the opening ceremony of the World Cup in South Africa. The company provided stereoscopic supervision, online, color correction, beauty effects, compositing, stereo 3D geometry, linearity and finishing for the video, which was seen by more than 1 billion viewers worldwide.

Jerry Steele also was online editor for Avril Lavigne’s stereo 3D music video, “What the Hell.” He was in charge of the 3D work and provided VFX, beauty work, color correction and finishing.

Nice Shoes used stereo 3D to enhance the visual storytelling in ìFound,î one of three, self-produced poetry pieces in its Verses series.
Nice Shoes used stereo 3D to enhance the visual storytelling in “Found,” one of three, self-produced poetry pieces in its Verses series.

Nice Shoes Gives Verses a New Dimension

New York City’s Nice Shoes (www.niceshoes.com) began developing a stereo 3D pipeline in 2009, prior to the success of Avatar, “simply because new technology and, particularly, how new technology impacts creative interests us,” says Creative Director Brian Bowman. Since then, the company has had a steady stream of stereo work, mostly with theatrical advertising and 2D to stereo 3D conversion, including a Friskies spot and a 3D broadcast spot for ESPN/Sony.

The first stereo project Nice Shoes created from start to finish, however, is a series of three, self-produced poetry/spoken word pieces called Verses. “It was a great experience,” says Bowman. “We were aiming for a heightened visceral experience using stereo as a medium that enhances visual storytelling. Adding depth to film adds a visual impact, of course. But we were curious if it could create an emotional connection with the audience as well.”

The three Verses are very different in their look and content. “Found,” about loss and possession, was inspired by words on a random piece of paper that Bowman, who directed and edited the video, found in a park. DP Rod Lamborn used a pair of RED cameras on a beam splitter rig to shoot the female talent on a black stage. Sets and environments – snowy mountains, planets, gently falling flower petals, a spider and its web, glowing columns of light, a rocky landscape – were created digitally.

Nice Shoes used stereo 3D to enhance the visual storytelling in ìFound,î one of three, self-produced poetry pieces in its Verses series.

Nice Shoes used stereo 3D to enhance the visual storytelling in ìFound,î one of three, self-produced poetry pieces in its Verses series.
Nice Shoes used stereo 3D to enhance the visual storytelling in “Found,” one of three, self-produced poetry pieces in its Verses series.

“Heartbreaker” features New York-based Trinidadian poet Rico Frederick performing his poem about lost love. The piece serves as a visual companion to the spoken word; Rod Lamborn shot Frederick on a black stage with lights and smoke atmospherics, which were used in the final composites. Nice Shoes built the digital city backdrop and replicated the poet in CG so he can ultimately fragment and dissolve into typography of his own words.

“Ginsberg” takes the form of an animated waveform generated from Beat poet Allen Ginsberg reading “In Back of the Real.” No traditional keyframes were used: The vibratory vocal tones combine with fractal algorithms to create the waveform effects. Camera animation created the shots in which Ginsberg’s spoken words appear as flowing threads and graceful spirals. Brian Bowman created the piece with Lucien Yang and Kit Lam.

Bowman explains that Nice Shoes has three pipelines for stereo 3D: Autodesk Flame, The Foundry’s Nuke and Adobe After Effects. “Flame works well for stereo conversion, Nuke is great with longer-format films than go beyond 30 seconds, and After Effects is still our tool of choice for motion design-oriented projects,” he says.

The challenge for Verses was “to be careful about underestimating a post pipeline: We had to create the film for both eyes, but then we had to also gauge depth with the eyes together,” he says. In terms of dimensionality, depth was chosen over foreground effects, and depth decisions were made on set with a stereographer.

“That’s the advantage of a beam splitter rig where you can set the depth as you are shooting,” he points out. “Of course, you can correct any mistakes in post, but the idea is that a conscious decision was made on set.”

Bowman believes that “stereo 3D is here to stay. Whether or not it is indeed the next evolution is yet to be determined. Regardless, it will have a place among the aggregate of media formats we are seeing right now, including mobile and interactive.”


May/June 2012 Table of Contents