In this article from the Stereoscopic 3D issue of The Creative COW Magazine, Bernie Laramie, co-founder of Stereoscope, discusses rigs and stereoscopic hardware used in creating high-end 3D movies.
After I worked on James Cameron's "Aliens of the Deep," an IMAX 3D production, I became interested in 3D myself. When my friend Jeff Pierce said that he was interested in putting that kind of a company together, it was really just a question of how we were going to take advantage of the opportunity we saw coming.
Jeff has a great creative background, and he has a good tactical sense of how to make things work. I thought that my experience as a producer made a good combination to marry together, so we founded Stereoscope as a production company, to create 3D content.
We are a new company in the 3D world, around a year old, which means that quite a few of our projects have not yet been released. We've also been doing 3D post, both for ourselves and others. Our experience has shown us that 3D workflow has to begin in the planning stages, and proceed from there into shooting.
The studio we set up for our own 3D shooting has also become a testing facility that other filmmakers are using. One aspect of testing is a little abstract, to try to understand what 3D is capable of. There is also more project-by-project testing. Here is the movie I want to make, now how do I do it in 3D? Or, how will 3D shooting work underwater, or for motion control, or for high-speed shooting? Finding these answers represents a growth curve for all of us - for them as film makers, and for us as a production services company, trying to help them achieve their vision.
We have seen that there are still only a few companies making anything specifically to serve the rapidly growing 3D community. Combine that need with the very, very fast evolution of camera technology, and you have a healthy environment for creating some dramatic new stuff.
Lately, we have focused on the use of new smaller rigs. We are especially excited about the work we have been doing with the tiny Iconix cameras. They're under two inches, and can actually shoot up to 2K, and other resolutions that are a long way from most of the smaller cameras before this, which have mainly been used for security monitoring.
Above, "Air Race 3D." Below, a rugged, miniature rig for a project we can't tell you about.
We are now beginning to see an entire line of smaller cameras coming out. We're currently working with one from Toshiba, the IK-HR1S HD, and one from the German research firm, Fraunhoffer, called the Cumina. The size for all of these is typically only an inch or two in any dimension, and they allow us to make very small stereo rigs for POV, or that can fit into extremely tight quarters.
We have just started an IMAX project called "Air Race 3D." It will follow people on the Warbird racing circuit, the old P-51 Mustangs. Rigs built using these small cameras will get us into the cockpit, underneath the dashboard, and other very tight places. They will allow a cool new visual approach that has seldom been done before in IMAX, really opening up an entire new world.
We also have a beam-splitter system wrapped into a comfortable handheld unit, but we are going in other directions as well. Prism systems look like lots of smoke and mirrors, but they can be a simple way to get 3D in small spaces.
We use two cameras that are looking at each other. A very high quality prism splits the image, so that we have a full stereo HD setup in about two inches of space. This is one of the ways that we will be able to shoot HD from, say, underneath foot pedals, behind the joystick, and so on.
Periscope systems work something like a standard periscope, only with two mirrors for the two cameras, providing a 3D view as they look out into the world. They are ideal for situations where the camera needs to come from underneath the dashboard, or behind the airplane's cowl.
We have also been playing with the Vision Research Phantom 65. It is most known for its ability to shoot at very high speeds for very smooth slow motion, but it's an exciting camera for us because we can capture its full 4K uncompressed signal to a stereo pair of 2K images - with a single camera, and a single lens.
We have developed a mirror system for this, called Narcissus. There are four mirrors in front of the lens. The lens looks directly at two mirrors, and those mirrors in turn look at two other mirrors. We segment this in post to wind up with two 2K streams from that single 4K sensor in that single camera.
While beam splitter rigs used on many current major 3D productions have worked well, they have a few major issues: they are big, use two cameras, and lose at least one f-stop of light loss.
With the Narcissus rig and a few of our other mirror/prism rigs, we knew we were going to be shooting in a high stress environments, in limited space and at frame rates up to 1050fps. At these frame rates you need a lot of light, and unlike the beam splitters, our mirror/prism designs have virtually no light loss through the system. We have used our Phantom65/Narcissus rig on a Steadicam at 144fps, and been very pleased with the results.
The other major advantage is using a single camera and a single lens to make the whole rig more compact. We also eliminate much of the variation between "eyes" seen in an image captured in a dual camera system.
We have already used this on a project called "Rally Around the World," an IMAX film on competitive road rallying. The rig is built to military specifications, so, even though it includes four mirrors, it is very rugged, not delicate at all. We have put the camera on the car, on the bumper, wherever we want. Even though there are high g-forces and tremendous vibrations, the mirrors allow us to easily control the 3D depth while we are shooting.
Above, SpectSoft 3D Live, monitoring dual timecode, and 3D display optimized for DLP.
RECORDING AND MONITORING
We record to a number of different devices. One we have used quite a bit is the Rave from SpectSoft, a VTR replacement that records up to 4:4:4 2K. It also has a dual I/O that allows us to record both streams to a single unit. Since these little Iconix cameras we use have optical fiber out, we can tuck the Rave in a remote area far away from the cameras, and record straight from the CCDs.
We have also used the Codex portables, as well as something from a really cool manufacturer, FFV (Fast Forward Video). They make a small, almost shirtpocket recorder called the Elite HD. It has HD-SDI out of a two and a half inch hot-swappable SATA drive that records J2K at 100 Mbits/second.
Of course, it helps to see what you're recording. We wanted a more efficient way to monitor and adjust both cameras in a stereo rig, which is why we started working with SpectSoft's 3D Live.
Testing in the Stereoscope studio.
We can preview and control the elements that are critical to proper shooting, such as interocular and convergence adjustments, one eye or the other, or - what's unique - both together.
3D Live gives us the ability to know that the shots we are getting are going to be usable in post while we're still shooting.
Remote recording to Codex drives.
Even if we choose to keep rolling and not to do a lot of convergence and interocular adjustments at the time, we can add notes to the metadata about what we're seeing during the shoot, and use that metadata in post.
(The critical part of our 3D post is the Quantel Pablo 4K. We also use Avid DS Nitris for editorial, some Final Cut Pro, and some motion graphics systems.
The Iconix HD-Rh1: 1.32"x1.5"x1.92" and weighs 2.5oz. This model shoots up to 1080/60 in both interlaced and progressive. The Iconix Studio2K is the same size.
Although I can't tell you the specifics of the project itself, I can tell you about one of the rigs we've recently developed for a government project: a 2D rig that combines eight Iconix cameras for shooting 360 degrees.
The individual cameras are about one inch by two inches, so the entire 8-camera rig is only about six inches wide. I can hold it in my hand! We are now in the finishing stage of post for the first project we shot with it.
We are also just starting on a 3D movie called "Dance Machine," a rather ambitious project featuring many, many kinds of dancing. It will be an all-location shoot - in Roswell, New Mexico - and will feature several of the small, rugged rigs I've mentioned. If we were doing something like a Hannah Montana 3D concert, we would go with a full-sized camera like the Sony F900 or F950. Our goal here, though, is to be able to go handheld, or placed into extremely tight quarters.
High-speed stereo shooting with the Vision Research Phantom, fitted with Stereoscope's Narcissus. This allows a stereo pair of 2K images to be captured to Phantom's single 4K sensor.
We are also working on a direct-to-DVD movie on belly dancing, as well as a 14-episode web series called "Stacks." The immediate plan is to publish it on You- Tube in 3D. We're not sure, but we think that this will be the first 3D webisode series.
Moving forward, there are two big headlines. The first is that, despite hard economic times, we are seeing widescale adoption of 3D theaters. We will see much more expansion, especially outside the US.
The main focus now is obviously and correctly on theaters. We have a reliable environment where people can distribute the content they are creating. However, that same opportunity is about to present itself in the home. Since Jeff and I both had backgrounds in television, we knew from the beginning that this was going to be the key push for our talents.
We are obviously just now at the beginning of that, both for the distribution of theatrical movies and for the creation of original programming. There are still only a few million 3D television sets out there, and we are just now in the specification stage for production and delivery standards.
Our experience is that creating 3D content for all of these platforms is a case of using integrated technologies, across the entire workflow. It is not solely dependent on camera rigs, or special post processes. It begins with testing, where producers can work through some of the details of how they will approach the shoot, and how they will work all the way through post.
The key is to remember to look at the big picture.
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Los Angeles, California USA
Bernie is Stereoscope's co-founder and COO. He has been a producer for more than 30 years, for such series as "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," "Dark Skies," and "Profiler." He was the post supervisor for "Max Headroom," and a design consultant to Lucasfilm's Droidworks for the creation of the Editdroid NLE, released in 1984. Bernie is also a member of the Producer's Guild, the Director's Guild, the Editor's Guild, and SMTPE.