3D filmmaking

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Stereographers are in demand, they have little time and the time they do have is highly valued. I first met Demetri at IBC this year during the showing of HUGO (see page XX) and we were fortunate enough to catch up with him again during a flight to LA where he was heading for the first stage of 3D post for 47 RONIN. His opinions on 3D filmmaking are respected the world over…over to you Demetri….
The ability to see an image is fundamental to cinema. The growth of 3D has been limited due to inconsistent brightness levels on world cinema screens, but the IBC exhibition in Amsterdam in Sept. 2012 proved there is a solution. Christie introduced a laser projector capable of projecting 3D films at 14 foot-lamberts, the full experience you would expect from a perfect 2D film viewing experience but with the splendor of 3D.
For myself, I saw Hugo as I had not seen it since bumping into the actors on the busy stages at Shepperton Studios. With the laser projector the film had a brilliance, I could see into the white’s of the actor’s eyes and connect with them whilst being immersed in the rich details of Dante Ferretti’s set design.
Today we grade our 3D films with the hope that soon audiences will see our work as it was meant to be seen. Indeed, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Dial M for Murder” which has just been digitally re-mastered and re-released this autumn could use a laser projection screening. When “Dial M” finally gets a laser screening I will personally wake up Mr. Alfred Hitchcock and invite him to see the exceptional 3D film the way it was meant to be seen. I will also congratulate him on having been 50 years ahead of his time in using the medium with appropriate taste and style for dramatic storytelling.
As with any emerging technology there are experiments and stumbling blocks along the way, fortunately, for this generation, many crude efforts such as the sexploitation 3D films of the 1970’s are behind us and master directors are taking 3D seriously.
We have seen the absolute mastery of the animated 3D film and the commitment of individuals such as Jeffery Katzenberg (Dreamworks Animation) which was massively influential in the exhibition market. We have incredible improvements in the ‘conversion process’ with the tremendous success of Marvel Studios projects such as ‘The Avengers’ or the re-release of ‘Titanic’ and even upcoming ‘Top Gun’ and ‘Jurassic Park.’ I celebrate the achievements of my friends in the ‘conversion’ business creating 3D that not only gives new films like ‘G.I. Joe’ a chance to turn their product 3D after the shoot (or even the fabulous Frankenweenie by Tim Burton). There is a library of films needing digital re-mastering and restoration and with the introduction of 3D a new audience may see them like never before. Audience can appreciate more 3D films and purchase their own 3D TV sets when more product is on the market, this means filmmakers will be encouraged to create new product and this keeps me on set shooting 3D with great artists.
However 3D is generated, is it not the norm? Is it not the way we see the world everyday? Was black and while film a compromise before colour? Was silent film a compromise before the talkies? Was 2D the compromise before 3D? This may not be a question for our generation so I will wait and ask again someday when my grandchildren take me to the cinema. We may convert old titles, we may also shoot 3D and convert some of our films as Michael Bay proved in a ‘hybrid’ model by shooting both digital 3D live and 2D with 35mm cameras on Transformers: Dark of the Moon. However we create the 3D content, if it is true to the story and respects the audience, then 3D will survive with this continued dedication. The craftsmen will be different; some will exhibit great courage and vision such as James Cameron and his dedication to 3D bringing us the groundbreaking Avatar.
Although I myself am a 3D cameraman, the on-set stereographer who fundamentally believes that in order to truly capture the volume of an object one should record it with dual cameras. I trust my two eyes to do this for me every day and I also trust that in recording the information with dual lenses in stereo we are respecting the audience with something physiologically accurate for brain recognition.
We are just learning the language of 3D filmmaking at the same time as the industry has taken huge steps to incorporate the new digital language into all aspects of film production. 3D and digital have simultaneously enabled each other and created a new landscape for the next generation of filmmakers.
Like Martin Scorsese said at the 2012 International 3D Awards in Los Angeles; “over a hundred years ago The Lumiere Bros. knew that they wanted sound for their pictures, they knew they wanted color, and they knew they wanted depth, and now I (Martin Scorsese) have all three.”
Recently there has been much debate about ‘how much 3D’ is good 3D. It is a question like asking how much color or how much music, but if it is a color film should it always be a color film, if it is a sound film should it be a sound film… and like the film Tron, which went from a 2D world into a 3D world, you can use your 3D depth for creative interpretation.
I really enjoy a ‘balanced’ 3D approach where depth makes a contribution to the film, like a good soundtrack does not distract or disappoint but adds something special.
Primarily I celebrate filmmakers who have courage, the courage to embrace change, to embrace technology, to take risks. The courage to take the 3D rig on location, onto the film set and employ a new aesthetic. Hitchcock did this in 1954 shooting native 3D. Today the world’s great directors are picking up where he left off, finding motivated 3D moments that do not exploit the gimmick and that find a new language. When Martin Scorsese wanted more 3D depth on Hugo, I would hear him calling me from across the film set saying, ‘Demetri, more pate Demetri, give me more pate.”
Ridley Scott has done it with ‘Promethius’ in another example of beautiful understated elegance. Wim Wenders showed that us with PINA 3D that it was only with the 3D capture that we could appreaciate the physicality of the dance performances of the famous Pina Bausch (check spelling), this tribute film is an achievement for the use of 3D outside fictional the storytelling as I expect David Attenborough’s documentary in the Gallapagos islands will be to educate us on creatures and life forms, such as giant turtles that we ourselves may never see up close in our own lifetimes. Why would you not want to witness these creatures in 3D?
Ang Lee has just given us ‘Life of Pi’ with a splendid rich 3D environment on the vast open ocean that is captivating and ferocious. It is an engrossing experience.
We await Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit,’ Baz Lurhman’s “The Great Gatsby” and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “The Young and Prodigious Spivet.” I fondly look forward to introducing a new generation to a classic Samurai tale incorporating fantastical 3D splendor in the upcoming “47 Ronin.”
So many great filmmakers have had the courage to pick up a 3D rig and capture 3D live on set. This has put the 3D tools directly into the hands of the director and cinematographer as they define and create their film. I know there will be others and I am excited about the next generation as they are growing up becoming immersed in 3D space as it is explored.
Recently many large companies have been advertising that converting a 2D film is cheaper. This is where I beg to differ. That is a rather bold statement. I recently spoke with a 3D friend involved with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. Not a big budget film, but a film that added 3D crew to their camera department and some 3D rigs and these costs came in well under a million dollars.
Indeed, my personal passion this summer with Jean-Pierre Jeunet was to prove that exceptional quality 3D images could be created on a film under 35 million. I believe planning is essential and that success and efficiency can be found in professionals with quality technologies.
I was very happy to hear Ridley Scott announce that shooting Promethius in 3D only added 8% to the budget of his film. Surely that was well worth it and I found it added an engrossing quality to the experience I would not have felt otherwise.
“Risks not taken are missed opportunities.”
Demetri Portelli is a freelance stereographer, stereo supervisor and 3D enthusiast.
He can be contacted through Mike Ruby at United Talent in Los Angeles.

Tags: iss072 | 3d | ridley scott | the hobbit | Martin Scorsese | hugo | 47 ronin | N/A
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