How to create high-quality 3D on a budget
This article first appeared in IF Magazine #147 (June-July 2012).
Indie filmmakers have always been amongst the first to embrace new, low-cost technology and stereoscopic filmmaking is no exception. While high-end 3D feature films still garner the bulk of attention, indie filmmakers are cobbling together prosumer equipment and using open-source software to create their own impressive brand of stereoscopy.
“There really is this democratisation of 3D cinema that’s happening now, particularly with the new prosumer and consumer cameras that make 3D more accessible,” LA-based filmmaker Erik Kurland said at this year’s NAB Show.
In recent years, Kurland has been working with OK Go, a popular American band that now produces all its music videos in 3D. It may seem a strange strategy given the extra production costs involved to reach a relatively niche 3D-viewing home audience. Not so, says Kurland.
“There is this transition going on with on-demand streaming and transmedia and indie filmmakers are embracing these 3D tools, producing content outside of the studio system.”
OK Go’s White Knuckles video – which features the band, 14 dogs and a goat, all captured in one continuous take – was shot in 3D. Kurland used two Canon point-and-shoot cameras shooting in 720P resolution at 30 frames per second, something the cameras were never designed for.
“I built a rig for them; I built a camera controller; I used a firmware hack that allowed me to have some semblance of synchronisation between the two cameras and essentially had the cameras inside a box that the dogs could jump over, shooting through a little porthole. We ran 124 takes of that; the one you saw was take 72.”
A second OK Go video, All is Not Lost, which Kurland also played in 3D at the NAB Show, featured some fancy moves by dance company Pilobolus. It was filmed with a Panasonic AG3D1A prosumer camera shooting into a 45-degree mirror pointed at a plexiglass stage where the dancers were performing.
“That actually gave me the distance that I would have needed to get from the performers’ feet to the lens and still be able to have a comfortable amount of parallax on the background,” said Kurland.
Both videos were shot in 3D for distribution on the Nintendo 3DS platform. There are now about 15 million such devices around the world and it is just one of a growing number of new consumer platforms for 3D viewing, alongside 3D media aggregators such as Yabazam, 3DeeCentral, Nvidia 3D Vision Lite, which licenses content to stream on 3D internet-enabled TVs, and YouTube.
YouTube launched an integrated 3D player last year, which can be set to stream 3D in multiple formats to different display types, while also providing an avenue to generate revenue for content creators through advertising.
The OK Go videos’ digital cinema packages (DCPs) were also created using free, open-source tools, which can be found at the Open Cinema Tools initiative. Visit the University of Southern California’s MxR Lab at projects.ict.usc.edu/mxr/diy for more information about how to build immersive and interactive application.