Y’know… last week I was asked the innocuous question ‘so what’s it like to shoot in 3D’ , which is something that honestly I hadn’t been asked before. I spent a lot of time talking about the 3D, and certainly working on the 3D, but hadn’t really thought too much about the differences in shooting a 3D film vs. a 2D film.
In short, it’s a whole lot mo’ complicated.
But that’s a very simple answer to a much larger question.
First off, you have two cameras. In our case two SONY EX 3’s… Then you have ‘the Rig’, which is this ginormous contraption that these two camera’s mount to. In said ‘Rig’ is a mirror that these two cameras shoot into. The idea is that the two cameras roughly mimic the average distance between each of our eyes, and thusly referred as ‘Left Camera’ and ‘Right Camera’. When projected, the notion is to have a different lens for each of those eyes via glasses (polarized or the two-colored anaglyph) so the light from the left camera reaches the left eye, and light from the right camera reaches the right eye – and then your brain does the rest. At least that’s the theory.
So practically, you have a rig that, to my eye, looks like a Volkswagen bus on a tripod with two very expansive cameras joined together by a very expensive and delicate mirror in the middle of a windy, misty sandpit. Oh, and I also am prone to trip over things like very expensive cameras joined together by very expensive and delicate mirrors, so I made it my practice to stay as far away from the behemoth as possible. The camera dept. gave me a nice comfy plastic patio chair, near video village, faaaaar away from the recording action.
Parke and our 3D Rig
The first impression of said behemoth was when it, and our Stereographer Andrew Parke, arrived on location. I clamored down a flight of stairs to see Andrew, Bob Fiske and Joe Gabriel, our camera guys, standing in a semi-circle around it, rubbing their chins, looking like they just snarffed an oil drum of bad chowder. Apparently the thing weighed 65 pounds and would make mince metal out of our steadycam.
Now keep in mind that in the weeks prior, the question of exactly how we were to shoot in 3D was very much in the forefront of our minds. It’s not for lack of preparation – I had spent the last three months before shooting meticulously storyboarding using GI Joe action figures (Yes, I said GI Joe action figures – but I’ll save that little diddy for later), but we were getting so many differing views of what would, or wouldn’t fly in 3D that we were going a little buggy.
Here’s the thing, bad 3D causes motion sickness, and apparently, Good 3D causes box office returns to the tune of Avatar. Or at least something like that.
But there was a legitimate concern that our 3D NOT make our viewers sick, so Joe, Bob and myself cracked open the books, asked our friends and perused the interweb to see if anybody had any insight on what would, or wouldn’t keep our happy viewers from lurching in the isles.
And wouldn’tchaknowit, like most data on the interweb, a lot of that information was contradictory. Which was both good and bad. Obviously we had little information to go on – so honestly it did feel cool to be on the cutting edge in a, ‘boldly-going-where-no-indie-sci-fi-flick-has-gone-before’, kinda way. But on the other hand, it was a bit of a Hail Mary (like how I mix football and sci-fi metaphors) in that we weren’t necessarily certain that our finished product would make our audience’s eyeballs pop out like a Tex Avery cartoon.
So now I have a camera the size of the Death Star in a medium that, if done incorrectly, could cause nausea, vertigo and lumbago for all I know, except we had no idea what ‘incorrectly’ was.
As production neared, we
assigned various code names to the shooting style of various scenes. ‘This is a Sergio Leone scene’, or
‘It’s David Lean’ – anything to try and wrap our minds around our technical
limitations. “How do you handle a
long dialogue scene in 3D?’ So Joe downloaded Avatar on his iPhone. ‘How do you get a lot of tension when
you can’t really move the cameral all that much?’ Let’s borrow our make-up
guy’s prized copy of ‘The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly’. DVD’s were inserted, paused, rewound
and ejected. Heads were
In the end, (as it always does) it came down to two things; people and their skills. Andrew, our Stereographer, was an invaluable resource to us who joined us in the very nick of time. Andrew is a ‘done it all, seen it all’ type-o Hollywood guy, so I definitely felt like I had to earn his respect. That said, he’s also an adventurous spirit and encouraged us to play to our visual strengths and always offered solutions to whatever problem we were facing. I don’t think I ever heard him utter ‘You can’t do that in 3D’ once – and for that I am eternally greatful. Joe Gabriel, our DP took the ball and ran. Always capitalizing on what we learned the day before, constantly pushing the limits of what we could do, while still keeping his sharp eye on the pretty pictures. And then there’s Bob… Bob Fiske has been one of my best friends for about twenty years now. Bob is a relentless tinkerer and talented gizmo-iste. Bob designed and built the in-helmet lighting and sound rigs and a ton of other nifty gadgets that saved our bacon. He eventually figured out a way to hoist our 65-pound rig into the air via a contraption aptly called ‘The Bob Pod’.
Bob and the Bob Pod in action!
So what was it like to shoot in 3D?
The camera rig was huge. So we had to invent creative ways to move the dern thing, and when we did, it took us more time to do so. Even to zoom in for a close up, we’d have to re-frame and recalibrate both cameras, and that took more time. There are considerations on which lenses you can use, how the perceived depth of one image cuts with an other, so not only are we composing to fit a horizontal frame, but also into it. So now we are stacking the image, playing textures, so the costumes now have to be redesigned to better accommodate… We did camera tests, convergence tests, tests on tests…
So, as I type this, I flash back to all the waiting, all the finagling that we did during the shoot and the next question comes to mind; was it worth it?
Well, I always wanted ‘Shockwave, Darkside’ to be an immersive, dynamic trip to the lunar surface. The moon is such a character in the story that I felt like I would be doing it and myself a disservice if it was treated otherwise, so from a story-telling device the 3D made sense. But that notion did little comfort when the weight of the behemoth broke the first version of the Bob Pod at about one in the morning during one of our shoot nights…
Was it worth it…?
At the end of the camera was a cable. Connected to that cable was a large monitor. In front of that monitor was me. On set, that’s where you would usually find me camped out, in that plastic patio chair, a pair of paper anaglyph 3D glasses either on my face or sticking out of my ski cap (did I mention that it was cold).
We’d set up the shot, get the actors in, rehearse it a few times, put their helmets on, I’d put my glasses on, the crew would hush and I’d yell action…
Then I’d try to imagine myself in a movie theater. I’d try to push the cold away, or the pressures of schedule, or the first rays of sunlight that would inevitably encroach over the horizon and try, with all my might, to put myself in the shoes of a viewer, who’s never seen this movie before and has now idea as to what will happen.
And often times, it was the 3D that sucked me in. It let me see the movie in a way that I never could, or even hoped to. In front of me, the moon, my characters were living, breathing things. Not things that we created or manufactured, but… something to get lost in. And I smiled. I smiled because I knew at that moment, we were doing something that not many people on this planet were doing, I smiled because we were pulling it off, in spite of all of the hurdles and machinations we were making it work.
And I smiled because it was just so damn fun.