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The Director’s Chair Issue #119 – June 5, 2011 (3‐D Beyond the Cameras)

Free Monthly Ezine for Film and Television Directors
June 5, 2011                Scene 12 – Take 6
=======================================================Published once a month.Publisher: Peter D. Marshall
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1. Introduction
2. Two Bonuses for Subscribing to The Director’s Chair
3. How to Unsubscribe from The Director’s Chair
4. FEATURE ARTICLE: 3‐D Beyond the Cameras
5. Write an Article for The Director’s Chair
6. Subscriber Shameless Self-Promotion
7. Links of Interest
8. Blog – Film Directing Tips
9. Filmmaking Workshops
10. Product Promotion and Film Workshops
11. Suggestions and Comments
12. Share this Ezine
13. Reprint this Ezine
14. Copyright Information

1. Introduction

Welcome to Issue #119 of The Director’s Chair June 5, 2011

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2) Feature Article – The feature article this month is called
“3‐D Beyond the Cameras” by Melanie Ilich. The advent of
high‐end digital cinematography has brought 3‐D to a new
level, however, many people in the film industry don’t fully
understand it, and the studios’ only interest in it seems to
be for added box office. What they haven’t recognized is 3‐D’s
full potential. (Read full article below.)

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4. FEATURE ARTICLE: 3‐D Beyond the Cameras

“3‐D Beyond the Cameras” by Melanie Ilich

The advent of high‐end digital cinematography has brought 3‐D
to a new level, however, many people in the film industry
don’t fully understand it, and the studios’ only interest in
it seems to be for added box office. What they haven’t
recognized is 3‐D’s full potential.

Today’s filmmakers have a powerful new tool to tell their
stories. It’s the understanding of this tool, and how it
involves the psychological and emotional response of the
viewers, that can turn an average 3‐D movie into an emotional
experience and a thrilling adventure.

Most everyone knows 3‐D is produced by sending two 2‐D images
to your brain, one for the left eye and one for the right eye.
What not everyone understands, however, is how your brain
actually fuses the two images and the emotional impact it can
have on an audience. What you don’t want to do is force the
brain to see 3‐D; you’ll harm the audience. What you do want
to do is trick the brain into perceiving 3‐D. It can be,
literally, “smoke and mirrors”.

Fifteen years ago when I started in the film industry, I had
no clue this is where technology was evolving to. Through some
great contacts and some open doors, I was able to work on the
advancement of digital entertainment technology in the heart
of Hollywood. My background in Visual Effects and Motion
Control lead me to be involved with finding Metadata solutions
for Star Wars: Episode 3. Following that I was able to launch
the first digital HD 4:4:4 cameras on behalf of Sony and
Thomson/Grass Valley for Michael Mann (Collateral & Miami
Vice), David Fincher and others.

With this new knowledge base, I was able to work with the
handful of people in the film industry, including Peter
Anderson, A.S.C., Steve Schklair (Cobalt / 3ality Digital) and
Josh Greer (Real‐D), who were pushing the advent of new,
digital 3‐ D technology ‐ from the first stereoscopic sporting
events (NFL Playoffs and NFL Superbowl to the Max 3‐D), to
live concerts (U2 IMAX 3‐D, Michael Jackson’s “This is It”
tour), to feature films (Journey to the Center of the Earth).

As a result of these experiences I was able to develop 3‐D
camera systems built specifically for Visual Effects that
employed new digital cameras such as Sony’s F‐23 and F‐35, and
also to build a complete turn‐key 3‐D solution which major
manufacturers were requesting for concerts and live broadcast,
and which required very little set‐up time and very little
image realignment or image correction in post.

The rig could be tethered to SRW tape machines or could
operate with hard drive solutions mounted on board. It also
had manual over‐rides on all the I/O and C controls
(inter‐occular and convergence) so, even if the electronics
failed during a shoot, the rig could be operated manually and
you could still get your shots.

Knowing what makes good 3‐D technology is not the end of the
story, however. It is the beginning. Knowing what makes a good
3‐D movie is the real key here.

Through the process of working with and / or designing and
developing over 7 different 3‐D camera systems, I’ve learned
more about the biological, psychological and emotional
responses of the audience to 3‐D imagery. Medical studies have
shown that human beings learn more quickly when they’re taught
in 3‐D. Other studies have indicated that the pain thresholds
of burn victims may be increased when they’re watching 3‐D
imagery while their dressings are being changed. The military
uses 3‐D simulators during training for soldiers and pilots to
more fully familiarize them with the environments they’ll be
working in.

When 3‐D is well done, your brain believes you are much more
involved with your environment, therefore your emotional
responses, be they positive or negative, are heightened. As a
result, directors now have a new tool at their disposal to
draw audiences into the story. And DP’s / Stereographers have
a new tool to help bring the director’s vision to life.

However, not all movies need or should be 3‐D. And just
because a movie is 3‐D, doesn’t mean it’s good 3‐D.

Good 3‐D vs bad 3‐D. What makes it work?

Z‐Space and Emotional Depth Cues

Students of directors from (J.J. Abrams to Robert Zemeckis)
Hitchcock to Spielberg know that understanding Z‐space allows
a director to add emotional emphasis by extending or
collapsing the depth of a scene through camera placement, lens
choices, placement of characters and objects, and camera moves
such as the famous “zoom out, dolly in” to heighten an
audiences’ sense of fear, anxiety, suspense, wonder or

All of that applies in 3‐D as well, however it’s important to
know that during the first 5 minutes of the movie, you’re
training the audiences’ brains what to expect in terms of
depth for the next 2 hours. If you shoot in a shallow depth
for an hour and then switch to a deep Z‐axis series of shots,
the audience won’t see or perceive the greater depth because
you’ve already trained them the world is shallow. Even if it’s
only the opening titles, there needs to be a shot or two that
employ the maximum depth your audience can expect along the

Additionally, the use of Z‐space in 3‐D should impact the way
various departments carry out their work. This summary is by
no means exhaustive, but here some of the things filmmakers
should keep in mind:

1. Directing

Citizen Kane was the best 3‐D movie ever made in 2‐D. By
understanding perspective and layering, you’re able to add
different visual cues to the scene which elicit emotional
responses. You can use ZSpace blocking to literally emphasize
emotional space or distance between your characters. And the
“God’s eye view” becomes even more of a “God’s eye view”.

Since your main character is usually in focus, some people
think you should lock your convergence point to your focus
point to keep your main character at the screen plane, however
consistently doing so may give your audience eye strain
because you’re forcing divergence onto your audience and
forcing them to work harder to fuse the 2 images (left eye,
right eye).

It also creates boring 3‐D. Adjusting convergence and I/O
maintains comfortable viewing, and having actors walk through
the convergence point / screen plane feels more natural and is
more interesting. Additionally, having your characters move in
and out of the convergence point gives you another story
telling tool.

Note: There are circumstances where locking convergence to
focus can work, but not always. Knowing when and when not to
is important. Also, space relations and visual cues are
important. If you’re shooting a 3‐D scene in a cave, there
needs to be a person or an object in the cave that we know the
size of so our brain understands how to interpret how big the
cave is.

This presents additional challenges when shooting large
objects like aircraft. The temptation may be to have the plane
fly out over the audience, however, going for the “wow factor”
can be tricky. You can’t pull an airplane off the screen
because your brain knows a plane is a massive object. When you
pull it off the screen, it’s suddenly flying over the audience
instead of in the sky and your brain tells you it’s a toy, not
a real plane.

2. DP

Just as choosing the proper lenses is important, so is
choosing the proper inter‐occular, the distance between your
lenses. Long lenses compress space. To overcome that
compression and put more depth back into a scene, DP’s should
increase the inter‐occular distance between the lenses. You
need to be aware, though, that if pushed too far in the wrong
environment, the increased inter‐occular can also result in
miniaturization of people and objects so they don’t appear
properly related to the surrounding environment.

Lighting is also different when working in 3‐D. Lighting
should be used to enhance the depth cues the director wants to
impart into each scene. More critical is light loss caused by
the beam‐splitter glass ‐ as much as One Stop. This is one of
the reasons why some viewers have been critical of 3‐D movies
as too “dark”.

It’s also critical to understanding how the left and right eye
images are fused together during playback and / or projection.
During display, when viewed through polarized lenses, it’s
difficult to eliminate 100 percent of the image from the
“other eye”. The result is a double image, or ghosting, a
problem particularly inherent when shooting high contrast

TRON had a lot of high contrast scenes and did a lot of “ghost
busting””in post production to try to eliminate the double
images. Different lighting techniques in 3‐D can eliminate
ghosting by balancing contrast so your eyes can fuse the 2
images. Is ghosting okay? Sure, you can ghost. Is it
distracting? Most viewers would say “yes”. Understand the
limitations of 3‐D display and compromise where you need to in
order to get the images you want.

Two more issues related to display are Dominant Eye &
Key‐Stoning. Most people have a dominant eye. Dominant Eye is
also inherent in beam‐splitter technology. Historically, the
reflected eye has always been softer than the direct
transmitted eye. To overcome the dominant eye issue, I’ve
struggled over the years to get the reflected eye image as
sharp as possible. What we’ve learned is your brain averages
out the 2 images, so you can get away with a little softer
image in the reflected eye. But not too much. Out of focus is
still out of focus. And soft is still soft.

Key‐Stoning results from converging images. Cameras on a
converging 3‐D rig are not parallel. You’re not superimposing
2 images directly onto each other ‐ they cross or “converge” at
some point, resulting in details at one or both sides of the
3‐D image being slightly squished. Your eyes have some
naturally inherent key‐stoning anyway, so your brain will
average this out and it’s not a big deal if it’s not too
extreme. It’s tougher for the guys who have to work on the CGI
and visual effects because their work will have to correspond
to the Key‐Stoning effect, or they’ll have to un‐keystone it
in post.

3. Camera Operator

If you’re working in a tight space and don’t have room for a
camera rig, or the sun is setting and you don’t have time to
set your I/O and C, or you’re shooting an explosion or a crash
likely to damage a camera rig, understand when a 2‐D shot can
be used. Due to the phenomena of Persistence of Vision, your
brain will continue to see 3‐D for a few seconds. Your brain
has an amazing ability to “fill in the blanks”, the 3‐D
information, and see what it wants to see. The brain will hold
onto a 3‐D moment even though they’re seeing it in 2‐D.

When it comes to camera moves, think back to the days of the
long Master Shot. From a story telling perspective, longer
camera moves ‐ dollys, cranes, etc are more organic and give
more information for the audience to absorb, as well as giving
the audience time to absorb it.

4. Editor

More on the subject of long takes vs fast cuts. Though 3‐D
loves long takes, we obviously live in a world where fast cuts
are the norm, especially for the action, thriller and fantasy
genres. Fast cuts within a scene are perfectly okay as long as
your Z‐space is consistent so the audience isn’t being forced
to constantly re‐fuse images that are near and far and near

Z‐space bouncing all over the map is a chief cause of the
dreaded “3‐D headache” we’ve all heard about. Inconsistent
Z‐space will rip your eyes out of your head. Obviously Z‐space
can be different from scene to scene, however, good
transitions make it easier on your audience.

There are two ways to handle this issue. One is to shoot your
whole movie at one depth, which is usually very bland and,
perhaps, boring.

Or…Take the movie to whole new level. Create a “Depth
Script” and plan your Z‐space and transitions for every scene
in advance during pre‐production. This is when the director
will want to plan the emotional beats and depth cues as well.

Melanie Ilich is a 3‐D and Digital Work‐Flow Consultant for
various Hollywood Studios and Production Companies.
E‐mail her at mailto:Melanie@MT2ent.com

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7. Links of Interest

1) SXSW Showcases Rise of Multiplatform Storytelling and
Collaborative Filmmaking

2) A little creativity turned pirate into profit

3) As Internet video grows, offline TV business still alive

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