Shooting 3D

3D is coming, now also to Norway. I spent Saturday with graduating cinematographer Kristoffer Archetti, head teacher and cinematographer Kjell Vassdal and a slew of other experienced colleagues at Bislett Stadium, shooting Kristoffer’s final project at The Norwegian Film School with a couple of REDs and the STEREOTEC 3D-rig, recently brought to Norway by ULTIMAX 3D and director/cinematographer Morten Skallerud.

After spending 5 hours setting up and shooting the first setup, we gradually developed a more reasonable speed for moving the mirror-rig around. Fortunately we were shooting with only one focal length, effectively avoiding the half hour needed to recalibrate the setup after a lens change. (captured by my iPhone)

Stereoscopy isn’t as complicated as it might sound (ok, I’m a liar), but you would want to have a dedicated specialist on set dealing with interocular distances and convergence, making sure everything turns out right and nobody gets physically ill while watching it. When shooting convergent (opposed to parallel), you decide what you want to have actually “on” the screen by angling the cameras towards each other, like your eyes do. Objects in front of your convergence point will stretch out towards the audience, while objects behind will appear to, well, stretch out behind the screen. Interocular distance then in relation with convergence angle is used to pinpoint the convergence point, and decide how drastic the effect should be.

Because of this, you also have to decide what is the largest screen you are shooting for. If you want to have maximum impact on a TV screen, you won’t be able to screen your film in cinemas. And vice versa, Avatar for instance won’t be as spectacular on a 3D TV because it’s shot for the big screen with a more modest effect. (They might be able to adjust this in post somehow, seeing as so much of it is made digitally.) In other words, you really do want to bring a skilled professional to help you deal with these issues and make good choices for your project.

Morten Skallerud at his control station, always calculating and making notes (captured by John Einar Hagen)

Stereoscopy is all about tricking the eyes and brain into seeing something you know simply is not real. When inside this illusion you have to take great care not to throw your audience out of the experience, causing discomfort, illness or even pain.

For this project we shot all the setups with a locked interocular distance and convergence angle, and calculated a depth of field that allowed us to keep focus static as well. For most drama purposes you would need a motor on your rig to move the cameras during a take, as well as a wireless follow focus that could control both cameras at once (Avatar used this).

An issue that showed up on our set was matching the UltraPrimes to create identical pictures. Even though these are professional lenses, they had a slightly different distortion, possibly creating a bit of extra work in post. Apparently, Master Primes are recommended, and I guess you should avoid using even cheaper lenses in a setup like this.

It remains to be seen how many Norwegian films will attempt to use this old but new technology, but there certainly was not a lack of interest. Several producers and other filmmakers dropped by the shoot, and The Norwegian Society of Cinematographers is already planning a workshop after the summer. Keep your eyes open for the first Norwegian 3D drama coming to a movie theater some time soon.

Kristoffer Archetti (captured by John Einar Hagen)

Two eyes (captured by John Einar Hagen)