Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Getting into 3D Stereo Compositing

Anachrome optical diopter glasses.
Image via Wikipedia
3D Stereo compositing has been on the lips lately of everyone I've talked to, specifically conversions from 2-D to 3-D.  I can't name names, but  if you're at all awake right now, you'll know that 3-D stereo films are having a big comeback since it's Golden Age in the early 1950's (well before my time).  I'm confident and hopeful that this time, 3-D films are here to stay, and 3-D TV is coming up fast.

I'm sure many others have had experiences touching "3-D" now and then over the years. It's been interesting watching the development of 3D and I'm really excited to see it taking tinseltown by storm.

My first ventures into "3-D" were as 3d Supervisor at The Post Group in the mid 1980's.   We were early pioneers of digital paint and compositing and 3d-CGI, using such tools as the Aurora, Paint Box, Harry, Mirage, Bosch and Wavefront.  My colleague and friend Evan Ricks ( Big American Films, Shanghai, China) did a couple of still renderings using Wavefront so I jumped in and did some too.  Not having a market for our new skills, and faced with lots of production deadlines we left it at that.  I worked on Disney's Captain Eo,  but my contributions were non-stereographic titles.  Nonetheless, I liked the show and was glad to have a small association. 

Around this time I saw Lamont Johnson's Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone with Molly Ringwald (1983).  Interesting film, but the 3D gave me horrific eyestrain and a major headache --as I recall I had to leave the theater.  (I've since learned this could have been a projection issue.)

A few years later my friend and employer Chris Mitchell at Atomix tapped me to help revise some CGI work done for a stereographic ride film, I forget the name, but it had something to do with space.  I met the great stereographer, Peter Anderson at this time.  Our project was delivered in anamorphic D1, and to view it we used a mirror rig that fit over the monitor, with the images side by side (and rotated as I recall).  Later I did a small project, again with Chris and Peter,Marlboro 500.  This was live action and I designed some visual effects which were composited.  Another artist did some Houdini CGI and I added Wavefront smoke effects and composited the job in Composer.  I missed a chance to work again with Peter on the Cirque du Soleil IMAX film Journey of Man due to scheduling conflicts to my deep regret.

With my renewed interest in 3-D as a professional, I decided I should augment my practical knowledge with a little book-time I can as fast as I can.  Myeb search took me straight to WIKIPEDIA; this has been a great source of general information.  I suggest if you have any interest in 3-D, and don't know words like stereopsis,  horopter, convergence, you head over to wiki-land right away for a little R-n-R.  (Reaserch and Reading)...  Their article on 3-D films provides a great primer on the history and development of 3-D....

The first color 3-D feature was Bwana Devil, the story of the man eating lions of Tsavo, East Africa.  [This story was redone as a 2-D film starring Michael Douglas and Vil Kilmer and in 1996 as The Ghost and The Darkness--I had the pleasure of working on this film as a senior compositor for Sony Pictures Imageworks. VFX Supervised by my friend Stuart Robertson]

The talk is about stereo 3-D today, as I said before.  My trip to India was all about preparing artists in Mumbai use Nuke for stereographic 2-D to 3-D conversion (Isa Teaches NUKE in India).  I've since talked to several companies about their conversion projects.

I  saw Clash of The Titans, mainly to see the quality of the stereo conversion done for that film.  I took along a large group of highly trained movie and vfx critics (my family and a few friends), and all of us were delighted with the action, visuals, effects and found the 3-D worked fine.  The original film is one we enjoyed, so I expected no less with this remake.  A few scenes with really fast motion were hard to follow the action, but I've seen the same problem in 2-D films, so I can't join the chorus of published critics who coed about these scenes.  Because the film was shot well for 2-D, the standard depth cues in the shots were there, and they tended to be stronger than the 3-D most of the time.  The film also employed standard DOF blurring, light fall-off and haze, so the visuals were pretty rich.  Watching the film, I was reminded that good 3d space starts with staging, lighting and the use of traditional depth cues.  3-D is the icing on the cake.  I intend to see Alice in Wonderland next to compare the 3-D conversion results.

 3-D films are here to stay; I'm convinced.  I don't see 3-D supplanting 2-D films the way color drove black and white out of the standard toolkit into the realm of "art" or the way talkies obliterated the silent film.    USA Today says that box office is up 10% (despite the economy) and attributes this increase to 3-D films. As a compositor, this means that it's time to be 3D savvy.  I'm glad I've done enough 3d 3-D to understand the concepts.  NUKE, AfterEffects and other applications are there to help with the work-flow.  Vendors are coming online with processes for conversion.  New cameras are coming.  It's a good time to be in Visual Effects.

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