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Sony 3D Legend Brings Content To Life

4/18/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern

CULVER CITY, CALIF. – One of the raps against
3DTV adoption has been a lack of available content,
but for a relatively new medium, Hollywood is taking
huge strides in eliminating this major
concern.

Sony Pictures, one of the pioneering
studios in 3DTV production,
is generously helping to lift
the collective consciousness in the
3D content community by sharing
knowledge and training with professional
filmmakers around the world,
regardless of studio affiliation.

In a recent visit to the Sony 3D
Technology Center on the Sony
Pictures lot, TWICE heard 3D
filmmaking legend Buzz Hays, the
3D Technology Center’s executive
stereoscopic 3D producer and
chief instructor, discuss Sony’s efforts
to bring the world more 3D
content to help spark demand for
3DTVs, Blu-ray players, cameras and
camcorders.

He has produced seven 3D feature
films to date and helped create, along with the International
Cinematographers Guild, an intensive three-day
course in 3D production for professional filmmakers. It
is offered free-of-charge to qualifying participants, in
the spirit of “good 3D creation.”

To date, Sony Pictures has more experience in 3D
than virtually anyone else in Hollywood, by virtue of the
fact that it does 3D work for other studios as well as
for itself, Hays explained.

Many of those productions are animated, he said,
because in the early days it was thought by the studios
that 3D was mostly a medium for kids.

“We’ve since learned, especially since `Beowulf,’
which was one of the first 3D films for an older audience
that 3D is for all ages,” he said.

Hays considers “Polar Express” the film that kicked
off the current era of 3D.

“Prior to the release in 2004, the filmmakers played
with the idea of doing some 3D shots to see what it
would look like in post production, and [director] Bob
Zemeckis liked it,” Hays explained. “But the only commercial
venues where you could show 3D in 2004
were IMAX theaters. It was a bit of a risk, but they did
it anyway and it was wildly successful. Polar Express
was the film that Jeffrey Katzenberg credits as the reason
for taking his Dreamworks’ films into the third dimension.”

From there, he said, theaters
gradually started to add 3D projectors,
leading up to “Beowulf,” which
was the first 3D film to cross the
1,000-theater mark.

Hays credits Zemeckis with helping
to revolutionize 3D technique in
‘Beowulf’ by regarding 3D storytelling
as different from 2D in its pacing,
cutting and other approaches.

“He really started to honor the
idea that this really is more like a live
event – or live theater,” Hays said.
“What’s exciting about shooting in
3D is it is making a connection between
the viewer and the content,
much like live theater.”

As the medium evolves, Hays
said some of the most compelling
3D content is coming from the personal
videos of average people.

“Because it is their view of the world and we are
learning something through their eyes. Since we started
this I’ve been after Sony to consider [3D] personal
video. Now it’s here, and I think it is a killer app.”

Sony Pictures opened the doors to the 3D Technology
Center following the 2010 International CES, and
has been conducting classes for a variety of professionals,
starting largely with cinematographers, who
were being tasked with making 3D films, but had no
experience with the medium.

The course covers everything from theory to physiology
(to understand the workings of the basic human
vision system).

“We’ve taken a very serious look at how the human
vision system works, and how the brain processes images
to make sure we are creating experiences that
are comfortable for people to watch,” Hays said.

The professional 3D course includes one day in the
classroom, devoted to techniques used for 3D, the basics
behind the camera system, and about story telling.

“It’s purely about showing how story telling differs
from two dimensions to three dimensions,” Hays said.
“That’s where most people’s comfort zones seem to
be the weakest.”

The second and third days of the course are spent
on Stage Seven in the Sony Pictures lot, working with
professional 3D camera systems.

The camera professionals are given a situation that
is exactly what they would find in the shooting of a film.

Since March of last year, the center has educated
over 1,200 people. It is also being expanded to now
include directors, editors, and game developers.

“We felt it was really worth getting everybody up to
speed – good 3D is good for everybody, that’s the way
we look at it,” Hays said.

Among the trouble areas of 3D shooting is an effect
where objects appear as card board cutouts with surrounding
foreground, middle ground and background.

“The way around that is by capturing what we call, a
continuous sense of depth in the shot,” Hays said. “It
is important to have continuous points of reference to
hold the depth of the frame together. It makes it feel
like there is a lot of volume of depth in the space.”

Focal length and camera position will also contribute
to the cardboard cutout appearance, he said.

“Often, certain filmmakers will come in the door,
and they’ve heard what we call certain myths about
shooting in 3D. One is that you can’t cut quickly in
3D; there are various ways of framing a shot that you
can never do – they’re not true,” said Hays. “3D filmmakers
will often use tools to try and direct the attention
of the eye in the frame. One of those tools
that have been around since the dawn of anamorphic
photography is the use of focus to direct the eye in
the shot.”

Hays said while the technique works for 2D, “in 3D
your eye will still go to whatever is the closest object.”

“As we create these component 3D images, we are
very much creating a situation where you would see
it with your own eyes,” said Hays. “In my world, 3D
should support the story telling, and the first question
that needs to be asked by filmmakers is: `Should this
film be made in 3D?’ ”

Bad 3D, he said, occurs whenever the technology
reveals itself because it pulls the viewer out of the
story.

“We are working with the suspension of disbelief
when we tell stories,” he said. “I sometimes refer to 3D
as a fragile illusion. It’s a beautiful illusion if done well.
But we are creating a situation that is really a single
vantage point in space that has to hold up for a wide
variety of viewing conditions. If we do things carefully
then that illusion will work for everybody. But if we start
using a lot of overt techniques it will show up a lot of
the flaws, not only in the technology but in the human
viewing system.”

The course also discusses the production of 3D
content using 2D material.

“I had the fortune to produce the first commercial feature
that used 2D to 3D conversion – a film called ‘GForce.’
But the misfortune of being the first was tough
because the tools didn’t exist. So, we had to invent the
tools while we were making the film,” said Hays.

He called 3D conversion a very valuable tool when
shooting conditions dictate the use of 2D equipment.

When shooting in 2D for conversion later in 3D there
are certain aspects that filmmakers can keep in mind
to make the process easier, he said. “But conversions
are incredibly expensive, if you do it well, and very time
consuming.”

The going rates for good 2D to 3D conversion run
from $60,000 to well over $150,000 a minute.

“I’ve heard some say, `we’ll do some low-budget
stuff for TV and take our half-hour episode and convert
it to 3D.’ That makes your half-hour episode about $1.6
million.”

Thus, an important part of making something in 3D
is knowing what you can fix in post production after
you’ve shot it, and what you can’t.