Oct 25, 2010

Review of Instructional books and DVDs for 3D film productions

It's sort of surprising that with all the attention (and theatrical business) 3D cinema has been receiving for the last several years, there aren't more instructional materials available for the professional cinematographer or editor to get up to speed quickly. There are a lot of websites, particularly of the DIY with two cameras strapped to a rail variety, but precious little hard info that couples theory to practice and is applicable to professional 3D rigs.

The classic book is Lenny Lipton's Foundations of the Stereoscopic Cinema. (out of print, but available for free download here) It's very heavy on theory, but you won't find much on the current state of equipment, as it was published in 1982.

Last year saw the publication of 3D Movie Making: Stereoscopic Digital Cinema from Script to Screen, by Bernard Mendiburu. This is a very up to date volume. Not only is it accessible and easy to read by anyone already familiar with the basics of cinematography, it contains many exercises and experiments you can try, including some that don't require access to a dedicated 3D camera rig.

It includes links to websites and a DVD with many useful examples. I recommend this book to anyone starting out in stereoscopic 3D film production (or even fairly far along the way). For producers and directors new to 3D, the first 3 chapters are particularly helpful. I think this book will become a standard and I wouldn't be surprised if it's picked up as a textbook.

Now there is also a very cool course available as a multi DVD set: Stereo 3D Filmmaking: The Complete Interactive Course. I've been viewing the five discs, and I'm very impressed.
First, this obviously wasn't just thrown together quickly to take advantage of the 3D boom. The creators have put real effort into it. They didn't just shoot a lecturer in 3D either. Scenes are selected to specifically show off the technique or effect, and includes interiors with near backgrounds, and exteriors with far backgrounds.

The media files on the disc are all in side by side Quicktimes, and are played using the included Frame Forge StereoPlayer. I was viewing on a MacBook, and it was very easy to view, and some of the least amount of ghosting in color anaglyph I've seen on a computer. (partly because they reduced the color saturation a lot). If you have a 3D monitor that can interpret the side by side files directly then you can view the DVD with the glasses that fit your monitor type, polarized or shutter glasses.
It includes not just good examples, but bad examples too, so you can see exactly how screen plane violations and too much divergence get you into trouble. More to the point, there is so much about 3D that is difficult to explain well in a book, without clear visuals from multiple viewpoints, such as "dynamic floating windows". Each chapter illuminates each instructional point with not just samples shots, but also diagrams from the side or above and graphic schematics of the scene. I particularly liked the section on the importance of higher resolution for good stereo photography--it made it very clear how compression can lose the small detail that is so important for creating depth that goes beyond making layers, to depth that appears rounded and life like.

I've almost forgotten one of the best features of the package, the Stereo 3D Lab, which uses the Frame Forge Pre Visualization program. This lab comes complete with it's own set of audio guided lessons, only here, you can manipulate the controls on a virtual camera rig, either a side by side rig or a beamsplitter mirror rig. The view from the camera is simulated and updated instantly, so you can experiment with differing interaxials and convergences, angles of view, distances, etc. Very cool.

At this point, I'm supposed to say, but wait there's more-- 3 DVDs that are just interviews with leading people in stereoscopic production. At first I thought these would be filler, but I got a lot out of them.

At US$350, this is not cheap, nor an impulse buy for most people. But I think it's worth it. Not only is it less expensive than an actual hands on course, it is 950 minutes, or almost 17 hours of material! Plus you don't have to travel to where a course is being given. For someone who has been asked to plunge into 3D filmmaking for the first time, or for someone who is already on their way with a 3D project, and still knows they have a lot catch up on, this will be a great help. The best combination would be if one could view this DVD course simultaneous with having accessing to a 3D camera or rig or monitor, so you could try out the examples on your own right away. This combined with a hands on course, or combined with access to a 3D rig for a couple of days, would be ideal. Of course you could try out many of the examples here by using side by side video cameras, if you also have a way to capture and view the images you create in 3d. It's not ideal, but it would be great at really experiencing all the steps in the process.