What’s Right and Wrong with 3D Today: An Interview with 3D Imaging Consultant, Nick Constable
Explore3DTV's Matt Whitlock got a chance to speak to Nick Constable, stereoscopic 3D imaging consultant and guest Explore3DTV contributor, for fascinating one-on-one chat covering a wide variety of 3D topics.
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March 09, 2011 by Matt Whitlock

Matt Whitlock: Let’s first start off by talking about you, the 3D projects you’ve worked on, and a little bit about yourself.

Nick Constable: I’m Nick Constable, and I’m a stereoscopic 3D imaging consultant and screenwriter. I’m also a free agent and invented some products as well. I started doing 3D in the year 2000, when I produced and directed a live-action short 3D film that was hailed as having some really good effects. I’ve worked with some major, very seasoned stereographers in the past, and I have close associations with them today.

For still 3D photography I developed a product called “REELMaster 3D” which are blank mounts used by people who create their own View-Master style reels. The machine that once made View-Master blank reel mounts was basically destroyed so I came up with the alternative.

MW: So, 3D isn’t lost on you. You’ve been doing this for quite a while.

NC: Yeah, I would say so. I know people in the industry who’ve been dealing with 3D a lot longer than I have. But yeah, you know, I’ve also come up with a printing system that is patent pending to create different types of 3D viewing materials in photo labs. When it comes to stereography, I’m kind of well-rounded in different areas as far as printing, creation of still images, writing and motion pictures.

MW: Let’s move on to our first topic of discussion which was in the news recently. Roger Ebert is certainly no amateur when it comes to enjoying movies, and no doubt has a good understanding of the moviemaking process. He recently received a letter from a man named Robert Murch [pictured right], who as you know is a sound engineer, worked on Apocalypse Now, and is a pretty big guy in Hollywood. His letter to Ebert said that 3D is unnatural, asking you to focus on different things at the same time in the same plane, and that the human brain isn’t built to do that. I know you got a chance to take a look at that. What do you think of his statement? Is 3D unnatural for the brain? Is this something we’re just not built to do?

NC: I understand what he’s saying. Of course, we see in 3D. We have two eyes. So, it’s not unnatural to the brain. However, any 3D visuals, as far as movies and even 3D photographs, if done well and done right, should play with a natural flow to what we see. If you’re looking for mistakes or if focusing on the background and not on the actors for instance, you will probably get more eyestrain because you’re forcing your eyes against the natural flow of things. A 3D movie is basically controlling what you see as much as you can let it control you. If you’re out to look at every single thing that’s being shown then you’re not following the natural action, which a viewer should be doing when they watch a movie. Then, there shouldn’t be a problem. Yes, an editor has to look at everything over and over again, so I can understand why an editor would say something like that.

MW: So when Murch talks about these convergence and focus issues, instead of saying that 3D just doesn’t work with our brains, you’re saying that when they are making 3D films they need to do a little bit better job with guiding the viewer to what they’re supposed to be focusing on.

NC: Yeah, and there’s lots of ways to do that; not just one way. He’s also talking about convergence and focus as far as it deals with cutting from scene to scene. That’s a really big issue that needs to be looked at when you’re producing a 3D movie; making sure that the scenes with all the different angles can be cut together perfectly. This actually opens up a huge, huge scenario. He actually edited Capt. EO, which was a great 3D production with Michael Jackson that was shown at Epcot Center.

MW: I remember seeing that as a kid. In fact, it was probably one of the first 3D experiences I’d ever had.

NC: Yes. It was a very remarkable piece of 3D work, and all the acclaim goes to great stereographers like Peter Anderson and everybody else involved. However, it wasn’t a feature film; it was a short theme park film so there was a lot more room for creative license on the 3D—to have a lot more depth and things flying out of the screen quite a bit, which was great. I would assume that with Capt. EO everyone was on board, including the director and editor, and that everyone worked closely with the stereographer. That’s how 3D best works.

MW: Another thing that Robert Murch also talks about is strobing. He said that the strobing affect happens a lot sooner in 3D than in 2D. That actually coincides with something James Cameron has been saying, which is that people are much more aware of the strobing in 3D. Because of its nature, I suppose, but in order to combat this he’s looking at making his next movie at a much higher frame rate, 48 or 60 frames per second, as he was saying.

NC: Strobing or motion judder is inherent with what we would know as 24 frames per second filming and display, which has been happening in motion picture films since the advent of sound in movies. Silent films had a frame rate of 18 frames per second, which made the movement very jerky and fast looking. They did it to save on the cost of film stock. With the advent of sound, both visually and mechanically the minimum frame rate of 24 frames per second was decided. Motion was also much smoother and life-like as opposed to 18 frames per second as well.

The first point I want to make is that there has always been motion judder since the beginning of motion pictures with a frame rate of 24 frames per second. Every cinematographer is aware of what motion judder is, and it usually happens with very fast camera moves or very fast action. The most famous of which is with wagon wheels, the way in which spoked wagon wheels are filmed.

Every cinematographer knows they can only shoot a moving horse driven wagon at certain angles for it [the wheels] not to strobe and judder at 24 frames per second. Now, there are a lot of movies as of late, and I could name a few but I’m not going to, that have broken all the rules. These are 2D movies, by the way, that have broken the rules with very high action, very fast whipping camera moves, very shaky cams, and very fast MTV style editing. People who watch these movies that are sitting too close to the screen in the theater will often get nauseous and that’s a big complaint. The only way to alleviate that in the theaters is to be seated very far back from the screen, so you don’t get that dizzy and nauseous feeling. This has happened in 2D much more than it has in 3D so far.

MW: But what James Cameron is saying is this happens in 3D far more often, or at least people will notice it more. Is moving up the frame rate the right way to go to solve this problem?

NC: Depending on what you’re shooting, yes and no. As far as being able to shoot and display theatrical movies at a higher frame rate, this isn’t new. Academy award-winning and special effects genius Douglas Trumbull [pictured right] perfected this with the Showscan theater system back in the 80s, which filmed and displayed short documentaries and ride films at 60 frames per second using 70mm film. Showscan was definitely a visual treat to behold. It was crystal clarity combined with realistic motion on a giant screen; it was absolutely stunning. In 3D, I could assume this could have been even more stunning, but most people thought they were watching a 3D movie when they actually weren’t with Showscan.

As great an experience Showscan was, there were limitations with this process. Because of the higher frame rates displayed, which actually made the films look like huge super high definition video, the realism was definitely there but any dramatic acting could not be believed as compared to watching game shows, soap operas, a live newscast, or plays. For this reason out of many, Showscan was never translated into dramatic feature films, and stayed pretty much limited to documentaries and ride films.

When the 24 frames per second frame rate went mainstream in the advent of talkies… and this is very important… the phenomenon of flicker, by accident, came into play. Flicker is what really makes for the basis of the grand illusion of dramatic motion pictures, and this must be taken into consideration. Like the flickering flames of a fireplace or a dancer under a strobe light, the brain forces our attention its way. Although it’s a less intense flicker at 24 frames, it does have the same effect on the brain. Without the flicker the brain is no longer tripped up and everything becomes more realistic, yet unbelievable when the action being filmed is unreal to begin with. The audience instantly becomes aware of the camera.

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Matt Whitlock manages several technology-focused community websites, including Explore3DTV.com, TechLore.com, and several others. With almost 15 years in the consumer electronics industry to draw from, his writings span a wide range of technology categories, from home entertainment systems to electronic gaming and everything in between.

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