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
NC (continued from page 2): As far as filming in 3D, the best way to shoot a 3D picture is to have a seasoned stereographer, somebody who’s been involved with 3D years before The Polar Express. It takes years and years and years of constant trials and development to become a really good stereographer. The best stereographers, and there’s only a handful, understand that 3D movies require their assistance from the script level all the way to final completion. What’s happening in a lot of these movies is they are not hiring stereographers or 3D imaging consultants, like me, in the pre-production stages as far as script and production planning. What needs to happen is that the producers should understand that the director, the cinematographer, the editor, the colorist, vfx and digital intermediate professionals must be on board with the same stereographer as the 3D vision will be lost completely if any of those departments omit the original stereographer.

MW: You’re saying that doing a 3D movie requires everyone to think about 3D through the entire process.

NC: Yes, but right now they are not. Many productions in Hollywood have ignored that fact, or maybe they don’t even know it, so they’ll just hire the stereographer to be on the set during shooting, but they can only work with what they’ve been given and what has been planned for. Then, when it comes to post production, like editing and color correction, the 3D can get downgraded and almost flattened because there are quite a lot of people who believe that 3D is nothing more than a mathematical equation. The truly well done 3D movies, usually from the past, relied on stereographers who had an artistic insight. They not only know the mathematics of shooting in 3D, but they also know what works as far as what the story and action calls for. It’s much harder to shoot a 3D movie than a 2D movie. If you try to shoot a 3D movie as fast or similar to a 2D movie, you don’t have a 3D movie. You end up with a movie that is barely 3D as a gimmick.

MW: You use that term “barely 3D,” which you’ve also used in other conversations we’ve had leading up to this interview. You’ve said there are different levels of 3D, like “barely 3D,” and you’ve used the terms boring 3D and good 3D. I thought it was a very interesting point you made. Can you talk about that a little bit, about what that means?

NC: Take Avatar; I thought Avatar was boring 3D. When you have a movie that is science-fiction or fantasy, especially computer-generated, you have freedom to do much more than what you ever could imagine compared to something that’s not fantasy or sci-fi. Things could fly out of the screen whenever you want them to. You could have more depth than with other genres.

Now, Avatar was a very long movie as far as runtime, and you don’t want to tax the eyes of the audience so, I can understand why the 3D was subtle. It was immersive, but it was subtle. I really believe that Avatar showed us something that no one has ever seen before, and that was primarily the life-like realism from what motion capture plus great artistry can do to create life on screen and make it look believable. I think that’s what made Avatar was so successful visually. I don’t think 3D was the reason. It was an extra added plus, but nothing was completely stunning or engaging with the 3D itself compared to all the other visuals being presented. (Note: Nick was specifically commenting on the theatrical release of Avatar and not the Blu-Ray 3D version.)

MW: What would you call good 3D then, as opposed to boring 3D or bad 3D?

NC: Good 3D… I can always tell good 3D because it is planned for from the very beginning. There are a tremendous number of rules for making good 3D, and are also limitations on what you can do as far shooting because you’re literally shooting within a stereo window. There’s a lot of things that can break the stereo window and break the illusion of 3D. Poor framing, bad color use, camera moves that can spark more judder… there’s a lot of limitations. Unfortunately, a lot of these productions don’t want to take the time to creatively work within these limitations and would rather have less 3D to worry about by having the freedom to shoot anyway they want to. I think that’s a mistake that’s been happening. Good 3D usually follows the rules. You have to realize that if you’re making a 3D movie, that’s what you’re doing—you’re no longer making a 2D movie. It all starts by having a good story to begin with in the first place.

I do think 3D is going in the right direction, and don’t get me wrong, I’m really glad Hollywood embraced it. It’s just that I truly believe they need to start working with same stereographers and 3D supervisors from beginning stages to completion. That’s the only way we’re going to finally see great 3D movies.

In the future, there will one day be a 3D movie that comes out where the 3D will be the game changer itself. Then, audiences will finally be able to compare what they’ve seen and start to realize what good, bad, and boring 3D really is. Until that day comes, only those people who a been versed in 3D or studying 3D for a long time will finally be more recognized and called upon more in the industry, as opposed to 3D not really being looked at as an art form – so just hire anyone who took a three day course on 3D. There’s some talk of a few movies coming up with this potential. One of them is a remake to the Wizard of Oz, which I really want to work on because with that type of story you can do unimaginable things with 3D. The 3D could be stunning and beautiful with something like that.

MW: Let’s change gears and talk about home 3D. CES was just a few months ago, and while CES last year was really the breakout year for 3D, active shutter 3D specifically, passive 3D was really the trend this year. We also saw some of the first large-screen auto stereoscopic TVs. How do you feel about the 3D TV market, especially as it relates to the glasses?

NC: Well, as I said in my guest editorial on Explore3DTV, I really feel like the average consumer was given a great disservice by not getting enough education. Right now, active shutter glasses is the best way to go for at home 3D. It doesn’t compromise the screen whatsoever. The minute you have passive polarized or auto stereoscopic, the screens have to be manufactured differently. Not only does it make it more expensive, but it compromises the resolution. Then there’s things to consider like the sweet spot needed for auto stereoscopic display, which has always been a problem. What needs to happen short term is that active shutter glasses need to stay, but the prices need to come down dramatically.

MW: People have made it pretty clear that they don’t like glasses, although I personally don’t care as much. What do you think about that? Do you think auto stereoscopic is the Holy Grail for people?

NC: You don’t really see people complaining about glasses that much when seeing movies in the movie theater, do you? There are other reasons why people don’t want to wear glasses in the home, like wanting to see other things than just their TV. However, average consumers must realize that they only need to wear the glasses when they’re watching a 3D program. Your average consumer, who is not technical whatsoever, thinks they have to wear glasses at all times when watching a 3D capable HDTV.

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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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