3D for Indies: Legend3D’s Barry Sandrew on the 3D Moviemaking Horizon
by Barry Sandrew, PhD

With NAB 2014 kicking off this weekend, we asked one of the trade show’s visiting luminaries to give us a preview of his presentation. Barry Sandrew, PhD is the founder, Chief Creative Officer and Chief Technology Officer of Legend3D, the 3D conversion company behind films like Life of Pi and Hugo. While the technology is well-suited to studio tentpoles, though, what relevance does it have to independents? We asked Dr. Sandrew to predict how the twain shall meet in the future.

Barry Sandrew, Ph.D. -Founder, CCO and CTO_L3D Approved

At no other time in history has the film industry experienced such overwhelming disruptive technology in both filmmaking and distribution. Today, native and converted 3D, high frame rates (HFR), ultrahigh definition (UHD) and, most recently, high dynamic range (HDR) have become common buzz words among leaders in digital cinema technology and filmmakers alike. With all of these advanced tools available to moviemakers, 3D technology continues its take-over of Hollywood—with eight out of 10 of the highest grossing films of 2013 released in 3D. But aside from the incremental revenue from ticket sales and a clear preference for 3D by certain demographics, why is 3D so compelling? And more importantly, why should indie filmmakers care?

Any well-crafted film with a great story and acting, regardless of genre and budget, can benefit from 3D—and the technology is more accessible than ever before. In my blog Engaged in 2D and Immersed in 3D, I explain from a neuroscience perspective [Sandrew established a neuroscience imaging laboratory while on the faculty of Harvard Medical School] the difference between visual storytelling in 2D versus active, personalized immersion into the story in 3D. In the former case, the audience is passively presented a story on a white screen, while in the later case, the audience is essentially part of the story; the action becoming part of their personal space. This participatory impact in the storytelling process cannot be underestimated.

Life_of_Pi

Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, one of Legend3D’s most successful 3D projects. Will visuals like this be available to lower-budgeted films?

3D Camera Systems—Still a Jump for Indie Filmmakers

The production of 3D using dual camera rigs remains unavailable to most independent moviemakers because of cost. Beam splitter rigs are really the only way to effectively produce 3D close-ups and mid-shots, because the distance between the two lenses has to be small enough to simulate the human 3D visual experience. Consequently, off-the-shelf single stereo camera systems with fixed intra-axial side-by-side lenses have been the primary option available to the cash-challenged indie film producer. The ability of those cameras to lens a proper 3D film is extremely limited except in the most experienced hands.

Conversion of 2D to 3D Gradually Becoming Available and Affordable

Using 2D to 3D conversion for Hollywood tent pole films four years ago was prohibitively expensive even for many of the major studios.  Those costs have come down to a fraction of what they once were, but they remain way above the budgets of most independent filmmakers—though there are a select few foreign conversion companies emerging that can produce acceptable quality stereo within some indie budgets.

Several off-the-shelf 3D conversion software packages can be found via a simple search on Google. They are relatively easy to learn, and in the right hands (with enough time, know-how and a small army of volunteers) they can often produce acceptable results. Because of the time and labor involved, these packages are most suitable for the conversion of independent short films.

Off-the-shelf conversion packages, such as plugins for Nuke and After Effects, are very effective in converting character driven independent short films, as well as some films with minimal visual effects. Look into books available on the subject of effective story telling in 3D: One text book in particular that I recommend is 3D Story Telling: How Stereoscopic 3D Works and How to Use it by Bruce Block and Phil “Captain 3D” McNally.

3D Exhibition for Indies: Growing Options

As many of us know all too well, the high cost of converting a movie theater to digital cinema has forced many independent, hometown theaters to shut their doors. While venue options may be shrinking, other screening options are opening up, such as Sundance Cinemas, bringing indie filmmaking to cities across the US. Festivals also remain friendly to 3D exhibition—when 3D projection facilities are not available, some festivals exhibit 3D independent films on 60” to 85” passive 3D TVs that provide perfectly acceptable viewing experiences.  I’ve demonstrated 3D content to audiences of several hundred with no more than one to three big screen 3D TVs synced up to a Blu-ray player.

The Paradigm Shift of Distribution

Exhibiting in mainstream theaters is certainly out of the realm of possibility for the vast majority of independent filmmakers. However, distribution of independent films is about to take a dramatic shift from theatrical exhibition to distribution via online steaming to smart TVs. Today, purchasers of big flat screen TVs are bringing home 3D capability within those sets, whether 3D was part of the buyer’s feature criteria or not. As a result, the installed base of 3D TVs is growing steadily. I believe that future online portals will be streaming 3D content to these smart TVs, leveling the playing field to some extent for independent filmmakers with smaller budgets.

 

The availability of 3D conversion for the majority of independent filmmakers has become an off-the-shelf option, which undermines the high cost of native capture to a degree. Of course, creating quality 3D films is no different than making 2D films: They both require a great story, directing and acting as well as technical know-how, experience and cinematic talent. At this moment, exhibiting and distributing independent 3D films still requires a bit of innovation, but the use of passive big screen TVs for exhibiting at film festivals is available today, and the distribution of independent films via streaming movie portals to smart TVs cannot be far off. MM

Visit Legend3D’s official website here.

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