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Glen MacPherson and Niven Howie Battle Resident Evil: Afterlife

Glen MacPherson and Niven Howie Battle Resident Evil: Afterlife

Articles - Cinematography

The latest movie to jump aboard the ever-popular 3-D train, Resident Evil: Afterlife boasts the claim of being the first film completely shot and edited in 3-D. Afterlife, the fourth installment in the video game-adapted Resident Evil franchise, picks up exactly where the third entry, Extinction, left off. Alice (Milla Jovovich), the heroine of the series, is searching Los Angeles for survivors of a deadly virus outbreak, when she is forced to do battle with her arch nemesis, Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts), seen here for the first time in the franchise. Co-starring Ali Larter (“Heroes”), Wentworth Miller (“Prison Break”) and Kim Coates (“Sons of Anarchy”), Resident Evil: Afterlife is sure to provide fans with another dose of zombie thrills and chills, now with the added bonus of severed limbs hurtling toward you in 3-D.

Just before the movie’s release on September 10, MM caught up with two of the key crew members behind Afterlife: Cinematographer Glen MacPherson (The Final Destination; Rambo), who utilized the same camera system that brought Avatar to eye-popping, 3-D life, and editor Niven Howie (Death Race; Dawn of the Dead).

Kyle Rupprecht (MM): Resident Evil: Afterlife is the first movie to use the Phantom cameras (originally developed by NASA) to shoot in 3-D. What was the experience like using them? Any challenges along the way?

Glen MacPherson (GM): I don’t know if we were the first. We may have been. I had used the Phantoms before in 2-D applications. Pace built us a Phantom 3-D rig and it worked pretty flawlessly out of the box. Getting enough light on to the set to shoot high-speed scenes was certainly a challenge. Typically, you would shoot with as wide a shutter angle as possible to help with exposure, but we learned very quickly that even at very high speeds, you can’t shoot with a 360 degree shutter in 3-D. This is standard practice in 2-D, but it didn’t work in 3-D as the motion blur introduced isn’t exactly the same in both eyes. We learned that lesson a little too late, so there are a couple of shots with a 360 degree shutter that made their way into Resident Evil: Afterlife. I think the scenes shot with the Phantom 3-D rig are some of the more spectacular sequences.

MM: This is the second 3-D film you’ve shot, the first being The Final Destination. What do you like most about shooting in 3-D? What do you like least? Any interest in shooting more 3-D films in the future?

GM: I love shooting movies. 2-D, 3-D, film, digital… it doesn’t matter. I’m always learning. With 3-D, I feel like I learn something new every day and I like that. i enjoy experimenting with the sense of space in scenes. I don’t enjoy having to deal with the technology involved in shooting 3-D. I’ve been very lucky to have used the Pace Fusion 3-D system on all my 3-D projects, which has certainly made it easier to concentrate on the creative aspect instead of the technology, but you still can’t just grab a camera, run up the hill and shoot the sunset on a whim.

MM: What’s the best piece of advice you’d offer an aspiring cinematographer looking to shoot in 3-D?

GM: My best advice would be to try to shoot a good movie, and don’t let the fact you’re shooting in 3-D be what drives your choices. A lot of people will tell you to shoot with wider lenses and greater depth of field in 3-D, but I’ve found that if a shot calls for a 150mm, shoot with a 150mm. If the shot works for the story, no one will watch it in the cut and say that the 3-D was compromised. Also, throw away the 3-D calculators. I believe the 3-D in a dramatic film is another tool to help you tell the story. It’s a creative tool. The volume of the 3-D should expand and contract depending on the scene. Using calculators will give you an even, calculated effect—the same amount of 3-D for every shot. To me, that would be like shooting an entire film in a medium shot or using a calculator to tell you how much fill light you need to add to your lighting. Its a sure way to achieve a nice even, flat and boring film.

MM: Resident Evil: Afterlife boasts the claim of being the first live-action movie completely shot and edited in 3-D. What were some of the difficulties of editing a 3-D film, as opposed to a traditional one?

Niven Howie (NH): Avid lent us an early copy of software (Media Composer 4.0) they were about to release, allowing me to work in the same way that I was used to, so I found editing in 3-D not very different from editing in 2-D. All the images displayed on the edit system were 2-D (left eye only) and I had a 46″ viewing monitor for the combined 1080p 3-D image. We loaded the dailies in at a fairly high quality (DNx115), so our media server was a huge 26 terabytes, the largest I’ve ever had. Any kind of image manipulation; reposition, resize, dynamic move or key was much more complicated than 2-D because we had to treat both the left and right eyes separately, then view them combined in 3-D to check the effect was in sync for both eyes. That’s where 3-D becomes very complicated and it helps immensely if you have an understanding of the physics involved in how these two separate images are delivered to your brain. Once this is understood, you can really use the 3-D element of the image to the fullest. You can choose how far behind or in front of the screen the image appears, and change this within a single shot. For this we needed more than double the normal time at the Lab, where we conformed the film and were grading, dropping in effects and opticals, etc.

MM: What was your workflow? Anything in your setup that helped speed up the editing process?

NH: The workflow was completely custom and developed in the few weeks leading up to the start of principal photography. Rather than have a post house or lab deal with our dailies, we had a dedicated mobile lab at the studio, supplied by the 3-D camera hire company (Pace), they had a crew of two technicians working around the clock processing the raw material from the stereo cameras, backing it up and creating combined 3-D tapes for us to screen dailies after wrap and also digitize them for our avid. This did help speed up the prep time for the editing process, but also did use up more of my assistant’s time making DVD copies of the dailies, which are normally handled by the lab or post house.

MM: What’s the best piece of advice you’d offer to an aspiring editor working with 3-D footage?

NH: My advice to an aspiring editor working with 3-D footage is not to cut between shots too quickly, and don’t underestimate how interesting a relatively bland shot (seen in 2-D on your computer screen) can be when projected in 3-D on a huge movie screen. The company editing the trailer for Resident Evil: Afterlife were editing in 2-D. They visited our cutting room and we showed them a shot which looks quite ordinary in 2-D, but is transformed in 3-D to an awesome shot. It ended up in the trailer.

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