What’s in that S3D?

September 12, 2011
by Bob Hayes, Artbeats’ Director of Technology

If you have a question for the Artbeats tech team, please email it to: techsupport@artbeats.com

Recently we were asked if it's more difficult to shoot 3D footage than standard 2D footage, or whether it's just a question of choosing the right camera. That got us thinking that maybe we should explain some of what goes into an Artbeats 3D shoot.

The short answer is yes, for Artbeats at least, 3D is much more difficult to shoot than standard 2D not only because it involves using two cameras, but also entails choosing subject matter that will work in 3D. Artbeats chose to use two RED ONE cameras for multiple reasons, the first being that Artbeats has been shooting 3D since before high quality 3D cameras were commercially available. Secondly, the RED ONEs offered us more flexibility and allowed us to shoot higher resolution and have control over more features than what the commercial cameras would offer. And third, having two cameras gives us the flexibility of using them for simultaneously standard 2D shoots, something that would not necessarily be true of using a 3D camera. While there are a few benefits to using a single 3D camera, such as simpler setup and ease of transport, making them perfect for certain types of productions, here at Artbeats it’s not about simplicity. We choose to go the extra mile, and transport more equipment, because it allows us to offer our customers more versatility and higher quality 3D footage. Camera choice is just the first step. No matter which camera(s) you're using, you still have a lot of other factors to take into account when shooting 3D.

Our cameras are mounted on a side-by-side rig on a tripod and then genlocked. The cameras then need to be correctly configured for the shot because the interocular distance between the two lenses is very important to get the right S3D look. This interocular distance is based on lens selection, depth cues, target screen size, depth of field, size of the subject, distance to the subject, how strongly you want the 3D effect to appear in your final project, and several other factors. It's not quite as simple as setting up two cameras with the lenses eyewidth apart! Poorly shot S3D can spoil the 3D illusion, look "funny" or "miniature" and even cause headaches, eyestrain and nausea in the audience, so it takes time, precision, practice, and a full comprehension of what makes 3D work to get it right, and that process is fairly time consuming. There are many rules to shooting 3D correctly.

Once all of this setup is complete, it's time to shoot the scene. Shooting 3D is different than 2D because good 3D is not necessarily just "2D with depth." You need to make sure that your shot "fits" and will work in 3D. All the pitfalls of standard cinematography are multiplied in 3D cinematography and can ruin your shot! Then, during post-production, you'll need to use some form of 3D aware video editing software. We use After Effects almost exclusively during post-production.

The quality of your final output will depend on the decisions you make throughout the shooting and editing process. When everything is set up correctly, 3D is a great way to enhance your production!

Artbeats S3D footage is provided in your choice of several different versions. The high resolution 4K Right & Left Views (not always available) let you keep all your options open with regard to parallax and frame crop, while the HD Separate Right and Left Views contain all the color and geometry adjustments applied to the 4K versions, plus they've been aligned for optimum parallax. The HD Side by Side Stereo Pair option contains the HD right and left versions squeezed into one 1920x1080 frame. This is the most common S3D format accepted by readily available 3D TVs.

Artbeats also provides important metadata for each S3D clip. Interocular separation, positive parallax percentage and suggested maximum display size are all provided for every S3D clip! See our S3D Video Guide http://www.artbeats.com/s3d for more information.

If you are interested in learning more about shooting S3D, a good place to start is with the 3D Movie Making: Stereoscopic Digital Cinema from Script to Screen by Bernard Mendiburu.