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SXSW | Penetrating 3D: The Past, Present and Future of Stereoscopic Moviemaking

Indiewire By Brian Brooks | Indiewire March 17, 2011 at 4:52AM

A set-piece of this year’s SXSW Film panels was “3D Day”: a two-part three-hour overview of stereoscopic moviemaking. Kicking off the event was an introductory lecture on 3D’s basic science and technological history. The event was led by Tim Dashwood, a 3D evangelist who has worked in the format as a director, DP and editor.
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Austin Convention Center. Photo by Brian Brooks.

A set-piece of this year’s SXSW Film panels was “3D Day”: a two-part three-hour overview of stereoscopic moviemaking. Kicking off the event was an introductory lecture on 3D’s basic science and technological history. The event was led by Tim Dashwood, a 3D evangelist who has worked in the format as a director, DP and editor.

iW caught up with him afterward and got his thoughts on the past, present and future of the technology.

3D Video Technology is Getting Less Expensive and Easier to Use
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A couple of years ago we had to hobble together bits and pieces of equipment, routing everything through our computers in order to "mux" the 3D signal. ["Muxing" here refers to the process of combining pairs of 2D videos into a 3D whole.] But when Black Magic and AJA came out with MUXer boxes that are only $500 each, that just made everything easier. There is now a product that indie productions can use in the field. So the price-point coming down on things like muxers and 3D cameras.

3D: The New Domestic Medium

The other big thing that’s happened is that TV manufactures have begun releasing consumer 3D television sets. Now that there is another set of end users who are consuming stereoscopic content, the demand for 3D content has skyrocketed. For a coupe of years we were basically trying to convince people that they needed the content to be prepared, but ultimately when it came down to money the deals will fall through. Why? Because they didn’t believe that 3D content could be produced cheaply and there was no immediate monetary pressure on them to test that theory without an already extant audience.

Theatrical producers are probably surprised at how quickly the home market is beginning to adopt 3D. They planned on dominating 3D for the next few years which is why the theatrical market has transitioned so aggressively these last few years because it was a unique draw that only they could provide, and a way of getting people out of the house. But now you have manufacturers like Panasonic doing these plasma TVs that look really great and there are big ones coming out.

The Misleading Example of "Avatar"

Many times when we were pitching 3D productions, producer would say to us: "How can you possibly produce a $3.5 million dollar picture in 3D when 'Avatar' cost half a billion?" But "Avatar" is a bad example for a producer to look at as a prototypical 3D production. There’s a film that’s 80%-85% CGI. They were also breaking new ground, so a lot of that budget went to research and development. They were also in production for six years! They shot tons of experimental test footage they never used. And they learned a lot, I’m sure, but that’s not typical.

The Collaborative 3D Community

My opinion is that it benefits the whole industry if everyone is properly trained. So I never hold back information or insights in a proprietary or competitive manner. I’m not worried about losing gigs to people I educate because ultimately you get gigs — as an individual and as a member of the 3D technological guild - because there’s a trustworthiness you can handle the job. So in my company, I continually promote people who have started as interns and mentor their development, because that’s how I learned — my mentor was a guy names Allan Silliphant. [Director of 1969’s "The Stewardesses," a softcore steroscopic porno that held the record for most commercially successful 3D film until it was dethroned by "Avatar."]

So my advice for anyone who wants to get involved with 3D: latch on to someone who’s doing it and learn directly from an experienced hand. You can read every book ever written on 3D but you need to shoot 3D and you need to make mistakes and ask, “Why does this make my eyes hurt?” At this point there are probably 40-50 stereographers in the world who are truly, truly good at what they do.

And there are so many productions now where you have lots of people taking gigs that are above their abilities. So whats going to happen to their careers when they work on a big budget film and it’s a disaster? Apprenticing and open exchange of ideas are the best way forward for individuals and for the 3D community as a whole.

[Tim Dashwood is the founder of Dashwood Cinema Solutions, a stereoscopic research, development & consultancy division of his Toronto-based production company Stereo3D Unlimited. Dashwood is an accomplished director/ cinematographer & stereographer. His diverse range of credits include music videos, commercials, feature films and 3D productions for Fashion Week, CMT, Discovery Channel and the National Film Board of Canada. He also consults on and previsualizes fight/stunt action scenes for productions such as Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim vs the World. Dashwood is the creator of the award winning Stereo3D Toolbox plugin suite and highly anticipated Stereo3D CAT calibration system. His website is www.timdashwood.com]

This article is related to: Filmmaker Toolkit, Filmmaker Toolkit: Tech