The three-fold role of a stereographer is crucial to the success of any 3D production, says Chris Parks. Stereo filmmaking has been around for almost 100 years but only with its latest digital incarnation has it started to be seen to have the potential to be a serious process rather than just a gimmick. […]
The three-fold role of a stereographer is crucial to the success of any 3D production, says Chris Parks.
Stereo filmmaking has been around for almost 100 years but only with its latest digital incarnation has it started to be seen to have the potential to be a serious process rather than just a gimmick.
The role of the stereographer is threefold. The most obvious role is technical. Various factors are involved including determining rigs to use for a shoot, working with the DoP (Director of Photography) and the production to determine cameras and setups that give the look, the flexibility, the quality and to work at the budget that is right for the production. Setting the 3D parameters for each shot to ensure that what you see on screen fulfils the directors vision, and gives a comfortable and enjoyable experience is crucial.
The second role is creative. 3D is a creative tool. When we are shooting a film, it isnt about 3D, which is only the medium. It can be thought of as lighting or sound or colour. In the same way as you wouldnt want an entire film to be saturated and bright, you dont want everything to be big and bold 3D. Just because it is a 3D film doesnt mean it cant have flat scenes. Flat is as valid a part of the stereographers palette as deep is. You may want to use the 3D to mirror the narrative arc of a story, or the emotional state of the key character. Different characters could have different feels of 3D associated with them. A scene may be fast paced and the key factor there may be the energy and speed of cut. In this case, you may want to reduce the 3D element right down to ensure that the audience can still absorb the information. This makes more sense in this scene than trying to keep it at its maximum.
The third role is as a communicator.
A stereographer has to work with the director, DoP and designers to ensure
that their decisions are going to work in 3D, and that the stereographers use of 3D is consistent with the overall design of the film. 3D has a new idiom to it and while it is possible to shoot in 3D in exactly the same way as you would have shot in 2D, with the same scene construction, blocking and design, it would be like not changing your approach to the colours, tones and textures of a film if shooting in colour as opposed to black and white. You will still get a film that is shot in colour, but the effects of those colours will be accidental as opposed to deliberate and in sync with the story.
The stereographers role isnt to tell the director how to use 3D, but rather to recommend how to achieve in 3D what they would normally achieve in 2D. In many aspects, 3D should be considered a new medium, but it is one based heavily on the foundations laid by 2D films. There is a film grammar that the audience will take into a cinema when they watch a 3D film, that has been established over the previous 100 years of evolution of film. For example, over-the-shoulder shots and long lenses are used to convey a certain intimacy or closeness, and these work very differently if used in 3D.
Long lenses, rather than compressing the scene, can separate the components and make them look like cardboard flats. This can lead to bad 3D, but if used intelligently and intentionally, they can be used to control the space making rooms look deeper, or characters more separated. Clean silhouettes in 2D can appear false or flat if used in 3D. It is much better to work with clutter and use objects to define the space available.
In 3D, you dont actually need a lot of depth in the scene to achieve pleasing 3D. Some of the most striking shots can be of seemingly flat objects which when viewed in 3D can reveal a whole new degree of texture and form that would be unimaginable in 2D.
All of us have been making three dimensional films in every commercial or feature, doco or drama, the audience has been able to determine the depth within the scene using 2D depth cues. Some of this is natural such as motion parallax, one object sitting in front of another, atmosphere, textures, scale and so on. But some have been built up in the idiom of 2D film to simulate depth the most obvious one of these being focus.
To this repertoire, we are just adding one more stereo and whenever the natural 2D depth cues can be supporting our new stereo depth cue, we will get better and more satisfying 3D.
While getting the 3D right on set is vital, this can all be compromised by not seeing it through to post production and establishing a coherent workflow. It is important that the stereographer sees the process through post production to ensure that the creative and technical intent is realised in the final film. A lot of work can be done in post to fine tune the experience of the viewer but equally, the 3D can be rendered almost unviewable by bad decisions made at this stage.
To conclude, I think it is important to appreciate that stereography isnt primarily a technical role. It is vitally important that the stereographer has a complete grasp of the technical aspects but these are just the tools to enable him to realise the creative goal. Stereographers will develop their own styles and their own ways of working with depth, space and volume and it wont be until this happens that 3D will become a credible medium that is here to stay.
If 3D is to survive, it will require all those involved to look at the subtleties of 3D that will enable it to become a serious storytelling tool, and it is the stereographer who is responsible for ensuring that this happens.
Chris Parks is a well-known international stereographer who has been working with 3D imagery for the last 15 years.