Shooting in 3D – Should Your Approach Be Different?

Learning to shoot a film in 3D can take a bit of time, patience, and certainly a fair measure of understanding about the technology, how it has been successful, and where it has failed, for when it has failed, it has failed miserably. One case in point has been the recent backlash from consumers paying inflated ticket prices to movies advertised in 3D, only to leave the theater either wondering what the hype was about, or why their eyes actually hurt or gave them a headache.

No filmmaker wants to turn customers or fans away because they didn’t take all the necessary precautions, or because they cut corners trying to capitalize on technology that they didn’t fully understand. When filming in 3D, or planning on releasing a 3D show or film, it’s important to know the basics of what works and what doesn’t.

The 3D illusion

Perhaps no film last year highlighted the notion of the 3D illusion failure better than The Last Airbender. The problem with this film, even though it was a major studio production by an award-winning writer and director, was that it didn’t actually use any 3D cameras to film it. The 3D effects were added onto two-dimensional film work. The result was thin, barely veiled illusions of 3D and an awkward cinematic experience for the audience. Many audience members reported feeling cheated or wondering why they had to pay the extra price and didn’t notice any real 3D effects.

The lesson to learn from this is if you are planning on releasing a 3D show or movie, film it using 3D cameras. Don’t rely on the virtual studio to create the effects because what you may have in mind will fall far short of the end results.

Avoid the parallax

When filming for 3D, there have been many issues of eye strain reported by audience members. Most often these problems occur when the director uses negative and positive parallax to create the illusion of objects or characters jumping out of the screen. This process is when the focal point is moved beyond the scene or before the actual scene. By shifting the focal point back and forth drastically within one scene, the eye of the audience member strains to capture the true focal point, creating the illusion again of 3D, but causing eye strain.

Points to consider

When you plan on filming in 3D, your approach should certainly be different than when you are filming in 2D. For starters, for 3D shoots, characters that are close up on the screen can cause the audience to feel uncomfortable. Your goal is create an ease within the audience, not to push them back in their seats hoping that the camera pulls back soon enough.

Also, the technology of 3D cameras have made it more affordable for some productions to use the two camera approach, where one camera records what the left eye would see and the other records what the right eye would see. When you film in this manner, the true three dimensional illusion is captured, allowing more flexibility in editing and post-production.

One last point to remember when filming in 3D is that the farther away a camera is from the scene or the characters, the less 3D impact it will have. It’s also important to note that when filming 3D, it’s best not to have radically different focal points (distances) between camera angles, as this can also lead to eye strain and a watering down effect of the 3D itself.

By taking some time to map out a 3D shoot, a filmmaker will have a greater opportunity to produce powerful and impactful 3D films.

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