Tales from the Industry XXXVI – 3D at the Fun Fair

Thursday’s shooting day was tiring, but fun overall. It started in the (highly unusual) June rain that we had in the first area we shot in – Griffith Park. We were at those famous (man made) caves that you may well have seen in one or other movie Western, or TV series like the classic old Batman show, where they played the role of the batcave. Don’t ask me why we were there. I think it was just a nice backdrop for the physics I was talking about to camera, between rain showers and screaming bouts from some, er, Angry Birds*. Crows, I think they were. It was cold, and I was a bit low-spirited and off my game as a result. I did not even remember to take a picture for you…

Then we headed South -and warmer- to Knott’s Berry Farm. Now, I’d vaguely heard of such a place, but I will admit that I had no idea that it was so close to Los Angeles. We were there to shoot lots of moving, interacting bodies, as a series of analogies for some other physics issues…and this is the perfect place for that, with all the various fun rides there are within easy reach. It was fun to enter the park through the service entrance, and then emerge through a secret door in the middle of the special universe they’ve created for the customers! We wandered off to find the various things we wanted to shoot and spent a fair amount of time doing that, occasionally drawing the attention of excited on-lookers, who of course wondered what we were doing. Perhaps we got a few more viewers for the show.

Now, as I mentioned last year when we were shooting one of the first TV science show episodes in 3D, it is a difficult and fiddly business. Even now that there are off the shelf dedicated 3D cameras on the market (one of which we had – the same type I mentioned earlier this year), there are severe challenges involved. I spent a lot of time waiting around, since the technology, with whatever constraints there might be given to work to, requires a lot of thought to set up, and both DP and Director have to relearn some of the story telling visual devices that they normally use since there are often times when the shot choices you’d normally use (especially close-ups) are not possible. As I think I mentioned before, parallax is your friend and enemy, since it helps provide the difference you need to give the illusion of 3D, but since the angular separation changes with distance, it can result in distortions for objects that are too far from the optimum convergence point in the visual field. So too much depth in a visual field can be a problem. So shooting something like a huge sprawling roller-coaster, as we were, is a big challenge. But we seemed to manage, and apparently got some good shots. (See pictures – yes, I am standing on a box in one of them. It was my “Scully box”, although I had no Moulder, or (perhaps preferably) gargantuan femme fatale playing opposite me. The first photo, at the top, is of an interesting structure that I imagine is a new ride of some sort…)

The danger is, especially for filmmakers who care about composition and the powerful emotional and story telling tool it can be, that you end up making shot choices that are dictated by the limitations of 3D and not by what the work calls for, and that even if you end up making something that looks ok in 3D, as desired by the growing need to put content on all those 3D televisions that people are buying (and subscribing to the new channels for), it looks awful in 2D, where most people are still watching… All very tricky, and an interesting and rapid learning curve for people making content in the industry.

Part of the problem is of course (as came up in a chat while we had lunch) that 3D isn’t actually 3D. It’s simply stereoscopic vision, that creates the illusion of 3D, just like our eyes do, but we do quite a bit more to build our three-dimensional world in our minds than just having separated eyes…. but anyway. I digress.

I’ll tell you a bit more about what I saw in the park in a short while.


*I understand this is a popular game that people play. See later.

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