Conference Blog

Conversation on Stereography and Cinematography

On Sunday, June 12th, a panel on the relationship between stereography and cinematography took place at the Toronto International Stereoscopic 3D conference. The panelists was moderated by Ali Kazimi and included renowned stereographers and cinematographers from around the world. It included Paul Taylor (USA, Supervising Stereographer), Peter Anderson (USA, cinematographer), Aleksander Melkumov (Russia, NIKFI), Florian Maier (Germany, Stereotec, Supervising Stereographer), Brent Robinson (Canada, Stereographer and Underwater Cinematographer), and Eric Edmeadeas (Canada, CEO, Kerner Group).

The panel started with a short clip from Anderson’s educational video on what is entailed in stereography. By way of show and tell, Anderson’s clip effectively introduced the basics of stereo camera parameters, such as the interaxial distance (between cameras) and convergence.

Kazimi began the discussion by asking the speakers to talk about the relationship between stereographers and cinematographers on a 3-D set. Taylor, as the first speaker, talked about the importance of a stereographer in the prep and pre-production of a shoot. It is a new role in the team that needs to be there from the beginning. In the preparation, the team should thoroughly discuss what they like or would not like in terms of the look. There needs to be creative decisions around setting the depth, decide how far apart the cameras will be (interaxial distance), and how can the depth be consistent throughout the movie.  Taylor also noted the fact that in his experience, the more experienced people are, the less they want to make 3-D.

His talk was followed by Aleksander Melkumov who is the head of the 3D digital cinema at the Cinema and Photo Research Instiute (NIKFI), who explained the single camera system called “Stereo-70”. It is one of the oldest 3-D camera system in the world and was developed by the Russians. The camera originally came with dual sensor 35mm format or with single sensor as 70-mm cinema standard. He went through the evolution of Stereo-70 into the digital version called Phantom-65. Melkumov further explained that the stereographer is not a new person, but a new set of skills under the Director of Photography. He also emphasized that the role of the stereographer is like a teacher of stereo for the director and cinematographer; however, this teaching should happen before shooting begins and not during the shoot.

Florian Maier from Germany spoke about his company Stereotec and its melding of various elements of stereography including research, products, and consultation. He also introduced Stereotec  3-D side by side rig  that allows  an easy motorized control of tilt, align, and rotation. He stressed that for 3-D to be widespread, the technology needs to be simple and easy to set up. The 3D moves should also be easier to do as motion parallax is the key to getting good 3-D shots. Instead of 2D cinema which can rely on quick edits between shots, the 3-D entails taking long camera shots, which is stereoscopically more interesting. Maier’s talking points included that under the tight timeline, it was very important for stereographer to be on production when planning starts.  He also believed through this experience that shooting in 3-D is cheaper and faster than2-D to 3-D conversion. He talked about his experience of shooting Hansel and Gretel, Witch Hunters and showed clips of that film.

Maier’s talk was followed by Brent Robinson, a stereographer, whose motto was that 3-D is cooking, not baking, alluding to the fact that you can’t just mix a whole bunch of parameters together and hope that they will work. Everything needs to be planned well-ahead for it to be an effective shoot.  He also stated that “you don’t need a recipe but you need some help shopping and setting up the table” meaning that it is important to approach the right people and expertise and to know exactly what kind of help you need. He also introduced a software, Keynote Software, that he has used as parts of his production log.

Eric Edmeades from The Kerner Group spoke after Maier on how The Kerner Group got started and how, through technical demands of their clients, got into 3-D accidentally. Kerner Group focussed on developing a system that is not only “camera agnostic” but also DP agnostic and Stereographer agnostic. They wanted to develop a rig that is usable by everybody. One way they achieved this was in their development of the mounting system, which instead of relying on the relationship between the lens and the rigs, relied on the relationship between the mounting plate and the lens.  This allows for pre-calibration and fast setup times for 3-D movies.

Edmeades also stated that the stereographer’s job is the obligation of anticipation. A stereographer needs to be ready with depth-related creative solutions for the director and cinematographer.

Peter Anderson concluded that panel by stating that stereo is a language and a way to communicate to people. He said that the biggest rule is ‘Don’t hurt your audience’. He was to give a more detailed lecture on stereography during a masterclass later in the evening.

Wim Wenders delivers an inspiring lecture, offers insights into the creative opportunities of 3D cinema

Wenders gave a mesmerizing lecture to an audience of over 200 people about how he was inspired to use 3D language to develop his latest movie, as homage to the late modern dance choreographer, Pina Bausch. His lecture addressed the big questions that independent filmmakers face right now regarding 3D: how to use 3D technology to do justice to storytelling while recognizing the challenges offered by 3d production. Wenders suggested that he came to 3D not because he wanted to make a 3D movie, but rather because he wanted to make a movie about dance and was struggling to find the right language to do it.

Wenders came to know Bausch’s work accidentally while he was vacationing in Venice in the mid-80s. He was deeply inspired and moved by Bausch’s dance theatre which he feels told him more about relationships between men women than all the films he had ever seen. This was a movie that Bausch and Wenders had been contemplating to make together for more than 20 years, being inhibited by the film tools that, he felt, did not have the language to adequately depict dance. Despite watching many dance, he felt they came short of truly allowing the expression of body and its relationship to the surrounding space.

He briefly outlined Bausch’s process which he felt abolished the sense of character and role play for the dancer; rather it was a radical shift to let the dancer be themselves. Bausch would start a dance piece by asking her dancers hundreds of questions, for which she wanted answers only through body language. The dancers were not to speak but rather seek the precision of their answers through body language.

In 2007, Wenders watched U23D while attending Cannes festival. While watching, Wenders felt he finally had the means to make the kind of dance film that he and Bausch had been inspiring to do. In serendipitous series of events, Wenders came to know one of the most experienced 3D pioneers in stereography, Alain Derobe, and asked him to join his team. For the unique requirements of the shoot of PINA, Derobe developed a special 3D camera rig mounted on a crane. Together they carried out intensive tests that lasted for more than a year to get a sense of how to use 3-D to capture body language, dance movement, and the surrounding space. He summed his collaboration with Bausch as follows: that while Bausch will work on the dances, he was interested in how Bausch’s eye for dance movement

Unfortunately, two days before the first shoot with the dancers, Bausch died unexpectedly.  As those close to her mourned, Wenders dropped the production, convinced that it was not possible to do this joint undertaking without the main collaborator.  After much reflection and encouraged by Bausch’s family and dance company, he decided to start the project with her no longer there.

According to Wenders, he didn’t want the 3-D aspect of the film to be the main attraction; rather he wanted to direct the attention to Bausch’s dance. For him, the 3-D experience has to be pleasant, appealing, and sincere opposite to the gimmickry that is currently a product of Hollywood’s 3-D films. Wenders believes that 3-D will interest those who are passionate about physiology of seeing and how brain and eyes work together to create spatial perception.  3-D deserves to be taken seriously by its creators, who will need to take aspects like depth, volume, and space for their film subjects to experiment with the language of 3-D.

He feels that although 2-D allows for emotional connection between characters, they still appear to be distant as compared to 3-D, which allows for a unique sense of perceptual space and unique human encounter.  While referencing a segment in his film which is a medium shot of the dancers as they sit in front of the camera, Wenders explains that his direction to them was that they only speak when they are really compelled to say something about Bausch or their relationship to her. This resulted in the dancers taking their time and for some periods, just sitting silently in front of the camera.

The sheer presence of a person sitting in front of the camera with no purpose was mind blowing. As the audience had seen these excerpts from the film earlier in his talk, it was clear the segments about which he was talking.  According to him, 3-D was able to transcend the realm of cinema and create human presence in body and soul.

He strongly feels that the current trend by studios is going in the opposite direction in which 3-D films are  completely devoid of human presence; people do not exist, rather “strange human-like creatures” occupy the fantasy-like spaces in which thrill of action is the only element. He feels that studios are not interested in experimenting with 3-D language. He emphasized that 3-D had gotten out of bed on the wrong foot as it can do much more than what is imposed on it by studios.

For him, 3D belongs in the hands of doc filmmakers, independent artists, experimental  filmmakers who are willing to forget the already established rules and be in the realm of where 3-D allows for more connection and presence.

For him, his film, PINA, allowed 3-D to bring the best in dance. Dance, in turn, brought out the best in 3-D.