Behind the Scenes: Peter Jackson’s “Hobbit” in 3D

Here’s a nifty video diary from the set of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit.  It’s full of details on camera technology, some of the aesthetic and artistic choices being made, and a sense of excitement about a powerful new storytelling tool.

They’re using 48 RED Epic cameras, 3ality 3D, 48 FPS (frames per second) and a lot of  classic special effects and filmmaking skills.

Great insight into the challenge and opportunity—I’m looking forward to December 2012!

Debating 3D: Cinema’s Real Killer is 3D?

The venerable Guardian newspaper in the UK recently ran a snarky piece by Stuart Heritage in its film blog: “Cinema’s Real Killer is 3D, not Video On Demand” which I thought would make a nice addition to our “Debating 3D” category.

Here’s a quote you might want to file away:

“This is something that’s been said a billion times elsewhere by everyone else – there’s nothing quite as soul-destroying as paying a little bit extra to spend two hours watching a shoddy 3D post-conversion job in a pair of uncomfortable glasses. Ditching the pretence that 3D is either a) the future of cinema or b) a good thing at all would also be a good start.”

To paraphrase from Monty Python and the Holy Grail,  “I’m not dead yet. I’m getting better!”

Dispatch from 3D World, NYC (part of CCW/Satcon/HD world)

This has been a hard post to write!  You know how little kids sometimes get so excited when describing something amazing that they stammer and ramble—unable to just spit it out?  That’s what I felt like after attending the excellent keynote session “Your World in 3D: Separating the Facts from the Hype” at 3D World in New York City last month.

There’s so much to say, so much to share, it’s hard to boil it down to a digestible blog post so I will summarize and probably be quoting this in the weeks and months to come.

The session kicked off with an introduction by Jim Chabit, CEO of the International 3D Society—an organization doing important work in bringing together a community around 3D.  (Full disclosure, I’m a card-carrying member). This group is putting together events, awards, and information to build some momentum for 3D.  Using facts and figures he asserted that 3D continues to do strong box office—especially internationally.  He also focused on some upcoming major releases in 3D—Scorsese’s Hugo Cabret (which got rave reviews for an unfinished cut screened at NY Film Festival a couple of days earlier), Spielberg’s Adventures of TinTin, and the James Cameron’s 3D conversion of Titanic.

Buzz Hays, Senior VP 3D Production at Sony is an incredibly knowledgeable and dynamic speaker.  He focused on some of the important technical issues and gave an overview of the stereoscopy training Sony has developed for film professionals.  These in-depth (forgive the pun) materials are aimed at fine-tuning 3D cinema skills. Sony has been offering this course to help raise the overall technical level in the industry.   He walked us through some of the key variables—tools that can be used for subtle (and no-so-subtle) effects.  We also saw examples of common pitfalls (misalignment, mismatchs, and distortions) that helped explain and quantify when/why 3D becomes more uncomfortable to watch.

This presentation clearly and eloquently articulates the flexibility of 3D as a tool.  When waved about recklessly it can be annoying and even uncomfortable.  When it’s wielded with finesse it adds depth on many levels to story telling.

John Cassy from Sky3D in the UK stressed the importance quality and variety in content. “If you think 3D can paper over the cracks, you will fail”.   He insists that quality 3D content relies on combining stories, people, and partnerships.  We saw gorgeous footage from upcoming releases: “Meerkats” (cute animals in awe-inspiring scenery) and “Kew Gardens” (luscious, HD/3D time-lapse shots from one of the world’s great botanical treasures).  He hailed Sir David Attenboroughfor being an early leader in 3D, the way he was an early pioneer of color TV 45 years ago.

Michael Duenas, DO, from the American Optometric Association (AOA) was the final speaker.  The AOA recently released a fascinating report on 3D in education and in that context Dr. Duenas gave a passionate and wide-ranging presentation on the role of 3D in vision health and the far-reaching repercussions of not having adequate screening at an early age.  It’s a bold assertion—that traditional eye examinations, in focusing on only one aspect of vision health, overlook the critical capability of stereoscopic vision.  The resulting misdiagnoses and lack of treatment impact student engagement, learning, and broader issues such as crime and recidivism.

The AOA is going beyond debunking fears about 3D and championing it. This is a fascinating area that I’m sure will be getting a lot more attention.

The session wrapped up with a clip of silent film legend Harold Lloyd, an early enthusiast of 3D, converted to 3D.  It looked pretty darned good.

 

Own your own 3D Glasses

3D glasses are starting to pop up in retail venues.  Here are Oakley 3D glasses for sale at Chicago airport.  I chatted with the sales clerk and he told me they are selling pretty well.  The pair on the right are “Transformers” special edition.

3D Encounter at the Museum of Modern Art

I dropped by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City the other day for a quick art fix and ended up at the exhibition: Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects.

It’s an ambitious effort to examine the interface designs between humans and objects, something we deal with a lot in the tech world but not necessarily from the designers point of view.

The results are interesting with a design-centric sensibility harnessing trendy tools such as QR codes, smart phones, and Twitter hashtags in an effort to enhance human interaction with the exhibit itself.

One piece in particular caught my eye Keiichi Matsuda’s Augmented (hyper) Reality: Augmented City 3D, a short film illustrating augmented reality (layering computer-generated visual information over a real life view.)  It’s an interesting concept and the design is beautiful, but what caught my eye were anaglyph glasses dangling across from the piece inviting viewers to watch in 3D.

The piece is displayed on one of many video monitors hung down a long, sunlit corridor.  These are terrible viewing conditions in every way (too much light, people jostling as they past) but it was irresistible for a lot of people, including me.

The 3D optics aren’t great, but it is enough to give a better sense of the immersive quality of augmented reality, something we’ll be seeing more of I’m sure. It’s also a testament to the power 3D has to command attention. The show runs through November 7, 2011. I highly recommend it.    

Wim Wenders: sharing the space

I had the incredible privilege of hearing Wim Wenders’ keynote address to the Toronto International Stereoscopic 3D Conference (June 11, 2011).  I transcribed some of my frantically scribbled notes at the time.  Now the entire speech is available online at Mr. Wenders’ official web site.

It puts forward a passionate, eloquent vision of what is possible with 3D as an artistic tool.  Wenders has created “Pina”, a film featuring the work and creative company of the late Pina Bausch.  He screened some clips from the film and it’s amazing.  I can’t wait to see the whole thing. Here’s the trailer: 

The speech is long and reads like an epic poem but it’s really a manifesto challenging the trivialization of 3D as an artistic tool.  Anyone interested in 3D, film, or art in general should read this.  I will be posting my favorite quotes starting with this one:

[on working on “portraits”, close-ups of the dancers]

I must say: I was, again, unprepared.
We had been using this technology for weeks already,
and had started to “understand” it,
learn how to move the camera,
learn how to deal with “depth”,
but this sheer presence of a person,
without choreographie,
without sound,
without story,
almost without purpose,
was… mind-blowing.

I had not seen that in any film before,
not in any 3D film, that’s for sure,
and not even in our own shots.
How this medium was able to actually transcend 
(in the very sense of the word)
the realm of cinema,
of cinematic representation,
and create (or imitate, I’m not sure) “presence”,
human presence, in body and soul…
that was shocking.

The most outrageous, though, was, or is:
the present perception of 3D is going in the opposite direction.
It is all taking place in the realm of fantasy,
and the actors on the screen are more devoid of reality
than any actor in any old black and white movie.
Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz in “Pirates of the Caribbean” for instance
(I could pick many other examples)
are not “there”…
they do not exist,
with all the gimmickry around them
they are strange, human-like creatures, 
“body snatchers” like in that film by Phil Kaufman.
And that goes for everything that comes packaged 
in the 3D envelope of the Major Studios.
They have taken this language, this amazing new medium,
and … kidnapped it,
stolen it, mutilated it beyond recognition,
so none of their audiences could possibly conceive of it as a tool
to represent … reality.
Human reality.
Our planet.
Our existence.
Our concerns.

But: I am convinced that this is what 3D was invented for.

3D in the Classroom Picking up Momentum

On the heels of the American Optometric Association report‘s praise for 3D as beneficial to learning and health, there is new research being published that expands in more detail on 3D as a tool for engagement, learning, and retention.

These initiatives are interesting for a couple of reasons.  First, if 3D is not only not bad but actually good for kids, if schools trust it, then that goes a long way to debunking some of the anxieties—specific and generalized—about the impact of the technology on young people.

The education market is also a potentially large and lucrative one for selling projectors. The theatre market is not high growth–the TV market will focus on sets, not projectors. This is good business.

Here’s an interesting video case study:

A tip of the hat to Wired magazine’s “Geek Dad” column for covering this!

Finally, here’s the complete announcement of the research findings:

3D Lessons Deliver Higher Levels Of Understanding And Increased Focus To Students Across Europe

European research highlights significant improvements in test scores as a result of learning with 3D content

LONDON – September 29, 2011, 12:00 p.m. GMT: Texas Instruments (TI) (NYSE:TXN) DLP® Products presents data that shows 3D, when used as a teaching tool in classrooms, has a widespread positive impact on how students learn. The independent study is announced today at the UK launch event in Claridges, London and hosted in collaboration with The Company of Educators. Conducted in classrooms across seven European countries, the research compares the difference in comprehension, information retention and overall behaviour between students learning via traditional 2D methods versus learning via 3D projection.

A long-time partner in providing technology for education, DLP Products initiated the study as a way to gather information and feedback on teaching with content displayed using 3D projectors. The research team, led by Professor Anne Bamford, Director of the International Research Agency, commissioned pre- and post-testing on control and variable student groups to track information retention and understanding, as well as collected observational data during classroom visits to measure student attentiveness and behaviour.

Highlights from the survey include:

  • On average, 86% of pupils improved from the pre-test to the post-test in the 3D classes, compared to 52% who improved in the 2D classes.
  • Individuals improved test scores by an average of 17% in the 3D classes, compared to an 8% improvement in the 2D classes between pre-test and post-test.
  • 92% of students on average were attentive during 3D lessons, while only 46% were actively paying attention during non-3D lessons.

“Teaching in 3D is a remarkable educational tool that enables students to enhance their learning capabilities by truly engaging and interacting with the subject criteria in a highly effective way,” explained Kathryn Macaulay, Deputy Head (Data, Operations and Communications) at The Abbey School, Reading, UK. “This research clearly demonstrates the ‘real’ results that high quality teaching in 3D generates and further reinforces the need for wider appreciation of how 3D technology can be adopted in the classroom to allow students of today and tomorrow to fulfill their potential.”

The research project involved 740 students (ages 10-13), 47 teachers and 15 schools across France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Turkey, United Kingdom and Sweden between December 2010 and May 2011. Students were tested before and after the
lessons, with one control group learning with 2D methods only, and the other receiving the same instruction, but with 3D content added into the lessons. Students were also tested on their ability to recall the information four weeks later, and researchers collected observational data on the engagement level of students at set intervals during each of the lessons.

Bamford said, “Across all of the schools involved in the study, 3D shortened the time it took for students to learn concepts, increased their attention spans and resulted in overall deeper thinking from the students. The findings indicate that 3D projection should be considered now and into the future when looking for ways to improve students learning and engagement.”

Adoption of 3D-Ready projectors looks to have no signs of stopping. According to the Pacific Media Associates (PMA) 2011 Q2 Census Report, nearly 2 million DLP 3D-Ready projectors were available globally at the end of 2010 and 4.1 million units are expected on the market by the end of this year. This comes as no surprise with the lifelike images that 3D projection can provide, which not only keep students‟ attentions, but also provide an immersive, 360-degree view of content that previously could only be taught using flat, 2D images and videos, or rudimentary models and figurines.

“We are delighted for the opportunity to jointly host the UK launch event with TI DLP Products,” said Peter Briggs, Master of The Company of Educators.

“At Texas Instruments, we work to provide technology that improves people‟s lives and the results of this study show that we‟re putting our resources in the right place,” said Roger Carver, Manager of Front Projection, DLP Products. “As the technology powering the vast majority of 3D-Ready projectors around the world, from cinemas to classrooms and home theatres, TI DLP is focused on enabling teachers and students worldwide to experience the same kind of learning success that has been found through this project.”

To view the full report of the findings, please go http://www.DLP.com/aoapresspdf. 

NEW: American Optometric Association Report on 3D

The American Optometric Association (AOA) report “3D in the Classroom: See Well, Learn Well” is now available online (in a slick, very flashy flash format) here.  As Planet3D.org reported previously, the report takes an interesting trajectory asserting that not only is 3D not dangerous for children (or anyone with two eyes), but it can actually be beneficial in learning and early diagnosis of correctable vision problems.

It’s a fascinating and meticulous entry into the debate and an excellent primer on 3D history and technology. (It is also very clever marketing by an industry under siege).  Let’s see if this new report gets as much attention as the recent crop of alarmist reports and anecdotal complaining!

Note: The AOA is also hosting a web site along with the 3D@home industry consortium, www.3Deyehealth.org, that’s worth keeping an eye on.

CONVERSION: 3D to 2D glasses from Think Geek

I’m a geek, and I really enjoy April Fools Day every year for geeky pranks on the Internet. Nobody does it better than the fabulous website Think Geek. One of my favorite 2011 pranks was the “De-3D Cinema Glasses“—the copy says, “You’ve been there before, a movie is playing in both 2D and 3D, all your friends want to see the 3D version… so what can you do? Finally, ThinkGeek has the solution to deliver old skool 2D images to your tired eyes with the De-3D Cinema Glasses.”

Futuristic 3D Movies… Make Us Sick

  • Converts standard 3D movies in to relaxing 2D
  • Eliminates headaches and nausea associated with 3D movies
  • Works with current 3D movies in theaters using RealD 3D technology”
Very cute, right?  When you click to “order” it tells you “GOTCHA”. But now when you click there is a red banner saying “OMG it’s real!”  It turns out this is now a product.
Again, the copy says:

YouTube adds a 3D Conversion Tool

One of the biggest uphill climbs in 3D is the lack (quality and quantity) of content.  YouTube took big steps this week to address that by releasing a new tool that will in their words “convert 2D videos into 3D with a single click”. The announcement cheerfully adds “(beta!)”

YouTube has been supporting a variety of 3D formats quietly since 2009 and 3D cameras are just starting to gain some momentum in the consumer market. With this step YouTube fast forwards past the need to have special camera or third party conversion software. It will be interesting to see what creative application the new tool can have.

On the down side, this has the potential of reinforcing negative impressions of 3D based on inferior conversions.  Even though bad wedding videos don’t keep people from watching television, Clash of the Titans is held up as an example of why 3D will “never” work.

Other updates YouTube announced at the same time—the ability for accounts in good standing to upload long form content and the availability of two new online video editing tools—mean that more and better tools will be available to produce (we all hope) more and better content.  That’s good news.

Read the details on the YouTube blog, click here.