Shooting a 3D documentary: wiring a ContourHD POV system

One of the issues we ran into while getting ready to shoot our first 3D documentary was controlling our POV cams on without knocking them out of alignment.

We chose two ContourHDs to capture POV footage on this shoot – the implosion of the Fonte Nova Stadium in Salvador, Brazil for the explosive demolition series Blowdown – over the two GoPro HDs because the ContourHD’s shape (round) allows for a smaller interaxial distance than the GoPro HD’s (boxy).

The ContourHD’s lasers also allow the crew to confirm the cameras are aligned horizontally after they’re placed on our custom-made aluminum side by side rig and before they’re mounted on a Magic Arm or tripod.

The one problem with these cameras is that the switches are big and cumbersome – our stereographer, Sean White, was concerned about knocking the cameras out of alignment when it’s time to record.

So we’ve had a single switch hardwired into both camera’s circuitry.

Now we can turn both on at the same time without having to worry about alignment issues.

Sean with the wired ContourHD POV system, and some other 3D gear:




Shooting a 3D documentary: crew packs for Brazil

Big day today: our stereographer Sean White and 3D technician Rory Lambert packed up all the gear we’ll need to shoot our first 3D documentary.

They fly out tomorrow morning for Salvador, Brazil. More of the field crew will head down later this week and, as mentioned, I’ll be joining them next week.

Together, we’ll capture the prep and implosion of the Fonte Nova Stadium for the explosive demolition series Blowdown.

Managed to get video/stills of some of the gear before it was boxed/bagged, including our POV cam, one of the kill cams, and data management components – will share in the next few days.

Mini beam splitter is among the gear, but boxed and separate from the cameras – want to wait until it’s all set up in the field to snap pics of it.

For today … it’s all about the anticipation.

Sean and Rory pack the gear:

Rory on the great unknowns:

Sean on the next steps:

Adeus, crew.

3D documentaries in the news: Parallax Film Productions on CBC Radio

Our stereographer, Sean White, spoke with CBC Radio earlier this week about the challenges him and the rest of the Parallax Film team (myself included) will face shooting our first 3D documentary:

Sean speaks about the implosion of the Fonte Nova Stadium in Salvador, Brazil that we’ll be filming for the explosive demolition series Blowdown, how 3D event-based documentary filmmaking differs from 3D feature film production, and how we’ve rigged gear, planned data management and hammered out a work flow taking these differences into consideration.

Quotable quotes:

“The tools exist for making feature films like Avatar, or we see a lot of animated 3D films, but now with this emergence of 3D television there’s a thirst and a demand for content but the tools don’t quite exist to be able to go out there and do filmmaking like we’re used to doing it for television.”

“Together with a team here in Victoria we’ve actually taken other cameras and sourced components from other places and assembled them in a way that certainly in B.C. and Canada and probably in the world these systems don’t exist.”

“Our hope is that as 3D becomes more prolific that a Canadian broadcaster will catch on to this stuff … it’s more than the future of television, this is the future of how we consume content, whether it’s on the Internet or on whether it’s on TV this is what future generations are going to be demanding and we’re on the forefront of creating it for television.”

Gear roundup tomorrow, Crew ships out Monday.

Ready to roll.

Compositing a 3D documentary: converting 2D to 3D

Even though we’re going to shoot our first 3D documentary entirely in the third dimension, our visual effects will still be generated from stills.

Our compositor, Jakub Kuczynski, has been converting 2D VFX from previous episodes of the explosive demolition series Blowdown as he preps to work with photos from the implosion of the Fonte Nova Stadium in Salvador, Brazil.

He’s working in 3D space in Adobe After Effects. So to convert shots, he:

1) Generates a second camera in the 3D space, so there’s a camera for the left eye and the right eye.

2) Positions the second camera being aware of the same elements as shooting on location: how close objects are to the camera, etc.

3) Goes thorough the shot, key frame convergence depending on where the camera is in relation to objects.

4) Creatively decides where the depth cues will work best.

5) Renders both eyes.

6) Hand over to edit, then check the shot out on our polarized monitor.

Go through the shot, key frame convergence, spit out a left eye and a right eye.

It’s great to see some of the shots of 2D past converted into 3D – prominent, big and impressive.

Here’s the anaglyphic version of one of the shots, a bunker fly-in from Spyship: sinking the Hoyt S. Vandenberg – now the second-largest artificial reef in the world – off the coast of Florida.

Video: 3D documentaries in the news – Parallax Film Productions on CBC Television

We’re almost off to Salvador, Brazil to film the prep and implosion of the Fonte Nova Stadium for the explosive demolition Blowdown … and momentum is building.

Reporter Theresa Lalonde visited the production house earlier this week to chat with us about shooting our first 3D documentary.

Here’s the piece, which aired on the CBC British Columbia evening news:





Lots of B roll of 3D glasses and the post team, an interview with me in front of the green screen … even some Tron footage.

Oh yeah, and it starts off with an implosion: Ocean Tower luxury condominium high-rise on South Padre Island, Texas crashing to the ground, which our crew filmed last winter.

A solid two minutes.

Nice job.

Making a 3D documentary: 3D TV penetration stats

Fun with numbers … 3D TV style. As we get ready to shoot our first 3D documentary, I’ve been curious about what the future holds for 3D TV.

It’s tough to find stats on this, but I did come across a report from the International Television Expert Group, released in May 2010.

The report forecasts:

1) Over 20 million TV homes globally will be watching 3D TV within five years.

2) 3D TV is expected to be in 1.6% of all homes by 2015.

3) North America will lead the way in terms of number of 3D TV homes with 9.2 million.

4) Western Europe will be the second largest region with 6.8 million.

5) Asia Pacific third with 4.6 million.

It predicts growth will be constrained by:

1) Absence of a glasses-free system of watching 3D TV.

2) Lack of content.

3) High production costs.

4) Scarcity of channels.

5) Bandwidth constraints.

6) High cost of 3D sets.

Obviously, the more people who get to watch this next episode of the explosive demolition series Blowdown we’re about to shoot – the implosion of the Fonte Nova Stadium in Salvador, Brazil – in 3D, the better.

Has anyone else come across stats on 3D TV penetration?

It would be great to see more …


Making a 3D documentary: stunning visuals, solid story

It’s the final countdown. Our stereographer, Sean White, is hustling to nail down all the gear to shoot  our first 3D documentary.

The crew will be packing up on Sunday, and flying to Salvador, Brazil on Monday to start filming the explosive demolition series Blowdown – plan to get get lots of pics and video of the gear before they leave and post here next week.

I’ll be joining them the week after, and will stay until after the implosion of the condemned Fonte Nova Stadium.

And while Sean and the others are busy thinking about how to capture great visuals in 3D, I’m going to be thinking about story.

Even though all this 3D stuff looks incredible, I still believe that if the story isn’t good, it’s not worth watching – so I need to make sure we’re investing in it first.

This means capturing key bits between Controlled Demolition Inc.’s crew – obstacles they encounter, conversations they have, and emotional moments that resonate.

On the other hand, I don’t want to be afraid to capture 3D footage that will captivate our audience visually …

Shooting a 3D documentary: thinking 3D in the field

As our first 3D documentary shoot approaches, I’m contemplating the intricacies of shooting in the third dimension. Our stereographer, Sean White, is familiarizing the rest of the crew with the new things they’ll have to take into consideration when shooting the prep and implosion of the Fonte Nova Stadium in Salvador, Brazil.

Bottom line: the jump into 3D will change how we frame and shoot the explosive demolition series Blowdown.

In other words, it will change pretty much everything.

And to make it work, the crew’s going to have to learn how to “see” in 3D.

They’ll have to think about where things are going to fall into positive and negative space.

They’ll have to identify visuals that are going to look superb in 3D – and, just as importantly, recognize the shots that won’t make the cut.

They’ll have to understand the strengths and limitations of each rig – our beam splitter, mini beam splitter, and the plethora of side by sides – so they know which one works best for which shot.

They need to recognize when we can’t get too close to a subject.

They must realize that they can’t frame something in the extreme foreground and pan to reveal a subject in the background – a trademark move to help create depth in a 2D image can mean too much volume in 3D.

They also need to make sure there are no objects floating around in the foreground (ie. wires, the edge of a wall, rebar sticking up, edge of a concrete slab) – and understand what details could be distracting.

Not to mention they’ll be working on a dusty demolition site – for example, excavators pulling up dirt, swinging into the shot as the “claw” grabs something.

They’ll not only have to think about how this will play in 3D, they’ll have to think about if one lens is dusted out, say, by the excavator’s load.

If they miss any one of the parameters on any one of the eyes this shot – or any other shot – will be useless.

Here’s to cleaning the cameras – times two.  And all the adventure that comes with it.

Lucky we have a great crew. Ready to roll.

Shooting a 3D documentary: why we use still photography to capture time lapses

A bit more re. how we plan to produce time lapses for our first 3D documentary.

We’ve used still cameras to capture time lapses for previous episodes of Blowdown, the explosive demolition show we’re gearing up to film – for transitions, establishing shots, and work that’s progressing.

Here’s a raw example of one from an episode in Season One – the implosion of four cooling towers at the Sellafield nuclear facility in England:

The reason we use this technique is because it gives us photos that are higher resolution that HD – pristine, jpeg images up to 21.1 MP.

Obviously much better quality than frame grabs off of video.

It also means our primary video cameras/crew can be used to film action – in this case demo work on the Fonte Nova Stadium in Salvador, Brazil – while the still cameras (in this case Canon 7Ds) sit unmanned on a side-by-side rig, automatically collecting shots.

In the 3D realm, the super high resolution will allow us to converge and do digital zooms in post within the time lapse without losing any quality.

The mini beam splitter rig: portability for 3D documentary filmmakers

The mini beam splitter rig concept we came up with to film elements of our first 3D documentary has come to fruition.

We decided to try and build because the thought of moving and setting up our Film Factory 3D Indie BS Rig for one or two close ups is just too painful. Now we can use this smaller unit to shoot these components for the explosive demolition series Blowdown and save schlepping the full-sized rig around the Fonte Nova Stadium in Salvador, Brazil for when we’re shooting extensive B roll in one location.

The goal was to custom-design a rig that would house two Canon 7Ds and that was small enough and light enough to be operated by one person, handheld.

To achieve this, the mini beam splitter rig:

1) Has customized aluminum rails that aren’t as big and fat as the ones on the Film Factory Indie rig.

2) Is bolted and tweaked specifically for the dimensions of the Canon 7Ds.

3) Has a smaller box.

4) Is designed so the second camera is underslung – easier to handle because it’s not as top-heavy.

5) Allows us to get camera lenses closer to the mirror.

It was whipped up in a couple of days, and it’s not pretty – but it is portable and robust. We’ll see if it works.