Shooting a 3D documentary: building a mini beam splitter rig for close ups

Vision alert. So we’re thinking of designing our own mini beam splitter rig to shoot close ups for our first 3D documentary . Here’s why: as I’ve mentioned,we’re trying to sort out our B cam system using Film Factory’s 3D Indie BS Rig – this should hopefully work for the majority of our B cam shots.

But it isn’t the most portable system – something that will surely prove challenging on an industrial site, where the explosive demolition series Blowdown takes place.

For the odd close up of the crew loading explosives etc. in a condemned sports stadium in Salvador, Brazil, it’s painful to think about moving the whole rig and setting up just to get a shot or two.

And we’d like to avoid using a side-by-side rig  because it’s a mission (if not a mission impossible) to get the cameras close enough together to film these types of shots.

If there’s a way to build a mini beam splitter unit, one person could just move in and get this footage with way less trouble (ie. instead of two people to set up the full-sized rig, etc.).

As an added bonus, we could also use this system in a temporary pinch if the main B cam system happened to go down.

We bought an extra mirror anyway, in case the one that came with the Film Factory Indie rig system malfunctions mid-shoot … why not try and put it to use?

Our stereographer, Sean White, knows a machinist who may be able to help us build this mini rig we’ve envisioned.

We’d probably use Canon Vixias – smaller than the Sony EX1/EX3 combination we’re trying to make work with the Film Factory Indie rig – and rig it as an underslung system.

One camera would be positioned below (instead of above), and the spare mirror would be angled the opposite way as the one on the full-fledged beam splitter rig.

This rig would theoretically snap onto a tripod, and would achieve a small enough interaxial distance for us to get the close-ups we need without a mega hassle.

If any stereo, etc. issues arose, we’d correct them in post – theoretically a relatively small workload considering we don’t use tons of these types of shots in our shows.

At the moment, it’s just an idea – but seems fittingly par for this unchartered course.

Editing a 3D documentary: working with two audio channels in Cineform Neo3D

Looks like we’ll have to find a workaround for the audio issue we’ve encountered with Cineform Neo3D software in order to edit our first 3D documentary.

As I’ve mentioned, the 3D files that Cineform creates only have two audio tracks.

To capture ambient noise as well as a conversation between two subjects for the explosive demolition show Blowdown, we have to capture at least three channels (a boom mic and two lavs), sometimes four (camera mic).

Our editor, Brian Mann, has been in conversation with Cineform developers to see if we could find a way to edit with more than two channels.

They’ve been very prompt in replying and helpful.

But unfortunately it looks like there’s no way to edit more than two channels of audio using the current version.

There’s no particular reason why the program’s this way – it’s just a design factor that isn’t optimal for our specific post production needs.

As far as we’re concerned it’s the best high-end game in town, and otherwise it’s working great.

Cineform’s lead Mac engineer plans to add it to the list of things to add to their future release, First Light.

In the interim, we’ll have to figure out how to adjust our workflow.

3D beam splitter rigs for Sony EXs: filmmakers weigh in

It seems we’re not alone in the quest to find a beam splitter rig/camera system that will work as our B cam setup for shooting our first 3D documentary.

My previous blog outlining the issue has been posted on the Yahoo! Group thread P+S Technik 3D Stereo Rig + 2 Sony EX3, where there are entries from several people looking for information on how to make this – and similar systems – work for them.

Here’s our particular issue: we’ve been testing a Sony EX1 and a Sony EX3 mounted on a Film Factory 3D Indie BS Rig, but are having issues getting the cameras optimally positioned.

One alternative mentioned in the Yahoo! thread is a P+S Technik rig, but from what I gather it’s more expensive than the Film Factory Indie unit we’ve purchased.

Another up-and-coming alternative seems to be Alister Chapman’s “Hurricane” beam splitter rig, evidently designed specifically with Sony EX3s in mind.

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Shooting a 3D documentary: Schneider, Fujinon, Meuser – it’s a lens showdown

We’re on a mission to find a functional lens for our A cam system to shoot our first 3D documentary.

And it’s almost time for the ultimate showdown: pitting three different models against each other, head to head … to head.

As I’ve explained, the winning candidate will ideally work with our Iconix 1/3-inch sensors, capture in HD, and allow us to film  anywhere from 1 ½ -2 metres away from our subject to as far out as we want to go.

Easier said than done.

The Schneider Cinegon 5.3 mm lenses we ordered from New York are meant for a 1/3-inch sensor, but they’re not designed to shoot in HD, so I suspect the quality will be too low.

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Editing a 3D documentary: JVC HD 3D LCD monitor review

Our HD 3D monitor has arrived!

It’s the 46-inch JVC GD-463D10, and it means our editor, Brian Mann, doesn’t have to view footage in anaglyph anymore.

Moving to polarized is a relief – no colour loss, no red and cyan ghosting … and no headaches.

Purchasing the monitor ($6,600 later) was obviously a must – you can’t produce a high quality 3D show, like the first 3D documentary we’re going to shoot, editing in anaglyph.

We managed to fit it into an edit suite and set it up. Brian, Jakub and I check out some VFX footage on our newest 3D toy:

When it comes time to cut this Blowdown, Brian will use the monitor to see what he’s editing in Final Cut Pro (which, as I’ve mentioned, can’t edit in 3D without third party program help – we’re trying Cineform Neo3D out).

This view is key – cutting 3D shots means there’s a lot more to consider – parallax, convergence, wide and close, how much positive depth/negative depth exists in each shot.

If you cut shots with huge discrepancies in depth it’s really uncomfortable to watch, so you can’t just chop shots together – even with a flashy transition.

The only rub with the monitor is that it doesn’t do dual stream, which means the footage is technically at half-resolution (ie. don’t get both eyes full res).

So even though we’re editing in dual stream (to deliver the highest quality possible), we can’t view it that way on the JVC screen.

We looked into dual stream monitors – Panasonic’s due to release a 25-inch unit in the fall – but it’s prohibitively expensive (approximately $10,000).

And, more importantly, it’s too small for us to view our footage in a size that’s representative of our final product (how many 25-inch televisions have you seen lately?) – a shortfall that could lead to convergence that isn’t optimal for our audience.

Oh, and the JVC came with two free pairs of polarized glasses.

Looks like we’ll do just fine:

Editor Brian Mann works with the JVC HD 3D LCD monitor

Shooting a 3D documentary: run and gun data management

Shooting our first 3D documentary’s not only going to change the way we capture content in the field, it’s also going to drastically change the way we store it.

Not only will this be the first show that my crew shoots tapeless, they’ll also have to contend with twice the amount of footage.

And if they lose any of it, it could be a huge disaster (think: Blowdown without the implosion. Yikes).

So we’re looking into a system that will allow us to move footage from camera/nano3D compact flash cards to a storage unit during the day, the transfer it into a mega conduit each evening.

Our data journey would start with ShotPut Pro. This copy utility application automatically copies and verifies all transfers off of flash cards. It can also copy multiple cards to multiple hard disks at the same time.

We’d use ShotPut Pro to transfer our footage to a G RAID mini. Using its RAID 1 setting, the crew would put two copies of everything onto the mini’s two SATA drives. This redundancy means that if for some reason we lose one drive, we won’t lose the farm.

Each G RAID mini stores up to 1 TB of data, so we should be able to carry our footage (up to 500 GB, copied twice) on it until the end of the day (if the crew’s shooting more than that amount, they’re shooting too much!).

Each evening, we’d then transfer the footage from the G RAID mini to a G SAFE. Each of these storage units takes up to 2 TB of data, and only stores RAID 1 (mirrored), which means two copies stored no matter what.

The data journey would end when both 7200 RPM SATA II drives are removed and shipped back to the production house separately, in case one gets lost in transit.

Approximate cost: $100 for ShotPut Pro, $300 for the G RAID mini, $700 for the G SAFE with two drives (ie. the first 2 TB of storage).

After that, we’ll be buying drives just like we bought tapes – I’m interested to see how costs compare out the other end.

And another first – to keep track of audio tracks, locations and dates (in lieu of the tape, sticker and marker technique) we’ll be using an electronic slate, courtesy of the iPad.

Editing a 3D documentary: stereo scripts that work with Adobe CS5

Good news on the post front: we’ve upgraded from Adobe CS4 to CS5.

And the stereo scripts our compositor will use to create VFX for our first 3D documentary work with the newer version.

We’ve been gearing to get CS5 running since we moved from Leopard to Snow Leopard to take advantage of the 64-bit architecture and improve workflow.

But our VFX artist, Jakub Kuczynski, was concerned stereo 3D scripts he found online that have given him a much more efficient pipeline for stereoscopic workflow in After Effects wouldn’t transfer over smoothly to CS5.

He contacted the scripts’ developer, Christoph Keller, to ask if they’d be compatible, but he didn’t know.

Now we do. And it’s very good news – work that would take Jakub a day to do manually takes him about an hour, thanks to the scripts.

As for the CS5/Leopard upgrades, we haven’t noticed a marked increase in speed, but even a little more juice over the long run means more efficient post production overall.

Editing a 3D documentary: Cineform 3D software audio challenges

We’ve fed footage from our 3D green screen shoot into post, where we’ve promptly encountered our first editing glitch. We’re running a trial version of Cineform Neo3D software to see if it will work for editing our first 3D documentary.

The reason we’re trying this program is that it allows for dual steam, which means each eye is at full res and in real time, so we can do convergence, colour correction and other editing in real time rather than having to render whenever we make an adjustment.

Cineform also works with Final Cut Pro, the editing software we normally use to cut 2D HD there’s no way to edit 3D in FC without a 3rd party programs, as far as we know.

Great for picture, but there’s a problem with audio.

The 3D files that Cineform creates will only have two audio tracks.

To capture ambient noise as well as a conversation between two subjects, we have to capture at least three channels (a boom mic and two lavs), sometimes four (camera mic).

And since Blowdown – the explosive demolition series we’ll be filming – is event-based, there’s no opportunity for ADR, and you can’t recreate most of the ambient sound in post.

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3D documentary filmmaking: why Sony EXs aren’t ideal for our beam splitter rig

A week of testing our B cam beam splitter rig system has revealed that the Sony EX1/EX3 duo we’re using with the Film Factory 3D BS Indie Rig aren’t ideal for shooting our first 3D documentary.

The issue isn’t technical – Alister Chapman reports using the same cameras successfully, and we were able to genlock the EX3 to the EX1 by connecting the EX1’s Y channel of the component output to the EX3’s genlock in connector, just as he has.

It’s logistical …the cameras are just too big and cumbersome for this particular beam splitter rig.

We’ve modified the rig so they fit better, but getting them aligned vertically is rough – the mics protrude and we’re still seeing the edge of the box and/or the bottom of the mirror when we use our Sony EX 5.8 mm lens (which has a 56-degree horizontal angle of view).

Wide shots are a must for Blowdown, the explosive demolition documentary we’ll be filming, so we need a system that will effectively capture this kind of footage – ie. we need to hit the sweet spot on the mirror, have the cameras vertically aligned and not see the rig when we use wide-angle lenses.

The alternative is enlarging the image in post to eliminate the part(s) of the shot that contain the rig, but that will degrade the quality, so I want to try and avoid this (especially since we’ll be blowing the footage up it to a certain degree already to facilitate convergence).

So, now we’re working with Canon Canada directly to get loaners of the XF305, which has just been released.

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Shooting a 3D documentary: review – Film Factory 3D Beam Splitter Indie Rig

Our crew’s spent the last week testing the B cam system we hope to use to shoot our first 3D documentary.

Here’s what we’ve learned about the Film Factory 3D BS Indie Rig:

Pros

1) Relatively affordable: rings in at $3,895 US plus shipping and handling (we also bought an extra mirror in case the first one smashes in the field. Don’t think we’ll find a second lying around at the condemned sports stadium slated for explosive demolition in Salvador, Brazil, where we’re going to be filming, and shipping one in would surely be a nightmare).

2) Robust but adjustable: the rig’s sturdy, so I think it will stand up well in the field. But luckily the structure isn’t rigid – we’ve had some difficulty lining our Sony EX1 and EX3 up properly (see: large and cumbersome … it’s a problem), so we’ve disassembled the rig, manually repositioned parts, and tightened them to try and accommodate the cameras.

Specifically, the aluminum rails are locked in with screws that can be loosened, adjusted, and locked back in. Without this flexibility we’d have no hope of effectively adjusting the heights of the cameras relative to the base rail (which we’re still working on. Argh).

Cons

1) Manual operation: It doesn’t have all the fine, automated controls that the higher-end feature film rigs do. It lacks motorized components, so factors such as interaxial distance and convergence have to be adjusted manually. In feature film production, it’s often one person’s job just to operate the remote to make these adjustments on automated units.

2) Heavy load: This is just something the crew’s going to have to get used to – 3D shooting demands so much more gear. But it’s still a downer. Total tally: the rig, a tripod, two mid-sized cameras, the nano3D recorder, the Transvideo Cineform 3D Monitor, all the sync cables, and battery. We think it may take two extra bodies in the field just to move all of these components around.

And the cameras are a whole other story … more to come on the Sony EX1/EX3 issue.