3D documentary filmmaking: how to sync two Canon Vixias with one remote

As mentioned, I selected implosion cams for our first 3D documentary – six (three pairs) of Canon Vixia HF 10s and 12 (six pairs) of Canon Vixia HF M31s – a little while back.

Next, we needed to figure out how to turn each pair on simultaneously (the duos will be positioned to capture the implosion of a condemned sports stadium in Brazil for the explosive demolition series Blowdown).

And how to turn them on without knocking one (or both) out of alignment.

The cameras need to sit at a 74 mm interaxial distance, right next to each other, for us to capture the footage we need.

This means they’ll be positioned too close together for use to easily access the viewfinder on the right camera, where the camera controls are.

Since each camera comes with a remote, we tried to use them to adjust the settings on each one (holding two, trying to point each one at the infrared sensor on its respective camera), but it’s cumbersome and awkward.

It’s a problem: we need four elements to be in sync between before we start recording for these shots to work: the two cameras have to have the same zoom, the same white balance, the same exposure, and the same focus.

The risk of losing one or more implosion shots – our big bang footage that climaxes the show – because the crew’s running around like mad, trying to calibrate and turn these 18 cameras on properly while preserving their alignment, is a risk I’m not willing to take.

So our stereographer Sean White discovered a work-around – a home-made infrared transmission system that allows us to control both cameras at the same time.

With sourced components off the Internet, a box has been built that will receive any infrared signal and transmit it through a split cable to two infrared sensors.

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Shooting a 3D documentary: testing the green screen

Green screen action!

Writer Nicole Tomlinson stands in for a 3D green screen test

We’ve taken the Film Factory 3D BS Indie Rig Sony EX1/EX3 B cam setup for a full test run.

The mission: to see if the system can capture green screen footage for our first 3D documentary the way we want it to.

Stereographer Sean White mans the 3D beam splitter rig

We need these shots to create several of out our in-house visual effects, a style we prefer to classic documentary CGI because it allows us to explain extremely technical concepts in a photo-real atmosphere.

This means our transitions in and out of our footage are much more seamless … viewers can stay more immersed in the environment and focused on the story.

Here’s an example of our Blowdown VFX style:

Controlled Demolition Inc. President Mark Loizeaux outlines his demolition plan

The green screen footage we’ll need to include effects like this comes with an entirely different set of issues than the field shots we’ll have to tackle.

This environment is the most “studio” our event-based filming gets – the interviews aren’t scripted, but the lighting is set, the frame is stationary, and there’s opportunity for multiple takes.

But what we capture has to work in our compositor’s virtual environment or it’s completely useless.

Jakub Kuczynski, Parallax Film’s VFX artist, details these challenges:

We’ve thrown the footage over to post – we’ll see if it flies.

Explosive demolition and 3D filmmaking: why Canon Vixia footage survives epic implosions

As we prep to shoot our first 3D documentary, I’ve focused on nailing down our A, B and C cam systems.

Score is zero for three, so far – the A cam requires lenses that may not exist anywhere on earth, we’re still debating which cameras to use for the B cam system (though the Sony EX1/EX3 duo looks promising), and we’ve shot some time lapse stills with the C cam system, but still need to test this duo Canon 5D system for shooting footage.

So I’m embracing our lukewarm successes by adding another mission to the mix:

3D HD implosion cams …18 of them.

Let’s call them our V cam and M cam systems – lettering inspired by the camera brands, this time.

These cameras will capture POV and perimeter shots of the explosive demolition series, Blowdown, piece de resistance – the implosion.

In this case, the lenses will be locked on various points of a sports stadium in Salvador, Brazil, as Controlled Demolition Inc. takes it down with explosives.

As you can imagine, these cameras will take serious a beating – riding the building down, sitting in the centre of the field as the stadium crashes to the earth, etc.

For these POVs, we’re going with six (three pairs) of Canon Vixia HF 10s – the V cam systems.

These little cameras have survived the ultimate Parallax Film Productions 2D challenge – riding the Hoyt S. Vandenberg, now the second-largest artificial reef in the world, some 30 metres from the surface to the ocean floor when the vessel was sunk off the coast of Florida in May 2009.

I’ve thrown in a few screen grabs of the ride – watch the full episode trailer here.

A POV camera rides the Hoyt S. Vandenberg as it sinks off the coast of Florida

Six Vixia 10s in our custom-built underwater housings went down – six solid-state, high-capacity SDHD cards survived, and we recovered all of the footage.

Because this system is flash-based, its memory is relatively robust.

For our intents and purposes, this means they have a better chance of surviving massive vibrations and debris that come with the massive implosions we cover. No tape heads to fall off, no moving mechanical parts to malfunction.

Water engulfs a POV camera as the Hoyt S. Vandenberg sinks off the coast of Florida.

These three pairs will be mounted on small rails with a 74 mm interaxial distance.

Our M cam systems will also be placed at strategic places throughout the implosion perimeter to capture key demolition engineering story points (and, of course, rocking, gratuitous destruction).

For this, we’ll need 12 (six pairs) of Canon Vixia HF M31s.

And so the great camera recruitment continues … Double trouble, to be sure.

Lenses for 3D HD documentary filmmaking – an elusive breed

The A cam conundrum continues. We’ve been looking for new lenses since we realized the stock Fujinon models we had planned to use to shoot 
We’ve been looking for new lenses since we realized the stock Fujinon models we had planned to use to shoot our first 3D documentary don’t deliver the footage quality we need.

The successful candidates need to:

1)  Be designed for a 1/3-inch sensor (specifically, the Iconix models we’ve purchased – lenses designed for a 2/3-inch sensor leave us with a cropped image);

2)  Have HD resolution AND high-quality sharpness (the latter was what the Fujinon 2.8 mm and 4 mm lenses, generally used for security/surveillance systems, ultimately lacked);

3)  Be a wide-angle lens that allows us to film 1 ½ to 2 metres away from our subject without having the background diverge – a cornerstone rule of 3D production.

Amazingly, it appears that there isn’t a lens on the market anywhere in the world that satisfies these criteria.

Well, why not just switch to a 2/3-inch sensor system, then?

Here’s the issue: we chose the 1/3-inch system because the 2/3-inch camera systems have a beefier head, which means the lenses would have to be mounted further apart.

This would increase our interaxial distance to a little further than we ideally want for these relatively close-up shots, a must for the explosive demolition series, Blowdown, that we’re going to film.

I’ve ordered the closest thing we can find – two Schneider Cinegon 5.3 mm lenses – from New York.

They’re designed specifically for a 1/3-inch sensor, and they apparently shoot better quality than the Fujinons – but they don’t shoot in HD.

We’ll have to test them and see if the footage makes the cut.

And while they’re in transit, our search for the ultimate A cam lenses carries on.

Video: what 3D tech challenges mean for documentary filmmakers

More from our stereographer Sean White and 3D technician Rory Lambert on a bunch of 3D gear we’re testing to film our first documentary in stereoscopy.

Yesterday I posted video of Sean – today, Rory’s in the spotlight (well, not really … he’s in our production house, working on gear, with no elaborate lighting. But he’s on his game):

3D HD growing pains: what they mean for event-based filmmakers

3D gear and data management: must knows for event-based filmmakers

Next: the C cam challenge.

Video: must-have gear for 3D documentary filmmaking

Filmed our stereographer Sean White and 3D technician Rory Lambert as they took on a bunch of 3D gear we’re testing to film our first documentary in stereoscopy.

Details: the B cam system we’ll use to film our first 3D documentary

The new run and gun: what it takes to get stereoscopic content in the field

How to: sync two cameras using a Transvideo Cineform 3D Monitor

Speedbumps are plentiful. But it feels great to finally be working with the gear.

Rock on.

Shooting a 3D documentary: Sony EX1’s genlock issue and how to get around it

I’ve turned to the Sony EX line to shoot B cam for our first 3D documentary, after we discovered that the two Canon 7Ds we planned to use can’t send an HDSDI signal to our Transvideo Cineform 3D Monitor.

Two Sony EX3s seem to be an intuitive choice, since this model has genlock in capability.

But we’re shooting an event-based explosive documentary series, Blowdown, in a derelict sports stadium in Salvador, Brazil, so having our gear as light and portable as possible is top priority.

Our stereographer, Sean White, hit the blogosphere to see if there was any way to lighten the load. He found a lead on DoP Alister Chapman’s blog.

It looks like we can pair one Sony EX3 with a Sony EX1: the EX1 lacks a genlock in, but according to Chapman only one of the cameras needs to have it … we can send signal from the EX1 into the EX3 and then send both to the monitor.

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Canon 7Ds – why they don’t work for our 3D documentary filmmaking

Argh! The Film Factory 3D Indie Rig we purchased for our B cam system to shoot our first 3D documentary has arrived and the Canon 7D DSLRs don’t work with it!

Here’s the problem: beam splitter rigs are extremely sensitive – anyone who works with them has undoubtedly discovered that you have to have perfect alignment of the two cameras to each other, and to the mirror.

To make sure they’re aligned, we need to use a 3D monitor – so we can see both cameras on the same grid.

The model we’ve purchased (and as far as I can tell the only one that fits our field requirements, tech demands and budget) – the Transvideo Cineform 3D Monitor – takes an HDSDI signal from both cameras and combines them.

The Canon 7Ds aren’t built to send this signal … so there’s no way to see them on the monitor.

Even if we could somehow convert the signal they do send to HDSDI, the monitor also needs these two signals to be genlocked – impossible with these models.

So yeah. We need new cameras.

Looks like we’re onto plan B – Sony EX3s. This system’s been tried before, so I have no reason to think it won’t work for us.

But the EX3s are heavier than the Canon 7Ds – more weight for our already-overburdened field crew.

Excess baggage is a necessary evil in the third dimension, to be sure.

Still, it would have been nice to take a bit of the load off.

Onwards and upwards.

3D documentary gear: the nano3D is in, Fujinon lenses are out

Success! We’ve tested the nano3D with our A cam system and it actually works! Looks like we’ll be able to usSuccess!

We’ve tested the nano3D with our A cam system and it actually works!

Looks like we’ll be able to use this little recorder deck to shoot our first 3D documentary later this summer.

But it did put up a bit of a fight …

And its functionality has made me aware of another part of the system that’s not going to fly – the stock Fujinon 2.8 mm and 4 mm lenses we planned to use with the Iconix sensors.

Here’s how it all went down:

The nano3D comes with a trigger remote, used to start and stop recording.

We hooked it up to our sensor/lens kit and the remote didn’t work.

Likely a consequence of being one of the first pre production models released and rushed to us … but a consequence we couldn’t afford.

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