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.


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.


The nano3D recorder and documentary filmmaking: a match made in stereoscopy?

With our B cam system in transit, I’ve focused back to the A cam setup for our first 3D documentary.

Our A cam equipment will have to capture all of our B roll, etc. for the next episode of Blowdown – the implosion of a massive sports stadium in Brazil.

We’ve nailed down the basic footage-capturing plan – two Iconix sensors with Fujinon lenses on a side-by-side rig.

But the Iconix aren’t like normal video cameras – no tapes, hard drives or flash cards. They “see” the footage and then spit it out.

So where are we going to store it?

If this were a scripted production, shot in a studio or on a controlled set, a tape or digital recording deck with a large array would be the way to capture the footage at the 100 MB/S or more, the minimum bitrate we need to satisfy broadcast requirements.

But because the Fonte Nova demolition is event-based and will take place in an industrial worksite, we need a recording system that’s cordless, portable (not too heavy, cumbersome), and hearty.

I think the nano3D will satisfy these criteria for us – it’s a just-minted twin drive designed to record stereoscopically and keep everything in sync between the two cameras.


3D documentary filmmaking – the great splitter rig DSLR experiment

I’ve chosen cameras to test with our 3D Film Factory BS Indie Rig, two main parts of the B cam system we’ll need to shoot our first 3D documentary.

We plan to mount two Canon 7D DSLRs on the Indie Rig, a mid-sized model that’s currently being shipped to our production house.

Our stereographer, Sean White, chose the middle-of-the-road rig because he was worried that a small one wouldn’t allow for enough coverage when using a wide-angled lens, that the cameras would “see” the inside of the beam splitter box.

And a large rig was out of the question for the event-based, run-and-gun industrial-worksite shooting that’s required Blowdown, the explosive demolition series we’re going to shoot. Our stomping ground will be a huge, condemned sports stadium in Brazil!

But there’s a huge potential downside to our mid-sized, non-refundable rig – if the Canons don’t work, logistically or qualitatively, we won’t be able to mount larger, higher-calibre video cameras because the rig’s not big enough.

But it’s a gamble we have to take – as far as we can tell, there aren’t any other systems like this … no documentary has been filmed this way, using a hand-held self-contained unit.


3D rig showdown – side-by-side? Beam splitter? Both

Two is better than one, right? We’re getting a clearer idea of what it will take to shoot our inaugural 3D documentary: To effectively capture Blowdown in the third dimension we’ll need two different kinds of rigs.

For our A cams – we need a handheld, side-by-side rig, with all of these components:

– Heads – sensor – two Iconix cameras;

– “Brain box” to control Iconix cameras;

– Lenses that attach to the Iconix sensors;

– Convergent design 3D Nano-Drives;

– Interaxial sliders for the heads; and

– A handheld rail system

For our B cams, we’ve decided a beam splitter rig’s the way to go.

So we’ve ordered 3D Film Factory’s BS Indie Rig. It’s $2,900, pre-paid and no returns.

Hope it works.

Shooting a 3D documentary: Why most rigs won’t work

Now that we’ve chosen Iconix cameras to try and film elements of our first 3D documentary, I’ve moved into the minefield of rigs.

I’m running up against the same issues as I had with finding a camera that may work … only amplified.

There are even fewer beam splitter rigs that would work to film Blowdown – an event-based production in an industrial work environment – than there are cameras.

Here’s why: At this point in time the 3D supply companies are geared only to feature and giant screen projects.

This means the few beam splitter rigs that might fit the bill require at least 25 kilograms of equipment – and rent for roughly $6,000 per week.

One company gave us a quote to buy, coming in around $60,000 – plus camera, monitors and record decks – plus a Steadicam operator to schlep this around.

This just won’t work for us because of the:

–      Cost: above our budget – which is on the high end for documentary;

–      Crew power: the Steadicam operator would be an extra body to travel, house and feed; and

–      Logistics: the weight and the sheer volume are above our single operator criteria – which is maximum 20 kilos: The camera, the rig, the steadicam, battery and monitor would weigh in almost five kilos too heavy, especially when you’re running around an industrial work site, trying to capture moments where you DON’T get another take.

Even if we could get past all these obstacles, if we could find a way to use these rigs, it turns out there’s only a few exist in the world … and they’re hopelessly tied up.


3D equipment hunt – the shortest shortlist

With Parallax Film’s first 3D shoot in Brazil less than a month away I’m twitching to nail down gear.

Our stereographer and a producer have spent the last few weeks researching and compiling a list of camera and equipment options that may work for Blowdown, the explosive demolition show we’re shooting.

The results are in, and the good news is, in fact, also the bad news – the list is even shorter than I anticipated.

I didn’t expect to find much – now the team’s confirmed my fears that there is absolutely nothing out there for the size we need that meets current broadcast specs.

Even the Panasonic and Sony’s mechanic guts are using older technology – and the compression will not meet the strident broadcast requirements – so that means even if they arrive on shelves today, we can’t use them. (There are options to bring up the bit-rate, but that presents its own suite of problems – more on that later.)

So this coming week we’re looking at the only games in town (well, actually out of town … all hail priority shipping) – Iconix and SI-2Ks – for a side-by-side configuration.

The list of accessories is extensive to make these work – we’re gathering what we think we need, and I’m sure we’ll require more – I’ll post the final manifest once we figure it out.

I’ll also continue to share all the other tech/spec/how-to trials of our mission: impossible as we slog through them – next step, the Iconix SI-2K showdown.

From 2D to 3D – converting stock VFX

It’s funny how whenever one feels like they are going in circles – one probably is.

As we prepare for our first 3D shoot, we’re feeling stereoscopic frustration because we keep hearing – “you can’t get there from here.”

I decided it was time to break the loop … by tapping our library of documentary material and our ambitious compositor.

We don’t have any footage shot in 3D, but we do have an extensive collection of 2D VFX shots from previous shows.

So as the rest of the team hunted for equipment, Jakub Kuczynski forged ahead and tried to add a third dimension to this material using After Effects.

His visual stock: cinematic shots from Blowdown and Ancient Megastructures -not CGIs but VFX constructed with plate shots – with live action or green screen elements.

The outcome – our first taste of 3D success … Parallax in stereoscopy.

Here’s a screen grab from Jakub’s demo –  converted VFX material from the, a stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana that Controlled Demolition Inc. imploded and we delivered in 2D:

But as I absorb our visual milestone I’m reminded that our VFX are only window dressing for the actual meat of the story.

If we can’t get the story down, the window dressing will only serve to draw attention to the painfully empty house it hangs in.

Can we conjure the equipment we need to capture interesting and compelling 3D doc footage in the chaos of a run-and-gun industrial environment?