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.


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 documentary filmmaking – choosing a camera


Three months after we started sourcing gear for rent and sale for our first 3D shoot – for the explosive demolition series Blowdown – we’ve narrowed down a camera … we think.

The final showdown was between the SI-2K and the Iconix.

Before I go into which one we chose and why, it’s probably useful to explain exactly what we need them for.

This episode of Blowdown requires more than twenty 3D cameras:

– Two to film actuality and main story beats.

Our camera needs for this:

1. “A” camera system. Portable and operated by one person. This is when suppliers told us – “can’t be done.”

2. “B” camera Rig. As above – but for close-ups.

-18+ POV and kill cams capturing large and small scale on-site action and the actual implosions – which in the case of the Fonte Nova stadium will be many.

I’ve inserted screen grabs of the types of POVs we capture:

At the base of a rocket tower implosion, Cape Canaveral.

To get the dynamic idea of what these kill cams, mounted to the structures Controlled Demolition implodes, have to stand up to, watch them in action.


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?