The rise of VR is unquestionable and 2016 is projected to be the year in which it really comes into its own. VR headset sales are projected to hit 12 million this year, all of the major film festivals now have VR components and the studios and networks are primed.
For filmmakers this new space is the Wild West. A lot of undiscovered country remains to be explored. The co-founders of 3D Evolution (3DE), two of the most cutting-edge innovators in this space discuss their newest creation: a lightweight (Stereoscopic) True 3D 360 camera rig.
Kit Mallet is a 25 year veteran of the film industry. He has directed action for films across the world in locales such as Russia, Ukraine, Malta, Norway and Thailand. He’s worked as a stunt performer and coordinator on such films as 300, Man of Steel, and X-Men 2.
Dirk Gombos, BSc., started in sciences and the Mining & Metals Industry with a scheduling/controls job at Fluor Corporation. He then went on to work in the investment sector, dealing with private capital ventures. Mr. Gombos later developed a web design/programming business, using that knowledge, he went onto the purchase and operation of a Telecommunications franchise.
Q: Let’s start at the beginning with the 3D portion of the story, tell me about your 3D camera rig system and what distinguishes it from other camera systems?
KM: Several years ago I found a need to develop a really light camera rig system for 3D that would allow us to shoot a lot more action sequences. I came from a stunt background and the 3D rigs really limited how you can shoot action. When I visited the set of Final Destination 5 which was being filmed in 3D, the rigs were 150 lbs. So that prompted me to design our first generation of 3D rigs. It ended up being about 15 lbs. or so.
Dirk and I were introduced and with Dirk having a scientific background he brought a lot of great concepts and insights to the 3D rig design. We ended up having a rig that weighed less than 10 lbs. With the cameras it weighed about 30-35 lbs. Compared to the normal 100+ lb. rigs. So that was our first concept. Our main 3D rig which we use for feature films, TV, or anything else. The main reason we created it was to save money on production costs to achieve rates comparable to 2D costs.
DG: We also made our 3D rig collapsible so that it’s easy to take anywhere for people shooting documentaries, in tight locations, and difficult scenarios. It’s lightweight and highly versatile. Secondly, we focused on stability and non-rotational/vibrational movement, and that’s what set our rig apart from the others at that time. The rig keeps costs down by reducing the amount of crew needed and complications during setup of the rig. It also produces better in-camera media which lowers post-production costs.
Q: How did you get the weight savings on the 3D rig? That’s a pretty dramatic difference.
KM: My concept has always been to simplify things. What I found with every single rig on the market is that they would overcomplicate things. When you overcomplicate things you have more moveable parts, more of a chance of issues happening with the rig. So we took it down to the bare bones and started from the ground up with our own concept. Not using other previous concepts. We reinvented the wheel and made it a lot simpler.
DG: We also streamlined the design so that that it can be set up in under 15 minutes. Kit can do it in under 5. We can swap lenses and have a “camera ready state” in under 2 minutes. So we can shoot as many set ups in the same amount of time as 2D scenarios. The 3D setup needs a 3D monitor. There are glasses to correct the 3D and away you go.
In keeping with the design value of simplicity, when we approached 3D 360 we were playing with Red cameras which have become standard for many productions. We started using a VR plate. Setting various of our 3D rigs on to that. Then we thought we should make a much more user-accessible rig, not just a professional model. From that we saw there was some competition. GoPro has one, Google, and 360 Heroes and others, so we made sure to produce a prosumer 3D 360 rig.
So we wanted to take our stereo 3D background and incorporate it into this rig. And make a True 3D 360 rig that is set apart from the others by being stereoscopic and not Monoscopic. Closer interocular distance, tighter set-up, and a complete, clean post production pipeline from start to finish. Not just what people term 360 “automatic stitching”.
Q: How did you design the True 3D 360 rig? 360/VR is so new, that this sounds pioneering in its design.
KM: The key about the 360 rig is to have as small a footprint as possible. If you have your camera far apart it makes it difficult to have a good “stitch” (joining from one camera to the next). You get parallax issues. If you look at an object in front of you and you close your eye, the background is going to be in a different position relative to your finger depending on which eye you have open. The closer your eyes are together, the less of a difference you’ll have between those two images. That’s a smaller parallax difference. So the closer your cameras are together, the less parallax difference you’ll have, and the better you can stitch the images.
Our first rig had as small a footprint as possible to eliminate some of those issues. What it then allows is for the subject to be a lot closer to the camera.
DG: Conventionally the subject needs to be 10-18 feet away from the camera to get “Good” stereoscopic 3D. So we’ve greatly reduced that distance.
KM: We’ve reduced it considerably. We got it to the point now that we can shoot 3D 360 inside a vehicle and the 3D worked out fantastic. Most of the other rigs you can’t even get inside a small room really without having issues. We’re under 2 feet between camera and subject.
DG: It’s also important to talk about the conventions. We like to focus on live capture. Many people that do live capture buy a rig and they say “We’re filming 3D 360!” In actual fact they’re filming a monoscopic version in a 360 environment with a very large or rough stitch compared to what we’re putting out.
We do have a monoscopic version of our 360 rigs for the people that want to save money and use 6 cameras. And we have an 11 camera 3D 360 rig that is stereoscopic that has a very good interocular distance. It conforms to a small area so you can use it in other variations. And we’re using it to build other rigs from it. So the key here is very few people do stereoscopic 3D, hence why we like to say we shoot in (Stereoscopic) True 3D 360.
Side note we are among the first to upload True 3D 360 to YouTube!
With all the 360 technology out there, very few people are producing scripted True 3D 360 content or even monoscopic 360 for that matter. We are providing a service offering to create content. We feel online content creation for second screen devices (mobile tablets and phones) is the future and we are here to consult or produce that content.
Q: In what ways does it give filmmakers new tools for scripted work and what if anything do traditional 2D filmmakers have to unlearn?
KM: The biggest thing is hiding the crew. So it does present a lot of challenges in that respect. However imagine watching a film where portions of it are in 360 when it’s warranted. You don’t want to watch a movie or turn over your shoulder the whole time. But sometimes the script might present a scene in which, for example, the bad guy might be over your shoulder and the 360 prompts you to look over it. Where the rest of the film can be presented in 140 degrees, 180 degrees or just a portion of that.
When we shot one of our scripted films we had a SWAT Team enter into a building and they’d enter into a theater and end up killing the bad guys. When we had them running through the hallways, you’d be prompted to look from camera left to camera right. So I would edit it to the next scene, picking up where the action left off. So you do have to be very cognizant about editing. You don’t want the viewer to be looking into space and having the action happening behind them. You want to help prompt your audience!
DG: In 360 having a reference point is important.
KM: Exactly. When you’re filming it you have to keep these points in mind. But a very interesting component is that you can have hidden things, or even secondary action happening within it. So people will watch it a second time to look for the different parts of the story. So a five-minute show can end up being thirty minutes of entertainment. You can add a lot of different elements and many more layers into the story.
Q: You can essentially tell a story that had a different meaning in each viewing potentially.
KM: I suppose you could. You could even tell two stories, two storylines. Which way will you look? Who will you focus on?
DG: The concept is to bring people back to viewing the content, to give them multiple angles of action. So they could view it three or four times. Watch one fight sequence, then another fight sequence and then they’ll know it well enough that they can pan around a third time and it’s like watching a battle royale match, but 360 action is all over the place not centralized to one viewpoint as the standard is of today in 2D. It really draws the audience in, gives them content to re-watch, and is there when and how the audience would like to receive it thanks to second screen technologies of today.
Q: When filming fight scenes in 360, do you find it’s more helpful to have more melee battles than to have only two combatants doing hand to hand?
KM: I think that would really be script driven. When I worked on the movie 300, there was the big battle scene with Leonidas and you want to focus on what he’s doing. You don’t care as much about other things that are happening. Whereas with a Braveheart battle you want to see everything that’s going on.
DG: So there are many ways to make a media piece today, you can edit 2D and 360 together, you can live capture in 180 degrees and wrap a 180 in CG, you can use the shooting technology of today and add a new palette of 360 tools to create immersive, audience driven content that people have not seen before. We are excited to see how this all unfolds.
One of the things we’ve been playing with is camouflaging the crew. Kit and I are in the shot in some way and have remotes that will roll cameras, making sure marks are hit, keeping an eye on production design elements, and a myriad of other actions. Production in 360 forces new innovations for productions, we have been working on many of these facets for a cohesive “360 shoot” guideline.
Q: Do you think it’s useful to think of it as big of a transition from still photography to motion pictures? Is it a different medium?
KM: It’s a lot more profound than when color or sound came into filmmaking. It’s a much more profound change even than 3D. This expands on a single image to create a new world.
DG: It puts you right where the action is. Rather than sitting on a chair and looking at a 2D screen watching a fight take place (the audience of today). With 360, you’re there beside/in the action. It puts you into the story as a participant. So if you want to be absorbed into a story, this is the way to do it. When haptic devices get better, these Extrasensory devices will combine with 360 and bring you into this whole new world. As in videogames…it goes on and on and on.
KM: The “wow” factor is pretty incredible. Anyone who sees it for the first time, it’s always enjoyable to watch them and film them. Their reactions are amazing.
To find out more about 3DE, Dirk and Kit, go to: