The Circle of Isolation or, Selective Focus in Tron Legacy

Tron Legacy 3D stereoscopy review:

I went to see Tron Legacy as I do all 3D movies, with one intention only… To see how Stereoscopic 3D is used to add to the immersiveness of the story being told on screen. My review of this movie is three words…

Excellent, Inspiring, Motivating. This is a movie that I hope every established and aspiring Stereographer sees. I also try not to find out who the stereo team is, before I see it, so that personal friendship or acquaintance with them does not influence my review.

It seems that every Article I have written about on the Real Vision knowledgebase has been applied to in this movie. I was very happy that this movie is final proof and validates and endorses some of the techniques such as “Circle of Isolation“, Rack focus in 3D, and pushing positive parallax when necessary while Bringing Depth of Field back into 3D storytelling.

Circle of Isolation:

The image above shows how selective focus was used to “isolate” areas of interest in the movie and force audiences in a very natural way to draw their line of sight as the Director intends. I do realize it’s easier in these Sci-fi type movies, where lots of green screen and Mattes allow for such kind of on-location and post processing magic to occur, but this is the first movie I have seen where it has all come together naturally. Even Avatar did not manage it this well.

Tron 2D moment…Depth Study during RealVision workshops.

Inflating & Deflating Depth in Scenes:

During a recent Real Vision workshop, we did a depth study of the Tron trailer. This was before the movie was released, and had come to a consensus that they should not have made the beginning of the movie in 2D, (Tron Legacy deliberately uses 2D at the start and then goes into 3D as directed in the script)

Our reasons and arguments put forward were:

  • Nostalgia – There is a scene in the old arcade where the main character tosses in a coin into the arcade machine and it falls to the wooden floor. Stereoscopic 3D lends well to capturing nostalgia. During the workshop we hypothesized that this would really be a nostalgic moment for audiences who may have grown up playing at the arcades (much before Playstations and Xboxes).  The old floor standing arcade consoles if captured in 3d may have been capable of “emotion engineering” at least in some older audiences.
  • We were skeptical of the choice of thinking that a 2D start to a 3D movie was actually workable, even if the Director wished it so. The last time something like this was tried was after all a children’s movie, Spy Kids.
  • Alice in Wonderland tried this deflated 3D approach, but it was lost on the audiences, and my belief is that being a 2D to 3D conversion, deflated depth is actually something that makes life easier for conversion artists as there are less “occlusion” holes to fill.

However, getting back to Tron Legacy, I am happy to say that we were wrong! The beginning being in 2D worked well. In fact there was a gradual inflating of the depth as the movie progressed towards the Digital World. There was no abrupt jump in “3Dness” as the main character enters the Digital World of Tron.

Suffice to say, the Stereographer and Director GET stereoscopic 3D, and have used it well in this movie.

OTS (Over the Shoulder) in Stereoscopic 3D

Tron Legacy – OTS shots in 3D:

Tron Legacy is a case study on how to do OTS shots well. I do not know the actual details of the shooting for these narrative scenes, whether each camera angle was shot green screen or whether post tweaking and blur was added, nor do I know the lensing used… (there is no time to analyze this as a single sitting in a cinema).

Studying how OTS was done in this movie and the Framing for OTS is highly recommended. I’ve always mentioned the need to respect and maintain the concept of “personal space” when shooting OTS in Stereoscopic 3D, after all in a 2D movie you can’t really tell the spatial depth in a scene, but in 3d, if done wrong, an OTS shot would look like the the Objective Camera (or third person) was actually resting his/her chin on the shoulder of the character. This would be wrong and violate someones personal space in real life.

Proper camera framing, and OTS scene blocking make Tron Legacy a joy to watch during the narrative moments that dot the movie. No stereo windows were abused or broken in the making of this film.

Rack focus and Pushing Positive Parallax…intelligently

Pushing Positive Parallax…Intelligently:

I’ve never been a big fan of using Stereoscopic 3D “calculators”, or running a yard stick or meter tape out in the field to measure “screen width” during a stereo 3D shot. During the time of stereo 3D photography, the 1/30th rule was good enough, today for Digital Cinema the 1/50th rule of thumb suffices. Clearly, both the Director and the Stereographer of Tron Legacy get that stereo 3D movies are part art and part Science. They use the dark subdued colors of the Tron World to push positive parallax without hurting people’s eyes.

Consider this: If there is nothing of value in the background to watch, or if the background is deliberately blurred (either with good lensing by the DP or in post, or a combination of techniques thereof), where would the question of Divergence crop up anyway!

These are lessons to be learnt from Tron Legacy, how to make  a square room look like a square room and not like a squashed shoe box, as most in-experienced Cinematographers / Stereographers do, by playing “safe” with the interaxial separation or interoculars of a Gnat.

A reminder that the Tron world makes it easier to push positive parallax, that might not be easy in conventional movies, however stereographers and Directors are encouraged to learn as much as they can from watching the intelligent use of positive parallax tweaking so as to optimize available stereoscopic 3D real estate and give some “volume” to a scene when appropriate.

Stereoscopic 3D Action Choreography in Tron Legacy

As with most of todays movies, there is heavy use of CGI in Tron Legacy. The stereo 3D effect is not lost however in even the most fast paced action sequences involving the “Light Cycles” and later the space ships. The result is action sequences that are a perfect blend of appropriate cuts, editing and actual gripping action that does not interfere with, or stall the audiences suspension of disbelief that all 3D movies strive for.

Although most of the action takes place “behind the screen” the Cinema screen does indeed become a portal into the world of Tron.

To make a comparison, Avatar’s action sequences seemed Flat in comparison, with not enough time given to audiences to either register nor appreciate detailing in Stereo 3D. Tron Legacy’s action sequences manage to do both. The right timing of slowing down the action (not that there were any bullet time effects), and then amping it up, gives audiences enough stereoscopic eye candy and yet does not make the action slow or boring.

Balancing the 3D Budget, versus taxing the Audience:

There is a review and ensuing discussion on the 3D usage, or lack of 3D thereof in Tron, on the LA3DClub website. After reading the review, it seems that most members agree that the 3D was not that effective in the movie. I am of the belief that it was a well managed 3D budget for one reason… previously 3D “features” were just single one off shows that audiences went to the IMAX to view. However now it’s a whole different thing, with multiplexes playing up to 4 or more 3D movies at the same time. Hollywood 3D is after all a business and it can only succeed if people watch more 3D movies per day.

If we max out the depth budget on a single film with copious use of both positive and negative (out of screen) parallax, there is no way audiences may be able to cope with watching a second movie that same day due to strain on their senses. Today proper and judicious use of Stereo 3D is called for, and the fine art of balance is what I found to be true in Tron Legacy. Scene for Scene if the movie was dissected, then yes there seems to be poor use of depth, but when action, cuts, and the whole movie length is taken into account, I feel the Cinematographer, Director and Editors did a good job.

Final verdict: The BEST use of the medium of Stereoscopic 3D for visual storytelling in an action film, to date.

*** update*** I just learned that the movie was shot on Pace rigs, and there was no dedicated stereographer, but the job was handled entirely by Cinematographer Claudio Miranda. Well done on that Mr. Miranda.

All images copyright Walt Disney Pictures.