Bollywood 3D movie making coming of age: Ra.One

Bollywood Stereoscopic 3D Spectacle: Ra.One:

After playing the wait and watch game for a while, Bollywood seems to have taken the plunge into Stereoscopic 3D movie-making. The credit for the first (in this 3D renaissance era) goes to Haunted 3D. A 3D film shot in “true” stereoscopic 3D.

True Stereoscopic 3D Principal Photography versus Conversion:

The definition of “true” Stereoscopic 3D filming today is slowly getting blurry and re-defined. In it’s purest sense we could call true stereoscopic 3D as, recording a frame or scene with two synced cameras. However in today’s age of Digital Filmmaking which is a mix of Green screen compositing, Digital Set extensions, CGI and layers… what is a true frame of 3D?

If Principal Photography is done with 2 synced cameras (S3D cameras) then we could label a movie as Prinicpal Photography shot in true S3D. However we do have to bear in mind that even when captured in true 3D, there are errors that occur and go un-noticed on set, thus requiring a conversion when reaching the post production stage.

Ra.One: Stereoscopic 3D Critique:

So what was Ra.One like in Stereoscopic 3D?

The Pros:

  • Near Excellent 2D to 3D conversion in my opinion done by Prime Focus. It also looks like 2D to 3D conversion is finally coming of age! – I stop short of saying really Excellent, only because of some shots. But then again, only a stereo purist would pick on these shots. However it’s worth bringing to notice and only in the form of constructive criticism (mentioned in the cons below)
  • Good Use of and respecting Depth Continuity. – I hold the stereoscopic 3D team in high regard for maintaining depth continuity. (arguably somewhat easier on a conversion than when shooting live action 3D)
  • No un-necessary out of screen gag effects. When ever it was done, it was motivated. – Something I keep talking about in the “Think in 3D” workshops – in Stereoscopic 3D, every visual should be “motivated”.
  • Great detailing on the CG scenes in the shots – As I don’t have insider info on whether all of the CG shots were converted or if some CG assets were indeed rendered in S3D, I’ll hazard a guess that they were all converted and yet showed good level of texture and bump mapping in stereoscopic 3D.

Does this mean I’ve changed my mind on 2D to 3D Conversion? … not at all, here’s a couple of reasons:

The Cons:

  • The Child actor – acted well. He has a full head of hair, and therein lies the problem – In 2D to 3D conversions, it’s either roto (rotoscopy) and/or crude geometric projection mapping that creates the second “eye” view. If you get the geometry wrong. you end up creating an image of the actor akin to looking head-on at the nose of a Boeing 747 but with a “video texture” pasted on. In many scenes and because of the full hair, the child actors profile and head on shots looked a little weird.
  • The same goes for Actors. It’s a known fact that closeups are shot with long lenses so as to not make actors faces look grotesque, as they would appear if shot by physically moving the camera closer to the actor’s face. Yet in 2D to 3D conversions if careful attention is not paid to “modelling” the crude geometry that the video is projected on or the depth map created from… you end up with a distorted actors face in 3D. An exxagerated  Door peep-hole like effect.
  • Other scenes where this is noticeable is when the actress veers the VW 4×4 vehicle in the parking lot. The VW vehicle looks like an extruded cone. There are many scenes where the backgrounds are like wall paper, a side effect artifact of 2D to 3D conversions that are distracting.

However let me re-iterate that I was impressed with the overall conversion of this film. I believe that if this film had actually used and followed a “shoot 2D for 3D” approach, that it would have worked even better, as a lot of greenscreen and CG elements would already have their own Z-space locations, making it easier on the conversion teams.

Cause no harm to young audiences with your Parallax!

If there’s one take away from this article that both Stereographers and readers (and perhaps some governing bodies) should pay heed to… Let it be this:

The average interocular distance (distance between the eyes) of an average Adult is 6.5 cm. When a Movie gets a “U” or universal rating, it means that children will be going to see this movie. Children on average have a smaller interocular than adults.

6.5cm interocular means that *no matter what the physical Cinema screen size* anything that is recognizable in a scene in the distance (positive parallax) should not have a Physical screen separation between left/right image pairs of more than 6.5cm. because if it does, your making the audiences eyes “diverge” to fuse such imagery together. We never do this in real life, although our eyes are capable of doing this to a certain extent. This is what leads to eye strain and headaches in movies.

So in the case of a movie that is running over 200 minutes, with children and their smaller interocular, there could be harm being done. In the cinema that I saw this movie in, many scenes had quite large on-screen positive parallax bordering the interocular limit, and at the depth position of the main talent, no less. This is noticeable when one takes their glasses off.

A good stereoscopic depth script, depth budget and Stereoscopic QC should be employed to make audience safe viewing a priority.

Eye Time Out – A great idea  when flying the S3D red-eye:

The movie had an intermission, something that brought back memories of movie watching when I was a child. I think this is a great idea, especially for long duration stereoscopic 3D movies. It gives the audiences some Eye Time Out. So i rate this as one of the PROS  in addition to the other positives mentioned above.

Stereoscopic 3D will NOT save bad acting:

While this is meant to be a technical review and S3D review of the film… Stereoscopic 3D is a New Medium of visual storytelling, so any 3D film analysis will cross over to the general creative and film making critique side a bit. In that respect, I came away from the film convinced of one thing: Stereoscopic 3D will not save bad acting. So serious Directors and serious Actors rejoice, just because a movie has a 3D label, it’s no guarantee of success, marketing budgets be damned!

The film was advanced in it’s VFX work, and stunts involving the car chase, and the train stunts in particular were very impressive. Even though it gave a sense of “Terminator” de-javu, the actual quality of the VFX and stunts were grade A. What was not grade A however, was the attempt at humor, that dripped more cheese that a Dominos pizza. It’s about time that Bollywood comes of age in this department of movie-making.

Using excuses that this is what the masses enjoy, is stunting the imagination of the audiences and not letting them “evolve” their entertainment, while at the same time defeating the purpose of making Bollywood Sci-fi movies that could be on par with blockbusters such as Mission impossible, or indeed the Terminator.

The onus of making serious Stereoscopic 3D movies in Indian cinema, would I believe rest on :this man’s: offerings, should he decide to accept the mission.