Key Framing v/s Montage Cinematography in 3D:

Hugo the movie, is a case study in how stereoscopic 3D can and should be used as a new medium of visual storytelling. I finally got a chance to see the movie, here in Dubai a few weeks later than its release date.

I went in, knowing it was going to be a good experience, but bias aside, it did not let me down. It can be comfortably stated that the premium paid for a 3d movie is well justified only in Avatar, Hugo,  HTTYD, Tron and Pirates IV. (in that particular order).

Other 3D movies thus far has been experiments in Hollywood coming up to speed in 3D movie-making.

What was good about Hugo 3D? Undoubtedly it had to be the lovely long key-framing camera work in many scenes. Whether by accident or actual planning, CGI wizardy, motivated edits and cuts, and/or other means… This was one visually well done masterpiece of Stereoscopic 3D Cinematography.

What is Keyframe versus montage style Camera work?

Read the rest in the Book, “THINK in 3D” via Amazon: Paperback & e-book (also on iPad via free kindle app)

  • John A. Rupkalvis

    The cinematography in “Hugo” from a 2D standpoint was excellent (in many cases better than in many other productions, 2D or 3D), the problems that occurred in 3D showed that it would have been good had they had a knowledgeable and experienced stereographer on the set.   Especially since this was an excellent story presented with a large budget; it was a shame to see this ruined by poor stereography.

    Cardboarding or flattening at great distances is not a major problem, since most things far away are visibly quite flat anyway.   Close objects, however are another story.   In real life, the closer an object is, the greater the amount of depth, roundness, volume, and detail of texture that will be perceived.  

    In Hugo, the reverse was generally apparent, often with a great deal of depth at great distances, and a flattening and cardboarding of faces and objects that were close.   Rather than being a result of the use of long focal length lenses, this appeared to be due primarily to the use of too narrow a stereo base for the subject distance and other image characteristics.

    The other problem was one of inappropriate use of a narrow depth of field in several instances.   While bokeh is often used (and overused) in 2D films to separate distances, this is not necessary in 3D.   The other major purpose is to draw attention to the major subject.   For this purpose, it may occasionally be used in 3D, but sparingly.  Usually this may be more effectively done with lighting and composition, as was done in many great 2D films during the “golden age”.   Excessive use in 3D creates visual problems, and even headaches.  

    There was no need for this in the two-shots, where it was very distracting in the editing, as each person was thrown way out of focus when the other person spoke.   The dramatic impact of the often emotional narrative was severely compromised as a result.

    Some images, such as the fine detail in the mechanisms and gears of the clockworks were also compromised, as this was completely lost in most of the images, due to being blurred to the point where this presumably beautiful detail was gone completely.   Recognizing that this may have been an “artistic choice”, it was nevertheless a very poor one.  

    However, in spite of what one’s opinions may be about the artistic impression, it should never be done when it causes visual or even physical discomfort for the audience.   When I saw it, several people in the row behind me were complaining that they were getting headaches.  Fuzzy, blurry images in 3D can cause more eyestrain than excessive parallax disparities.   With excessive parallax, the images just flatten out and double up.  Undesirable, unnatural, and uncomfortable to view, but not usually a major cause of headaches.   With blurry images, however, you actually do get headaches because of the attempt to resolve image parts that are unresolvable.   You already are trying to converge and accommodate your eyes at different distances.   Now you are being asked to do so when the image parts are so fuzzy that convergence becomes difficult or impossible.  

    Many of these lessons were learned a half a century to a century ago.   The 3D movies made in the 1950’s were much more comfortable to view than most live action 3D being shot today.     Stereographers would do well to study the history, and learn what works and what doesn’t.  


    • Anonymous

      Thank you for the comment JR.
       When you bring in thought to a topic, it does open up a new perspective (no pun) that is worth considering. For that I would certainly go back to the cinema for a second view.

      (Reader Note: JR is one of the few stereographers and professionals who’s observations and opinions I take seriously).

      Getting back to the discussion, from what I saw of their handling of I/A, I must admit that i’m slowly getting used to less “fatty” (but delicious) 3D on my bread… giving in to the consideration that the 10 to 12 meter screen does “open up” the 3D. 3D does scale with size of display.

      I thought the trade off (on some scenes) with lesser I/A did make for more believable 3D at least on some scenes that aimed at doing deep staging, that would otherwise have run the risk of miniaturization had they inflated the i/a

      However, that’s just my opinion, and what I did thoroughly like and noted was the excellent cuts/edits, that were done at just the right time so as not to make the scenes look like scale model photography.

      On bringing selective focus into this film, I think it worked ok for me (again my opinion). Ideally I know it’s better in a rich 3D scene such as those from Hugo to let the eye wander, and leave it to the skill of the Director to bring the audience’s attention to the main subject, without using cliche tools such as rack-focus etc…

      but I think the scenes that did have narrow DoF were not that distracting.
      They may have made an attempt to use the ‘Circle of Isolation’ but probably could have slipped up on some scenes.

      I think, using a Circle of Isolation, ( gives the Cinematographer his/her tool that they have been used to for decades, yet in a polished form for this generation of S3D movie making.

      It does take skill, and a combination of camera (sensor), lensing, i/a and ND filters with lighting to really isolate both actors in a two shot for effective selective focus techniques in 3D… but therein is the art :)

      Thanks again for the valuable insight.