The best 3D shots were the aerial views of the city. Good timed cuts, helped keep the illusion going, without giving time for miniaturization to set in and get noticed.
Completely un-motivated use of depth of field in many shots, especially narrative scenes. The semi blur background imagery in the opening scenes of the young peter parker looking around the house, can cause headaches.
Stereomatography: What is it?
It could be defined as the art of recording the spatial depth of a scene in motion pictures.Why is it relevant to the latest 3D movie now out in Cinemas; The Amazing Spider-man?
We all know what Cinematography is. In a nutshell, it is the art (and science) of shooting and producing moving pictures. The Cinematographer or Director of Photography is in-charge of this department of a film being shot. Everything has been going smooth thus far, and then Stereoscopic 3D re-surfaces in all it’s Digital glory this decade, and suddenly roles of crew and definitions of techniques in film get changed.
Enter the Stereographer. His/Her role is not new, and stereography as an artform has been around since before photography itself, although many stereographers initially started out as photographers with a skill for capturing the 3rd dimension on 2D film.
With motion pictures going 3D, there is a dire need for Stereographers or Cinematographers who understand the nuances (and complexities) of capturing the 3rd Dimension. Getting a Stereographer who’s background is only still photography may not work. For instance, Stereographers were used to dealing in still shots, so their taste in 3D tends to run deep. Now in a still image this is not so bad, but in moving images…a.k.a a movie projected on a big screen, it can cause physical hurt to audiences if the 3D is not done right.
Any number of things can cause eye-strain and headaches:
Bad 3D jump cuts, spatial dis-continuity, eye-time-out, excessive positive parallax (divergence), Stereo window violations causing retinal rivalry, un-motivated rack focus, pacing and panning of the camera… and more. I’ve not explained the previous few terms here on purpose. The reason being is that some of the terms are related to techniques that are used with 2D cinematography and DPs and Directors will be familiar with them, and the other terminology is familiar with Stereographers. But each of these professions and their practitioners not necessarily has grasped enough of the other’s craft or mindset, the result being less than spectacular use of Stereoscopic 3D as a new visual language of storytelling.
The non philosophical meaning: Audiences soon enough, won’t care whether a movie is in 2D or 3D. They wont pay extra or wear glasses when there is no obvious difference! Bear with me, the 3D review of The Amazing Spider-Man is coming along shortly…
The Stereo-ma-tographer, or DoS (Director of Stereography).
I propose that a new professional be part of the film making Hierarchy. This professional will sit with the Cinematographer and the Director, and his/her word will hold equal if not more weight-age, in the shot composition and emotion engineering aspect of a Stereoscopic 3D movie.
Oh yes, a scene presented in Stereoscopic 3D can engineer emotions in audiences on a grander scale than in just 2D. After all it’s a powerful optical illusion that activates our primary survival instincts (we duck when something flies out even though we know its not real).
The reason I suggest the title of Stereomatographer, and it’s no more a mouthful than Cinematographer, is in part due to participating in a recent discussion on forums where professionals who were part of the Spider-man crew suggested that their hands were in effect, tied to the decisions and wishes of those higher up in the hierarchy. With an established title and job responsibility, the buck will indeed now stop with the Stereomatographer.
Dial 3D for Murder:
Today’s breed of Stereographer unfortunately do not want to take a risk of dialing up the 3D on scenes. They feel it will murder the audiences eyeballs. Now I will be the first to say that excessive 3D on a 2 hour or indeed even a 1 hour film will tax an audiences eyes.
The art and craft of good stereo 3D is in creative use of the Z axis on a scene by scene basis.
Another myth is that you can’t have things invading audience space because that’s a gimmick. This is true, but again, Stereographers or un-informed Directors and Cinematographers who have attended recent 3d 101 workshops seem to be taking this to heart, or even as an excuse not to plan, camera block and shoot tests for ascertaining the effect that good 3D can have when done properly.
*Motivation* is key to a stereo 3D moment. If it makes sense and fits in with that particular scene, use the available stereo real-estate. Because Stereographers and DPs want to play it safe, today’s 3D movies have 3D cameras with interaxial (interocular) distance of an ant, which in turn gives flat 3D. Have any movies broken this mold? I can name two: HUGO and PROMETHEUS.
and so… on to the critique: The Amazing Spiderman does not, and again…in my opinion…have any Amazing 3D. Even in Imax.
The Amazing Spider-man a 3D review:
In 3D, bigger is better*. That’s why I chose to watch the movie at an IMax Cinema. What may look a little flattish on a smaller screen will fill out substantially on an Imax screen, and more so, sitting dead center and at the second last row in the cinema. **
Did it work? Again, No!
In points here’s what I noticed about TASM (The Amazing Spiderman)
- Completely un-motivated use of depth of field in many shots, especially narrative scenes. The semi blur background imagery in the opening scenes of the young peter parker looking around the house, can cause headaches. I am all for Shallow depth of field as a story telling tool in 3D, but there needs to be NO ambiguity (no semi out of focus regions) when you wield and unleash this weapon on un-suspecting audiences.
- Cardboarding…glorious cardboarding… in almost all the narrative/dialog scenes. This can be a combination of using long lenses and/or really minuscule interaxial separation on the 3D rig. Where does the buck stop on this one? The DP or the Stereographer?
- Opinion again – Compare this movie’s stereography which was native for the most part (both live action and CGI) to something like Avengers, and I’ll admit Avengers has more rounded 3D on their converted dialog scenes! In TASM, there were many shots that looked like Peter Parker has a quirk of pressing his head into his neck. I do suspect that these flat faces phenomena may also be the result of a few converted shots if any stereo errors were found during principal photography. (but I’m speculating on that).
- Stereo real estate: and lack of use thereof. Yes I realize this movie is (also?) aimed at kids who have a smaller interocular than adults, but this is supposed to be a spectacle/action film, and stereo real-estate is both behind and in-front of the stereo window. USE it.
- To be fair, one saving grace was the very good use of the stereo budget in the finale. I recall at least two moments where Spidey did cross-over to our side, even if briefly. There was another couple of moments when debris flew into audience space. All motivated shots, I’m happy to point out.
- A particularly good use of 3D was the back of a helicopter with the city below.
- The best 3D shots were the aerial views of the city. Good timed cuts, helped keep the illusion going, without giving time for miniaturization to set in and get noticed.
- Toward the end, bad use of rack focus on peter parker with his aunt.
- In Imax 3D, one scene using unmotivated rack focus almost didn’t work. In the Lab when Peter Parker notices the Professors neck. Why did it not work? It did not work because in Imax 3D, the edge of the screen is almost at an audiences peripheral field of view. Even though I was seated in the second last row with no obstruction in front, the “Framing” had the Professor at the extreme edge of the screen. What’s a motivated Rack focus in 3D? It’s now part of a chapter in the book “Think in 3D“
- Slow motion shots of Spidey invading audience space (a la The Matrix) would have been nice. Why? So that I could “feel” the texture of that Spidey suit. Why spend so much attention to detail and not give credit to Wardrobe and Art Dept, when in a 3D movie, the audience can reach out and touch that costume?
- Should the Stereographer explain these intricacies and capabilities of the medium to the Director? or should he/she just be subservient? Would a title of Stereomatographer or DoS be able to pull this off?
- A stereographer, today it seems, is a cog in the wheel, someone who is at the mercy of the Director and DP. A Stereomatographer could be someone who can Direct the Stereoscopy in the film and enlighten the Director on something like point (1) above.
I’ll end this review with some food for thought:
In the on-going exchange of opinions and thoughts on TASM, some professionals who worked on the Spider Man movie mentioned that they would rather fit in with the film crew, and that the client (in this case the Director / DP / Studio) is king. They mentioned that they would love to have a free hand in the setting the 3D, but were complying with a collective decision taken by others.
I do have a perspective on this: The actual “client” is the Audience. They pay the salaries of the film crew and in a 3D movie, the salary of the Stereographer.
If we keep delivering flatties, catering to the un-informed whims of others (either superiors or counteparts) then soon enough one day the audience is going to wake up, say “Hey!” what’s the difference between the 2D and 3D version of this film? Why are we paying the difference in price and wearing glasses to boot?
If there is any doubt that the Audience is the client, and that it DOES matter to them and that they DO notice what a good or bad 3d film is, then look no further than 3D aficionado sites such as AVS who are currently discussing this very film
I firmly believe that it is the job of the Stereographer to advise and control the depth budget. While there is nothing wrong in being flexible and a team player, let not the Stereographer be thought of as the water-boy. It is the duty of a Stereographer to educate film-makers in the art and craft of using the 3rd Dimension as visual language for storytelling.
After all, with great power…come great responsibility: Of keeping Stereo 3D alive.
* In 3D, bigger is better– I clarify here, that I don’t mean bigger interaxial! This is in response again to an email referenced below. Here’s an example I gave: Take a scene from TASM for instance. Say the overhead aerial shot of the city with spidey on the tower. On a home cinema projection of 2 meters or a 3DTV of 50 inches, would ‘that’ look believable or toy like? now the same scene in a Cinema or Imax, doesn’t it feel more immersive?
** Another email — from someone who worked on the film– advised me to not sit in the second row of a cinema. To be clear, as mentioned, I sat in the second last row. In Dubai the working week starts Sunday, so you get the luxury of an empty Imax cinema for a Sunday morning show. Any people sitting in the front rows of a 3D cinema will see much flatter 3D that what I experienced.