Positives

The Conversion did work much better than many other converted films. This I do also attribute to the fact that there is the luxury of access to green screen layers and pristine "still life" in every frame, making roto work almost fool-proof.

Negatives

The ultimate insult to the hard work put in by the Stop motion animators, Set Dressers, Costume Designers and Pupper makers, is to "convert" their work into stereoscopic 3D, and introduce anomalies and artifacts that were not present in reality!

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Worth watching the film to learn about what to do in Stereoscopic 3d Stop-motion film making...and what not to!

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(image credit: Disney)

Stop Motion Cinematography and Stereoscopic 3D:

I was asked by a student film-maker at my recent 3D production master-class during the AbuDhabi Film Festival, what I thought about Stop motion in 3D and Frankenweenie. As I’ve not seen any previous Burton Stop-motion film from start to finish (yes shame on me), I decided to see the movie today at the local Imax in Dubai.

Unlike in other countries, Sunday is the best day to go see a movie as you get the whole cinema to yourself. The Imax itself is well run, and 3D movies are bright and do not suffer the low brightness scourge that I hear about from many professionals in other countries.

I hope to make this a short concise review and do it from a stereoscopic 3D point of view… *

(image credit: Irish Times)

Stereoscopic 3D and Stop-motion: The mechanics of the medium.

This is the first time in a long time, that I had to remove my 3D glasses on many occasions during the film, not to study parallax, but to relieve my eyes. There were a few variables at play that caused this end result:

  • Stop motion frame rate: 

Many articles online state that the animation was done at 24fps (frames per second). To me it looked more like the “action” parts, ie actual armature moves from point A to B were done at about 10 to 15 frames and may then have been extrapolated to 24. I say this because of the disturbing effect that is visible in Stereoscopic 3d. This was noticeable on the dog’s tail wagging, and any scene where the characters legs were moving even at medium speed. Flailing arms also exhibited this disturbing effect.

Of course with the 3d glasses off, I did not suffer any of these side effects. It goes to show and prove the point of why High Frame Rate is desirable for Stereoscopic 3D movies (Live action movies)

In the case of stop motion, not much can be done, and stereo 3D will be a victim of the mechanics of the medium. This is understood, but probably a little bit of post processed motion blur on such shots (tail wagging) would have softened the harshness of the strobing in action shots as seen when the glasses were worn.

  • Depth Budget Issues:

I’m always one for Creative use of the 3D budget on a per scene basis. This is not to be confused with me advocating fat and deep 3D. What I advocate is using the entire Depth Volume effectively on a per scene basis, neither too  shallow (sissy 3D) or too large.

Frankenweenie had, to put it bluntly, misuse of 3D volume. While it was good to see the stereographer/s didn’t skimp on the 3D, they also layed it on a little too thick. *Now*, combine that with the strobing effect I described above, and it will become clearer why I had to remove my glasses from time to time so that I could defer any oncoming headache.

Some examples of mis-use of the stereo space: I recall one scene where the Science Professor’s head is thrust out (fits in well with the story scene), into negative screen space, yet the background of the 3D world; the black board in the classroom, is at Zero parallax. ie, it is at screen level.

Even though this is Imax where the norm was/is to shoot parallel… there is no reason why this converted film should not have sculpted depth properly on a scene basis. Other examples of somewhat un-orthodox positive parallax  were a little too much, and again it stuck out, because it was also compounded by the strobing mechanics of the medium.

Let’s not forget that a majority of the audience would have a slightly smaller interocular than the average adult!

  • The Franken3D Haircut: a.k.a no 3D headroom
Everytime this artifact of bad 3D showed up I kept calling it out silently (an oxymoron?)…another Franken3D haircut. Much like the chopped-off hair cut that Frankenstein has, this is the effect that was present in many closeup  shots of characters. In 2D it does not matter that there is no head room in the frame…in Stereoscopic 3D, it’s a top window violation. Not as severe as a Stereoscopic (side) window violation, but it does break the illusion of “immersion” on a sub-conscious level.
The correct way to frame for a close-up in Stereo3D and if one wants to not leave any head room, is to then have the Subject a little behind zero-parallax. The Screen after all is a window into the 3D volume. It’s an artfrom that Cinematographers have to master when crossing the stereo window into negative parallax.
It’s not possible to do this in Live action all the time, but in stop motion where every variable is under control of the Director / DP/ Stereographer… there should not be any excuse.
  • Stop Motion 2D to 3D Conversion:
I apologize in advance for the next dramatic comment: The ultimate insult to the hard work put in by the Stop motion animators, Set Dressers, Costume Designers and Pupper makers, is to “convert” their work into stereoscopic 3D, and introduce anomalies and artifacts that were not present in reality!
What artifacts were not present in reality? a non-exhaustive list:
  • The hedges in the gardens around the houses were proper pruned miniature hedges on the set, not Boxed geometry approximations. This is what happens when converted to S3D
  • The grass and flowers had detailing that were “squashed” unfortunately
  • The torso of the science professor, was un-intentionally grotesque  in many scenes due to 3D  conversion. This was surely not a faithful replica of the actual puppet that was hand crafted.
  • When the boy loses his dog and is being comforted in bed by his parents…the blanket, the boy and the puppet of his mother were all distorted.
I keep drawing the analogy of how an established DP would throw a fit if asked to film a scene with a bad lens which would warp a scene. How then is it still acceptable by Filmmakers that Actors’ features and Subjects are distorted by full length movie conversions and no one calls it out?

One article states or at least gives the impression that the movie was made in 3D, and I quote from there:

“Rendering the finished film in 3D added another element of visual style important to the overall feel and look of the film. “The images are very crisp and clear in black and white,” says Tim Burton, “and then the 3D element gives it a certain kind of depth that is unusual and amazing. With stop motion and 3D, it’s a way for people to actually feel like they’re going on the set. You see the texture in the puppets. You see things that you don’t normally see.”

 

The last sentence is the irony…Stereoscopic 3D is a medium that you can’t use to cheat with in film-making. Your feeding the Human Visual Cortex with rich information, and we are trained through evolution to catch out anomalies in real life. It’s all back to our primal instincts and survival.
In Frankenweenie, yes we will let that natural guard down, as it’s not a live action story converted and there was no human skin and features mapped to geometry but Silcone and puppet features… but my point in this case is that the conversion did not add much to what would have been a great 2D Film.
Why?
Because had it been a 2D film, my mind would be left to imagine that miniature world, and actually get drawn in with the camera. With the 3D conversion, each scene with anomalies came out screaming to me (This is a Stereoscopic 3D review aimed at professionals in the trade, not a laymans movie review).
Again, combined with the strobing animation style of stop-motion and the choice of Stereo depth, it was in my opinion, not a well made Stereoscopic 3D Converted film.
When making a 3D film…Film it in 3D:
What puzzles me is why the Director would not choose to automate the acquisition of “true” stereoscopic stop-motion capture in the first place, when it is much…much easier to do with stop motion. You don’t even need 2 Cameras!
I will state my opinion alone here and hazard a guess, that the advisory team hired weren’t up to speed on the intricacies and beautiful opportunities afforded to set depth with literally all the acting talent frozen on-set to bring about the best in stereoscopic 3D capture of a film.

 

If the Director was given a stereoscopic preview on-location, other artifacts such as the Franken3D haircut would have been avoided and pointed out by a stereographer. By not capturing this hand made masterpiece in S3D, all the beautiful detailing that could have been brought out in all it’s glory, has been compromised by geometry and roto substitution.
As an experiment I would urge the Director to take a few stereoscopic 3D shots of the front-yard scenes, in low angle and compare the visual fidelity of the resulting scene in 3D, with a similar converted one. I’d again hazard a guess that the Director was not shown this in any comparison, prior to embarking on the choice of filming. Hopefully it was not the Director who insisted from the onset of filming in 2D and converting later?
The Good Parts of the Film:
  1. The Conversion did work much better than many other converted films. This I do also attribute to the fact that there is the luxury of access to green screen layers and pristine “still life” in every frame, making roto work almost fool-proof.
  2. The choice of Black and White. I enjoyed the film for this play on contrast rather than color.  This is another reason why I believe that the 2D version would have been better and would have caused less fatigue.
  3. Predictable story, but it is meant for a younger audience and does allow to appreciate the craft and labor that went into making the action
  4. Exquisite attention to detail: Textures, models, sets… The film was a masterpiece in this regard, when so many films would today have been rendered completely in CG.
Overall verdict: Worth watching the film to learn about what to do in Stereoscopic 3d Stop-motion film making…and what not to!

*edit: it wasn’t so short a review afterall.

 

 

  • Dave Grewgory

    I didn’t see FRANKENWEENIE but I am *astonished* to learn that it was not shot native. That’s Insane!

  • Jon F

    I think you are dramatically over simplifying the impact of shooting stop motion animation in native 3D – Forced perspective and other distortions are regularly used when building sets. Many of these techniques rely on the camera being in a specific single position, or tracking along a specific path. Shooting native 3D can reveal what is actually going on, so would require throwing out or reducing the use of these techniques – resulting in potentially much larger and much more expensive sets that are slower to work with.

    • clydeD

      Thanks Jon for your insights.
      Yes i would agree with what you say in this regard.
      Speaking strictly from the immersion point of view of what Stereo 3D can do for such miniature craft work, I think that’s “Exactly” why the trouble should be taken to make it a masterpiece.

      That’s why, I believe that Studios and producers are not doing S3D any favor, by coming to the party with a 2D mindset. If Burton can go on record saying that the 3D element gives it a certain kind of depth… he owes it to himself and the art of S3D to fully investigate what depth is…”in-depth”.

      >>Shooting native 3D can reveal what is actually going on

      This is what we want! The immersion part of that miniature set, with all it’s nuances

      >>so would require throwing out or reducing the use of these techniques – resulting in potentially much larger and much more expensive sets

      as well as time and care…yes. And therein is the art of S3D. That’s what will bring audiences back to the cinema. The human mind is very hard to fool. If people (even on a subconscious level) are not getting immersed, chances are next time they will just choose 2D.

      >> Forced perspective and other distortions are regularly used when building sets.

      As DPs are learning, you cant cheat depth with 3D, but when you learn how to use it well, the end result is/will be worth the effort.
      Bottom line, if your making a Stop-mo “3D” film. learn to do it the proper way.
      and we’ve not even discussed the other area of strobing yet. Clearly the Director was ill-advised on 3D in this movie, unfortunately.