Handling a 2D mindset on a 3D production:

Today… I put my money where my mouth is…I walked out of a film set (the first time ever). Admittedly I was consulting at lower than my usual rate, so that helped me make up my mind. I’ve previously come down heavy on Stereographers for bending backward and compromising their craft; My Spiderman review comes to mind.

So what should a stereographer do when faced with the nouveau 3D crowd? A Director or Cinematographer, or end client that does not like being told they aren’t thinking in 3D? The answer is not as simple as mine was, and I’ll be the first to recognize that every job exists to put food on the table. Stereographers who might be passionate about their craft will either suffer in silence, feign ignorance, or as in the case of some – put a spin on the situation and claim to be good team players.

I’m not here to say which way is right (anymore). Mine, thankfully, was an easy choice and let me keep my dignity. If I’ve written a book, urging film professionals to “Think in 3D“, I have to defend it.

The Client is King:

I’ve said this in the spiderman review before, but it’s worthy of a repeat:

Some 3D professionals say they would rather fit in, and that the client (or Director / DP / Studio) is king. Such stereographers say they would love to have a free hand in sculpting 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 bad 3D due to catering to the un-informed whims and egos 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 when we get headaches.

Who loses their job in this case when 3D dies out yet again?
The Director? – no
The DP? – not even
Stereographer – Ahhh!

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 the current 3D Doomsday news articles floating around.

Two Epics, some Rouge and a Rig… does not óptimo 3D make:

Sadly, compounded by what I can only think of, as a crash course attended by someone who bought a 3D rig, I was faced with this dilemma. The Epic is a great feat of cinematic engineering. It does level the playing field quite a bit in the art of producing good moving pictures. It’s also capable of death by 3D when in the wrong hands. In my incident, surprisingly, it was NOT the Director of Photography as one would expect. He was a gem to work with and enthusiastic about exchanging notes on S3D.

Stereographer’s role defined:

In an article dated March 2011, I’d introduced the ideal skillset of a stereographer. Job definition and duties have evolved since then.

A few suggestions I can recommend to ease friction on a 3D film set:

  • Define the Stereographers role prior to signing on with the production.
  • Settle for no less than direct communication with the Director and Cinematographer – Stereography after all, can be thought of as Volume Sculpting as much as Photography is light sculpting.
  • Establish a stringent workflow per shot – so that the Director and/or DP is not tempted to skim over the all important point of “motivation” for a particular 3D camera move…  or worse, skim over the entire 3D depth setting itself.
The next suggestion deserves it’s own graphic:
  • Persuade via suggestion – and via having an IPAD or tablet full of good 3D vignettes from blockbuster 3D films that were good and cover a particular move – I recommend Hugo, Tron Legacy, Pina, Pirates of the Carribean (the mermaid sequence) as must have. Between these films, there are enough segments to visually show an illiterate 3D Auteur why a particular scene framing, or camera move will or will not work.

Which leaves us with a few open questions that I’ll put forward to gain insights from you:

  1. Should I have sucked it up and stayed?
  2. What would you do / how would you handle such a situation
  3. Have you ever walked out of a production due to a difference of opinion (3D related) or disrespected?
Your thoughts welcome.



  • Tuisku Mclees


    This is really important topic and i’m glad You brought it up.

    I think that if the director, producer or DOP doesn’t want to listen what stereographer have to say to make better S3D, they are not ready to make any S3D films.

    I don’t think any stereographer wants to make bad S3D, but the fact is that usually it’s the stereographer who gets the blame for crappy 3D result. So I suggest that stereographers would stand up for themselves and their know-how, because as You said it, audience is the client. And the audience demands better S3D, or they do vote with their feet.

    Best wishes,
    Tuisku McLees
    S3D director

    • well said Tuisku.

      What most professionals (Stereographers) don’t realize is, that they are short changing the future of 3D itself and in the process, killing their own careers. The more they give in, the more people are going to think that they (the stereographer) can be replaced by calculators and hardware SIPs.

      Of course Directors/Cinematographers and producers won’t know any better that 3D is not about “legal” parallax budgets alone… it’s the art of using the 3D volume – Volume sculpting – on a scene by scene basis, at times stepping closer to look at a scene microscopically, at other times, taking a step back to take a macro look at the entire composition…something automated tools can’t (yet) do.