Prime Focus World’s 3D solutions for filmmakers

Of late, several projects have deployed the process of making stereo images from non-stereo traditional 2D images, also called stereo conversion or dimensionalisation or 3D imagery. And one of the leading stereo conversion studios, Prime Focus World, has had a very successful track record of converting 2D films into 3D, and assisting filmmakers shoot in 3D during the filming process itself.

While it is generally the directors and filmmakers who reach out to Prime Focus World to convert a 2D film into a 3D one, right from the scripting stage to pre-production and production, the studio too seeks out filmmakers to show them the possibilities of converting their films into 3D.

Prime Focus World senior stereoscopic supervisor Justin Jones has worked with clients including Lucasfilm, Dreamworks Animation, Paramount Pictures, Relativity Media and Warner Bros, apart from collaborating with Industrial Light & Magic visual effects supervisors, John Knoll and Dennis Muren.

Jones’ mandate is to oversee the creative aspect of 3D projects. Early in the project cycle, he collaborates with the client to develop a creative strategy and establish the show structure and workflow. He works closely with the show’s producer to conduct shot analysis, schedule consultation, departmental organisation and pipeline development. It is also part of Jones’ job to keep tab on the progress made by the show across teams in North America, India and the United Kingdom.

Coming to technicalities, stereoscopic 3D is currently found in four basic formats, including anaglyph (red-cyan), polarised passive (movie theatres and many 3DTVs), active-shutter (DLP projectors and many 3DTVs) and autostereoscopic (parallax barrier like Nintendo 3DS). The tools used for stereo conversion are roto, ocula, in-painting, rubber mapping and projection. Of which, roto is the primary tool used for stereo conversion by volume. While roto just prepares the material, it is the most time-consuming portion of the conversion process.

“Roto really helps us achieve perfect conversion and helps artistes to have greater control over each pixel during the final conversion process,” says Jones.

While stereo conversion mainly relies on these tools, there is more to it than just the technical aspect. Many a times, there are creative differences between the studio and filmmakers but Jones believes in first visualising what the director wants and then sitting with the team and ideating on how best to utilise the shots and scenes for perfect conversion into 3D.

“We convert a few shots and scenes and take it back to the filmmakers to show the difference between 2D and 3D, allowing them to give feedback and implementing it to see if it is beneficial to the conversion,” says Jones.

With so much to and fro, the entire process is bound to be time-consuming. However, Prime Focus sticks to a very strict schedule to meet deadlines. “We have a track record of converting films in record time and with the right visual effects. What also helps is the abundance of resources that we have at our disposal. On any given project, we would have anywhere between 400 and 450 artistes,” exults Jones. A three-month window is usually kept for every project so as to allow time for final stage testing and checking footage in detail. Jones reveals that The Wizard of Oz (1939) took nearly 14 months from the early stages where the character design was mapped out on paper, which alone took 10 weeks.

On the whole, it’s been a satisfying journey, what with hours, days, weeks and months of hard work being put in.

Every project has been unique. Jones recalls doing a lot of stereo renders on Avatar and helping director James Cameron with stereo aspects as well. “Whatever Cameron shot, we worked alongside the stereographers of his team to bring out the best visual result, and were commended for our dedicated efforts,” he says. Working on Transformers alongside Michael Bay and Cory Turner was equally enjoyable, and “Working on Star Wars was a personal high as it is one of my favourite movie franchises. Working with Lucasfilm was a great experience as they have really been doing some great work in the field of advanced technology used in movies,” he says.

Jones is excited about his current projects which includes Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For. About the sequel to Sin City, he says, “We are doing all the special effects for the film and the concept, design and executing the visual effects, apart from doing all the stereo effects.”

Ask him about 3D vs. 2D and he says it all depends on how much thought has really gone into the making of the 3D film. He gives the example of Cameron who was dead sure his film would be in 3D even before starting work on it, which is why he ensured the best use of technology. Ditto for Gravity, which took months of pre-production and visualizing a posse of camera angles and shots before getting made in 3D.

“The idea is to offer an immersive experience for the viewer. That said, if the film is first shot in 2D and then converted into 3D, it doesn’t necessarily lose out on a great 3D proposition. What is required is a great stereographer who can visualise and find those places that can be used to enhance the 3D effect in the film and bring about an immersive experience. The idea is never to look like a gag for the audience by just throwing things at them in the theatres, but to give them a memory of taking back an experience, not just a movie,” sums up Jones. He is quick to add however that a good 3D effect can never make a bad movie get a good review; “You need to have a good script in place and each aspect of the film needs to be rock solid for great BO and critical acclaim,” Jones ends.

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