Stereo Types

Vince Pace and James Cameron were busy sewing up deals and affiliations at the recent IBC Broadcast Convention in Amsterdam


James Cameron and Vince Pace have been working with 3D for many years. They admit that they started with 3D without any real purpose but just because they liked what they saw. They are at the IBC Show to spread the word about the future of the format as they saw it, and perhaps at the same time market their new company CPG to a group of major broadcasters at the show.

With James Cameron’s Hollywood A list attraction there were many who preferred to listen to his views on 3D on the first day of the show, a day when traditionally many of the major manufacturers host their own press conferences. We had our ‘slot’ with James and Vince the next day and wanted to expand on some of the points he had raised the previous evening.

Cameron and Pace were keen to point out that they thought 3D had to be demystified and start appealing to the mass market of the video world to stand any chance of becoming a future mainstream format in the professional video world. So how can the rest of us start producing 3D?

“Stereographers and convergence pullers are going to be part of the history of 3D”. Vince Pace

James Cameron: I don’t think one guy can change anything, it’s only when a lot of guys are doing it, when a lot of guys are doing it there’ll be a lot of rigs, a lot of new tools, a lot of new software tools. All this expansion will bring that cost gap down. It’s the volume argument. You need a lot of broadcasters buying shows from producers to bring the price of the technology down. The people who do it initially are going to take a cost hit because they’re the ones at the bleeding edge. Our job is to make it painless and as little a cost hit as possible based on what’s possible at the moment. What we see is the cost continuously coming down and the technology getting easier, more plug ‘n’ play and fewer added people to every production, that’s a change virtually week by week that we’re seeing.

The point is at what point is it viable for people to enter the market who have maybe been put off by the cost and the technology? If maybe a person can get the backing of the network to do a couple of episodes of a popular show to start to generate interest in the home for that type of programme – nobody is doing that right now. I think that is where a lot of the money is going to be really made. Putting 50 3D rigs out on football is great because football is a big money earner but it’s daunting. Putting three rigs out on a very popular scripted series, that’s not that big a deal. But the difference in your experience of that episodic drama is going to be huge. I think this is the low hanging fruit from a profitability standpoint because you’re not doing visual effects, you got a very short post, lighting is lighting, acting is acting, writing is writing, all of those thing don’t change. Its pretty straightforward.

“The argument I would make, and we’ve had these discussions with people who are looking to start shooting some of their shows like this. I would say never just do one episode because you’ll make all your mistakes on that episode and you don’t want to project financially over the whole season from what you’ve spent on the first episode. You want to make two or maybe three episodes, watch the costs across the episodes as the team gets better and makes fewer mistakes and incorporates 3D in to their workflow. By the time you get to that third episode then project your season and that’s how much you’re going to spend. Technically we there and ready to go on any episodic show.

VINCE PACE: If you look at any technology development whether it be TV, mobile phones you’ve got to be careful of advancing the technology development curve. Its really all about when you’re going to jump on the curve.

JC: Everybody takes every moment as a crisis of doubt, a crisis of faith, in reality we’re just on a sort of inexorable path but make your business decisions based on where we are in the tech development. 

HD MAGAZINE: How then do you weigh that advice with what we see in say 3D coverage for sport where you have a crew chain of maybe two or three people per camera signal channel to control and provide stereography for that camera.

James Cameron has staunch views on the future of 3D but as usual not everyone agrees with himJC: We don’t do it that way and here’s the mistake that Sky have made. We’ve told them this. They went out and bought rigs, it does not make sense for anybody to be in the rig business other than a rig company, it doesn’t make sense for an individual broadcaster to be in the rig business or an individual film company to be in the rig business. Because the rig business is a rapidly dynamically changing business of engineering development on a day to day basis. So the rigs that they bought two years ago from Element Technica I would say are door stops as far as we’re concerned!

“We know that any piece of gear that we buy has got to be written down within a year. The way we’ve dealt with that is our architecture is open and it gets modularly refigured to fit new cameras that are coming along, new lenses, new control systems, algorithms. We’re constantly reintegrating those in to the best smallest, lightest, smartest version of the camera every single day. We supply an entire industry and can afford to have that shop and take feedback from every user out there. We’ve made 27 features most of which were the most high profile 3D features, 140 sporting events, a number of concerts. We’re learning from every one of those and bringing it back in to the rig and software development and the workflow evolution. Then we pass it back out. That’s the logical way to do this because we are in a state of such rapid transition. Go buy a rig and you locked in time, you’re stuck on amber.

“Also what rig are you going to buy? We have sixteen different variants of the Fusion rig. We’ve got side by side rigs with huge lenses, we’ve got Shadow systems, we’ve got lightweight handheld, Steadicam systems that servo activated weight compensation, beam splitters, which one of those are you going to buy Mr Small Operator. You going to buy one of each type? You going to trying a buy something like an erector rig which you have to tear apart and re-build between set-ups? That doesn’t make any sense. By the way tomorrow it will be seventeen rigs as we will be probably cutting metal in a couple of weeks on a new idea for a rig.

VP: A real world example is the US Open. We won the Emmy for it. Seven cameras doing the production for the US Open in critical positions with the Shadow technology. In one year’s time we have twice the amount of rigs, we have the same amount of people we used on the first show and at the same cost of the first show. So effectively if you had owned that kit you’d be with the exact same amount of cameras and the exact same amount of people but with half the entertainment value that you’re getting today. They would have been stuck in 3D time saying ‘thats the 3D story’. By using a rental model we are fitting the same budget as we did last time with twice the entertainment value. That’s where 3D has to grow, we have to continue to grow in telling the story and getting all the camera positions and really evolving the technology in to the best it can be rather than parking it at last year’s level. 

JC: So what are you going to do, go buy a side by side camcorder with a one third inch chip? Then the 2D version of your show has half the resolution of all the other 2D shows? The business models only make sense when you’re making a high quality 3D source master from which a high quality 2D feed can be separated out downstream. The way we’re going to get to that is by continuously evolving the equipment, get to volume meaning more content getting made.When we have more volume we can make the technology investment to get the gear to the next level – smaller, lighter, smarter. By smarter I mean that the gear’s doing more of the work so the people are taken out of the loop. We were talking about SKY earlier with the large crew per rig well we’re already way passed that. We have five people on 14 rigs.

“You can’t ask the audience to think of 3D as the highest and best way to view content and at the same time be taking something away. If its worth covering with 26 cameras then they’re used to that coverage. You can’t suddenly try and cover it with five cameras but tell them it’s a better experience. You have to do the highest and the best version of the entertainment experience with those 26 camera positions. 

“Therein lies the solution, you put 26 3D rigs there and extract your 2D and 3D feeds from the same source cameras. Now you don’t have two productions, you have one. The problem is not technological it’s cultural and perceptional which is what I was saying yesterday at the event. You’ve got people who have been doing it a certain way and it’s working and they know they’re on super tight timelines and they’re highly reliant on technology that they know and trust and you come in and say ‘You’ve got to do 3D’,  they’re going to say ‘F*** you! You do your 3D over there. We’re going to keep doing what we do.’ So it takes courage to take that entire 2D infrastructure and replace it with 3D and those same people sitting there. It the model of going SD to HD, of course there were changes and disruptions, of course there was the same naysaying, but ultimately now there is one production, not an HD and an SD one. There was for a while, there was a little HD truck next to be the big SD truck then after a while that SD truck disappeared. That’s what going to happen with 3D.

“Our shadow technology is an interim step which allows you to have the same 2D camera operator operating a 2D and 3D rig simultaneously, the camera data which is feeding out of his zoom and focussing toggle are also feeding the 3D camera. So when he’s telling his camera to focus at a certain distance that’s telling the 3D camera where to look. Sometimes the 3D camera will be completely separate on a remote head but he’s still telling it where to look.

VP: From an operator’s standpoint we can have a number of cameras, from a support standpoint the typical formula has been someone’s got to give full convergence or someone’s got to monitor that camera system, that’s all going away. Stereographers and convergence pullers are going to be part of the history of 3D, the status right now is that they’re thinning out, the technology’s getting smarter, it’s performing better and that’s thinning out the number of people that we need and it’s going to go to zero! It’s just inevitable that the technology evolves to handle that part of the business.

JC: There’s another thing people have to remember, we’ve done more 3D productions than all the other 3D providers put together but nobody handed us $40 million to go create the best 3D system in history, we did it from a little shop to a slightly bigger shop on revenue funded model. We paid for it as we went along and grew to meet the demand, now we’re growing super rapidly and continuing on that revenue funded model because business is good right now.

HD MAGAZINE: Back then what drove you, there was no digital cinemas and no market?

JC: Because we were f***ing crazy! 12 years ago we said lets build a really cool digital 3D camera, there was no market, there were no cinemas, there were only 40 IMAX screens in 3D and that was it. But we thought it was a good idea and we liked what we saw and put that camera together and said, ‘man this is it, this is the future.’ We didn’t know how it was going to take but it was the future. Within a couple of years technology emerged that we didn’t know about, it came over the horizon which was Lenny Lipton’s Z filter from his Stereo Graphics company that was bought by a startup called REALD which is now the market dominating leader in 3D display. It was a single projector digital solution for 3D, so now we could make movies. So from that moment which was in 2002 we started thinking, ‘well now we’re talking about a whole different ball game’. We weren’t talking about niche natural history films for 3D geeks like us, we’re talking about transforming the movie business. From the moment we saw that we just dropped everything else. I started getting ready to make my next big movie in 3D, I didn’t know it was going to be AVATAR, I was developing several projects. But the mantra was whatever the next big movie is it’s going to be in 3D and it’s going to be using our cameras. Vince was out saying ‘why aren’t we shooting football, why aren’t we shooting NASCAR’ and so we just made decisions to go out and spend our own money to go shoot sports. Nobody was paying us but we said if we don’t know how to do it, when somebody does come along and the phone does ring and somebody does want to pay us to do 3D, we‘ve got to know how to do it, and we have had to had the knowledge fed back in to the rig design. That’s why we don’t believe in the purchase model for 3D rigs at the moment. The rigs have to be smarter and cheaper so that we’ll reach a point that the technology is stable. Meaning that you buy a rig and it’s going to be good for you for a few years and you don’t need a  company like us standing behind you. 

HD MAGAZINE: Would that explain the consolidation between 3Ality and Element Technica?

JC: I don’t see a big advantage for the 3D industry out of that, it probably works well for them. But the 3Ality guys have constantly said that they’re not in the rig business and god bless them they’re really not. The Element Technica rigs are small and sexy looking but their extremely technically limited so I think if you put those field of expertise together you might come out with something. 

VP: The bottom line for content creators is are you going to be able to craft your show by selecting one particular slice of 3D? What we’ve seen is whether we’re doing a feature, doing a concert film or sport’s film, those slices that make up that pie in 3D are fairly unique. Just look at the Cirque de Soleil show, there was a mini rig underneath the trampoline, there was a side by side with 25-250s up in the stand. Its hard to address this business by saying I want to make a singular purchase, I want to do all forms of 3D with it.

JC: And the consumer, prosumer kind of side by side solutions are very limited because you’re locked in at an interocular. When we do a side by side rig we think of it a a hyper stereo rig, we’re pushing the interocular apart and using long lenses to cover sports and music and things like that where we can’t get the camera right up close and personal. That camera, that little handheld type, you can walk right up to somebody but now you have a highly limited tool because you don’t have interocular control. 

HD MAGAZINE: It’s there a place for it in these flavours you talk about?

JC: If people know that they want to stand exactly five or six feet from the subject and never go farther away and never come closer or suffer a severe compromise in the 3D, is there a place for that? I suppose so, if you’re shooting a birthday party or a wedding, but we’re not in that business and if it gets to that I’ll probably get out.


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