Director Dave Edwards with DP Rob Morton have produced a live action dramatic short  film in 3D stereo. In spite of its title, no stage of its production has seen a dull moment. With stereo expertise and equipment hard to find in Australia, they have taken the
project from testing to completion in under a year.From Digital Media World Magazine


Dave is a recent graduate from AFTRS where he wrote and directed ‘Dead Boring’. AFTRS acted as producer by assisting with budget, facilities and non-3D equipment, as well as teacher support and professional mentoring. The school provided access to cameras and equipment for testing, lighting equipment and facilities such as editing, VFX and sound suites.

Dave and Rob chose a 3D rig composed of two Silicon Imaging 2K cameras, available from Speedwedge at Lemac Rentals, for several reasons. A major consideration for setting up a 3D rig is weight and ease of set up. The SI 2K is very small, making the complete rig much lighter and handier for shooting than other set ups would have been, and the digital footage can run straight into a computer with the stereo software for processing.

Stereo Testing
Before getting started on the shoot, scheduled to take place over three intense days in August 2009, they tested the rig for about a week on its performance and depth, light sensitivity in different environments and differences between the left and right eye while capturing. But well before acquiring the rig, Dave and Rob had been testing the concepts and workflow possibilities of shooting in 3D using ordinary ‘guerilla’ type equipment during April and May that year.
With the two signals from a pair of handycams, they were able to make a crude anaglyph image, and tested for factors that interfered with capturing a good 3D image, what disturbed calibration, how VFX could be incorporated into the workflow, and editing options.

They learned quite a lot about how things would work – and not work. For example, when they tested the feasibility of producing a VFX-heavy film in stereo, they investigated how well green screen shoots might work for compositing. It actually didn’t work so well, in fact, due to differences between the green the two cameras captured, which prevented pulling a clean key. Matching green screen footage to location plates would require a lot of calculations and measurements that they simply didn’t have time for. Testing demonstrated that they were best off maximising what they could capture on set, so they shot everything possible with the actors, and planned to achieve all effects in post.

Testing the Rig
Then, getting into the second testing phase with their rig once they had acquired it, Rob the DP looked closely at lens and lighting performance which need to match well so that a 3D image will fuse properly. The optimum lens to subject distance ratio needed to be figured out as well as what light sensitivity the cameras performed best at. Picking up a lot of grain destroys the stereo effect because it sits at the middle of the image between foreground and background and destroys a lot of the depth information. They needed to be very aware of these limitations.

Working out an effects pipeline and workflow that delivered the story and was possible in the available timeframe was a valuable experience. All types of planning were critical to this project. Dave began storyboarding in great detail but did have to cut back somewhat due to time constraints. However, acting as scriptwriter, director and post production artist, he knew every move off by heart anyway, and compromised by producing a set of complete, very simple boards, using them as a way to explore ideas. He actually had several alternative ideas in mind for most shots, so when one approach didn’t work out on set, he had options.

On the Shoot
This proved very useful on the first day of the shoot because, after falling slightly behind schedule, they needed to be able to shuffle scenes and re-write the script in some places as they went. Adding to the difficulties was the fact that the SI 2K has no viewfinder. This meant that collaboration between director and DP required positioning the camera, booting it up and launching the software, just to check out a shot. Only by knowing - in advance -precisely how each shot should look could they progress through the film.

They successfully captured all lighting in camera, but graded the basic colour to produce a clear progression within each sequence as an adjunct to storytelling. For similar reasons, as well as practicality, many shots were locked off. This helped to avoid moving the rig around too much, facilitated the effectiveness of their ‘ghost’ effect, and also helped them develop a stylistic approach to the story, which concerned themes of loneliness and feeling trapped within an environment. The stillness and look of time standing still matched this quality.

Ghost Effect
Because the characters in ‘Dead Boring’ are ghosts with partially transparent bodies, Dave needed to create a technique to achieve this effect. They developed a system of rotoscoping characters from every frame and combined this with the traditional ‘double exposure’ technique – shooting empty backgrounds for each shot and then adding the actors from the live action plates. The characters could be partially faded out to create the ‘ghost effect’ and composited into the backgrounds. The movie features over 240 visual effects shots.

On set, they recorded each sequence with the actors first and then shot a clean plate after the actors had left, done in this order because props often got shifted around during shooting. The result was four image streams of the entire movie, which amounted to a lot of data.

“To create the ghost effect,” Dave explained, “we brought our four image streams from the shoot into Nuke - a left and right stream for both characters and background plates. We began by loosely rotoscoping around each character on the left eye plate which allowed us to simultaneously extract the image in the right eye plate. In stereo images, the difference in image silhouette from left to right is quite marginal and we found by using a loose technique, we were able to fit the matte around the character on both eyes. In most cases, we also nudged the mattes on the right eye in order to get a more accurate match from left to right.

Ramped Fade
“Having said that, we were only really able to use such a loose technique because we had discovered that it actually added to our 'ghost look'. Using the looser matte, we feathered the image and used the new matte to colour grade our characters. After a number of early tests, we realised that a softer matte actually helped make the characters look more ethereal and gave them a light glow. As this was both visually appealing and economical from a production point of view, we then decided to move forwards with this pipeline.

“Another major effect we implemented across most shots was a ramped fade from top to bottom which helped to make the faces more opaque and the feet transparent. This was essential as the story was driven by the drama on the characters faces and the more difficult the faces were to 'read,' the less engaging they became. However our effect allowed them to look like ghosts and still be readable. All up, these qualities served as cues that these characters were ghosts, not living people.”

Colour Grade
Before taking the files into Nuke, they did a preliminary grade in Nucoda that would allow better integration of the effects. Once the effects were finalised in Nuke, a final grade was still required to balance all the colours across the film, ensure the left / right eye were matching and remove any unwanted grain. The files were exported as left and right eye as well, before creating the DCP.
In fact, the four versions – left and right of both the action plates and background plates – were exported into Nucoda and all four came back graded. Then they integrated the VFX and exported another two versions, left and right, which went out for the final grade. In all, they ended up with close to two feature films’ worth of data.

One of Dave’s chief goals in this project was exploring how stereo can be used to immerse viewers more deeply into a film, and whether 3D images could enhance the emotional content of a film. In this film, he chose to use stereo to literally put viewers into the house with the characters to make them feel trapped as well, making the walls come out around the audience.

He also used colour as expression, establishing a subtle colour progression throughout the film from warm tones, to suggest complicity and good feelings between the characters, and cooler tones to indicate low points in their relationship. He manipulated the colour within the ghost effect itself to suggest mood changes in a character.

Editing Workflow
Editor Emma McKenna was working on the footage with Final Cut Pro with the Neo 3D plug-in, which effectively allowed her to see and edit the footage in 2D, hit a button and turn it into an anaglyph. To do this, Neo 3D encodes the files exported from the Lemac rig in the Cineform codec, in which the left and right eye are encoded in the one file, so that with a suitable player the two elements can be played in any manner, side-by-side, above/below or as an anaglyph. “We fed the footage straight out of the 3D set into FCP and manipulated the files that way. When we locked our edit, we were able to export either the anaglyph or the left/right eye for preview purposes.”

As 3D editing workflows have not been standardised, a testing period was also required for editing. “A major problem was using a conventional edit suite monitor for the work because 3D is fairly screen specific. After editing on one size of monitor, seeing the film projected full-screen when all complete was a radically different experience in some cases, and somewhat distorted. My response to it was also different. Some shots had a different emotional quality to what we’d achieved in the edit.

Editing was completed in September, followed by VFX testing, and they had a finished copy by November 2009. “I realise now that there should be different versions made for TV, regular cinema and IMAX with different settings. I simply didn’t know at the time! We only have the one version, made for cinemascope with all setting based on the mathematics for that screen. But we’re fully aware of the issue now.”

Words: Adriene Hurst with Dave Edwards
Images: Erin Langford

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