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The Process of Shooting a Film in 3D

written by: Rianne Hill Soriano•edited by: Tricia Goss•updated: 1/30/2013

Shooting in 3D follows the same concept as the human eyes. The left eye sees from one perspective, and then the right eye sees from another. Things they see are almost identical, but not quite the same. The brain processes these perspectives together for a person to perceive a 3D environment.

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    Shooting Set-up

    Shooting a 3D movie requires following a specific production workflow. Some shoot on a regular 2D format and then use a 3D post-conversion process to create the final 3D footage. Another primary option requires simultaneously shooting two separate films of each shot to create stereoscopic or stereo images. Conceptually, this means shooting left and right footage, just like what the left and right eyes see. The said stereo images are meant for processing during the project’s post-production stage, which in turn produces the final 3D footage.

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    3D Post-Conversion Process

    The 3D post-conversion process allows just about any 2D movie, including older releases, to be converted into 3D format. This also allows new 3D productions to first use the regular 2D filming process and then simply post-convert in 3D format later in the production. First, however, think of how the movie should appear as a 3D offering. This process can save time, effort and money, as filming stereo images are very demanding, especially when it comes to the required production resources and set-up.

    There are many options to choose from when performing 3D post-conversion. The quality of the 3D-converted footage largely depends on the choices of workflow and software programs used for the project. The more expensive options like those used in Hollywood movies provide more convincing results when compared to the home movie programs that are often free to download or affordable to buy.

    It is often debated if this cheaper 3D production provides lower quality 3D output compared to shooting live stereo footage. What is clear is that both options are still considerably young technologies that are expected to further develop in the years to come.

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    Camera Options

    When choosing to shoot live stereo footage to keep the fidelity and depth of actual videos shot as the left and right eyes work, the production still needs to decide which particular production workflow to use during the shoot. Unlike a typical 2D shoot that practically requires any regular camera, shooting stereo images has different requirements. The production can either shoot with two different video cameras that simultaneously record the left and right footage or a single 3D camera with one camera body and two separate lenses and storage area for the recorded left and right footage.

    If using two separate cameras, a 3D rig, which works like a tripod housing the two cameras to have the right shooting distance and angle for filming stereo footage, is crucial to the success of the shoot. It is also best to use the same camera model to maintain the overall technical quality of the stereo images. Generally, using two different cameras can result to color, exposure and other differences in image attributes, which can significantly affect the look of the final footage. Although 3D programs can help minimize such issues, it is still best to acquire raw footage that would make the already challenging post-production process less demanding.

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    3D Format Requirements

    Aside from the primary considerations on the production workflow, choice of camera, and production budget, it is also important to confirm other key technical requirements for a 3D production. The 3D format to use is dependent on the available 3D glasses to use to see the 3D images. The 3D theater, TV, computer or any other playback or output requirement readily affects the workflow that would best fit the production.

    For a home movie set-up, it is not practical to follow the workflow used for a movie meant for showing at the IMAX. Often times, the only feasible and practical option to use is the older 3D technology known as the anaglyph 3D format. This uses the anaglyph 3D glasses that are readily identifiable with their double-colored glasses. A pair of anaglyph 3D glasses usually showcases a red filter on one eye and a cyan filter on the other eye.

    For an independent or commercial movie set-up meant for theatrical release, it is important to know what kind of theater will be used for the screening of the film. There are three different 3D theaters to choose from. These include the IMAX, RealD 3D and Dolby 3D. While it is possible to show the film in all of them, this would be very costly. The 3D glasses used for these theaters also vary. They have their own type of 3D glasses compatible with their movie screens.

    When coming up with a 3D movie meant for the Blu-ray format, the process also differs from those used in theatrical screenings. Since there are different 3D TVs available in the market, the process of seeing footage in 3D format really varies from one 3D TV to another.