Blog Review: “What does it take to create a stereoscopic 3D documentary in Canada?”
GRAND graduate student Lesley Northam attended a 3D stereoscopic workshop that focused on the history, theory and challenges of filming documentaries in 3D.

Read her review of the event.
Posted by GRAND NCE, March 24, 2011

GRAND graduate student Lesley Northam attended the workshop “What does it take to create a stereoscopic 3D documentary in Canada?” presented by 3D FLIC and DOC Toronto on March 10, 2011. The workshop focused on the history, theory and challenges of filming documentaries in 3D. Here is her review of the event. 

The evening began with a presentation by GRAND researcher and York University professor Ali Kazimi. His presentation covered the history of stereoscopy dating back to 1889 and included the short-lived popularity of stereoscopic 3D material in the 1950’s and the recent surge in production of 3Dmovies resulting from the “Avatar effect.” Dr. Kazimi spent the remainder of his talk discussing the technical difficulties of filming with stereoscopic 3D cameras.

The fundamental theory of stereoscopy offered few surprises; however, the real-world implementation difficulties fascinated me. Dr. Kazimi stated that for best results--a stereoscopic 3D film that causes no disorientation or pain--both images must have identical exposure, contrast, colour and vertical alignment. To achieve this, cameras and lenses must be identical, perfectly aligned and held steady. Meeting these requirements can be difficult and expensive in practise, since lenses (even from the same batch) may contain minute differences that reduce the quality of perceived depth.

Dr. Kazimi also discussed the inter-axial (or inter-ocular) distance between cameras. The tradeoffs in stereoscopic 3D rigs are noteworthy. Side-by-side stereoscopic rigs are stable but don’t have a large degree of inter-axial flexibility because of camera size. Unlike these side-by side rigs, beam-splitter rigs achieve greater inter-axial adjustment flexibility but are expensive, fragile and very sensitive to environmental factors.

Case studies of documentaries filmed in 3D were exhibited following Dr. Kazimi’s presentation.The first study focused on CBC Television’s “Queen Elizabeth in 3D” and was presented by Liam O'Rinn, Michael Sweeney and John Reeves, who showcased Stereoscopic 3D footage from the 1950’s coronation ceremony and the 2010 visit to Canada. The second study, presented by Diane Woods (3reedom) and Craig Colby (High Fidelity), discussed the 3D filming of “A Park for All Seasons: Gwaii Haanas.” Both case studies highlighted their production experiences and emphasized that stereoscopic 3D is a great medium for documentaries.

I found the discussion of filming “A Park for All Seasons” to be very interesting. The presenters noted that mirror imperfections in the beam-splitter rig caused slight polarization in one of the cameras. This deficiency had to be accounted for during post-production since the polarization spoiled some ocean scenes--one camera could see into the water but the other could not, seeing only reflections off the water’s surface.

Overall, this was an excellent learning experience for me and I look forward to future workshops.

Ali Kazimi is a collaborating researcher and York University professor working on a number of GRAND projects. Lesley Northam, also a member of the GRAND network, is a graduate student at the University of Waterloo.