Mind Your Business: To Pay for 3-D or Not to Pay for 3-D

Mark Simon gives some helpful tips about stereoscopic production and viewing.

Mark Simon is all about 3-D. Images courtesy of Simon.

I celebrated my birthday this past week. I took one day off and spent time with my family and geeked out with a few 3-D/Blu-ray movies.

I should clarify: I watched some of the 3-D movies with my family, including my twin 11-year-old boys, and other 3-D movies I most definitely had to watch without them.

I'll start with the fact that I am an advocate for 3-D production. I love it. Well, I love some of it. The bad ones just annoy me.

There's a lot to love about watching a great movie or TV show in 3-D. A lot to love… if it's shot well…and is shot in native stereoscopic (not converted).

The problem is there is a lot of crappy 3-D product out there. (If you have ever watched any of the free 3-D content on a RoadRunner cable system, or the Journey to the Center of the Earth movie, you know all about crappy 3-D) I want to talk about both.

My kids asked me what I wanted to do on the evening of my birthday. I told them I wanted to eat black forest cake (my favorite -- and I am willing to accept bribes of cake) and watch a 3-D movie. My choice of movies for the evening was Megamind.

Megamind isn't my favorite movie. I like it but I don't love it. I do love the character designs and a number of the sequences, but the movie itself is just OK. However, it was my choice because it's one of the best examples of fantastic 3-D depth I've ever seen in a movie. The depth and clarity are amazing.

Aside from Avatar, DreamWorks Animation is the best in the business in integrating 3-D into the telling of the story. Its images are clear, show a lot of depth, and the depth choices actually mean something. Megamind, How to Train Your Dragon, Monsters vs. Aliensand Shrek Forever After are all incredible in 3-D.

Over the last week I also watched Jackass 3D and Drive Angry (which comes out on Blu-ray on May 31st). I thought that the Jackass 3D pranks are a great use of 3-D. The practical jokes just work better in depth. I think the stars are all idiots for the pranks and pain they inflict on each other, and I'm gagging and laughing right along with them for 90 minutes.

Drive Angry is the first true grind house film I've seen in years. It's crude. It uses obvious 3-D in-your-face gags. It's gory. It's got lots of T&A. And it all looks great in 3-D. The biggest difference between this movie and most grind house movies, is this one has a budget and looks like it. I loved it.

Now all these examples were produced and/or shot in native 3-D. They are not conversions. I don't like conversions. I thought Alice in Wonderland, a conversion, was a travesty. I can't believe it made any money (and without the amazing designs and Johnny Depp, it wouldn't have). Everyone I saw it with swore off ever paying for a 3-D movie it was so bad.

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I didn't see Thor in 3-D because it was a conversion. The reviews I read said the conversion wasn't bad, but also wasn't great. If I'm going to pay extra for 3-D, I want it to be great and worth the extra cost. I want to see a lot of depth that doesn't give me a headache.

There's only one 3-D conversion I've ever seen that looked great, and that's Piranha 3D. This is a perfect popcorn-movie and the 3-D effects do exactly what they are supposed to…put blood, violence and T&A right in your face. What's surprising is how clear and deep the 3-D image is.

I spoke with Jeff Maynard, The Weinstein Co. executive in charge of production, the man who oversaw the conversion, about why his conversion worked where so many others have failed.

"We shot the entire movie with 3-D in mind," Maynard says. "I worked with the director from the beginning to design all the shots for a great looking conversion. There are two main reasons we didn't shoot in 3-D: budget and water. Shooting on the water is complicated and expensive enough without adding 3-D rigs to the equation."

Maynard continues, "We even shot footage and did numerous conversions before production began."

If you haven't seen this movie in 3-D, you should. You won't believe that it wasn't shot in native 3-D, it's that good.

Last year, I produced the stereoscopic unit on a short film, Nazi Robots. (www.vimeo.com/21681295) I brought in Doug Stanley, owner of Ridgeline 3D, and producer of Discovery's hit series Deadliest Catch, to oversee the live-action 3-D camera crew. The director, Jason Pichon, wanted this project to be shot in native 3-D and the DAVE School students provided all the stereoscopic animation and compositing. Working with Doug, a 13-year 3-D veteran, taught me a lot about how to make the best use of 3-D technology.

Shooting a 3-D movie or TV show takes a lot more than just pointing a 3-D camera and pushing the record button. I asked Doug about the top four things all 3-D productions should do to make their project as incredible as possible.

Doug Stanley's Top Four 3-D Production Tips: 1.    Stereoscopic production starts in prep: The project should be thought of and designed for 3-D, not as a 2-D production.

2.    3-D camera lenses need to be perfectly matched: The image will never be clear if the lenses vary even a little from each other.

3.    Properly align the cameras: The extra time it takes on set to align the cameras, yaw, rotation, tilt, etc, the faster, cheaper and better your post will be.

4.    You can't always fix it in post: Unlike 2-D shots, not all 3-D shots can be fixed in post.

"Every dollar spent in prep is a dollar well-spent," Stanley emphasizes.

One tip for those of you with 3-D TVs: set your TV to the brightest setting for viewing in 3-D. The best setting on my TV is the Sports setting. The difference is amazing.

Give 3-D a chance. A lot of people hate wearing the glasses, but you forget about them after a few minutes. The good glasses improve the quality of the image.

Now I have to make another excuse to spend hours watching 3-D movies all day long.

Mark Simon is the co-founder of SellYourTvConceptNow.com. Download his FREE REPORT on the 7 biggest show-pitch mistakes at www.SellYourTvConceptNow.com. He is a 2nd degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and is the current (and three-time) Tae Kwon Do National Champion.

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