Stereoscopic Supervisor Robert Neuman Talks Disney 3-D
Walt Disney Animation Studios has been a leader in the current stereoscopic 3-D renaissance going back to Chicken Little, the first digital 3-D feature shown in theatres. Robert Neuman has been there since that beginning, moving from the 2D world of layout on films like Dinosaur to layout supervision on Chicken Little, then into stereo layout and supervision on Meet the Robinsons and Bolt. Robert has since become the studio’s stereoscopic supervisor on Tangled, the recent 3-D conversions of The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast and the upcoming 2013 3-D release of The Little Mermaid.
I recently had a chance to talk with him about the growing use of 3-D at the studio and its impact on the creative process.
Dan Sarto: From your perspective, are you satisfied with the way the studio is using 3-D and how your group is being able to make inroads and push the technical envelope forward?
Robert Neuman: Oh yeah. If you’re going to work in 3-D right now, the best place to be working is in animation. Live action, just from a technical standpoint, you just can’t do the things that we can do in animation because we have theoretically perfect virtual cameras and we have at our disposal some techniques which would be impractical, currently, to implement in live action. On Tangled it was commonplace for me to use multi-rig, multiple stereo pairs, each one dialed in to get the exact amount that we wanted for the next part of the shot and then composite it, sandwich it back together in a great resulting scene.
That’s something that would be very difficult, you’d have to have multiple green screens - I don’t know how you'd even do in live action. It would be an impractical thing. So you’re at the mercy of the physical constraints on where you can put the camera. Sometimes the only way to get your shot is with the camera at some distance and you use a long lens. Telephoto lenses tend to make problems for 3-D. They create a cardboard effect where everything looks flat.
So given that, currently it would be very difficult if not impossible to make a [live action] film which looks as good in 3-D as Tangled. Animation is definitely the place if you really want to push the envelope of 3-D right now.
DS: Where in the life cycle of a film do you get involved? At what stage do you get involved and how long do you typically work on a film?
RN: In stereo, I’m there from beginning to end. In the very beginning of the creative process, it’s just helping create a better awareness of what makes for good 3-D versus bad 3-D since creatively the storyboards are 2D-based. That’s the extent to which story boarding is benefited by 3-D. During layouts is when the stereo layout process starts, which is towards the beginning of the production certainly. So [I’m involved] from layout through lighting and the final buy off on the deliverables.
DS: How much additional time, effort and budget does stereoscopic 3-D really add to film production?