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NAB2008: The Return of Stereoscopic 3-D

Bill Desowitz returns to Las Vegas to report on some of the highlights of the recent NAB2008, which elicited a lot of interest in 3-D technology and aesthetics.

This year's NAB lost some big company names and attendees, but it presented interesting innovations in tools, lots of talk about stereoscopic 3-D and the new Content Theater. Unless noted, all images courtesy of NAB.

Avid and Apple may have been conspicuously absent from NAB earlier this month, and attendance may have dipped from 111,028 to 105,259, but the 2008 edition of the Las Vegas confab was a lot more interesting to cover in many ways.

First, there were a few exciting new tools introduced that generated a lot of buzz, including eyeon Software's Generation, a new collaboration app for conforming, editing, compositing, annotation, versioning and render management, and the HP DreamColor Technology computer display, which was previewed during a keynote address featuring DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg (via video feed), DreamWorks Animation Chairman Roger Enrico and HP's EVP Todd Bradley.

Touting an open architecture, Generation is designed to ease vfx workflow collaboration between supervisors and production leads and allows senior artists to share in the process as well. Fully compatible with eyeon's products, Fusion, Rotation and Vision, Generation provides the simultaneous play of multiple versions while experimenting with multiple cuts to compare various projects. Shot refinements, from storyboard through to animatics to finished shots, are all tracked and versioned visually with realtime playback and commenting with workstation/laptops. Generation will be available this summer.

The HP DreamColor display "provides accurate, predictable color and a simple color management process to assure vision-to-production color consistency in a widescreen liquid crystal display (LCD). The display generates the industry's first combination of true 30-bit color - enabling a range of 1 billion colors -- in an LED-backlit LCD at a fraction of the cost of most high-end, studio-quality LCD displays.

"For decades, storytellers have struggled to manage color in an accurate and consistent manner," said Katzenberg. "Quite simply, when we make a movie about a big, green ogre, our concern is that our ogre is the same color of green throughout the film. HP has truly changed the game with its new display, giving DreamWorks Animation full visual fidelity across the board for the first time."

More details about DreamColor to come…

Plus, there was the usual excitement surrounding new digital cameras, including Sony's professional F35 and smaller X3 as well as the new RED 5K Epic, 4K Red Ray and 3K Scarlett.

Speaking of which, Boxx Technologies offered redBoxx, a new solution that allows film directors, colorists and vfx experts to view 4K footage shot with the RED ONE digital cinema camera at full quality 2K resolution in realtime with full debayering, without having to use expensive and time consuming scanning and transcoding. redBoxx is based on a specially engineered version of the 3DBoxx workstation and includes Assimilate's new SCRATCH CINE software package for Digital Intermediate work. redBoxx is designed to work only with REDCODE .R3D files.

DreamWorks Animation Chairman Roger Enrico (l) and HP's EVP Todd Bradley (r).

The redBoxx arguably completes the puzzle of modern digital workflows by allowing filmmakers to create highly polished results faster, easier and at lower cost than current standard DI technology can offer.

In addition, the Albuquerque-based Cinnafilm unveiled the HD 1 realtime film look system, a potential breakthrough in applying a rich film look to nearly any digital video source while maintaining visual integrity. Still in development, the HD 1is an advanced vfx solution utilizing a patent-pending GPU parallel processing engine that streamlines transfer and rendering procedures in a quick and cost-efficient manner. The brainchild of Cinnafilm Founder Lance Maurer, he has enlisted the help of Los Alamos National Labs in the engineering of the HD 1.

Most of the interest and excitement at NAB, however, concerned the return of stereoscopic 3-D and its potential industry boost, despite a note of caution issued by NATO President John Fithian about a looming "train wreck" if studios and theater owners don't come to a quick settlement over digital cinema fees, which could derail agreements to install 22,000 digital 3-D screens for next year.

Nevertheless, NAB introduced a new Content Theater in the central hall devoted to panel discussions about 3-D and other topics, including globalizing Bollywood, how CG technologies meet classic techniques for character animation (presented in association with the VES), case studies about Horton Hears a Who! and Pushing Daisies and broadband media workflow.

But a whole day was devoted to lively discussions about all things stereoscopic, including one about the art of 3-D. Panelists for this one included Peter Anderson, 3-D DP and vfx supervisor (U2 3D); Eric Brevig, vfx supervisor and director of Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D; Phil McNally, global stereoscopic supervisor, DreamWorks Animation; Vince Pace, CEO, Pace and 2nd unit director of photography on Avatar; Rick Rothschild, SVP, Walt Disney Imagineering; and Sean Phillips, DP, vfx supervisor and director of Sea Monsters.

Digital cinema and improved glasses have made the stereoscopic experience more comfortable and immersive. Learning how to compose shots while avoiding eyestrain during the viewing experience remain key, understanding how to shoot and edit are also vital and utilizing an efficient workflow is still underway.

"It is the Mona Lisa effect -- it is more personal," offered Anderson.

"[3-D creates] an emotional bond," asserted Pace. "It will make it transcend effects films. It shows off the acting craft and athleticism that complements the storytelling," he added in a veiled reference to Avatar.

Horton Hears a Who! was the focus of Content Theater with directors Steve Martino (l), Jimmy Hayward (center) and moderator David Cohen of Variety.

"The film [Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D] was primarily dramatic," Brevig said." I could put the camera anywhere. In 3-D, it gives you something extra. I could sit on a close-up longer. And longer shots were more engrossing."

In fact, 3-D may one day alter storytelling. Rothschild suggested that up and coming filmmakers re-learn theatrical blocking to understand how to take advantage of depth of field and slower editing principles.

In a subsequent case study on Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D, which opens July 11 from New Line and Walden, Brevig added that he needed to watch 3-D dailies and ID eyestrain. Editor and 3-D consultant Ed Marsh said it was quite an experience in storytelling and that he is looking forward to Avid's reported development of 3-D editing tools, which includes, among other things, cutting in 2-D with info for both eyes and viewing 3-D on a display.

Brevig stressed that his strategy included the following: that focus be imaged in three dimensional space, to avoid eyestrain and to take volume in a comfortable range by reducing the distance between lenses.

Meanwhile, there was a host of new tools to help facilitate better stereoscopic 3-D workflows:

Quantel showed off its new stereoscopic 3-D post systems, which provide "a true realtime end-to-end 3-D post process." The new stereo 3-D toolset is available as an option on all new Pablo 4K, iQ4 and Max 4K systems. Additionally all existing Pablo 4K or iQ systems can upgrade to stereoscopic 3-D, providing a "start to finish" stereo workflow, including previsualisation, editing, vfx, color correction, trailers and mastering. Stereo projects can now take place "in context" without the need for guesswork. The Quantel Stereoscopic 3-D Option for Pablo iQ and Max has the ability to playout and manipulate two simultaneous streams of HD or 2K in sync and without rendering. To address the needs of more cost sensitive post houses Quantel has also launched a new dedicated stereoscopic post-production workstation called Sid. Sid comes in two configurations: as a full stereo online system and also as a straightforward viewing, conform and mastering system.

The Foundry, meanwhile, previewed its own efforts into stereoscopic 3-D workfow as part of the new Nuke 5. There are tools for left and right eye image viewing as well as the ability to view the composite anaglyphically as a 3-D preview and to render anaglyphically into OpenEXR files.

The Polecam head (l) is a 3-D stereo rig. The Studio2K camera (r) is at the acquisition end of the Iconix 3-D stereo pipeline. Photo credit: Polecan (l) and Iconix Video (r).

Iconix has expanded, both organically and via acquisitions, from a camera company to a fully integrated service provider. In addition to tools for broadcast and digital cinema, Iconix now offers an end-to-end stereoscopic 3-D pipeline, including cameras, rigs, on set storage and post solutions. The newest generation of Iconix cameras, the Studio 2K, is "the only POV camera system capable of 2K digital cinema outputs" and is ideally suited for stereo 3-D applications.

According to Iconix CEO Bruce Long, a former vfx producer, "3-D is an outgrowth of vfx, animation and greenscreen shooting. It's an ideal time to move to 3-D rigs. There's a paucity of solutions. Quantel showed up. We deploy a stereoscopic pipeline using off-the-shelf hardware and proprietary software. Ours is a lower entry for filmmakers and the first end-to-end stereo solution from camera, rig and storage device."

Autodesk, while demo'ing its full range of solutions, announced at its User's Group meeting that it will unveil its highly anticipated stereoscopic workflow strategy at SIGGRAPH in LA. Sebastian Sylwan, Sr. Industry Manager, for the Film, Media & Ent. division, who spearheads the stereoscopic strategy, said Autodesk intends to take a holistic approach to the 3-D pipeline. "Stereo blurs the line further and there are a lot of elements that need to fit properly, thanks to single projectors and camera rigs. Stereo is not a grading problem but is part of the pipeline. The grammar of stereo is the big question. How will this change storytelling?," he asked excitedly.

Bill Desowitz is the editor of VFXWorld.

Bill Desowitz's picture

Bill Desowitz, former editor of VFXWorld, is currently the Crafts Editor of IndieWire.