Comin’ At Ya: Stereoscopic 3D Production and Theory

Stereoscopic. The word, when applied to 3D, literally means to film two offsetting images in order to manipulate the eye into believing that it’s seeing real objects. We all have our favourite screen-jutting moments, whether from 3D films that first ran in the mid-50s (House of Wax; Dial ‘M’ for Murder), or the early 1980s (Jaws 3-D). Now 3D is back with a vengeance, taking over cinema screens faster than ever before and now there’s even the preponderance of 3D televisions to aid in the format’s ever-expanding availability.

With technological leaps and bounds established in recent years, 3D is a vastly different animal than the previous style parodied so well in SCTV’s Dr. Tongue sketches. It’s much more sophisticated – and as Avatar demonstrated irrevocably, looks far better than it’s ever looked before.

Keeping this in mind, Film Training Manitoba partnered with Mid Canada Production Services in March for a crash-course study that delved both into the practical application of 3D and the abundant theories that surround the process. In addition to stereoscopic, Reid Robertson, Supervisor of Panasonic Tech Support & Product Services, answered questions about Panasonic’s 3D camera package; the 3DA1, which was covered extensively on day one.

Helping to elaborate on stereoscopic for day two were Mark Bone, a Toronto-based filmmaker with Olympic games and the TIFF-presented short Escarpment Surfers, and John Reeve, a Digital Imaging Technician and Stereographer on over twenty-five 3D productions.

Bone explains what the course touched upon, “We covered a whole variety of topics. We showed 3D examples on the high-end and then opened it up to stereoscopic theory and how the eye sees 3D. (We also covered) how binocular vision works with stereoscopic vision and how to approach the camera. Then there are all of the issues and disparities that we run into, and how to correct them. There’s also the difference between rigs, and whether to converge in-camera or post. Basically, how we acquire 3D and interpret… not just shooting (3D), but really inquiring into the image and what occurs in the ocular muscles.”

As can be pretty much inferred from watching a 3D film, the making-of is a labour-heavy process, but Bone and Reeve helped demystify what we commonly believe to be necessary to shoot in the format.

How did Bone himself become interested in 3D?

“I began shooting 3D stills out of pure interest. I was a college intern at a research center when I took on the job of 3D post-production out of this established interest. I learned a great deal in three ways: shooting it myself and making mistakes, using two identical TV cameras through my research center, and partnering with Tim Dashwood on the Final Cut Pro 3D software.”

Winnipeg-based camera department professional Ryan McGregor, no stranger to Film Training Manitoba’s abundant training support, took the course because he feels it’s “inevitable” that a 3D production will come to town.

“I think there are some 3D movies that leave something to be desired – including Avatar, story-wise. But it’s safe to say it’s sticking around for a bit. There’s no way of getting around it and I want to be on one of those shows. Obviously, it’ll be a bigger challenge for everyone involved, but I wanted to get a head start for this (potential) production.”

What did McGregor take away from the two days?

“It gave me an intro to the concepts of 3D. It was great to have an overall general thing for producers, directors and everyone else that came in, but eventually we’ll need a 3D camera rig to come to town and spend a few days with that. (As it stands), this was great as an introduction. I don’t know if it changed my (perceptions of how to view 3D), but it provided me with more information on how to actually do it… and how to manipulate the space. I understood the whole 2-eyes convergence, but it was a good opportunity to see how you can play with the depth and how to control it.”

Asked for examples of recent successful 3D films, McGregor reached back a couple of years.

Piranha 3D achieved what it was going for… campy, shock entertainment. But the first one that sticks in my mind was My Bloody Valentine 3D. It was the first of the new wave 3D movie that I saw that stuck out – and it was (entirely different) from all of the 3D animation I’d been exposed to at Disney World or Universal Studios or wherever. This was real life.”

Local filmmaker Mike Maryniuk took the course, being no stranger to 3D himself.

“I decided to take it because I had made a short independently in the past and was interested to learn more about the process. (I wanted to find out) whether what I was doing was completely wrong or not. I made Dead Ringer last year with two 3D rigs – two DSLR Cameras and shot it animation-style.”

Maryniuk took away some big lessons from the class.

“One, it justified what I was doing before as they (Bone and Reeve) agreed with my research and it was revealed to me that the manuscript that I based my research on – Lenny Lipton’s Foundations of the Stereoscopic Cinema – was the same one they were basing their teachings on. In a way, my experiments were justified by them agreeing with this line of thinking. That was really important to me.

“It was also great to experiment in class and ask questions to someone who had answers. It certainly rekindled that flame of shooting 3D last year.”

Does Maryniuk think he’ll shoot in 3D in the future?

“Sure. But (the course) also justified my opinion that 3D isn’t for everything. It’s for some things and not others. It’s like when the Red River Ex is in town… it’s a great event when it’s here in June, but if it were here year round, (Winnipeggers) would tire of it pretty quickly.”

In the end, Bone views the weekend as a success.

“It went great. There’s only so much you can teach in 2 days to a new crowd, and often you’re only teaching specifically to editors or cinematographers or whoever… (but here) we fielded questions from everybody, and I really welcomed (the opportunity) to be able to do that.”

Film Training Manitoba develops workshops like Stereoscopic 3D Production and Theory to ensure that Manitoba’s film industry has qualified, highly-trained crew members in all craft areas. Among the goals of the Workshop Training Program is to provide training to emerging and established crewmembers to expand the crew base of the local film industry.

For more information on FTM’s upcoming workshops, please contact us or visit our website (

Written by Aaron Graham, for FTM