3D Treasure for Arri

"The combination of features such as colour grading, frame accurate and traceable quality control and quick rendering of the various derivatives is a major advantage of the Colorfront On-Set Dailies system. It saves a lot of time and manpower," explains Markus Kirsch, Arri head of TV post production.

09 February 2011 - David Fox reports. Source: TVBEurope

Vicky and the Treasure of the Gods is Germany's first live-action 3D production. It was shot using four Arri Alexa cameras, with a complete on-set 3D playback and viewing trailer and all grip and 3D equipment supplied by Arri.

Vicky and the Treasure of the Gods is Germany's first live-action 3D production. It was shot using four Arri Alexa cameras, with a complete on-set 3D playback and viewing trailer and all grip and 3D equipment supplied by Arri. David Fox reports.

The movie, which was shot in Bavaria and Malta, has just started post production and should be in theatres in September. The producers had wanted to make its predecessor in 3D, but the technology wasn't advanced enough. Even so, Vicky the Viking gained an audience of six million and was the most profitable German feature film of 2009 in German-speaking territories.

For Treasure of the Gods they wanted to use a German 3D system, and worked early on with Arri and Stereotec to develop a rig system tailor-made for Alexa, while Arri developed a workflow for the 3D post production. They also used a modified Steadicam rig from P+S Technik.

"No one in Germany has made a German speaking live-action 3D film, and exclusively with German technology at that," says producer Christian Becker, of Rat Pack Filmproduktion.

The two customised Stereotec midsize rigs were equipped with motorised controls and a data capture system. For crane shots they used a Super Scorpio telescopic crane and a Supertechno 50 with a modified 3D remote head. Arri Film & TV built a new on-set service trailer with space for several workstations, a 65-inch 3D monitor, 2D broadcast monitor, grading panel and eight seats for screenings.

The Alexas recorded onto two Codex Portable recorders, and there were two Codex lab stations in the trailer to receive the digital footage, with two Arri staff handling all digital imaging, including: geometric and colour corrections of both stereo images; quality control; metadata management; backups to LTO 4 tape; creating any deliverables (DVD, 3D Blu-ray, Arri Webgate dailies and Avid 3D MXF files); and the screening of dailies.

The main software used was the Colorfront On-Set Dailies software, which was optimised for 3D shoots in close collaboration with Arri (which also developed the archiving software).

"Developing the script, we made sure that key scenes had the full 3D effect. I'm thinking of American examples, where not enough is happening in front of the screen. A family film such as Vicky is meant to entertain, to fascinate, and there's room for a bit of carnival attraction, too; after all, that's why we are making the film in 3D in the first place. That's why there are passages in the screenplay where we describe the action in great detail, such as a head sticking out of the screen or spears and arrows flying right into the audience," says Becker.

"In terms of shooting, the process becomes pretty normal after a few days of getting used to it. You don't have to wait for the cameras anymore, although you can't shoot as many takes per setup with two cameras," said the director, Christian Ditter. They had up to 10 cameras on set, covering five angles. "Also, 3D isn't cut as fast; instead, the images and camera moves are more elaborately composed. That's a particularly fun aspect of 3D."

"This isn't just my first 3D film but also my first shoot with a digital camera," admits DoP, Christian Rein. "Luckily, after doing the first tests with the Alexa, I realised that I can use it like a traditional film camera. I had questions, of course. How does the camera respond? Where are the noise levels? What's the exposure range? After all, there was no digital film camera on the market before the Alexa that could have compared to 35mm or that could have delivered comparable results in terms of image quality. The Alexa is a huge step forward in that regard."

"When the Alexa came out at the beginning of the year, there was no master-slave function yet for these cameras. But Arri caught up quickly, making the Alexa compatible right away. That and the new software updates were crucial to shoot the film in this way," he adds. The cameras are now synchronised as a master and slave so the settings of the master camera (shutter angle, frame rate, aperture and focus) also apply to the slave.

In terms of camera work, 3D is a major change. "You use different focal lengths and the equipment got larger again. It's a bit like in the past, when you had lots of heavy equipment. You are not as fast and spontaneous, you have to plan more, but in the end, you do achieve the desired results.

"Also the focal length went down. For what we used to shoot with around 40mm, you now only need 24mm. The 3D experience is much more challenging for the audience, that's why there are fewer edits and the pacing isn't as fast. Now setups are combined to allow people to really enjoy what they are seeing. Of course, setups in 3D don't get boring as quickly," says Rein.

Working with a Steadicam, cranes and remote heads, means the shoot is more technical and more removed. "You no longer have that sense of immediacy, which you had looking through an optical viewfinder and being the first actual audience member seeing the film." There is also a larger crew, with a stereoscopic team, a recording crew and the Digital Imaging technicians, giving a camera crew of about 14 - 2D projects, with two units, would only need six.

"We light exactly the way we do on 2D films. Sometimes you have to make adjustments later during grading to sharpen the contrast because the 3D effect is greater when the images have more contrast. When the images are flat, the 3D effect gets watered down."

"The main differences, in terms of directing, are that we have many sequences, the takes are very long and include a point-of-view change, and there are fewer cuts," says Ditter. "This means that the takes are also longer for the actors, but it gives them the opportunity to really flesh out a scene. I personally like that because it draws the audience into the story and you have the feeling you are there with them.

"You have an additional dimension to tell your story with. Before, you could choose the size of a shot and what you cut to, but now you have an additional choice, another element in the language of film. Now you think about how close you want to bring an object to the audience or how close you want to be to a character emotionally, or how much you want to distance yourself from it. That enriches the language of film," says the director.

On-set workflow

"Mobility is the key, among other things, to put to rest some of the uncertainties still connected with a 3D shoot,“ says Arri Head of Digital Filmworks Harald Schernthaner. "Using this new recording technique requires that you are able to react quickly. You can only guarantee that if there is a colourist and an additional technician, who can take care of the metadata as well as the backups and deliveries for the screenings and the editing room, on the set."

"The combination of features such as colour grading, frame accurate and traceable quality control and quick rendering of the various derivatives is a major advantage of the Colorfront On-Set Dailies system. It saves a lot of time and manpower," explains Markus Kirsch, Arri head of TV post production.

The Alexas recorded onto Codex Portables in the HD Jpeg 2000 format. Then the recorded data was sent to the trailer, where it was backed up before being transferred to the servers and undergoing quality control. About an hour after shooting, feedback regarding the quality of the recorded data was available and, about an hour and a half later, the 3D images could be viewed on a monitor, colour corrected and complete with the relevant metadata (scene, shot, take).

"If something goes wrong on the set, especially when you work in 3D, it is important to get feedback as soon as possible, because everything that needs 3D retouching or rebuilding is extremely expensive, and sometimes it just can't be fixed," warns Schernthaner. "3D isn't for people with a 'we-fix-it-in-the-post' attitude."

The daily 3D screening took place in the trailer after shooting had wrapped. All the digitally recorded material was screened stereo-geometrically and checked with synchronised scratch sound and a colour-corrected image. Simultaneously, the Arri Colorfront software generated and sent out Avid 3D-MXF files for the editing room, 3D Blu-rays for the executive producer, four personalised DVDs with name burn-ins, and the Arri Webgate derivatives for online viewing.

Finally, all the data generated on the set arrived at Arri on two sets of LTO 4 backup tapes to be stored in the data archive. The complete shoot took about 160 terabytes. The grading metadata from the dailies and the stereoscopic parameters can be used without further modification later on during post production in the Lustre Suite or during effects generation.

Visual effects

"3D demands a lot more precision than 2D and, on a technical level, is much more complicated," says Dominik Trimborn, Arri's head of VFX, who is supervising effects work on Vicky at Arri.

"The possibilities of digital effects have been exhausted in 2D but now, everything has changed. To give you a few examples: the matte paintings for 2D, which were typically generated in Photoshop, are no longer adequate. In the future, 3D models will be required.

"Simple retouching tasks have to be completed for both eyes now. Removing a wire was one of the simpler exercises in 2D and could be completed easily, if the wire wasn't dangling into someone's face. In a 3D environment this suddenly becomes incredibly difficult, because the human being has two eyes.

"If, for example, a bulge in a piece of clothing, caused by the wire, has to be retouched, then it has to happen in 3D. To just brush over it, as in 2D, doesn't work anymore. Plus, the 3D layers have to be delivered to the compositors in nearly perfect condition, because any subsequent adjustments are very complicated. In other words, the overall effort going into these projects has increased exponentially."

To prepare for 3D, Arri moved from Shake to Nuke, and completed all of its 2D projects on Nuke during 2010 to familiarise everybody with it.


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