3D PRODUCER ERWIN M. SCHMIDT
TALKS ABOUT THE PRODUCTION PROCESS
New possibilities with digital 3D technology
Digital technology allows complete control of the image for the entire production process of a film: from the filming, to the post-production, to the screening in theaters. Thus digital technology has been instrumental in the recent 3D boom, overcoming the difficulties of analog 3D format that plagued the previous waves in the 50's and 80's. Digital cameras run synchronized and, like digital projectors, offer an absolutely stable image; both are crucial for the perception of 3D. When we began preparing PINA, the availability of complex equipment and experienced professionals was still limited. Luckily, we met the experienced stereographer Alain Derobe, who not only familiarized us with the mirror-rigs he had developed, but also enriched us with his knowledge and enthusiasm.
Preparation of the 3-D shoot
We prepared for the filming with a series of elaborate tests. In the summer of 2009, two months before the scheduled filming, we carried out a test shoot in Wuppertal, involving the film crew and the Tanztheater´s dancers and team, employing the same equipment we would then use for the main shooting. The aim was to simulate the shooting process and to test the reliability of the technical systems. These test shots were then post-produced and screened in a cinema. We carried out smaller tests right up to the main shoot, painstakingly acquiring the complex knowledge of 3D. The Tanztheater´s tight schedule restricted the shooting schedule; we simply could not afford errors and reshoots.
A complex 3D live system
Wim Wenders and the 3D Supervisor François Garnier developed a sophisticated system to control the telescopic crane, which was set up in the audience. For this purpose they divided the floor plan of the theater space into a virtual checkerboard and used a protractor, which corresponded exactly with the viewing angle of the camera lens. Using video recordings of previous performances, Wenders and Garnier could write a detailed schedule noting precisely where on the quadrant the camera should be positioned, at any given moment during the performance.
During rehearsals and shootings, the director related these instructions via radio link to the team members.
The 3D technology used
To shoot in 3D you need two cameras mounted either side-by-side or in a so-called mirror-rig. In the latter, cameras are positioned at an angle of 90°. A one-way mirror is installed in between them, at a 45° angle to the two lines of sight. One camera films through the mirror, the other films its reflection. The various rigs used on PINA´s set were all prototypes, optimized by Alain Derobe for our shoot. The two camera systems we used were both made by Sony: large studio cameras (HDC-1500) for use on the telescopic crane, and smaller mobile units (HDC-P1) for the Steadycam.
3D limits the choice of focal length; wide-angle lenses cause distortion, while long focal lenses creates a silhouette effect. Extensive tests led us to three lenses: DigiPrimes with focal lengths of 10mm, 14mm and 20mm. Since changing the lenses in a 3D rig is time-consuming - and we had little time to spare - the focal length for each scene needed to be clearly established before shooting began.
On set we used a special 3D Transvideo monitor to calibrate the rigs and to control the 3D effect. The monitor depicts the output of both left and right cameras as superimposed anaglyph images, so that the pixel offset between the two images is visible. In addition to the experience and creativity of our stereography team, this monitor was the most important tool.
Challenges of live recording and 3D outdoor shooting
We recorded the four dance pieces live, during sold-out performances. Therefore, we could not interfere with or disturb the dancers on stage. Yet we wanted the 3D rig as close as possible to them. The use of a long, telescopic crane gave us this possibility. Of course, the dancers had some initial qualms about a giant eye dancing with them on the stage, but this soon evaporated. We could thus capture incredibly close and dynamic images, giving the viewer the sense of being onstage with the dancers.
3D loves depth - that's why the solos of the dancers outside the theatre space are a perfect complement to the dance performances on stage. These spectacular scenes were shot in striking locations throughout Wuppertal and its surrounding areas: streets, forests, mountain slopes, industrial landscapes, and of course on the Wuppertal Suspended Monorail.
NEW CINEMATIC TERRITORY 3D
INTERVIEW WITH WIM WENDERS
You experienced the worst that can happen to a film, the death of the main character. Didn't the death of Pina Bausch also mean the death of this film project?
Pina was more than the "main character". She was the reason itself to make this film. We were in the middle of preparations, immediately before the first 3D test shoot with the ensemble in Wuppertal, when we received the news of Pina's abrupt death. Yes, of course, we immediately stopped everything. It seemed pointless to make the movie. After all, Pina and I had dreamed of this project together for twenty years! Originally a spontaneous suggestion from me to Pina in the mid-eighties to make a film together, it gradually became a kind of "running gag" between us. Pina would ask: "What about doing it now, Wim?" and I would answer: "I still do not know how, Pina! "I just had no idea how to film dance - even after studying all sorts of dance films. The Tanztheater of Pina Bausch has such freedom and joy energy, such physicality, and is so full of life, I really did not know how to film it appropriately - until one day I caught the first glimpse of the new digital 3D, in 2007. That's when I called Pina, still from the cinema: "Now I know how, Pina." I didn't have to say more, she understood.
And you started immediately?
It took a little bit longer. At closer inspection, the technology was not ready. It was good enough for animation and blockbuster movies, but to render movements naturally we had to wait. We then started to plan the movie two years ago, and prepared the shoot for the fall of 2009 - the first moment, really, our project was technically possible. Well, and then Pina was suddenly gone. I immediately pulled the plug and stopped the preparations. After all, the film was completely written for and with Pina. We wanted to watch her in rehearsals, accompany her on tour with her ensemble, and Pina would have introduced as herself to her kingdom ...
Only weeks later it dawned on us: the pieces that Pina and I had put together on the programme of her theatre so that they could be filmed, were about to be rehearsed by the dancers, and it was they who were saying: "In the coming months we will perform all the pieces you both wanted to record so much. You cannot leave us alone. You have to film this! Now more than ever!" And they were absolutely right! Right now Pina's look was still on everything! We therefore took up the project again with the aim that in October we could at least record "Café Müller", "Le Sacre du Printemps" and "Vollmond" in 3D. We were not able to achieve any more at that moment. After all, the whole concept had to be radically changed. From a joint film, which we had planned to co-direct, we now had to switch to something entirely different. Only on the second and third shoot in April and June 2010, we were finally able to bring the film to an end.
Was there already material with Pina Bausch?
No, we never shot anything together. She died on 30 June; we had agreed to meet with our 3D team in Wuppertal two days later for the first test shoot with her dancers, so that Pina could
see something in 3D. Pina never saw anything. Well, she did not just want to see anything in 3D, she wanted to see her own dancers. Then she would understand it better, she said. And I never got the chance myself to have her in front of the camera. My wife Donata took pictures of her, that's all. But Pina is still in the movie. There are new possibilities to include documentary material and two-dimensional images into a 3D project.
How developed is the technology?
During the first tests it showed that the technology was not as developed as we had hoped. As Pina was no longer there, I felt even more obliged that this three-dimensional image really looked as fantastic as I had promised her. A natural reproduction and perception of space was necessary, just as if we as spectators stand before the stage, or better: right on it.
This sounds easier than it probably was.
The first test images were frightening. We quickly realised that all errors in 2D multiply in 3D and raise the power of two. If, for example, you pan the camera with the dancers on stage, it quickly happens that the image suffers a strobe-like effect and is unnaturally jerky. In 2D, we know how to avoid it: we have to pan slower. In 3D, it did not seem to be preventable at all. Any quick movement of the arm of a dancer produced the impression that for a fraction of a second you would look at two, three or four arms. Film also does not render every movement on the screen fluently - only that by now we have got used to it so we no longer notice it. But in 3D, any visual mistake was suddenly huge and all over the place.
You could shoot at a higher frame rate…
Correct, you'd have to shoot 50 frames per second instead of the usual 24. We tried this, and the result was sensational, beautiful. But immediately there was a setback: we could indeed shoot this way, but we could not play it in the cinemas, because the only standard for 3D around the world is 24 frames. We struggled with the Institute in America, which is responsible for this standard, and soon became aware that we walked in the footsteps of James Cameron. He also desperately tried to convince them that Avatar would be look better when shot with 50 or 60 frames. But they did not let him.
Could you learn from AVATAR?
I watched it repeatedly and quickly noticed that although the computer-animated avatars moved beautifully and gracefully - like I wanted our dancers to move - but as for the real people running around in AVATAR, just look at the background, – you can hardly sit and watch them.
All the mistakes we had noticed in our own test were there to be seen as well. Somebody hardly moves, and immediately three or four arms or legs can be seen. Movements are simply not round and smooth. You don't notice this too much, because most of it is computer-generated and works well, and Cameron cuts very fast. In short, they had the same problem as we did, but they could cover it up better. However, we wanted and had to shoot 100% real life, we had no computer images to help us. Our dancers had to move elegantly and fluently! We had to first find out how to outwit the technology, so that movements looked natural again.
What is the solution to the problem?
In principle one has to remember the cinema. The digital cameras make a lot of very sharp individual frames. They provide a very precise reproduction, so that the blurriness of the image, which we have so wonderfully become accustomed to on film, does not exist any more. This can be artificially re-produced by motion blur, or you shoot with a different shutter.
We avoided lens changes and basically shot the film on 2 focal lengths, but both of them quite wide, so they would both very much have the angle of our natural vision. Overall, we tried to follow as much as possible the physiology of human eyes.
3D is developing fast. In October 2009, we still shot with a massive crane that looked like a dinosaur standing in the middle of the theatre and filling half the auditorium, a "Techno Crane", which can penetrate far into the stage and high up and can carry the weight of the camera-rig with the mirror...
... two cameras, that stand close together like two eyes, and thus imitate the effect of spatial vision...
In theory yes. The technology is not yet so developed that one could shoot on one camera with two lenses, so you need two cameras. These cannot stand next to each other, because their housing and especially the huge lenses do not allow for the average distance of six centimeters between both eyes. So they must be put on top of one another and connected by a semi-transparent mirror. But this swallows plenty of light. The whole thing is a huge apparatus, operated by many motors.
The exact opposite to the light-footed dancer...
A remote-controlled monster, requiring five people to operate all functions. Nevertheless, we could move this thing quite smoothly. But just five months later, during our second shoot in April, we shot almost exclusively with a prototype of a Steadycam. The camera has to move in 3D, that's essential. If it remains static, a large part of the spatial effect is wasted. You do not need to perform huge back and forth movements. Just slow tracking shots pay off wonderfully, because they move the whole room and make it the space more perceptible.
You stand for the third time at the forefront of technical development. First with HAMMETT, where you tried out Coppola's electronic studio, then with BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB, your first high-resolution digital film. Is the current technological leap the most radical?
Oh yes! BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB was the first completely digital documentary that went into the cinemas, but for me both aesthetically and from a working method it did not produce a radical upheaval - only that the film would simply just not have been possible on film. 16 - or 35-mm cameras still make so much noise, that you could not record acoustic music in any recording studio in the world. The digital cameras have also allowed us to really shoot around the clock, and when we stopped once in a while the musicians were very disappointed: "What is happening, don't you love us any more?" Technology has given us wings, but it was not fundamentally a different way of working.
That's why working with 3D today is a huge leap forward.
I was enthused from the first frame on that we produced. One could say that this technique started on the wrong foot. At the moment we only know animation or computer-generated extravaganzas in 3D. Films that were shot in front of real scenery still hardly exist. I believe the future of this technology does not necessarily lie where it is being used at the moment, in fantasy films. It was the same in the beginning of digital technology: it was used in advertising, at first it was costly, and was used for special effects on expensive American films, who could afford it. At that time no one would have thought that digital cinema would ultimately save and re-invent documentary filmmaking. I think it will be similar for 3D technology. Once it has established itself with smaller and lighter cameras – which is only a matter of time - it will create a whole new approach for reality-driven films.
Questions and answers from a panel discussion with Wim Wenders, 29 June 2010 at the Media Forum Film - International Film Conference NRW, entitled: "Technology versus Content - 3D as a new opportunity, " moderated by Hanns-Georg Rodek