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Stereo and the bleeding edge

Posted by Area Editor, 9 October 2010 8:00 pm

 The groundswell of enthusiasm over Stereo 3D (S3D) has pushed the entertainment industry into hyperdrive. Hollywood studios have announced S3D film releases at a dizzying pace and the same is ringing true for conversions of catalogue titles. Love it or hate it—S3D has been a boon to the entertainment industry and a driving force for new jobs around the world in production, visual effects, post-production and game development. According to data from Screen Digest presented last month, global box office revenue for 3D movies in 2010 is  5.5 billion USD, so far. The top 12 box office markets have converted 15% of their total screens to digital 3D. More than 20 3D TV channels launched this year, more than 30 3D feature films opened, and 25 3D Blu-ray titles were released.

All of this work has created a viable new business opportunity for content creators, though as with any rising trend, it isn’t without its share of controversy.

Regardless of market climate, or critics of the trend (i.e. Roger Ebert), the demand for S3D content is real and significant. Driven by demand from their own clients, Autodesk customers around the world are updating and retooling their pipelines to support S3D production, for content originating in stereo, animated properties and for 2D-to-3D conversions. While legendary directors like James Cameron and Jeffrey Katzenberg have been vocal proponents of shooting stereoscopically for feature film releases, they recognize that the market is driving the demand for conversions. Most recently, James Cameron has announced the upcoming conversion of “Titanic,” Jeffrey Katzenberg is converting the “Shrek” film franchise — and of course we’re all salivating over the news that George Lucas is converting the whole “Star Wars” series to 3D.
The recent announcement that Warner Bros canceled the 3D release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” shows how difficult it can be to reach a high quality bar with the conversion process.

So, what is Autodesk doing to help clients producing stereo content? When our clients approach an S3D project they have many choices, whether they are shooting stereoscopically, creating animated content, shooting traditionally with a conversion in mind or some combination of all of these methods. What we’ve learned is that S3D is part of the story and is a creative process that requires the early involvement of artists no matter how good the tools are. There’s no magic silver bullet for stereo from a technology perspective, because you shoot, create and animate differently when your end product offers dimensionality—and it takes an artist or director to weave stereo into a storyline and/or concept effectively and successfully. The earlier the depth is added to the production process, the better the results seem to be.

With 2D-to-3D conversions of films, the hurdle seems to be the economics because all you have to begin with are the pixels—often the director isn’t available to oversee creative direction of the process. The challenge with this work is that in order to do a great conversion, you have to deploy a vast VFX arsenal, but straight 2D-to-3D conversions to date haven’t had the luxury of a blockbuster visual effects budget. A back-of-the-envelope calculation seems to show that the cost of conversion needs to go as low as 10,000 USD per minute of footage to make it viable for mainstream catalog titles, a figure which is significantly less than the 120,000-150,000 USD per minute costs estimated by some, including Michael Bay, for creating quality conversions.

The tide on rush, low-budget conversions for first-run movies seems to be turning quickly as audiences and the media become less tolerant of higher ticket prices for sub-standard theatrical experiences. Evidence of this tide shift is apparent with George Lucas’ announcement that Academy® Award-winning visual effects supervisor John Knoll will be overseeing the conversion of the first Star Wars film, “The Phantom Menace” with the same attention to detail and precision as they would any of their incredible visual effects projects.

From what we’re seeing, whether a film or game project is shot stereoscopically, whether it’s an animated property or converted from 2D, there is still a significant amount of post processing and digital manipulation required to achieve optimal results. At Autodesk we will continue building more advanced S3D support into Maya, Flame, Smoke on the Mac, Softimage, Motionbuilder and Lustre to outfit content creators with the strongest toolsets for bringing their 3D visions to life.

No matter how you approach it, stereo production is a complex proposition and we’re still in the early days. The ability to virtually navigate image sequences and scenes in 3D space is a key capability that makes S3D digital processes possible. Maya, Flame, Smoke for the Mac and all of our tools are truly 3D at the core. We are extending their capabilities so that you can apply these tools at any stage of the production process. If you can imagine it in S3D, you can create it, and we’ll continue to innovate on the tools and processes front just as fast as you can innovate in storytelling and visuals!

 

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