Monday, December 01, 2014


Our Fall Stereographer Series continues and has a great list of the world's best stereographers and technicians. Our goal is to enlighten you about the modern stereographer, his/her role in major tentpole productions, new technology and expert advice for the up and coming new generation of 3D creators. Be sure to check out all our interviews right here.

Next on tap for our series is stereographer Sean Kelly (THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES, THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG, THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY) who has also worked on some other movies in various capacities that you MAY have heard of, like AVATAR and THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN. How I would dearly love to be a fly on the wall during the production of these movies!! Well, we've got the next best thing in Sean right now...

From Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson comes THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES, the third in a trilogy of films adapting the enduringly popular masterpiece The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien.

THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES brings to an epic conclusion the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, Thorin Oakenshield and the Company of Dwarves. Having reclaimed their homeland from the Dragon Smaug, the Company has unwittingly unleashed a deadly force into the world. Enraged, Smaug rains his fiery wrath down upon the defenseless men, women and children of Lake-town.

Obsessed above all else with his reclaimed treasure, Thorin sacrifices friendship and honor to hoard it as Bilbo’s frantic attempts to make him see reason drive the Hobbit towards a desperate and dangerous choice. But there are even greater dangers ahead. Unseen by any but the Wizard Gandalf, the great enemy Sauron has sent forth legions of Orcs in a stealth attack upon the Lonely Mountain. As darkness converges on their escalating conflict, the races of Dwarves, Elves and Men must decide – unite or be destroyed. Bilbo finds himself fighting for his life and the lives of his friends in the epic Battle of the Five Armies, as the future of Middle-earth hangs in the balance.

Thanks for making yourself available Sean - I know you are very busy! Let's start off with what is your favorite 3D movie and why?
Sean Kelly: I enjoyed the visuals and story of THE LIFE OF PI. The idea of being left in the middle of a large expanse has always appealed to me in 3D. To me, this is a movie that deserved 3D due to simplicity of the environment for much of the movie and how it played on the fact that we naturally understand the space of a vast ocean. 3D did its job of enhancing an already fantastic story and absorbing the viewer in the drama without asking for any "work" on the viewers behalf. The beautiful visual effects and lack of gratuitous 3D, for 3D sake, did it for me. GRAVITY was also a movie that worked extremely well. Again, the environment of space being a fantastic setting to showcase 3D, albeit, a conversion.

I loved LIFE OF PI! And GRAVITY was amazing with plenty of rendered 3D too. Explain your thoughts on the native 3D vs. 3D conversion debate as it stands with today's technology?
SK: I practice the native style of film making so I am prejudiced towards that. There is no doubt that conversions can be done at extremely high quality. Cost will of course always be a factor in the decision. If a movie is converted without enough money or time, then the final product will suffer. This is not necessarily true when shooting native. In conversions, if each shot is "signed off" by the director when they are 100% happy, and have the proper resources to ensure there is no compromise, there is no reason flawless 3D cannot be achieved. I suspect that often the reason a movie is converted is based on the fear of shooting speed on Set with 3D rigs. I believe this fear is unfounded with todays equipment and crews.

What do you make of the negative comments that Seamus McGarvey has made regarding 3D?
SK: Making a 3D movie was often filled with unknown technical dangers. These can be easily solved now. They can have a roll on effect when shooting starts. Preparation of the rigs to be used and the understanding of their limitations and expected uses is extremely important. On "the Hobbit" we had a very clear understanding of what was expected when shooting started and were lucky enough to have the backup and technical expertise on hand to ensure we were ready. 3Ality and RED were with us from the start so we could discuss, develop and solve issues in a very quick manner. We found that rather than prepping, we used the systems as though we were in a shooting scenario as early in preproduction as possible. This enabled us to encounter not only the time frames needed to put our systems into different configurations, (lens changes, cranes, hand-held, steadicam etc) but also to find 3Dcentric issues that a 2D crew would not normally anticipate. Our aim was to shoot at 2D speed and we were all very proud of the end result. Some of the developments, like wireless steadicam, helped operators continue their jobs without technology becoming a burden. Of course, the post production pipeline also benefited greatly from this pre production approach. To start a shoot, without solving these mainly time issues, understandably leads to problems. These "problems" are solvable and it is very possible to shoot movies, as we have always done in 2D, with the right people, equipment and preparation. It is a pity he had such an experience, it doesn't necessarily need to be that way.

Yes I've heard many, many great things about the technical expertise from 3ality. How to you position China now on the world cinema stage now that they have ~20,000 3D screens in place and growing?
SK: A major improvement! Its great to see how they have embraced the 3D technology and have decided it is the future. I believe they are shooting more 3D than 2D now? And TV content must also be delivered in 3D in many cases. For me it is a natural progression in visual media. We have had the technology to make this possible for many years now and the leaders, like 3Ality, are firmly setup there now. I hope other countries take note that, with good content, 3D is at least equal if not a better experience. They are also a huge market for the West which can always help the bottom line. Too much negative press for 3D worldwide was based on hearsay and faux 3D. Everything is in place for many countries to do the same as China and, also, the 4K TV can only help.

I agree. What brought you to 3D in the first place? (chance, study, interest, etc)
SK: I was a 1st AC based in Wellington. When James Cameron came to town to shoot Avatar I was asked if I would be interested in being a "convergence operator". I very quickly found I enjoyed the medium and learned many valuable lessons under James Cameron. After this I became involved in various projects with local cinematographer Richard Bluck and Peter Jackson. Peter was very innovative and experimented with 3D well before the Hobbit. During these times we used 3Ality rigs and RED cameras. I could safely say I was in the right place at the right time with the right people.

I'll say! James Cameron and Peter Jackson are two of the top driving forces of the 3D industry. What is your preferred set up on set? (camera, rig, lens, etc)
SK: Steadicam. The TS5 lightweight in full wireless mode. prime lens, a few picture receivers set up, our wireless IA/convergence set up, with many players in the scene. I imagine a nightmare for the operator to remember all the lines but the more IA/convergence moves the better. This, when done right, can be seamless and very rewarding as an end result. I think this may be the focus puller in me.

Are there any new stereoscopic technologies coming out in the field that has your interest?
SK: Laser projection for better brightness and bigger dynamic ranges. Colour is such an important part of depth perception so the whiter whites and blacker blacks with a greater controllable range in between will be a benefit to 3D.

When working with optics do you find there is disparity between how long it takes to make a 2D lens change verses a modern 3D set up?
SK: We will always blow our trumpets at this point. The 1st AC's I have worked with are extremely capable. We mainly shoot prime lenses. For them to unhook lens motors, slide two cameras back, remove and remount the new lens, re-hook motors and slide the two bodies back into position takes one to two minutes. The stereographer part of remotely loading the lens data to the rig and then visually aligning the lens in a zero or overlay position takes another couple of minutes. This sounds fast, and it can be. Obviously the physical position of where this needs to occur can add a little time. Many times it can be done quicker and there are tricks with the 3Ality system that means the remote stage done by the stereographer can be done during setup/rehearsal to shorten the time even more.

What would be your favorite shot for 3D and why?
SK: I have always liked a wide lens on a big technocrane move into a full drama shot. A slow move establishing the environment at the head. I like to ignore any so called edge violations in the move. Lots of atmosphere, heavy rain and a finishing point where the negative space can be used. A set with texture and natural depth cues. With luck, no CG elements that weren't expected will appear later!

Obviously 3D has matured since the late 2000's both in technology and expertise. What credentials / experience would you mention that helps separate you from the field and brings you to the top of the industry?
SK: I have been extremely lucky with the people and technologies that have crossed my path. From my first 3D experience with Avatar to the continuing work with experts like Director Peter Jackson, Cinematographer Richard Bluck, Post Production Stereograhper Meetal Gokul, physical and electronic technical expert Dion Hartley, and the farm of experts at 3Ality, I'm just very lucky.

What education would you recommend to up and coming stereographers / cinematographers in today's world?
SK: There are now many 3D courses available worldwide. I don't really have any knowledge of their quality so I can't comment. I am sure there would be excellent ones out there. Or the "hands on" method of contacting anyone who is in 3D. We are an industry of people passionate about what we do. Many of us (if not all) have been helped to get where we are by kind and sharing people and will naturally help others, when possible, into the industry. The problem can be the timing of when that help can be given so keep trying. Also, read about and watch 3D! Lots of it, you need to train your eyes to see it properly. Cinematographers shooting in 3D can be greatly helped by collaborating with a good stereographer. Stereo is only there to enhance what the Cinematographer and Director are out to achieve. It shouldn't be a compromise.

Do you have a post-production software preference for working with the stereo images to do any fine tuning you need to do?
SK: Meetal Gokul is the expert and he is using Mistika from SGO. Park Road Post Production have worked closely with SGO to develop pipelines and workflows with their DI platform Mistika. It has been a strategic partnership for a number of years, providing the solutions that have been needed.

How important is resolution? Would more pixels be more important for stereo 3D? Higher dynamic range? HFR, like what is used in THE HOBBIT trilogy?
SK: Acquisition at higher resolution is a benefit but it is necessary that they go through the entire process to realize their benefit. More pixels only if they are "good" pixels. They must include the best dynamic range, color space and color range. HFR is a given when you see and feel the smoother visual delivery of the movie.

Are there any specialty filters that you find enhance the stereo images? How about specialty filters that you have found should never be used?
SK: We have always shot without filtration. Polas can cause retinal disparities very easily and should therefore be used carefully.

Split focus diopters are a popular tool in 2D. Do you think a director looking for an effect like that can get that in stereo 3D?
SK: That would be something I would like to try. I haven't up until now and would be interested in the result.

Open mic: What is the biggest challenge that you'd like to openly discuss about today's 3D?
SK: Conversion vs Native. Can we find a way to shoot Native in the first place rather than convert later? I still believe that negative space looks better in native capture. Are the producers convinced that the native process is much more expensive? Is 48fps or 60fps the future? Does this slow down the uptake of native shooting due to the post production price and fit out? And subtitle placement??! These questions are part of what keeps the 3D world an exciting place to be involved in as it develops.

Open mic: What are you happiest about in the 3D field
SK: I enjoy the film making process and being part of the creative process. It is good to still be onset and still have the experience of film making. The physical side of shooting native 3D means I can still be up a mountain or beside a river. Knowing that advancements in technology mean that 3D will only become better and more accessible. I love walking onto a new set that will lend itself to good 3D and know that this is where we can make a difference from the traditions of 2D

If there was one thing you could change about the industry what would it be?
SK: The sometimes negative attitude towards 3D. I understand that it is very differcult to make everyone enjoy 3D, but we can help change this pre-conception by making more good 3D. There are very capable Stereographers, Cinemotographers, and Post Production houses who could help in projects that are damaging the 3D reputation. The people and physical technology is already here to be used and New Zealand is a great place to do it.

Thanks so much for your time for this Sean! Speaking for everyone, I wish the best of success for the finale of THE HOBBIT in THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES at the box office and for the award season. I'm sure I'll be in the theater multiple times to relive the experience over and over again just like I did with the first two! For more from Sean, check out Peter Jackson's production video blog #6 right here.

Stay tuned for our next interview in the our Stereographer Series coming soon!

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Jim Dorey
jim (at) marketsaw (dot) com

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