Video: Michael Bay and James Cameron Talk 3D
When Michael Bay and James Cameron sit down together to talk about 3D as it pertains to filmmaking, it's something any film aficionado should take notice of. James Cameron is a filmmaker that feels "all films can benefit from 3D in some way" - a phrase we would not agree with at all, but still, the man that brought Avatar to life deserves our attention. With respect to Michael Bay, the discussion centered around the new 3D Transformers movie, which set up 3D with a nice foreground, midground, background layout - a technique of filmmaking that works extremely well with 3D. They even rigged 3D helmet rigs on top of men using parachutes who followed "winged men" who dove down through the cities.
At what point the two joked about times when the action gets too close to the camera, which "messes with your head" and quipped "but there's a knob for that" - something I've always wondered in terms of how 3D gets post processed (and whether or not you can adjust the effect so that it doesn't overdo it, or give the director the ability to compensate for an overly "3-D" effect. It would seem that there is at least some adjustment once the material is captured.
The camera rigs used to shoot Transformers are actually built, or designed, by Cameron - spec'd to what he wants. The cameras can be bolted to just about any rig, but because of their size and the lenses involved, every shot has to be well thought-out so that both "eyes" of the camera can track correctly with a shot. This isn't as easy as it may sound when you're Michael Bay and using a shot that weaves in and out of the set or comes up overtop of objects.
Cameron started with 3D in 1995 and began digital rig development in 2000. He indicated that while it may have slowed him down initially as they figured out how to balance rigs with dual cameras and different focusing mechanisms, the eventual process really didn't change much and things fell into place without much difficulty. Michael Bay explained how you really are (now) using two cameras that are on top of each other - one shooting off a mirror, and another shooting through the mirror, to capture the 3D image. You have to watch for light spill, cause it can wreck one of the eyes. Side-by-side rigs are the way, using a beam-splitter, to take care of longer shots. And lens flare and differing light spill become less of an issue.
Bay indicated that pans are more or less 2D effects, and so a man on the ground will actually pull out the 3D effect during fast pans, effectually "dialing down" the 3D effect. In this way 3D is really up to the director - how much or how little is present in a particular shot at any one time. If you get a headache during any particular scene in a 3D film, now you know who to blame!
One interesting perspective was that, while 3D may be in its infancy, Cameron and Bay agreed that we are at a point where digital effects are limitless - only constrained by budget. 3D, however, is still evolving. At one comical point, Bay indicated that the desire would be to just be able to pull out a camera, set it up, and do a 3D close-up in 5 minutes. Cameron said that now you can... but only "just now" - and Bay wasn't able to utilize that sort of technology even in his latest Transformers film - it's moving that fast!
3D films are expensive to make well, according to Michael Bay. In particular, they have more expensive equipment and operating costs. Labor is more expensive, particularly the digital effects artists, who spend, on average, about 30% more time. There are lots of tech fixes that need to be made in video post to fix things that naturally happen on set. Equipment also breaks more frequently and fixing it is a more difficult process. By using the Avatar 3D crew, Bay was able to keep himself on schedule and run more efficiently. Experience adds a lot to the process.
One revelation was that not all of the film was shot in 3D. Some of it is post-process converted. This is a matter of cost and budget, as well as timing. It also allows the director to shoot native film and use lenses and filters they are used to, rather than force them into using the 3D rigs for all shots.
Bay loves 3D for a variety reasons, but most of all, he says it's actually "fun" to shoot it. It's a new toy. For Cameron, he loves the explosive applause of the audience, knowing that he's really taken them somewhere. For us, we love 3D when it's done right, and with guys like this really digging in and making the process better and better, perhaps the age of pointing swords in your face and flying muppets onto your nose may be nearly over.