Jon Schnitzer interviews Robert C Morton a Director of Photography and Stereoscopic Supervisor on his latest project from Australia – “Storm Surfers 3D”.
This in-DDDepth interview quickly evolved into a guide on how to make a 3D documentary. From inspiration, production, post-production and distribution, this is how to create a visceral 3D storytelling experience.
JS: What’s “Storm Surfers 3D” about?
RCM: “Storm Surfers 3D” follows two-time world champion Tom Carroll and big wave tow-in pioneer Ross Clarke-Jones as they hunt down and ride the world’s biggest waves. Hunting waves the size of a four-story building involves strategy, timing and preparation in tracking the largest oceanic storms in the world. Meteorologist and surf forecaster Ben Matson uses storm prediction technology and historical data models to track swells and time their arrival in a mad, high-stakes race against time and the elements, to conquer and film massive waves.
JS: Why was it shot in 3D?
RCM: The initial discussions about the project with the Producers and Directors were all about how a surfing film would look in 3D. Initial conversations centered around coverage and how the previously established look for surfing films would apply to 3D. The Directors wanted to use 3D to enhance the visceral experience of the surfing sequences and present the documentary elements with a sense of naturalism.
JS: What’s your 3D background?
RCM: Having been working in the field of 3D for the last 5 years, I have worked on numerous short films, commercials, promos etc. I was brought on the project as the Stereoscopic Supervisor to design a 3D solution that encompassed camera systems, shooting procedures and a workflow to handle a TV show, 3D webisodes and a feature film in 3D. For the DOP (Director of Photography) and Water DOP, it was their first taste of shooting 3D.
JS: How was “Storm Surfers 3D” different from a 2D shoot?
RCM: Essentially anything that is a minor technical problem in 2D is a big technical problem in 3D – you are aiming to shoot similar images (in both the left and right cameras) so you have to pay attention to camera alignment (in a beamsplitter or side-by-side rig) and removal of elements which could potentially cause rivalries (or differences) between the two eyes.
JS: It’s true. Even if light just reflects differently in the left camera than it does in the right camera, it creates a strobe effect which can lead to eye strain and headaches. Every filmmaker must have their own stereoscopic point of view and 3D philosophy in order to use depth to heighten the emotional impact of their story. What’s your personal 3D philosophy?
RCM: We use our senses to interact with the world around us. We have been hardwired with the ability to accept two dissimilar views and interpret them as our perception of the world which evokes many physiological and emotional responses in the process of perception. Stereoscopic 3D supports this notion to heighten the connection between viewer and story.
RCM: 3D depicts many additional cues (often subconscious) that allow us to better understand the world we are presented, and respond to it. The art and visual perception of 3D for narrative storytelling is still in its infancy, but with every new film and every unique perspective filmmakers are further establishing the creative possibilities as a visual language.
JS: What’s the most important part of the 3D process?
RCM: For me, consistency is the most important part of the process, a process which involves many creatives within a production, moving towards a common goal. Lens focal length and composition are key to the choices which are available to a stereographer regarding volume and depth.
JS: You’re right, sometimes when a long lens is used in a 3D production, you can rob the image of real depth which results in layers of flatness (like a pop-up book). Did the crew share yourpassion and discipline for shooting in 3D?
RCM: Everyone on the production (including our cast) were interested in how 3D worked, which meant everyone understood what needed to happen to make the shots work technically. The cast were spatially aware of the camera without hindering what they were doing. This meant we maintained a volume/depth continuity and minimized moments that would be (technically) problematic in 3D.
JS: That’s really smart. Every 3D filmmaker must have their crew as well as their cast on board with what works and what doesn’t work in 3D to avoid mistakes.
JS: What 3D documentaries did you watch as inspiration for “Storm Surfers 3D”?
RCM: During the early development stage of “Storm Surfers 3D”, IMAX “Ultimate Wave” came out on screens which provided a good reference for how surfing looks in 3D.
JS: What do you think about the IMAX 3D?
RCM: I really enjoy the experience of IMAX 3D . It breaks all the spatial barriers which theatrical cinemas and TV screens are limited to via ‘the 3D window’. IMAX takes up your entire periphery, the screen is close to the viewer and the images are high resolution and bright. IMAX presents a more natural depth perspective, allowing elements to come much closer to the viewer, mimicking how we spatially interact with the real world. There is in your face theme park 3D, but then there is also spatially immersive 3D – which presents a natural depth and volume similar to how we perceive and interact with the world.
JS: What’s your fav IMAX 3D documentary?
RM: It’s hard to choose. “Hubble” was an incredible achievement and “Born To Be Wild” had an engaging story supported by beautiful 3D imagery.