Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Quality, Not Quantity

I recently had a very unpleasant 3-D experience. While at the Los Angeles Auto Show, I spotted a 3-D exhibit at the Mazda booth. Mazda had several passive 3DTVs mounted at the center of their booth, with two pairs of headphones and polarized glasses each. On screen, you could select to view two different 3-D presentations showing Mazda’s new car features. I pressed the button for the first video, and watched one of the best examples of how NOT to shoot a 3-D video. Close ups shot with too wide an interaxial, shots with major divergence, serious window violations, and lots of wide shots that looked like cardboard cutouts of cars. Every cut was jarring as the depth jumped all over the screen. None of this was helped by the fact that the headphones were tethered to the display below each screen, and forced viewers to stand only 3 feet away from a 50-inch TV. I watch a lot of 3-D, and this still hurt. The first video ended, and I hesitantly clicked to select the second one. This one was clearly not shot in 3-D, and appeared to have been run through an “automatic” conversion process, as it exhibited depth, but not very realistically, and in all the wrong places. Needless to say, I was very disappointed with Mazda. How many thousands of people watched these painful videos over the ten days of the auto show?

Sadly, the weakest link in the 3-D chain seems to be quality control. Digital technology has made it very easy to create 3-D images, and digital technology has made it very easy to screw up 3-D when people get lazy. At LA 3-D Club meetings, we have seen a huge surge in the number of entries in our digital photo competitions - greatly thanks to the availability of the Fujifilm W1 and W3 cameras - and we have seen a great increase in the number of entries with window violations and other stereo problems. It has become too easy for club members to simply point, shoot, and upload, using the small autostereoscopic screen on their cameras as their only guide. Without people taking the time to plan the depth prior to shooting, or to examine and adjust images before uploading to competitions, we have seen an observable drop in the overall quality of our entries.

In the same way, the use of simple to operate 3-D video cameras, such as the Panasonic 3DA-1 and the Sony NX3D1, by people who haven’t taken the time to learn these camera’s strengths and weaknesses, have led to a lot of professional videos that have very poor 3-D. I have been consulting for a major distributor of 3-D content, providing QC on videos prior to release, and have been finding many problems like those in the Mazda videos. In fact, I’ve also had to flag a few very high profile projects as unwatchable due to problems in the ways they were shot. Another big error that I’m seeing is the accidental editing of pseudostereoscopic shots into projects. It seems that editors are having a hard time keeping track of which clips are left-eye and which are right-eye, and I can only assume that many editors never get to see their work in 3-D as they edit, so they don’t realize their mistakes.

Theatrical exhibiton also has it’s share of problems due to a lack of QC. Who hasn’t been to a screening where the projector lamp is too dim, or the screen masking is cutting into the picture, destroying the floating windows? Last month I went to one theater to see a 3-D movie, and the digital projector was set to the wrong aspect ratio, stretching the image, and increasing the parallax. I complained to the projectionist, and was told that the movie had been shown that way for weeks. At another theater, I was greeted by the ticket seller who said “Now the movie is 3-D, is that okay?” as if knowing that fact might deter me from wanting to buy a ticket. Once in the auditorium, as the trailers played, I could see that the RealD polarizer was out of position, and was cropping off the side of the picture. Again I complained, they were clueless and had been showing the movie this way for a week. Several minutes later I watched through the projection port window as a pair of hands grabbed the Z-Screen frame and tugged on it until it moved an inch to the right. This fixed the cropping, but must have misaligned the optics in the polarizer, as there was now a slightly doubled image on part of the screen. I should have also complained about that, but I know no one would have understood me.

It’s very disheartening to see so much sub-standard stereo due to lack of information and education, and in many cases due to laziness. We need to take a stand for quality in 3-D creation and for quality in 3-D presentation, whether it’s in amateur photography or professional filmmaking, otherwise the quantity of bad stereoscopic content will bring about 3-D’s demise again.

Stepping off my soapbox now.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


OK Go's "All Is Not Lost" is a Grammy nominee for Best Music Video! I am so proud of my extremely talented friends, and so thrilled to have been the 3-D part of the team.