On the set of 'Wickie and the Treasure of the Gods' 3D

On the set of 'Wickie and the Treasure of the Gods' 3D

ARRI recently provided ALEXA cameras through its rental division and postproduction services through ARRI Film & TV to Wickie and the Treasure of the Gods, Germany's first live action 3D movie and the follow-up to 2009's hugely successful Wickie the Mighty Viking. A month into filming, producer Christian Becker, writer/director Christian Ditter and cinematographer Christian Rein spoke to ARRI about shooting 3D with ALEXA and their bespoke post workflow.

ARRI News: Why did you decide to make the latest Wickie film in 3D?

Christian Becker: Actually, we'd considered making Wickie the Mighty Viking in 3D, but at that time the technology here in Europe wasn't advanced enough. Last year we agreed that we must shoot a German production of such large scope as Wickie and the Treasure of the Gods on the new ARRI ALEXA camera and in 3D. That's why we contacted ARRI's general manager, Franz Kraus, early on in 2009 to ensure that we could get the number of ALEXA cameras we needed – at the time we needed them – but also to develop our 3D ideas with ARRI.

We had looked around to see what 3D technologies were out there and had spoken with a number of companies, but we finally realized that, even internationally, compromises prevailed. That's why, in January of 2010, we got together with Manfred Jahn and Thomas Loher of ARRI Rental, as well as Florian Maier from Stereotec, to develop a rig system that’s tailor-made for the ALEXA camera. At the same time, a 3D task force at ARRI Film & TV developed a workflow for the 3D postproduction.

AN: How does 3D affect filmmaking in terms of screenwriting and physical production?

Becker: Developing the script, we made sure that key scenes had the full 3D effect. A family film such as Wickie is meant to entertain, to fascinate, and there's room for a bit of carnival attraction too; after all, that’s why we are making the film in 3D in the first place. That's why there are passages in the screenplay where we describe the action in great detail, such as a head sticking out of the screen or spears and arrows flying right into the audience.

Christian Ditter: In terms of shooting, the process becomes pretty normal after a few days of getting used to it, even though 3D action and stunt scenes require a considerable amount of effort. Recently, we had ten cameras on the set, covering five angles, because we always need two cameras per unit. Also, 3D isn't cut as fast; instead, the images and camera moves are more elaborately composed. That's a particularly fun aspect of 3D.

AN: What changes for the DoP, especially when it comes to classical problem areas such as pans and focal length?

Christian Rein: For me, this isn't just my first 3D film but also my first feature film with a digital camera. Luckily, after doing the first tests with the ALEXA, I realized that I can use it like a traditional film camera. I had questions, of course. How does the camera respond? Where are the noise levels? What's the exposure range? After all, there was no digital film camera on the market before the ALEXA that could have compared to 35 mm or that could have delivered comparable results in terms of image quality. The ALEXA is a huge step forward in that regard.

AN: How does dealing with two synchronized cameras change the way you work?

Rein: It's definitely an entirely new way of working, even during preproduction. We didn't have the technological infrastructure to shoot in 3D. When the ALEXA came out at the beginning of the year there was no master-slave function yet, but ARRI caught up quickly, making the ALEXA compatible right away. That and the new software updates were crucial to shoot the film in this way.

As for 3D, I did a lot of research in advance, and it would be incorrect to say that nothing has changed in terms of the camerawork – you use different focal lengths and the equipment got larger again. It's a bit like in the past, when you had lots of heavy equipment; you are not as fast and spontaneous; you have to plan more but in the end you do achieve the desired results. Also the focal length went down. For what we used to shoot with around a 40 mm, you now in 3D only need a 24 mm. The 3D experience is much more challenging for the audience; that's why there are fewer edits and the pacing isn't as fast. Now setups are combined to allow people to really enjoy what they are seeing.

AN: As a DoP, where do you now find your place in this process? Do you have a monitor in front of you or are you still standing next to the cameras?

Rein: It's a combination of both, because we're also using a Steadicam. I do like to be situated so that I can see the set and the actor in the lighting. But you are, of course, a bit further away because we are working with lots of Technocranes and remote heads. It's all a bit more technical and more removed. You no longer have that sense of immediacy, which you had looking through an optical viewfinder and being the first actual audience member seeing the film.

Also, you have a fairly large crew: there's a stereoscopic team, a recording crew and the digital imaging technicians. We now have a camera crew of about 14 people; on 2D projects, shooting with two units, you would only need six people.

AN: With the ARRI on-set lab and the stereographer, you can check results on location. Have you had to reshoot anything because it didn't work the first time around?

Rein: The on-set lab is indeed a fantastic control mechanism, but so far we haven't encountered any problems that required reshooting due to stereoscopic issues. Florian Maier is a fantastic stereographer and we did a lot of prepping. The entire technical crew attended a workshop; it's new for everybody but we are growing with the task.

AN: Does shooting in 3D affect the lighting on set, or the use of depth of field?

Rein: 3D is closer to what we actually see, which means subconsciously we want to see more, requiring that you look for more depth of field. That's why we shoot with a wider aperture. In some situations you also need additional lighting. It can be very appealing when backgrounds get blurry, but the wider the setting the more you want to see, in which case blurry backgrounds would be distracting.

Otherwise, we light exactly the way we do on 2D films. Sometimes you have to make adjustments later during grading to sharpen the contrast because the 3D effect is greater when the images have more contrast. When the images are flat, the 3D effect gets watered down.

A 3D task force at ARRI Film & TV developed a workflow for the 3D postproduction.

AN: A question for the director: how does 3D affect the way you work?

Ditter: One has to keep in mind that 3D is the perfect format to whisk people away into new and fantastical worlds they've never seen before, and that's exactly what we try to accomplish with each setup. The great thing is that now we can not only show the audience this world, but we can also take them into it and sort of integrate them into it.

The main differences, in terms of directing, are that we have many sequences, the takes are very long and include a POV change, and there are fewer cuts. This means that the takes are also longer for the actors, but it gives them the opportunity to really flesh out a scene. I personally like that because it draws the audience into the story and you have the feeling you are there with them.

3D is actually enriching because you have an additional dimension to tell your story with. Before, you could choose the size of a shot and what you cut to, but now you have an additional choice; you think about how close you want to bring an object to the audience or how close you want to be to a character emotionally, or how much you want to distance yourself. That enriches the language of film.

N: How far ahead did you have to plan these specific storytelling elements?

Ditter: We've always broken everything down prior to shooting with storyboards and a shot list – for every film. This process does have an additional step, the depth script, in which we decide, during preparation, how strong the 3D effect is supposed to be in each scene. In other words: are we grabbing the audience, pulling them onto a sort of roller coaster ride? Or are we letting them relax for a moment, giving them time to look around? That was the main task during our prep meetings. There are more options now in the language of film. In the past, when we wanted to draw attention to a detail, we cut to it; now we are pulling it out, so to speak, to direct the eyes of the audience towards it without narrowing their vantage point.

For me it was an amazing experience to see the visitors who came to the set standing in front of the 3D monitors as if they'd been hypnotized. Even when we repeated a take several times, the people could not take their eyes off of these images. I had the feeling that they were literally being pulled into it. I've never experienced that on any set, especially on an adventure film such as Wickie; it's exactly what you hope for. People literally lined up in front of the monitors like they do in front of the box office. I hope they line up again at the actual box office!

Wickie and the Treasure of the Gods is scheduled for release in September 2011.

Written by Ingo Klingspon