ARRIRAW and ALEXA M on first 3D feature

THE YOUNG AND PRODIGIOUS T.S. SPIVET, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and shot by Thomas Hardmeier, AFC, is the first ever 3D ARRIRAW film, and also the first 3D feature to be captured with the ALEXA M. Impressed by stereographer Demetri Portelli's work on Martin Scorsese's HUGO, Jeunet asked him and his 3D engineer Ben Gervais to join the SPIVET crew. Here, Portelli and Gervais share their experiences working with ALEXA M cameras and 3D rigs from CAMERON | PACE Group (CPG), capturing 'true' 3D images live on the set. 

What were the benefits of using the ALEXA M on SPIVET?

Demetri Portelli: This was my first film with the ALEXA M so I was really excited to have a smaller and more mobile 3D rig and set of 3D tools from CPG. If you see the pictures with the M rig, it really is no bigger than a lot film cameras, and that was very exciting because it meant we could use any prime lens we wanted -- in this case, Master Primes. 

Ben Gervais: For us and Thomas Hardmeier, I really feel the ALEXA M was the best tool for the job on SPIVET. The latitude and smooth highlight handling meant we spent less time futzing with ND changes and worrying about what the sky would do next on our exteriors. The ALEXA M form factor meant lighter, smaller rigs that we could put under a moving train, on Steadicam, inside a Winnebago or anywhere else Jean-Pierre chose, while still being reliable and preventing downtime on set due to camera issues.

We had a great system from CPG with a single, small fiber-optic line running from the 3D rigs, and 1000 feet (300 m) of cable. That meant that the 'video village' could be anywhere and not get in the way. ARRI's recognition of the special requirements of each production, allowing modifications to the cameras without voiding warranties, means that the camera can be made to work perfectly for whatever application you need it to, and still be supported.

The ALEXA M form factor meant lighter, smaller rigs that we could put under a moving train, on Steadicam, inside a Winnebago or anywhere else.

Were you making on-set decisions about IO and convergence, and did these decisions carry through to the finished film?

 

DP: Yes, I dynamically control the IO and convergence on every shot, and will adjust either one or both simultaneously as needed. To be clear, I shoot the lenses converged, or 'toed-in', as I have done in the past for what I believe is the most accurate capture of objects and human faces. I do revisit every shot in post to check, but on SPIVET my choices for depth placement hardly needed adjustment -- we basically did the 3D post in just two weeks. I checked every shot for technical interest and every VFX shot for correct preservation of the optical capture, then we did a convergence pass to balance the overall depth. 

Did recording ARRIRAW complicate your monitoring or workflow?

BG: ARRIRAW gave us a great negative that could be pushed anywhere in the DI, with no compression artefacts, as well as low noise, which helps with the perception of blacks in 3D. We used two Codex Onboard recorders for each rig. Monitoring was not complicated at all by working with ARRIRAW; it only required the addition of a couple of 5" monitors to act as 'confidence' monitors for the Codex units.

The ARRIRAW was wonderful, especially as we have an IMAX version of the film.

DP: The ARRIRAW was wonderful, especially as we have an IMAX version of the film; it really helped make SPIVET look beautiful and the Codex workflow was very reliable and seamless. We chose to have smaller, more mobile 3D rigs, rather than putting a recorder on the rig. This enabled Ben to carefully monitor the recording and the stereo images, whilst I could be with the DP and director at a 3D monitor discussing composition, camera movement or blocking, which are important for the stereo planning of a shot.

 

Have you actually seen the images on an IMAX-sized screen yet?

 

DP: Yes, I was in Santa Monica for the DMR process with IMAX and I am very happy. The film has stronger 'negative' 3D moments on character faces than do most current-day 3D films. This is why I am particularly proud of SPIVET: I believe it represents an excellent balance of images in the cinema space and deep into the screen. I call it the 'distribution of the stereo' and it is wonderfully engrossing on an IMAX screen. The characters have a volume and roundness in their faces, not seen in the current trend of 'converted' 2D films.

How important do you feel it is to shoot in 'real' 3D?

DP: Shooting a 3D film should be 'making' a 3D film, just as directors commit to shooting a film in color and watch color monitors on set. Unfortunately it is hard to find directors like Scorsese and Jeunet who will plan, visualize, shoot and edit their films for the 3D screen. I have been very fortunate to have worked with these filmmakers who live the 3D photography and storytelling in 3D space.

There is a perception that working in native 3D will make a production slower and more costly than converting to 3D in post, when this needn't be the case at all. SPIVET had a fairly modest budget and Jeunet himself has said that the 3D comprised not even 10% of that budget. We made all our shooting days no problem and even added shots out in Alberta to capture the beautiful scenery and a wind storm that swept onto the set. For us this is an achievement worth recognizing.

BG: One of the reasons Demetri and I took this film on was to prove that, 'Yes it can be done' -- 3D on a smaller budget, at distant locations, in the dirt, small, fast, but still of impeccable quality without compromising anything technically or artistically. The ALEXA is definitely a big part of that success.