Stereo 3D consultant and CCFL advisor François Garnier shares his thoughts on the potential of Stereo 3D as a tool for filmmakers hoping to innovate with the medium at a low to medium budget; and explains how this has been explored within the Cross Channel Film Lab.

A third guest post as part of our research series, celebrating The Third Dimension: our open programme of Stereo 3D events in Falmouth from 11-13 November.

To find out more about our Stereo 3D training scheme, CCFL Training, visit here: deadline for applications: 27 March 2015.

NooCarnet-Stereo-020Antoine Le Bos contacted me in 2012 and asked the question, “Could there be a place in this world for low-budget, art-house stereoscopic cinema?”

I was initially surprised that anyone could be interested in this question.

Cinemas were, at the time, flooded with high-budget American blockbusters for which the Stereo 3D label was more of a commercial device than a cinematographic form, with some filmmakers extolling the virtues of “3D-ing” films because it made for easier shooting.

But my reply was yes, on the condition that filmmakers commit to understanding this new cinematographic form and both think and write about it.

I had just finished the Pina adventure, during which I had accompanied Wim Wenders as 3D supervisor.  I had seen how a great film director, despite the 30 films under his belt, had realised that he needed to question his film making methods, to rethink his remit, his framing, his rhythm, his writing, in order to give us a crystalline stereoscopic experience, and all this as much because of his humanity as his watching the dancers.

But what would this all mean for young filmmakers?  How to assist them in this process which is all about not thinking that recent technological evolution means tools or effects but, rather, potential new forms of writing?

NooCarnet-Stereo-033This would necessitate a place where this question could be approached transversally; a laboratory exploring these new expressive forms, studying their perceptive modalities, reflecting on their uses and their narrative forms, experimenting on real projects while assisting young filmmakers right from the early writing stages.

It is the development of this never-dreamed-of context that has been proposed by the CCFL.

The revival of stereoscopic cinema started in around 1990.  This old technology was revived by a technical convergence linked to the development of digital communication technology. On the one hand there was the emergence of digital spaces which provided artists with a platform which would allow them to create stereoscopic animation with ease.  On the other hand, there was the development of digital projectors, which simplified their distribution.  It was through experimental productions for theme parks, international exhibitions or museums that filmmakers have explored and developed this other form of cinema.  In the USA, we’re talking about directors like James Cameron and Jeff Kleiser, and in Europe it’s those involved in synthetic imaging studios (Jerzy Kular, Ben Stassen, myself …).

As for me, after having directed various stereoscopic films that used computer graphics, I had the chance in 1998 to work with the director of photography and stereograph Alain Derobe in my first film involving live action.  Throughout this collaboration, which lasted ten years and nearly ten films, we witnessed stereoscopy bringing profound changes to the habits we had inherited from traditional cinema.

Josephine Derobe on shooting Stereo 3D

Of course, the material for the shoot and the way it was used needed to be adapted, transformed or reinvented.

Alain created a mirror rig and a new method of adjusting the stereoscopic picture mix which made it more flexible and allowed, notably, an unrivalled closeness to the actors, while at the same time guaranteeing visual comfort for the audience.

But these modifications didn’t keep technical problems at bay. The spatial nature of the material being used influenced how we approached each stage in the production chain.  Spatial and temporal editing no longer worked in the same way.

The brain demands time in order to project itself into the space which it is being shown, to explore the possibilities therein, to imagine future actions, to prepare to invest physically, to touch it.  The editing has a slower rhythm, the camera is more active, calling for an exploration of depth, dollying in, subjective vision, personal involvement.

The frame has also changed in nature.  It no longer marks the borders of a choice from a group of hard graphic and animated lines.  The borders tend to fade away, to leave the field of vision.  The eye deploys other strategies for exploring stereoscopic space; it dives in, assesses distances and explorative potential.

The Stereo 3D screen is no longer a frame but rather a translucent plane giving structure to the depth of the diffused space.  It delineates the near and the far, the “Here” present in the foreground and the “yet to explore” in the background: two spaces with different characteristics.  So finally, the diffused space and the audience become geographically inseparable from the scene. (Sergueï Eisenstein, Le cinéma en relief, in Le mouvement de l’art, Paris, Cerf 1986.)

Framing and editing, the two main principles of cinema, are profoundly transformed and updated by the presence of a new dimension.  Everything must be revamped, from the directing and the themes to the writing.

Amongst the subjects broached by these artistic and theme park experiments, two forms keep cropping up:

–        Firstly: action, quest and pursuit.  The camera is active, exploring the whole depth of the space, drawing the viewer towards new horizons, mobilising his body.

–        Secondly: coming together.  The face-to-face element, where a shape comes to the viewer who can then contemplate it within arm’s reach.  The actor’s body becomes present, close, sensual, and tactile.

NooCarnet-Stereo-033In these two forms, such specifics can doubtlessly be explained by the phenomenal nature of stereoscopic perception.

Stereoscopic vision actively involves us in our relationship with the world (kinaesthetic perception of space) (Alain Berthoz, The Sense of Movement, Odile Jacob Editions, 1997) and intimately involves us in our relationship with others (sensual perception of form)

When Stereo 3D cinema as entertainment returned to our screens in around 2007, it was principally the first form, action, which was explored and predominates in Avatar (James Cameron, 2009) and in various high-budget Stereo 3D effect films that follow it.  The results are okay.

I believe (although it is hard for me to be objective) that the film Pina (Wim Wenders, 2011) reveals a definite reflection on the second form, involving the body’s presence and sensuality, by demonstrating the extraordinary ability of stereoscopy to show how a body is inhabited and how it inhabits a space.

The face-to-face is explored in the long close-ups of the film Life of Pi (Ang Lee, 2012) but remains in the action, lightly touching on emotion but without really making us feel the presence of the characters or what is going on inside them.

More recently Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013) has, as well as devoting a large part of itself to the first form (action and spectacle), successfully explored one of the aspects of the second form, that which concerns otherness and our relationship with the world.  Throughout its entirety this film considers the limitations of the body, sound from within and without, the fragility of the packaging which makes us unique, the skin, the spacesuit, the station, the connections which link us to others both present and absent and to places, the touchable, the accessible and the inaccessible.  It explores, in turns, all the spheres of proxemics and places us in an empathetic, almost tactile, relationship with the actress by penetrating her intimate space.

_GWS4000It is the possibilities of this second form that we are inviting the young CCFL filmmakers to explore, asking that, whilst inventing their stories, they ponder the presence of the person, the links which unite them to others and to the places they inhabit.

During the 2012-2013 session we consulted on two 3D film-writing projects and the same happened in the UK with two VFX projects. More specifically, we taught the writers about the technology that they were going to put to work, coached them on scene-writing and allowed them to carry out a screen test.

The feature film Reine du Sabbat by Pablo Agüero tells the story of a judge who served on the Basque coast in the 17th century investigating supposed witchcraft among young women in a coastal fishing village.

In Pablo Agüero’s Stereo 3D trial, the Sabbath dancers appear from the voyeuristic viewpoint of the judge, both present and absent, they approach us, transform, attract us and then disappear.  In this lengthy single shot there are no digital effects. I t is in the depth of the stereoscopic space and in the “off stage” sound that the magic is at work.  This new space allows cinema to re-establish contact with its theatrical origins in a hybrid scenography which is almost Victorian.

In the feature film project One and All, the crew of the film directed by British filmmaker Henry Davies focused on an extraordinary human adventure that takes a small Cornish rugby team all the way to the English finals.  An event which contextualises these players within a region that has been neglected and devastated by Thatcher’s politics.


Under the eye of the stereoscopic camera, the players, instead of taking on the stature of mythical warriors, become incredibly human and fragile; the pitch seems immense, revealing the harshness of a game too often glamourised on television.

Two experiments with unexpected results; making the writers aware of the potential of their tools and stimulating their writing.  Similar results were obtained by the teams connected to the British partners who were working on digital visual/special effects (VFX) and animation. Four new projects are being supported in 2014.

Other emerging practices and technologies will transform and renew cinema in coming years, notably those linked to the internet and to games.  It will be about new ways of broadcasting sound and image which are spatialised, personalised and localised.  Also about hybridisation with gaming by means of the development of pre-visualisation techniques and machinima.  Furthermore, we will see new forms of sharing and spatial interaction, connected to virtual worlds, renewing connections which unite cinema with live shows.

These transformations must not be endured but must be pre-empted and enhanced in order to generate fertile and creative hybridisations.  The challenge for initiatives like CCFL is a big one and it is all about empowering writers and giving them the means to maintain their central role in future creation and production.

François Garnier


The Cross Channel Film Lab is offering a free programme of Stereo 3D events in partnership with Falmouth University and Cornwall Film Festival from 11-13 November in Falmouth.  For more information, browse our events page, or read more here.


Photography credit: Brigit Bouillot

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