Falmouth University researcher Rory Summerley shares his research into the Stereo 3D tests conducted at the Cross Channel Film Lab between 2012 to 2014.

You can download Rory’s full document at the bottom of this piece, and read a summary of his conclusions below.

If you’re interested in learning more about Stereo 3D, you might be interested in our CCFL Training 2016 core programme, currently open for applications – find out more over here.

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The Cross Channel Film Lab was designed to explore this concept: “Giving writers and directors a greater understanding of both the creative potential offered by, and the restrictions associated with, shooting in Stereo 3D, and in parallel, giving technicians a stronger understanding of the requirements of story, will lead to the development of stronger narratives and more compelling and distinctive application of Stereo 3D in feature films.”

To this end, the CCFL brought writers, directors, producers together into workshops to meet with technical experts and script consultants to share information with the goal of discovering how to make a film specifically for 3D.  The 3D projects selected by CCFL have all shown varying degrees of success in their test shoots and even the mistakes made have still been valuable learning opportunities.

One thing is certain, that the filmmakers who are interested have opportunities now that they didn’t have before.  Technology for filming in 3D is more readily available and there is growing interest in how to push 3D further than its typical implementation in Hollywood.   [Antoine] Le Bos in particular sees the technological move forward alongside a desire for something new from audiences and creators alike.

Le Bos: “In terms of technology it’s becoming very clear that  it can be much cheaper to shoot in 3D now the equipment has reached a point of maturity which wasn’t there four years ago.  In terms of mainstream cinema, the signals we receive from Hollywood seem to say it’s getting tough for 3D in mainstream big-budget cinema and I think that now it’s the moment for people that are more into exploring new poetic possibilities for cinema and exploring new sensations for the viewers.  It’s the moment where arthouse cinema can take over after mainstream in order to open new doors, and which can only be opened by small crews with intimate subjects with technologies that now can allow for intimacy to be explored with 3D, which wasn’t possible five years ago.  So it’s really technological researchers and filmmakers ready to discover new possibilities – these put together are opening the possibility for cinema to become a deep source of amazement again.”

Josephine Derobe and Gaelle Denis during Stereo 3D test shoots - CCFL 2014

The opportunity is there for small teams with relatively low budgets to film in 3D and the task now is sharing information.  The consultants who worked with CCFL were glad to give their experience of 3D filmmaking to new and interested filmmakers.  Established stereographers like [Joséphine] Derobe and [François] Garnier both valued the process not only as a learning exercise for those new to 3D but as a collaborative effort to see what new directors might do that they had not considered.

Derobe: “I think it’s really, really precious that it could give the opportunity for them to better understand this medium and discover things they like and don’t like, and we are at this stage.”

Garnier: ”For us it was very interesting to see what worked and what didn’t work in front of our expectations.”

Le Bos recalls how in 2013, the Lab was structured so that the CCFL filmmakers would learn Stereo 3D theory and then go on to shoot test footage.  While this approach worked well, the consultants learned in the next year that giving filmmakers the opportunity to shoot the test footage first and then allowing the screenwriters and directors a chance to think about how they would do it differently afterwards helped give them a practical understanding upon which to build.

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La Reine du Sabbat was emblematic of what happens when a filmmaker unacquainted with the technology collaborates with experienced stereographers.  [Pablo] Agüero followed advice from the stereographers he worked with very closely.  La Reine du Sabbat reflects this as Agüero made sure to understand the best way to film something in 3D and then structure his idea around it.

[Henry] Davies had trouble during the filming of the One and All test shoot and some struggles will always happen when attempting something for the first time.  The happy accident of the rugby players’ physical vulnerability arose from a contrast between Davies’ original intention and how 3D makes the human body appear.

In La Fille de l’Estuaire, [Gaëlle] Denis’ concentration on a variety of textures and spaces alongside the internal world of the main character in the test shoot showed how the team tried experimenting with a variety of ideas.  The test shoot likewise produced differing levels of success.  However, a desire to experiment was clearly instilled by what Denis and her team had learnt during the workshops.  Each of the four scenes set out to achieve something different technically yet all still tie back to the original idea of placing the audience in the world of the girl.

Tro Fañch produced two major lessons about writing with 3D in mind.  Firstly that the technical research that exists around 3D indicates that traditional physical comedy is not as effective, and so a new comedic language might be needed for 3D.  And secondly that playing with space should be encouraged.  The most successful scene in the test shoot (the girl in the bike shop) made the most effective use of colour and depth to communicate: a still scene where the girl sits in silence before being brazenly interrupted by her father, dispelling the sense of quiet space.

Sound, colour, choreography, 3D technology and storytelling have come together in each project and have presented many directions in which 3D can be taken forward.  In spite of, and perhaps even as a result of, the challenges involved, the shooting tests demonstrated that by giving writers and directors a greater understanding of both the creative potential offered by, and the restrictions associated with, shooting in Stereo 3D, and in parallel, giving technicians a stronger understanding of the requirements of story, this can lead to the development of stronger narratives.

We are yet to see whether more compelling and distinctive Stereo 3D in the feature films under development will emerge, but the screenplays and treatments produced during the Lab demonstrate greater potential for its use, in conjunction with the filmmakers’ increased knowledge of the medium.

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The Cross Channel Film Lab team started the lab process with some initial areas in which they thought the use of Stereo 3D might be particularly interesting: “Stereo 3D offers the potential to add a fresh dimension to stories that involve physicality and nature – themes that have not yet been fully explored within this medium.”  While these areas were explored during the tests, the scope for fresh Stereo 3D use also expanded alongside these.

Firstly, it became clear that physical intimacy was a good theme for the projects.  The recent developments in 3D technologies allow for more portable 3D cameras that can more easily film subjects in close-up, and tying the spatial nature of 3D to the characters’ perspectives on the world combined to produce useful and interesting results.  Character vulnerability was a common link between the test shoots which stemmed from the themes (of nature and physical intimacy) and the use of 3D to signal relational depth; whether the character related to a certain space or their emotional relation to the things they perceive.

The second conclusion to this hypothesis is that theatre and stage direction theory may be worth incorporating for 3D film going forward.  Something that the consultants noticed when watching the test shoots is that some of the more successful shots had a more theatrical than cinematic grammar because of the long shots and spatially mapped choreography of certain scenes.  This can be seen very clearly in La Reine du Sabbat.

Garnier: “It’s in some ways a little bit of theatre and it’s very interesting to see how this spatial medium is connected with theatre perhaps sometimes more than with cinema.  We also see the spacialisation of the [3D] picture, reconnecting the cinema with the theatre.”

[Pippa] Best: “There was a sense of how Stereo 3D cinema has more akin to theatre in some ways. So it’s really about thinking about choreographing that space, how the characters move through the space and how we might think about creating a cinema piece in the way we would approach theatre.  And Reine du Sabbat is a great example of that.”

Le Bos: “We’ve also been discovering a new way to conceive the mise-en-scène.  It can result in a very unique physical experience.  It’s been proving very clearly that the project had a very deep potential to enhance what 3D can generate for arthouse cinema.”

stereo 3d shoot one and all

This conclusion also echoes back to [Fabienne] Tsaï’s comments about choreography.  Physicality, like that seen in Pina, was clearly an inspiration to several of the filmmakers.  Several of the consultants noted the physical space of 3D being very similar to how space works in dance choreography or theatre.  Each of the test shoots’ most successful portions were during close-up shots of a body in a space.  One and All’s focus on the physicality of the game of rugby, intended to portray rugby players as heroic bodies, added an unexpected empathy to their vulnerability.  La Reine du Sabbat’s focus on dance choreography while moving slowly through the tunnel-like space of a church creates an eerily intimate space which draws the spectator in.

Some test shoots were successful, others less so, but all provided some useful lessons to be learnt for future 3D filmmakers.  Collaboration with stage directors and dance choreographers may be a fruitful path for 3D in the future, and physical and natural themes were and are a fertile ground for 3D to explore.

Areas ripe for further narrative exploration include the relationships between sensuality, nature, movement, exploration and discovery, unfathomable mystery; intimacy, visual and hearing acuity, touch and caress, gripping and grabbing, kinaesthesia and synaesthesia; spontaneity and survival instinct; space and time instead of frame, what is scene and what is beyond and around: the visible and the invisible; embodiment and engagement of audience, experience and irrational emotions.

Download the full CCFL2 Stereo 3D report – Rory Summerley

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