François Garnier and Claude Bailblé joined our Cross Channel Film Lab workshop in Brittany last week as we began to explore the new frontiers for low budget Stereo 3D. Here are a few of the things we learnt from them, and some thoughts on where that might lead us…

François is Wim Wenders’ Stereo 3D advisor. He also worked closely with Alain Derobe, who was one of Europe’s leading exponents of Stereo 3D. François shared how Alain’s recent innovations have opened up new possibilities for filmmakers.

Alain developed a mirror rig that transformed how filmmakers can play with the intraocular distance in 3D. Most Stereo 3D cameras maintain a 6.5cm intraocular distance that matches the distance between our own eyes. Alain’s mirror rig allowed filmmakers to reduce this distance. Combined with more lightweight cameras and steadicams, this offers filmmakers a fresh opportunity to get up close, rendering performers and situations in a way that had never been possible before. You can see this to great effect in Pina, Wim Winders’ documentary film about Pina Bausch.

Claude Bailblé is an author, researcher and teacher at the University of Paris specialising in perceptual and cognitive science. He explained that humans generally see the world in three ‘layers’:

  1. The world we can touch – an area that spans 2 metres or so around us. A ‘tactile’ space, one that we can reach with our hands, and in which we can see fine detail.
  2. The world in which we act –  this area covers a depth from 2 to 15 metres around us. A space we can easily walk to. It’s the space where much of the general action of our life unfolds.
  3. The world of our future – this covers anything that we can see beyond 15 metres, an area that we’re aware of, but not yet in. We know that danger might lurk here, or exciting opportunity. Our brain is nearly always aware of this space, anticipating what might come next.

Both François and Claude noted that the second and third layers are also where much of the action of Stereo 3D films has traditionally taken place. The first area is occasionally broken into to shock or ‘poke’ the audience, engaging our bodies in a ‘fight or flight’ response, that physical sensation that kicks in when we feel at threat, when something scary comes too close. But most of the usual 3D film action – the chase, the being chased, the rollercoaster movements and flights through new worlds – have really taken place in the middle and far zones. There is much less focus on the intimate space around us.

Thanks to the mirror rig and steadicam, Wim Wenders’ Pina was able to take the audience into the first zone much more often. Shots are also held for a longer time, allowing the film’s audience to inhabit the space instead of being pulled through it. Wim chose to keep the camera relatively static in comparison with your average US blockbuster – there is movement, but the camera movement doesn’t lead the story. This was partly a creative choice, and partly a response to the restrictions placed upon the crew by Pina – she wanted her dancers to be filmed live, with an audience.

Wim’s unusual approach to Stereo 3D allows the film audience to concentrate on the dance, on the bodies moving through the space, on the emotion and connections between the performers. Our eyes are often led around the frame by the dancers’ movement, not the movement of the camera.

Of course Pina is a performance dance piece, a documentary. But François’ most interesting question was perhaps this: What might this new approach offer for low budget Stereo 3D drama?

What if Stereo 3D wasn’t all about spectacular fly-throughs, sudden shocks and vast expensive landscapes? What if it took us into that intimate first zone more often? What if we used Stereo 3D to get closer to the emotions of the people in our frame? Closer to powerful actors performing in a limited number of locations? What if we could read their bodies instinctively, understand the meaning of the spaces between them, and engage emotionally and physically with their stories – as if they really were unfolding right in front of us? What might that do to the stories we tell, and how we choose to tell them?

What if drama in Stereo 3D cared less about showing us how amazing Stereo 3D is, and more about increasing our understanding of character, expressed through human actions in a given space?

I’m fascinated by what this might mean for the stories we could tell. More of that soon…