Stereo D is a part of the Deluxe Group. It is a recognized leader in high-quality conversions of 2D theatrical content into stereoscopic 3D imagery. We spoke to stereographer Brian Taber about their services that include end-to-end 3D production services on feature films such as Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. He has been at Stereo D since 2009. The company employs artists and stereographers who use their patented proprietary pipeline (including their VDX software) to create dynamic a 3D imagery.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom had a total of 1834 shots that had to be converted to Stereo. The company is a large employer, for example it had over 1,000 artists across three countries and crossing several time zones that worked on the film, some of whom who learned their craft on fxphd.com.
fxphd: How has the stereo conversion process changed in the last few years? There seems to be more ‘standard’ support of the process today with matte and layered materials, is that right?
BT: Over the last few years, we have streamlined our process with multiple VFX houses. This allows the movie’s creatives to have more flexibility when it comes to the 3D style of the film. We’ve also done a lot of work in our VFX department, integrating CG assets to aid in stereo realism. Also, using scanned digital doubles of the actors allows us to be more accurate with a high level of detail. We think these improvements can really enhance the excitement and jeopardy in storytelling and amplify the experience for the audience.
fxphd: Given the schedules how much of your work is end stacked especially with big effects films? Is there still a huge rush at the end?
BT: We’ve evolved our methods to a place where we can progress through the schedule and anticipate a late crush – meaning 2D vfx can work up to the last minute and we can still incorporate their finals into our 3D with relative ease. That said, it’s still always a jam and we’ve built our process around it.
fxphd: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom has jungles/foliage, smoke and volumetrics… what is the most complex for you?
BT: When converting a shot, anything that needs separation in 3D has to be broken out. This can equate to thousands of rotoscoping shapes, especially in a jungle scene. Every layer is put into stereo by our depth team. This creates a shift per layer, which then needs our paint team to fill in the newly created occlusion areas. Foliage and other high density shots draw a lot more attention from our teams.
Atmospherics are also complex, but a lot more fun when done right in 3D. It can really fill in the volume of the shot and help engage the audience. Our internal VFX team has a variety of techniques to assist in the conversion process. The difficulty comes from transparent effects. Individual pixels can only exist in a single space, so defining what is foreground versus background can be tricky.
fxphd: With large scale creatures, but at a distance to camera, should not really have a lot of stereo effect… can you discuss the creative process of deciding how much stereo effect to add, while not making these large creatures seem smaller?
BT: Yes, if not done correctly, too much stereo causes miniaturization. This was a focus of ours in keeping the dinosaurs feeling big. The distance of them to the background really drives their scale. We were very mindful when dialing in the stereo to avoid this. We’ve had a lot of experience with size – both large and small – going back to Titanic and Godzilla, as well as Ant-Man. Ultimately it takes more than an algorithm – you need an artistic eye to make it feel right.
fxphd: Can you discuss the complexity of dealing with say the bubble Gyro-cars, in terms of spec and reflections vs the stereo of the actors under them?
BT: Anytime you have multiple layers of glass over each other, the difficulty in conversion goes up, which is the case with the Gyro-car vehicle. Both glass layers will have smudges/scratches, as well as, reflections. First, we define the front and back glass with the proper smudges/scratches. Reflections are then placed in 3D, but their placement can be a personal preference. Sometimes when placed in real-life space, they become a distraction from the actor’s performance. Adjusting them to mitigate this is the usual approach, though.
We had a set a standard for this going back to our work with Steven Spielberg bringing 3D to “Jurassic Park.” The classic scene in the original where the kids were in the car and flashlights were shining through the glass (which was all shot practically) at the dinosaurs was where we really honed our techniques for creating believable transparent displays in 3D.
fxphd: Can you discuss your primary tools for both roto and in-fill etc for your current pipeline?
BT: Due to our desire to be as integrated as possible with traditional vfx processes, we use Silhouette as our primary roto tool with some proprietary enhancements. VDX is our proprietary in-fill/renderer and was created by one of our founders, Kuniaki Izumi, based on his years of studying 2D-3D conversion technology in Japan.
fxphd: What skills do your artists most need? What do you look for?
BT: It varies by department. For Roto and Paint and Compositing we look for a creative depth, meaning an ability to visualize and create visual structure. We’ve found that people with photographic or classical art backgrounds tend to do well in those departments. Consequently we are brimming over with crew who are amazing visual and/or graphic artists in their own right. It also helps to love film and enjoy working as part of a team.
fxphd: Please discuss the push to more IMAX material (in say the Marvel movies) …does it make much difference to your schedule to work 4k vs 2K?
BT: Since films have been going to IMAX for a while, it’s only occasionally that a shot will require a separate version – but that’s predominantly due to the need for an alternate aspect ratio, rather than resolution.
fxphd: What are your views on the developing area of deep learning object isolation software vs more manual tools?
BT: We are incredibly hopeful about AI and machine learning, however as we’ve seen many different attempts at creating 3D using machination (auto-stereo tv’s for example), we’ve found that in our business, nothing will obviate the need for human artistry. Machines and AI may help make artists faster, but it won’t replace them.
fxphd: What would you most like to see developed in this area (technically)?
BT: Intelligent object isolation is the dream, – the basis for which auto clean-plating and vector-based in-fill would emerge, saving time and allowing artists to concentrate more on the overall art of the shot and less on the construction.