Saturday, July 14, 2012

How good is the 3D in 'Katy Perry: Part Of Me'?


Katy Perry now ranks amongst the best of the early-21st Century's pop stars. She ties a record with Michael Jackson for the most number one hit singles from one album, and was the first female to do so. It's been several years since she invaded the airwaves with her hit single, I Kissed A Girl, and now Perry is out to dominate movie theatres with her own quirky take on the doco/concert film. To do this, she's recruited the directing team of Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz. The pair are producers on the wildly popular 'the show must go on' TV series Project Runway, and they made Justin Bieber's 3D film Never Say Never  in 2011. Safe to say they know how to manipulate documentary footage into a narrative! Since Katy Perry: Part Of Me's release last week, critics have been unexpectedly kind to this particular manipulation of Perry's life and recent worldwide tour. It deftly juggles three narratives: Perry's rollercoaster of a personal life (she goes from a honeymoon to a divorce in the course of the film); real-world (likely 2D) footage of fans responding to Perry's music; and her colourful concert tour itself, shot in native 3D.

Native 3D and Post-Converted 3D:

Archival footage of Katy Perry
Archival footage of Katy Perry
Despite our best efforts in researching (and watching a dozen or so "yeah we had a great time making this film" interviews), it's hard to find any solid information on the filming techniques used. From what we can deduce from the footage shown... Katy Perry: Part Of Me was made using a mixture of cameras and technologies. Generally speaking, whenever the star is onstage, it's likely filmed using 3ality Technica camera rigs, all in glorious native 3D. That footage is full-frame, shot wonderfully, featuring deep blacks and brighter-than-bright colours. In the other narrative, where we're backstage, most of the footage seems to have been filmed using 2D HD cameras, and then that footage was later post-converted into 3D. It's possible some of the backstage stuff was filmed with the native-3D rigs, but the muddy quality made us think that wasn't the case. Then we've got 'the rest of the film', which is a mixture of archival footage and home-made clips that were definitely filmed in 2D. In these cases, the film-makers don't even conceal the 2D nature of the footage; they just suspend the square shots over a rectangular animated background to create a sense of depth.


Does the 3D 'pop'?

Put it this way - if you were told to make a 3D film, starring one of the most cartoonish pop stars ever to grace this earth... how would you frame your shots? Would you make the screen an imaginary wall, and limit all action to the background? No. You'd do crazy stuff, like have confetti and glitter shoot out of canons, straight into the theatre. It's a mystery then why the directors didn't do this! The screen is mostly an absolute wall that never allows anything through it. If you're backstage, or watching fan diaries etc, the 3D effect is minimal in general, and definitely confined beyond the screen.

How's the depth of the 3D?

Katy Perry: Part Of Me 3D concert footage
As far as depth goes, this film is real mixed-bag. Most of the stuff backstage is muddy looking and flat. Some of the footage on-stage is marvelous, mind. When the film-makers got the shot they were after, Perry's packed arenas look amazing. Hundreds of cameras and cellphones held aloft help add layer upon layer of depth to Part Of Me's concert footage. Every now and then though, you get the feeling that the camera operators were restricted to locked-down positions, unable to follow the action as you might expect they'd like to. It's very rare to see a close-up shot of Perry onstage; everything's filmed from a distance. While it's admirable to have prioritised the real-world concert-going audience's experience like this, the theatre-going audience are left feeling like they watched a really well shot bootleg of a cool looking concert.

Did it make sense to add to 3D to this film?

Yes... and no. In the 'yes camp', we have the evidence that around 50% of concert films that were released wide and globally since 2009 have been in 3D. Put it this way, Katy Perry's amazing stage shows are ten times more interesting than anything by the likes of the 3D-ified Justin Bieber or The Jonas Brothers. It's a colourful and brightly lit performance, filled with pyrotechnics and glitter, all of which is a joy to watch while wearing glasses. In the 'no camp' though we have the muddy and murky post-converted behind-the-scenes footage, and the aforementioned boring angles and cinematography. On paper, this film seems a natural fit with 3D, but in hindsight... they should've skipped the format altogether.

If we had to archive one version, should we save the 2D or the 3D?

Save the 2D! Half the film basically is in 2D anyway. A cynic - the kind who thinks 3D is a Hollywood devised money-grabbing ploy - would find it easy to argue that Part Of Me is the first gimmicky and pointlessly 3D-ified film of 2012. This makes us here at 3Defence sad, because we love the idea of 3D being a legitimate technique employed for the power of good... not for money-grabbing evil. We hope Perry shoots her next concert tour exclusively in native-3D; gives the film-makers full stage access for a couple of shows so they can get epic close-ups; and just revels in the fact that her music is fun and her fans are loud!

The film itself

It's great! It's a hoot. Critics have been kind to it. Part Of Me is an appropriate title; while you never feel Perry has revealed all of herself to her fans, you do feel like she's been more honest than any of her peers in the pop world. The extraordinary ups and downs of her last two years seem to have taken a toll on her, but her resolute strength and showmanship are demonstrated in this film to be second-to-none. It's an amusing and entertaining film that we recommend hiring on DVD sometime if you're a fan of her music.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Creating a 540m2 silver screen

Britain's BFI IMAX screen, the biggest of its kind in the UK, just had a major overhaul. They documented the process in amazing detail on this site here. The team responsible went to enormous effort to make sure the screen, all 500m2 of it, could take advantage of the latest and greatest in projection systems. The end result will surely look stunning, and - thanks to a laser-guided paint job - will glisten bright silver. The silver coating applied will ensure that light from the projector is reflected in straight lines from the screen, lessening refraction. 
So, why are we writing about this here at 3Defence? Well, firstly because the photos are so damned cool. And secondly, because we love it whenever a cinema goes to great lengths to supply the brightest and clearest image in town. Brighter screens and projector bulbs are key to the ongoing success of the 3D format, and it's nice to see world-class theatres like the BFI London IMAX leading the way forwards for the rest of the world.

PS: Cheers to @DJMC for letting us know about this!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man: How Good Is Its 3D?

We at 3Defence have decided that film critics aren't giving audiences enough information about the usage of 3D in modern-day cinema. As such, we've been working on an ongoing series that can help you decide whether to fork out a few extra dollars or not to see the latest and greatest blockbuster while wearing glasses. Today we're looking at The Amazing Spider-Man, the fourth webslinger film, and the first to get the stereoscopic treatment being heavily pushed by Sony. You'll notice the article below is separated by sections; we've standardised these sections, to help regular readers compare one film's usage of the 3D technique to another. Let us know if you think of anything else that'd be useful in the comments section!

Native 3D:

Like Prometheus, The Amazing Spider-Man was filmed using Red Epic cameras, in 'native' 3D. In 2012, we've seen a string of high-quality post-production conversions, and we were hoping that Spidey webslinging in three-dimensions would blow them all out of the water. Much was made in the lead-up to the film's release of how much real-world filming was completed (see the photo nearby as an example of leaked images from the film's shoot), so in theory we were due to see the most vivid superhero scenes yet seen in 3D. Indeed, whenever Spider-Man has his suit on, the shots are busy, shot from interesting angles and broad in their scope. Bizarrely though, if Peter Parker's at school or home, the 3D footage is some of the most boring we've ever seen. Considering how much Peter Parker features in this film, we were left wondering why they filmed in native 3D at all.

Does the 3D 'pop'?

Incredibly rarely. The odd holographic image in the Oscorp Labs reaches beyond the screen, and every once in a while Spidey's legs break the artificial 'wall' of the theatre's screen, but these are the exceptions to the rule. In comparison to, say, Men In Black 3's 3D, which felt like there was no plane of depth left unexplored, The Amazing Spider-Man's action takes place well beyond your seat. Until the last shot, you're not going to see webs fly out at the audience, or Lizard tails flaying about over the front row's seats. Check out the image nearby as a wasted example, where a key scene involves the Lizard... behind a shuttered door. If it were us making the film, we'd have had the Lizard stalking his prey in a way where you were terrified his head would jump out at you without warning. Instead, in this scene, he was overtly restricted from doing so! Boring.

How's the depth of the 3D?

As mentioned above, when Spider-Man's swinging like a pendulum over the New York city skyline, the depth is fantastic. It's the most vivid depiction of Manhattan we've ever seen on the screen. Much of the action is shot at night-time though, so it's hard to visualise the gaps between individual skyscrapers. Instead, we see the differences of city blocks, or long avenues that culminate in a gigantic building like Oscorp's tower. Mostly though, the film is set in a fairly bland looking suburbia, and the frame is focused on the foreground and midground, with an out of focus background. This means that depth is restricted to the first couple of metres, with a universal background of blurriness that lacks any sort of visual interest (or reason to have glasses on). In comparison to the deep-focus of Avatar, or the intensely layered shots of Hugo, Spider-Man's interior scenes utterly failed to justify the extra admission fees that 3D cost. Check out the image nearby as an example of a wasted shot composition: two characters in the foreground and a blurred background.

Did it make sense to add 3D to this film?

Sure. On paper, it sounds like a done deal. Spider-Man is the 'daylight hero', wearing bright blue and red colours, framed against brownstone buildings, hundreds of feet in the air above the world's most dynamic city. For some bizarre reason though, the studio (I'm loathe to blame the film's director) set the majority of the film at night-time, darkened the suit, and adjusted the physics to be so realistic that Spider-Man needs the assistance of the city's engineer-folk to swing a few metres at a time. So, if brightness and depth are the priorities, they compromised both in favour of a "more realistic" Spider-Man that feels untrue to the comic's roots.

If we had to archive one version, should we save the 2D or the 3D?

The 2D. Without a doubt. Bear in mind that we here at 3Defence are massive fans of the Spider-Man books, the 3D technique, native 3D films, director Marc Webb, and many of the key creatives who made The Amazing Spider-Man. So when we say the 2D version of this film is the only one to keep, we mean it, and it hurts to say it. Bummer!

Monday, July 2, 2012

How good is the 3D in MIB3?

Men In Black 3, in 3D. Too much e-ink has been spilled over the fact this is the second needless sequel in a series that should have remained in the 90s. Very little ink has been spent discussing the film's post-converted 3D job, and even less has been spent talking about how it was implemented. MIB3 just never attained 'event film' status this year, but we're keen to ask the hard questions anyway: how good is the 3D? Is it worth seeing the 3D version?


Shots of Barry Levinson's career using wide lenses for close-ups
The film-makers made a conscious decision to film in 2D, and then convert it after the fact. It seems they could have filmed in native 3D, had the key creatives preferred to do so. Ultimately they settled on post-conversion for a number of reasons. The most compelling is that the director, Barry Levinson, has always shot with really wide lenses, and usually frames the 'hero moments' dead-centre, just like the images you see to your right (Levinson is the dude in the right-hand corner). If you'd like to hear MIB3's director argue a bunch of well thought through reasons for post-conversion, then click this link here. As far as what's on screen is concerned, this is surely one of the best conversion jobs we've seen. We'll stick our necks out and say we preferred it to the work performed on The Avengers from a few months ago. Simply put, studios and the pros working for them are getting better and better at this technique.

Does the 3D 'pop'?

Boris in MIB3 3D
Yes. Often. Men In Black 3's director, said that films like Hugo and Avatar "put a lot of the depth behind the screen and put the convergence at the screen. I find that actually more distancing for the audience than if they’d actually released it in 2-D. What we did with convergence and depth is bring it much closer to the audience. So I loved the process—loved it—and what I’ve always visualized in 3-D was very easy for me." What he's saying is; he wanted things to jump out at you. He wanted debris to fly out in explosions; he wanted light to fill the theatre when Will Smith fires his neuralyzer; and he wanted lots of bugs to crawl out of things to disgusting effect. There is no screen!

How's the depth of the 3D?

Apollo mission in Men In Black 3
Put it this way; the biggest set-pieces are set atop massive structures, hundreds of feet in the air. If the Agents aren't battling bad guys atop a building or a crane, then the villains are on the moon itself... looking at Earth far away in the distance. In the first two Men In Black films, the series had a lot of fun with the idea of depth, zooming from something the size of a marble outwards to the edge of the universe itself. The third film is a lot more earth-bound, but it revels in the opportunity to give us (and the characters) vertigo. Without wanting to reveal too many spoilers, there's a sequence set around the launch of an Apollo mission that took 3Defence's breath away. To visualise the enormous size of those rockets for the first time was a real treat for space-nerds like us. You can read a bit about how they did it hereSo, the depth is great, well handled and executed!

Does it make sense to have added 3D to MIB3?

Will Smith atop the Chrysler Building
When we think back to the colour palette of the first two films, we think of a lot of brightly lit images set at night time. Typically, we'd not advocate for a 3D film in that type of environment (at least not until projectors get brighter). For Men In Black 3 though, much of the action is set during the day. Interesting stylistic choices have been made that give this film a bright and contrast-laden sepia quality, and this suits the tinted colours that 3D glasses offer. As a bonus, this film has many guns and aliens in the extreme foreground, and has a ton of interesting chameos and Rick Baker-created awesomeness in the background; it's worked out perfect that it's in 3D.

If we had to archive one version, should we save the 3D or the 2D?

Men In Black 3-D poster
The 3D version. The first two MIB movies already have 2D well covered. The third film seems to have deliberately changed locations, eras and colour-schemes to make this an enjoyable 3D experience. Ultimately, this series is meant to please, and the usage of 3D in this film adds to its 'theme park ride' quality. You're going to be places where you need not be, and see things that you need not see... so you might as well have fun doing it. The 3D version is just plain fun. Archive it!