Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Star Wars: Episode VII: In 3D: An Old, New Hope

Breaking news: Disney has bought the rights to produce future films in the Star Wars series. Disney plans to release 'Star Wars: Episode VII' in 2015, likely based on treatments written by George Lucas himself, and they intend on releasing the film in 3D. The film will be produced by one of the most successful producers of all time, Kathleen Kennedy. You can read a fantastic break-down of 'what is known' so far over at Arthouse Cowboy.

We'll have more details on this as news comes to hand. For now, you can watch Lucas explain the deal here:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

How Good Is The 3D in 'Frankenweenie'?


Frankenweenie is one of the more unlikely films to be released this year. Black and white, 3D, stop-motion animated, released by Disney, and an homage to 1930s horror films from Universal... you know, for kids! Bizarrely, this is the second time its director, Tim Burton, has tried to get the film made. Many years ago, the project was canned, after an exec realised that its subject matter might be a little, erm, off-putting. So, why has Frankenweenie been made now? We're inclined to blame Alice In Wonderland; after earning a billion dollars at the global box-office (despite its atrocious 3D effects) Tim Burton was probably in a solid bargaining position to get a few 'personal projects' made. But who cares about all that background info, you're here because you want to know... how good is the 3D in Frankenweenie? Should you see it with, or without, glasses on?

Post-Converted 3D:

Given Burton's history with post-converted 3D, we were worried how Frankenweenie would fare through the process. Luckily, the technology has come a long way since the release of Alice In Wonderland. The conversion was handled by Prime Focus World. Remember our glowing review of Men In Black 3's converted 3D? Prime Focus World were behind most of that gig too; they're fast becoming 3Defence's favourite post-conversion team. For Frankenweenie, they worked on 1500+ shots, and based themselves nearby the shooting locations, so they could confer with Burton and his animation team whenever they needed reference points for their work.

Does the 3D 'pop'?

Yes. Though there's not a lot of shots that use the 'pop out of the screen' effect, the few gags that do are well-timed and designed to capture the audience's attention. Frankenweenie adheres to a common trend in 3D films from 2012: elements like rain and lightning are being brought forward in the 'mix' to seemingly occur in the movie theatre itself, as well as in multiple panes of depth around the film's characters. We're wary the effect could get over-used, but for now we think it works ok, if only because it feels like the real world: rain falls in unpredictable places, so it makes sense that it's allowed to transcend the boundary of 'screen' and 'theatre'.

How's the depth of the 3D?

Frankenweenie's stereographer, Richard Baker, summarises his approach to depth well, so we'll let him speak for himself: "3D for me shouldn’t be a window into the screen. You need to feel surrounded by the movie to become truly immersed in the story. This was central to our planning when designing the 3D and creating the depth script. We had the opportunity to exaggerate the scale and depth much more than we would on a live-action show to really heighten dramatic moments, and we were also able to combat the miniaturisation of the puppets by using depth as a creative tool." We're glad to report that he succeeded in his goals: despite being filmed on small sets, with tiny figurines as actors, Frankenweenie's locations feel cavernous, lived-in, and they reach into the distance in a way that the 1930s films it's riffing on could never have dreamed of doing.

Did it make sense to add 3D to Frankenweenie?

No! Not by any stretch of the imagination did it sound like a good idea to post-convert a Black And White, stop-motion animated, film referencing incredibly flat (the sets were often cardboard, with smoke effects to disguise the lack of a real background) 1930s horror films. Are we glad they did it anyway? Hell yes. This is the first time we've seen a Black And White 3D film in the modern day, and it looks glorious. If you take your glasses off during the film, you'll notice the screen looks fairly harsh, with big contrast ratios between the deep blacks and the bright whites. Put your glasses on again though, and then a world of deep grey is revealed; probably the best greys we've seen in a monochromatic film since the wonderfully shot Schindler's List. Normally 3Defence insists that 3D films need to be brightly lit, and vibrantly colourful... but Tim Burton and his post-conversion team have proven us wrong with Frankenweenie.

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

The 3D version must be considered the 'definitive' version of Frankenweenie. If you're wondering "should I see Frankenweenie in 3D or in 2D" and you can afford the extra dollar or so, you ought to view this film with glasses on. The 3D brings depth that doesn't exist to the shots, and makes the world of our titular re-animated dog come alive (pun intended). The editing deserves mention too: it's cut at a leisurely pace, which is appropriate for the 1930s-style genre, but this has the added benefit of making the 3D experience easier on your eyes than modern-day films that are designed for a 2D screen. We at 3Defence watch a lot of 3D films, and we're quietly confident that Frankenweenie will be considered the gold-standard in post-converted 3D films for a long time. 

The film itself

Make no mistake about it, Frankenweenie is a modern-day Tim Burton film. You can interpret that whichever way you please, but for us here at 3Defence that means; predictable character 'arcs', unusual preoccupation with genre conventions, amazing set design and stylistic flare, fantastically over-orchestrated music, and a rushed / borderline incomprehensible third act. Burton is in the business of world-building, and we'd love to see him work with someone other than screenwriter John August soon. Frankenweenie wreaks of 'pet project' (yes, pun intended) and that usually means "no-one said 'no' to the director at any stage along the way." Frankenweenie is a lesser film in Burton's filmography, but it's a long way from his worst. File this nearer to Mars Attacks than something like Planet of the Apes

Monday, October 8, 2012

How Good Is The 3D In 'Dredd'?


It's 3Defence's mission to chronicle the development of 3D Cinema. Dredd arrives at an interesting time in the medium's modern history: ultra-violent, reverent to the comics it's based on, filmed in native-3D on location in South Africa... it's hardly 'the norm' amongst 3D films in 2012. To make things even more interesting: Dredd was written by Alex Garland, who is fast becoming the 'go-to' writer for dark and semi-believable takes on near-apocalyptic sci-fi tales. Dredd is also probably the most kick-ass English language action film to come out along in a long time. But... how good is the 3D?

Native 3D:

Camera used in Dredd 3D - Paradise FX native 3D rig
The majority of the film was shot using Paradise FX rigs, on location and in sets in South Africa's Johannesburg and Cape Town. Digital extensions were used to transform the city into the post-nuclear-war landscape of Mega-City One, but the original footage was seamlessly integrated into this sprawling urban chaos. In charge of the filming was Anthony Dod Mantle; responsible for the stylised look of films like 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire and The Last King of Scotland. If anyone knows his way around a digital rig, it's going to be Dod Mantle. One gets the impression with Dredd that the idea was to take as much stereoscopic information in as possible, and then use various post-production methods to 'enhance' the experience in every way possible.

Does the 3D 'pop'?

Damn right it does. It's the most 'invasive' 3D we've seen in a live-action film in a very long time. A key plot point of the film revolves around a drug called, imaginatively enough, "slo-mo". The drug makes its participants see the world in a euphoric haze of smoke, stars, and ultra high-definition slow motion footage. Overdone at first, and then used for good reasons later, the shots where we 'see' the effects of the drug remind the viewer of other highly stylised action flicks like The Matrix and 300. While it's not done often, the 3D effects extend beyond the screen and seem to travel through the theatre towards the audience - usually while someone's blood is being splattered behind them. If that's not enough (and really, with Dredd, over-the-top is the preference) the film's hero is paired up with a psychic, who can see people's thoughts in a vivid, and surreal, view that also sends visible shock-waves outwards from the big screen.

How's the depth of the 3D?

Tell you what, watch the video below to find out! It shows you how they extended the sprawl of South Africa "into infinity":

What they don't show you in that clip though, is how often you end up staring down the centre of these cavernous towers, looking down from the top floor through to the lobby below. These gigantic buildings can become tombs when protective blast doors shut around them, effectively trapping the occupants inside. These massive objects quickly take on a claustrophobic quality, despite their hulking size. There's a scene where a character is outside one, looking out across the city, and the loneliness they feel is made palpable by the height and distance of these structures from one another. They may be able to see the world around them, but they are completely and devastatingly alone, separated by hundreds of meters from outside assistance. In sum then? The depth is fantastic, when it needs to be.

Did it make sense to add 3D to Dredd?

Karl Urban as Judge Dredd in the 2012 3D film 'Dredd'
In theory, no, it didn't make sense to add 3D to Dredd. Are we glad they did anyway? Hell yes. The 3D is one of the best parts about an already fantastic action film. But, thinking about it, the comic strip 2000 AD was always fairly dark, Dredd's 'modern-day superhero' costume is fairly muted, and the gritty take they were going for ought not to have worked in 3D. But clearly, the creative team thought the idea through, and delivered one of the most successful stereoscopic films we've seen in a very long time.

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

Particles of dust in slo-mo in the 2012 film Dredd 3D

The 3D version of Dredd has to be considered superior. It's clear that Dredd was designed with 3D in mind, from the ground floor of the film's high-rise building, up to the top floor of slo-mo peddling gangsters. The film is structured much like a theme-park ride; introducing you to key characters and locations, and then proceeding to trap you in them, throw you upside down and over steep drops, while showering you in sparks and smoke. For the sheer 'thrill ride' of it all, the 3D version must be considered the 'definitive' version of Dredd. Get yourself a ticket, and strap yourself in, because you're in for a heck of a ride.

The film itself

Alex Garland quote about his 2012 3D film 'Dredd'
The narrative is the weakest point of Dredd. Its strength (other than the 3D) is its characters. No-one is a throw-away character. Every actor gets to play an arc, from a homeless vagrant who barely speaks, through to a medic who has a few lines, and then the titular down-turned lip hero himself; they all start the film in one place, and are completely changed by the end of the film. The friends that 3Defence saw it with were both keen to spend another 2 hours in Dredd's world, which clearly means we weren't bored by the end! Alex Garland deserves a lot of praise for the work he did on this script: Dredd doesn't deserve to be this good, but we're glad it was!