Making a Giant Screen Film in 3D: Interview with director Arnaud Paris

Copyright SysmicFilms
Copyright SysmicFilms
Copyright SysmicFilms

StereoCorp3D is currently working on a giant screen 3D format film, similar to the IMAX 3D standard, of the yearly Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert. They’re using time-lapse to tell part of their story. Director Arnaud Paris agreed to tell TimeLapseBlog a bit about what it takes to make 3D time-lapse for a giant screen on a limited budget. You can learn more about the film and get behind-the-scenes access at the film’s official website, sandtoashesmovie.com.  (Updated April 24, 2014 to reflect that while the movie is giant screen format, it is not officially affiliated with IMAX at this time.)

Your crew had some impressive gear including a gyro-stabilized balloon with cameras. What gear did you use for the time-lapse sequences? What’s the minimum resolution to convert into a full giant format screen, such as the IMAX or similar formats?

Most people can shoot for giant format screens, it is just a question of getting 4K resolution in the shots, which most cameras can do these days. We shot in 5K to get enough resolution for any giant format screen, and needed the higher resolution in order to leave room for stereoscopic adjustments (3D corrections). The hardest part about shooting these timelapses was getting them shot in 3D to begin with. The challenge is to get two cameras synchronized so that they release the shutter at exactly the same time. We used a custom built version of the GBTimelapse software – Mike at Granite Bay got involved in the project and can’t resist a good challenge. He created a version of the software that is able to control the two cameras during the day-to-night or night-to-day transitions with bulb ramping. And for the rest of the timelapses that didn’t require bulb ramping, we used the eMotimo TB3 head and the Camera Splitter box from Dynamic Perceptions. 3D timelapses are most impressive with the addition of subtle camera movements. The eMotimo head was able to handle the weight of the two cameras and had no problems controlling the Dynamic Perceptions dolly for creating up to 3-axis movements. The camera splitter box was able to divide the signal coming from the eMotimo head and synchronize the trigger on both cameras.

What gear or software did you have to use for giant screen movie theater screens that you wouldn’t have to use for 1080p time-lapse?

Even when you’re shooting a 1080p time-lapse, you’re probably still capturing stills at a higher resolution with your DSLR and you’re probably able to make a giant screen timelapse out of that footage. So, I wouldn’t say there is much difference in the gear. Most of the difference comes from shooting in 3D with two cameras that need to be synchronized. What giant screen possibly requires is to pay more attention to the focusing and quality of your lens because once projected on a huge screen, there is no margin of error for even the slightest out of focus shot.

How do you check and edit your footage? I’m assuming you don’t have an editing room with giant screen 3D projectors.

We unfortunately don’t have a full sized screen in our editing studio, which could be very useful for judging the 3D effect. But from our experience from having worked on a large number of projects that went to the big screen we are now familiar enough to set our 3D in the field and anticipate what people will experience in the dark room. It’s also good to have some anaglyph visualization of your image that helps you evaluate the strength of the 3D you’re filming.

Can you give me a sense of the workflow? What special steps do you have to take in converting the photos for use in giant format digital projectors?

Giant format mastering for a particular format is a very specific step that is very unique and only a few specialized digital labs in the world are able to handle it. You basically need to provide them with a 4K image sequence of the entire movie and along with the sound mix they will take care of packaging the actual files for digital projection according to the proprietary specs.

What should someone do if they want to get into making time-lapse for large screens, such as IMAX? Is there a festival circuit or other way to see the work of independent artists on the big screen?

Most of the festivals are ramping up their digital projection capabilities to 4K as we speak and projector manufacturers like Christie, Sony or Barco are very helpful in that process. The specs of giant format projection are very precise and they often require more attention and supervision than what festivals are able to handle, but it’s getting better every year. There are also now possibilities to organize your own screenings in your regular local theatre using websites like Tugg that rely on social media to gather enough people for a one time screening.

Have you gotten the sand out of your gear yet?

To be honest we still find sand or dust everywhere. I recently found dust inside the lens housing of one of my cameras – which is a particularly neat trick since it is sealed against that. sandtoashesmovie.com

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