Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Cinematography: 3D: The 2014 Playbook

Barry Sandrew

Barry Sandrew, Ph.D.
Founder, CCO and CTO, Legend3D

If you went to the CES extravaganza in Las Vegas this year, you would have seen the world of 3D everywhere. My excursion onto the exhibit floor began as it does every year, through the imposing main entrance of the North Hall where the prime exhibitor real estate is located. Walking onto the exhibit floor past the huge LG logos framing the North Hall entrance, I was immediately stopped by a solid mass of CES attendees wearing passive 3D glasses that were being handed out by LG representatives. The crowd was at least 30 attendees deep, backing up to and essentially blocking the entrance. 
The attraction was the 10 x 30 foot passive 3D wall, what LG claims is the largest in the world. Objects projecting out from the huge display seemed to envelop the entire exhibit floor with fireworks exploding and butterflies, balloons and snowflakes floating mere inches from our noses. Like last year, it was a totally immersive, mesmerizing experience punctuated periodically by spontaneous applause from the attendees as the vibrant demo dished out greater and more dynamic three dimensional “wow” moments.
3D glasses were everywhere at CES
3D glasses were everywhere at CES
Making my way past the 3D wall and into the LG booth, I was impressed by both the curved and flat OLED (organic light-emitting diode) 3D TVs with their blacker than black contrast ratios and exceptionally vibrant color. The 4K passive 3D TVs were particularly evident, displaying 3D video with quality unimaginable in years past.
Samsung’s booth also did not disappoint. OLED curved 3D TVs were evident everywhere on the floor, if one had the time and interest to explore beyond the 4K hype.
As anticipated, 4K and 3D have become the killer terms this year. Each technology benefits significantly from the other. Full resolution 3D with passive glasses is now a reality when displayed on a 4K/3D TV. While higher resolution alone might not be a sufficient value-add to motivate consumers to purchase new TVs, UHD combined with 3D technology produces an exceptional viewing experience that’s far greater than the sum of its parts.
While 3D was not the headliner at CES 2014, 3D TVs were certainly well represented on the exhibit floor. Although manufacturers were clearly playing down their 3D feature, the units on display have matured considerably. It was obvious that major TV manufacturers, LG and Samsung among others, remain fully committed to the advancement of 3D TV.

A new acronym: HDR

While TV manufacturers in general seemed fixated on 4K and even 8K resolution, there are many technologists on the production side of the industry who acknowledge the fact that the number of pixels on a TV screen is less important than the amount and type of data that each of those pixels represent. Enter High Dynamic Range (HDR)! 
Dolby demo room
Sitting in the Dolby demo room, I was able to compare a 2K and 4K high dynamic range TV to a standard 4K TV. The difference in image quality, even at 2K was unmistakable. In my opinion, higher spatial and temporal resolution coupled with greater dynamic range, wider color gamut and higher peak luminance will likely be an end-game for home entertainment in the foreseeable future.
According to the NPD Consumer Tracking Service, approximately 12 million 3D TVs have been sold since 2010. While this is a far cry from the tens of millions projected four years ago, the current installed base is nonetheless substantial.  Indeed, the installed base will continue to grow because most of the flat screen TVs consumers bought over Christmas are ready for 3D even if that feature was not a criteria for their purchase. Today, if you can buy a smart TV that has 3D at no appreciable increase in purchase price, then why not take advantage of it?
Certainly, the lack of 3D content is no longer an excuse to delay a 3D TV purchase. In 2013, there were more than 50 3D feature films released on Blu-ray. In the U.S. alone, 42 new 3D feature films are slated for theatrical and Blu-ray release in 2014. Today, 3D capable disc players represented one third of the Blu-ray player market.  I see this as just one more harbinger of good things to come for the 3D TV market in 2014.
Don’t look to autostereo (glasses free) TV as the next great advance in 3D TV, however. As I anticipated in my blog, lenticular and parallax barrier 3D TV fizzled at CES 2014. I believe the reason for its failure is that the core technology is inherently flawed. To my eye, even 4K and 8K ultra high definition does not currently appear to produce an acceptable glasses free 3D experience. Sure, looking at autostereo TV can generate a considerable amount of wow factor if you’ve never seen glasses free 3D before, but autostereo will be a difficult sell into the home market. Having to sit within a narrow sweet-spot in order to appreciate 3D coupled with a lack of stereo accuracy – the way the original filmmaker intended their film to be seen – is sure to have negative effects on the home viewing experience.

3D feature film production

Let’s step out of the home environment for a minute and look at feature films. Nine out of the top 10 highest grossing films in 2013 were released in 3D, generating more than $6 billion.  I see this as clear evidence that the movie-going audience continues to see 3D as a uniquely attractive and value-added theatrical experience. This is true despite the fact that the majority of today’s digital theaters are ill equipped to handle the necessary added brightness for 3D. In this regard, 3D glasses remain a liability for exhibitors until they can find a way to dramatically improve image brightness on the screen.
Enter the laser projector, which produces more than sufficient foot-lamberts to make the theatrical 3D viewing experience brighter and better than ever. IMAX has orders for more than 20 theatrical laser projector installations this year and in Latin America and China, conventional theaters are being primed for the greatest number of laser projector installations in 2014.
Along with the brighter image that laser projection delivers to 3D content, it also touts lower operating costs, lower power consumption, and an increased lifespan. What a convincing economical argument for upgrading from traditional xenon arc lamps, which have been the staple of theatrical exhibition for decades.
On the feature film production side, we’re seeing early advances in single lens cameras that can accurately create depth maps, either algorithmically via several strategies – including inferred light field approximations – or through direct light field measurements. These advances could ultimately remove much of the labor-intensive image segmentation or rotoscoping that currently drives up the cost of 3D conversion. By manipulating depth masks generated from these cameras, conversion stereographers will be able to achieve the creative vision of the filmmaker in less time and at a lower cost, making converted 3D films even more affordable than they are today.
I predict that 2014 will be a pivotal year for 3D in both the home and theater. We won’t see consumers purchasing 3D TVs in droves, but there is currently a respectable installed base of 3D TVs in the home. Those consumers purchasing new flat screen TVs will likely have the 3D feature bundled into their new sets. Reduced brightness from 3D glasses will be resolved for the home market with the advent of OLED and High Dynamic Range 3D TVs. Likewise, the introduction of laser projectors for theatrical exhibition will give moviegoers a far superior 3D experience. I have little doubt that within the next two years the amazing improvements in quality, resulting from advances in TV and projection technology, will signal a resurgence of interest in 3D entertainment from consumers, TV manufacturers, exhibitors and distribution channels.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Future of Indie Filmmaking in 3D

Indie Filmmaking in 3D

At no other time in history has the film industry experienced such overwhelming disruptive technology in both filmmaking and distribution. With the dawn of digital cinema in the last decade, nothing about the feature film industry seems the same.  Today native and converted 3D, high frame rates (HFR), ultrahigh definition (UHD) and most recently high dynamic range (HDR) have become common buzz words among leaders in digital cinema technology and filmmakers alike.

However, with all these advanced tools available to the filmmaker, the technology driving new productions among the 6 majors and min-majors has been and continues to be 3D.  Indeed, eight out of the top ten highest grossing films of 2013 were 3D releases by both the majors and mini-majors and this year there are more 3D films projected to be released than ever before.

What’s So Special About 3D?
Aside from the incremental revenue from ticket sales and a clear preference for 3D by certain demographics, why is 3D so compelling? In my Blog Engaged in 2D and Immersed in 3D I explain from a neuroscience perspective the difference between passively experiencing story telling in 2D versus active personalized immersion into the story in 3D.

I consider 2D and 3D movies totally different experiences that are independent of genre. To restrict 3D and/or 2D to a specific genre is like saying that color might not be right for every film. Of course there are films that for creative reasons are shot in black and white but I believe most people would consider color appropriate if not essential for the majority of films released today even if color offers only negligible benefit. The same is true of 3D. Certainly the filmmaker's approach to lens a mystery or love story in 3D would be far different than that employed in a superhero, horror or SciFi film but that's simply a matter of training, experience, skill and a talented set of two eyes. Any well crafted film with a great story and acting can benefit from 3D. Like color, the benefit might be negligible but should be considered nonetheless. 

The Rest of The Filmmakers
But this article is about independent filmmaking, the proving ground from which most of our most talented directors have emerged.  It’s those directors with budgets of less than $10 million as well as the majority of independent filmmakers limited by budgets of between $1 million to zero dollars that have historically found 3D filmmaking unapproachable. The equipment and processes to produce 3D has been prohibitively expensive and distribution is essentially impossible.  So, what can an aspiring independent filmmaker hope to accomplish in 3D and once produced, how can their film be distributed and exhibited?

What 3D Camera Systems Are Available to The Indie Filmmaker?
The production of 3D using dual camera rigs remains out of reach for most independent filmmakers. Beam splitter rigs are the only way to produce realistic 3D close-ups and mid-shots because the intra-axial distance or distance between the two lenses cannot be positioned close enough to simulate the human 3D visual experience. Consequently, off the shelf side-by-side stereo cameras with fixed intra-axial distances have been the primary option available to the cash-challenged Indie film producer.  The ability of those cameras to lens a proper 3D film is close to impossible except in the most experienced hands.

Conversion of 2D to 3D Becomes Both Available and Affordable

The cost of converting Hollywood tent pole films four years ago was prohibitive expensive even for many of the major studios.  Those costs have come down to a fraction of what they once were but they remain out reach of most independent filmmaker's budgets.  However, today there are several off the shelf 3D conversion packages that can be found via a simple search on Google.  They are relatively easy to learn and, while still labor intensive. they can often produce acceptable results in the right hands.

Off the shelf conversion packages such as plugins for Nuke and Aftereffects are very effective in converting character driven films or even some films with minimal visual effects.  The only limitation is the knowledge, experience, skill and talent of the filmmaker.  However there are some exceptional texts on the subject of creating 3D movies.  One in particular is 3D Story Telling: How Stereoscopic 3D Works and How to Use it by Bruce Block and Phil “Captain 3D” McNally.

What About Exhibition of Independent 3D Films?
Today, the high cost of converting a movie theater to digital cinema has forced many of the independent, hometown theaters; long a downtown fixture all over the U.S. to shut their doors.  Consequently, it’s been difficult if not impossible to get indie films exhibited anywhere other than art film festivals where 3D projection is typically unavailable. However, art film festivals can exhibit 3D independent films on 60” to 85” passive 3D TVs that provide perfectly acceptable viewing experiences.  I’ve demonstrated 3D content to audiences of several hundred with no more than one to three big screen 3D TVs synced up to a Blu-ray player.

Distribution Is About to Undergo a Paradigm Shift
Exhibiting in mainstream theaters is certainly out of the realm of possibility for the vast majority of independent filmmakers. However, I believe distribution of independent films is about to take a dramatic shift from theatrical exhibition to distribution via online steaming to smart TVs.  In addition, Indie streaming portals on laptops, tablets and cell phones will eventually level the playing field for independent filmmakers even with the smallest budgets.

The availability of 3D conversion for the majority of independent filmmakers has now become an off the shelf option that makes the high cost of native capture unnecessary.  However, creating quality 3D films is no different than making 2D films in that experience, skill and talent are essential.  Exhibiting and distributing independent 3D films requires a bit of innovation but the use of passive big screen TVs at film festivals and the distribution independent films via streaming movie portals cannot be far off.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Battle of the TV Acronyms

Originaly Published in Indiewire
March 18, 2014

Samsung at CES

Anyone at CES 2014 could not help but be dazzled by the latest 3D TVs from LG and Samsung. The 30-foot LG passive 3D video wall was the first thing to grab your attention when entering the main exhibit hall, overloading your senses with immersive content. 

Both LG and Samsung touted curved OLED 3D TVs, and the 4K 3D TV offerings were outstanding. For those who understand the technology, it's obvious that 4K and 3D are not mutually exclusive TV features; they are mutual killer apps. 4K creates a better 3D experience, and 3D makes 4K a far superior experience. 

That said, the average consumer is likely not even aware that their 4K TV is actually also 3D.  Unfortunately, 3D did not substantially move product sales over the past two years. As a result, to help drive sales, the consumer electronics industry is offering 4K TVs that are starting to appeal to everyday users for home theaters. That's four times the resolution of traditional HD TVs. I mean, more pixels are better, right? Wrong!

4K, aka ultra high definition (UHD), remained a CES buzzword, but it was high dynamic range (HDR) TVs, demonstrated by Dolby, that really won over attendees. Frankly, HDR was visually far superior to any 4K or even 8K TV on the CES floor. HDR displays a wider range of colors and it's considerably brighter than a normal TV. The whole image is enhanced to the point where it looks "photo real."

I'm encouraged to learn that SMPTE, the engineering and standards body representing the TV and motion picture industry, solidly supports HDR technology. When a 2K HDR image wins hands down over a 4K or 8K TV, it becomes a no brainer that increased spatial resolution (the sheer number of pixels available on the screen) is the wrong direction for TV manufacturers. It's the depth of image data that those pixels represent that creates a superior viewing experience. Coupled with dramatically increased brightness and remarkable contrast, it will ultimately create a 3D experience that rivals theatrical exhibition. I believe that 2015 will be the year of HDR. 

To continue reading - Why the Automatic 2D to 3D Conversion Button must become history asap and why the installed base of 3D TVs in Home Theaters will become inevitable, please click here --->


Monday, January 20, 2014

Setting The Record Straight On High Dynamic Range TV

I was misquoted in artticle by Adrian Pennington in SVG Europe (http://svgeurope.org) entitled CES 2014: manufacturers gearing up for 4K products, supporting workflows

Below is the quote and a correction:

Quote: "Speaking at a session on future imaging, Barry Sandrew, founder of 2D-3D conversion outfit Legend3D, said: “When you take a 2K or 4K image and present it in HDR you’ve got an image that has never been seen before. It is pristine. You can do it in 2K and upres to 4K and it’s still better. It’s not the number of pixels, it’s about the data. I believe systems and flat panels capable of displaying HDR will be a major theme of CES2015 and in turn these will become the trojan horse for autostereo.”

Correction: I never said nor implied that HDR will become a Trojan horse for autostereo. HDR has nothing to do with lenticular and parallax barrier autostereo (glasses-free 3D) which I consider inherently flawed technology. On the other hand, HDR is most definitely in our future. In fact I expect it to be the star attraction at CES 2015. It's not the number of pixels on the screen that matter, it's the significantly greater luminance and color gamut the pixels represent in HDR that's important. In my opinion, HDR at 2K is a far superior viewing experience than current 4K and yes, even current 8K.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Legend3D Appoints Industry Veterans

To Key Management Positions

Leading Creative 3D Studio Announces 
New Director of Software Engineering, Director of Business Development and General Manager

CARLSBAD, Calif., Jan. 16, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Legend3D, Inc., a pioneer in 2D-to-3D conversion technology and production, today announced two director level appointments and a new general manager. Adam Li will be joining the company as Director of Software Engineering, Stephanie Winslow will serve as the new Director of Business Development, and Robert McInnis, previously Legend3D Director of Compositing, will move into the role of General Manager.

"As we continue to grow our creative and production pipeline and introduce more advanced technology, it's important that we have the highest quality talent in-house to drive creative operations and empower our client studios to produce their 3D feature films on budget and on schedule," said Barry Sandrew, Ph.D., Legend3D's Founder, Chief Creative Officer and Chief Technology Officer. "Adam, Stephanie and Robert are valued additions to our Legend3D management team, each with a wealth of expertise in their respective areas that will positively support our ability to innovate and exceed our clients' expectations."

Adam Li brings a Ph.D. in Physics and more than 14 years of consumer electronics industry experience to the Director of Software Engineering position. With an extensive background and expertise in technical consulting and engineering, he has held previous positions with Sony Electronics and several imaging technology startups including DivX where he was one of the primary engineering architects of its ground breaking compression and video software. Li will work closely with Dr. Sandrew as well as with the Legend3D research and development team to continue advancing the company's proprietary 2D-to-3D imaging technology and conversion pipeline.

After making significant industry contributions from within her role as Legendary Pictures' Director of Production and Stereo Production Supervisor, Stephanie Winslow joins the Legend3D's Hollywood office as the newly appointed Director of Business Development. Leveraging her experience facilitating key aspects of studios' pre-production, production and post-production processes on such films as Zack Snyder's Watchmen and Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim, Winslow will foster current partner relationships and manage new business opportunities while supporting Legend3D's strategic sales and production efforts.

Robert McInnis brings more than 15 years of experience in the visual effects entertainment industry to Legend3D. He has garnered experience at world renowned post-production studios Digital Domain and Modern VideoFilm, and worked on iconic films including The Last Samurai and I, Robot. McInnis will assume the role of General Manager responsible for staffing project teams and managing outside production resources to meet Legend3D's challenging deadlines. Legend3D's Chief Operating Officer Tom Sinnott commented, "Robert has played a crucial part in the development and implementation of the operations management processes that have benefited our clients and enhanced our efficiency. We look forward to the new expanded role he will take in managing multiple departments and the creative insight he brings to the position."

For more information about Legend3D, please visit www.Legend3D.com. For press inquiries, contact Robin Dwyer at 619-234-0345 or Legend3D@formulapr.com.

About Legend3D

California-based Legend3D, Inc. is an innovative 3D visual effects and conversion company committed to advancing the 3D medium globally. Legend3D leverages the most sought-after 3D talent with cutting-edge technology and works closely with the creative community to elevate the art of 3D on new feature films while also identifying opportunities to generate new revenue from iconic library titles. Founded in 2001 by Dr. Barry Sandrew, Legend3D utilizes its patented proprietary technology to create the highest quality conversions with the fastest turnaround time at the most competitive pricing in the industry. For more information, please visit www.Legend3D.com

Related Link:Legend3D Website