Stereoscopic 3D Production

Project Television

Sydney Australia

 Australia's truly international video production company



Stereoscopic 3D Video


Stereoscopic 3D video production - one Stereographer's journey

Project Television’s Richard Fricker has been creating stereoscopic 3D images since childhood.

Inspired by anaglyphic images in comic books, he started with colour pencils and drew his own 3D images.

Was it the anaglyphic images in comic books or the ViewMaster that first got me fascinated with stereoscopic 3D images since childhood?  Certainly the red/cyan cardboard glasses had me puzzling over out how it worked. Then as a young boy I used colour pencils and drew my own 3D images, and they worked!

Fast forward to university. During my post-grad research I found the science faculty’s bench-top stereoscopic viewing rig. Next I was shooting, processing and printing my own paired black and white photographs for stereoscopic 3D illustrations of my biology research project.

After my post-grad years, I ventured back into photography, TV and video production, founding Project Television in 1987 with a producer who had just left one of the Australian broadcast networks.

During the early 1990's I was providing production coordination for a Japanese production house who had produced stereoscopic 3D for companies such as Panasonic for display at expos. The timing for stereoscopic 3D was not right for an Australian company. The cost was achievable for Japanese companies during that period of Japan's prosperity, but way above the budget expenditure for local exhibition at trade shows and expos.

In the mid-1990's I provided technical support for the projection of stereoscopic 3D animations at medical seminars in Australia using the polarized projection method. The animations were Method of Action (aka Mode of  Action or Mechanism of Action)  educational programs for doctors explaining the role and effects of certain prescription drugs. These were supplied on NTSC Betacam SP, and in their innocence the staging A/V guys had converted the NTSC to PAL. Those who understand what standards conversion does to fields and frames will understand how the field sequential 3D was totally scrambled when the PAL copy was viewed. The double technical challenge for the event organizer now was finding people in Australia with both the NTSC Betacam SP equipment and stereographic 3D knowledge. If there was someone else in Australia that met that criteria, please contact me, because I believe I was probably the only one.

s3D wedding shoot 1999During the late 1990’s Project Television acquired 2 camera adapter units that enabled field sequential stereoscopic 3D video shoots on DV camcorders. After some experimentation and building a specially designed rig for calibrating both cameras before each day’s shoot we got them working with great results. The illusion of rounded shapes and depth was convincing on your standard TV set.

We even shot some weddings at the Sydney Opera House. Pictured are Left and Right frame grabs from one such shoot , and below is a 30 second sample converted from the original field sequential recording for anaglyphic (red / cyan) viewing.



audience with shutter glasses

In early 1999 we shot and produced a 55 minute program on the Summernats 12 car festival. The short 6 minute s3D promo on constant loop at the Summernats stand during the Sydney International Motor Show in Oct 1999 was a great success, with many people returning to watch the presentations again and again.

The sample stereoscopic 3D reels on display at our booth at the Sydney Digital Media World exhibition back in February 2000 caused a buzz, but again, budgets for displays at exhibitions were out of reach for the potential early adopters.

So we were ahead of our time, very few people had shutter glasses and finding a graphic artist in Australia that understood stereoscopic 3D let alone had any experience in producing stereoscopic animation was near impossible.

A clip from the Summernats 12 documentary shot in field sequential stereoscopic 3D in Jan 1999 converted for anaglyphic viewing.

A couple of years later I ended up having to teach one motion graphics person the basics of stereoscopic 3D and how to set up a LightWave 3D project. Then I had to import the render field by field (and no, I do not meant frame by frame) into the edit project to achieve a short stereoscopic 3D animation demo or opening title sequence.

The 3D programs were exhibited in different modes depending on the audience. A small audience could watch a standard CRT TV set with shutter glasses. Larger audiences required projection on a screen. The video output was routed through a de-multiplexer which split the fields to two projectors with polarizing filters. The audience wore polarized viewing glasses.

Toshiba SK-3DK

The film and video capture systems vary from the simpler camera unit with integrated twin lens such as the Toshiba SK-3DK compact-VHS from the early 1990's (pictured) or the new Panasonic cameras recording to two SD cards. to large complex rigs, or what are essentially two cameras synchronized with one control for recording and processing such as the SI-3D system.

Stereoscopic 3D is enjoying a surge in popularity since feature films such as Shrek 3, Avatar and the Toy Story series have been released and sports events broadcast in 3D.

ViewMasterBut what is new? Well, apart from improvements in the technology available for animation, live capture and presentation, not much! You probably remember the ViewMaster 3D photo viewing systems. You may have had comics that came with anaglyphic (red/cyan) glasses to view 3D images. And of course the movies from the mid-50’s such as Creature From The Black Lagoon and Dial M for Murder that had 3D versions. Catering for the enthusiast market, some micro-budget features such as the schlock horror “Camp Blood” were produced on DV circa 1999.

In fact, 3D films since the 1903 Lumiere Bros L’Arrivée du Train have been produced right through to present day and very little has changed in the basics of understanding 3D, even if the technology used for capture and exhibition has.

So what is Stereoscopic 3D? Basically stereoscopic 3D provides images for both left and right eyes so that the brain interprets volume and shape in three dimensions. When stereoscopic 3D is executed properly, the illusion of being there is strong. An audience is often seen to reach out and try to touch what they perceive as a solid object right in front of them.

3D Glasses

How can I view 3D?

There are a number of options:

A common method is the anaglyphic process (usually red and cyan but other colour combinations can be employed). This can be used with many media displays, from printed paper to mobile phones and other portable video players. A limitation is that this method does not deliver a full colour picture.

There is the ViewMaster style system of using two lenses to view two images. Head Mounted Displays or 3D headsets with LCD screens and lenses for each eye use the same principle.

Shutter glasses synchronize to a TV or computer screen image so the eyes only see which field or page is appropriate for that eye. In the standard definition 50 / 60 Hz CRT monitors or TV sets, noticeable flicker was apparent. The recent HD plasma 100 / 120Hz systems have for practical purposes eliminated flicker.

Polarized projections are used in 3D theatres such as at theme parks and IMAX cinemas. Two projectors with crossed polarizing filters project onto a specially coated screen and the audience use glasses with polarizing filters to view the screen.

During principle shooting, polarized LCD field monitors matched with the appropriate passively polarized 3D glasses can be employed for checking camera output when shooting.

Autostereographic displays can be set up so no glasses are needed such as by using stereo-pairs, being two perspective views, one for each eye. Toshiba has announced an autostereographic monitor that "employs an integral imaging system (a “light field” display) to reproduce a real object as a 3D image that can be viewed without glasses over a wide range of viewing angles."

Other "No Glasses" methods involve the viewer focusing their eyes in either "cross-eyed" view or "parallel" view. I have provided a tutorial for viewing stereoscopic 3D in cross-eyed view.

 Stereoscopic 3D has been hailed as the revolution akin to the evolution from silent to sound movies, or B&W to colour television. The revolution now appears have have mass support.

I want to make a 3D video program, do I need a stereographer?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I know what inter-ocular distance I should use?

  • Where do I set the convergence for this shot and how will it segue to the next shot?

  • Do I know how to adjust convergence and disparity when shooting for different screen sizes and viewing distance?

  • Do I understand depth and its emotional dynamics?

  • What is the window and why is this concept fundamental to stereoscopy?

  • How do I avoid window violation?

  • How do I avoid retinal rivalry?

If you do not have time to experiment and do not know the answers to any one of these questions you should contract an experienced stereoscopic videographer – contact Project Television today!

© Richard Fricker 2010-2012

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