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The 3D Toolbox

Aug 12, 2010 12:00 PM, By Barry Braverman

Transitioning to shooting in 3D.


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The Panasonic AG-3DA1 is a one-piece HD camcorder that eliminates 90 percent of the setup hassles associated with conventional 3D rigs. A useful readout in the camera viewfinder indicates the acceptable divergence for 77in. and 200in. screens.

The Panasonic AG-3DA1 is a one-piece HD camcorder that eliminates 90 percent of the setup hassles associated with conventional 3D rigs. A useful readout in the camera viewfinder indicates the acceptable divergence for 77in. and 200in. screens.

The eyes of a typical adult human being are approximately 60mm to 70mm apart. To reproduce the human perspective as closely as possible, Panasonic AG-3DA1 engineers adopted a fixed inter-axial distance of 60mm, thus ensuring at normal operating distances from 10 meters to 100 meters that the roundness of objects and background position appear life-like, a key consideration for shooters looking to mimic to the extent possible the human experience on earth.

The 3DA1 features a unique 3D guide for advising shooters of the practical depth range in a scene. Two 3D guide settings are provided for use with 42in. and 77in. screens.

The 3DA1 features a unique 3D guide for advising shooters of the practical depth range in a scene. Two 3D guide settings are provided for use with 42in. and 77in. screens.

If we narrow the interocular (IO) distance in the camera to only 3mm, we would produce a perspective suggestive of an insect with eyes 3mm apart. The narrow IO may make sense for a story about enterprising mosquitoes, or for shooting close-ups of smallish objects to reduce the severe convergence angle that leads to 3D headaches. Conversely, if we're shooting King Kong in 3D, we might increase the IO substantially to 2 meters or more to reflect the giant ape's perspective; the increased amount of 3D in the scene motivated by the much wider positioning of the eyes in King Kong's skull.

Given the fixed (60mm) interocular distance (IOD) in the 3DA1, objects placed too close to the camera may require excessive viewer effort to fuse the two images, leading to 3D headaches.

Given the fixed (60mm) interocular distance (IOD) in the 3DA1, objects placed too close to the camera may require excessive viewer effort to fuse the two images, leading to 3D headaches.

Determining the proper amount of 3D in a scene is an artistic choice that goes to the core capabilities and sensibilities of the shooter. Several factors affect the appropriate IO setting such as lens' focal length that affects the perceived placement of objects within the 3D volume. Long lenses collapse 3D space and bring backgrounds closer; short lenses have the opposite effect, pushing backgrounds further into the distance.

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The 3D shooter must always consider the anticipated display venue, a viewer's comfort zone being of utmost concern owing to image magnification and screen size. Audiences in a digital cinema in front of a 10-meter screen can tolerate only one-third as much parallax as viewers at home watching the same program on a 42-inch plasma TV.

The smart 3D shooter therefore acts with restraint when setting an appropriate interocular distance (IOD). A rule of thumb for years had been the so-called "3 Percent Rule," which stipulates that foreground objects should be no closer to the camera than 30 times the IO distance. My experience and that of other 3D shooters suggest that 2 percent overall is much safer, or roughly 50 times the IOD. Of course, momentary violations of this rule may be perfectly acceptable. What kind of 3D program would we have without spears or knives flying at the viewer from time to time?

Leonard Coster's elegant IOD calc application for the iPhone/iPad/iPod touch is simple and to the point. Besides being enormously useful on set, it's also a great educational tool as the inter-relational nature of variables such as lens focal length, screen size, and zoom percentage (for converging in post) may be studied and absorbed.

Leonard Coster's elegant IOD calc application for the iPhone/iPad/iPod touch is simple and to the point. Besides being enormously useful on set, it's also a great educational tool as the inter-relational nature of variables such as lens focal length, screen size, and zoom percentage (for converging in post) may be studied and absorbed.

Calculating IOD

Like exposure and the cinematographer's light meter, the mathematical limits of parallax applicable to a scene is subjective and therefore should be interpreted creatively. Many scenes exhibiting what appears to be excessive parallax may in fact reproduce fine without inflicting pain or eliciting viewer howls of protest. Still, the experienced stereographer is keenly aware of the relative impact of common left- and right-eye image disparities. Errors of vertical gap, for example, can be especially disturbing to audiences, while color disparities may be readily overlooked.

While several IOD calculators are available at various price points, the iPhone/iPod touch/iPad app IOD calc ($49.99) may be the most comprehensive, straightforward, and easy to use. With it, you can assess the amount of parallax as a percentage of a scene, with areas of excessive divergence readily identified and thus easily addressed at the time of capture.

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