Ocean Coast 3D Helicopter Shoot

East Atlantic Coast from the Helicopter Nova Scotia
This past week I spent 4 days out on the East Coast of Canada working with Arcadia Films shooting a one-hour 3D spot. The film incorporated about 35 minutes of 3D aerial footage above Nova Scotia that we shot from an AStar Helicopter. I had the joy to work with a practiced Aerial Cinematographer and Camera Operator, Mike Darby, who is a veteran when it comes to shooting from the sky. We attached his Stab-C to the front of the AStar. This stabilized, gyroscopic head allows for beautifully smooth and balanced camera moves even while traveling at speeds in excess of 100mph.

To shoot the Aerials, I used the Si-2k 3D camera setup with a wide I/O plate (Wide Interocular) tethered to a solid-state recording/monitor deck.

The Cameras were spaced out by 11 inches due to the nature of far-distance 3D cinematography. This large interocular increases the parallax (the separation between the left and right image) because it allows the cameras to see further around corresponding objects in the distance. Where if I were to place the cameras closer together, at maybe 2.5inches (the same distance of the human interocular), then there would hardly be any perceivable parallax between images in the distance, as the cameras are shooting from perspectives that are too analogous. In desirable 3D cinema, corresponding left and right camera images should be identical in their vertical and rotational alignment, there also needs to be an appropriate amount of horizontal parallax or depth cues to enlighten the S3D experience for the audience. Why watch a 3D film that isn’t 3D? (This is where I name a few “3D” feature films and burn my bridges…)

Having the cameras so far apart can create the sensation of miniaturization. With a large camera interocular some of the objects throughout the scene will be perceived to be smaller in their scale to size ratio as our brain is inherently used to seeing the same objects a much smaller interocular. It’s the effect of looking at a toy train set, our interocular sometimes is the same width of the toy buildings or trees, just as when you have the cameras far apart their perspective would reflect the same impression of looking at a scene as though you are a giant human. This can be a negligible occurrence at times though as the audience can deduct the true size of objects if the shot has been composed properly and there is a sufficient amount of reference objects throughout the frame.

Because I was shooting with the cameras in a parallel setup, I chose not to converge (toe-in) the lenses. Without a rig designed for convergence, it can be an unnecessary hazard toeing in the cameras (pointing them slightly more in towards each other to converge on a subject in the foreground) as this process can be recreated in post by shifting the images along the horizontal plane (X-Axis). This is often referred to as “converging in post” (which can be considered improper terminology) or rather an H.I.T., a Horizontal Image Translation. With both of my cameras pointed towards infinity, the Depth Budget (Bracket) or “convergence” point can be shifted in the post process, either with Stereo3D Toolbox or a system like the Pablo. (In regards to this specific project it will be offlined in FCP with Stereo3D Toolbox and then finished on the Quantel Pablo. This is a common S3D workflow.)

Another setup for Aerial Cinematography vouched for by a good friend and fellow Stereo Experts alike, Sebastian Laffoux, is to place the cameras at a modest interocular and converge slightly (0.10% of one degree) to provide a Stereo Image with a variety of differing parallax. I have used this same principal for traditional dramatic 3D shooting, but I am looking forward to trying it from the air sometime. Sebastian claims it to be a very viable way to shoot from the sky.

We unfortunately could only rig the camera setup the evening before the shoot as were loosing daylight fast as we began attaching the cameras to the Stab-C head.

Once attached we took 12pin Lemo Data cables with extensions off of the sensor heads and strung them back into the cockpit from beneath the fuselage. Once inside, the Lemo cables are attached to the 1-Beyond Mini DDR recording and monitoring deck, which is essentially a square box with Microsoft Windows, and processing/ recording power to capture and compress the two RAW data streams flowing into Silicon DVR. When the software works, it works beautiful, and I hardly had any glitches with it working throughout the process, despite bugs in the past. The Mini DDR records to SSD (Solid State Disks) and the footage can be backed up via a 1-Beyond Wranglar DIT Station (Digital Image Tech) or via a laptop with an SATA drive-dock. Typical there is a Data Management Technoligist on set who will back up every SSD as it becomes full with footage, but because we were traveling across the water and to remote locations, the files had to be backed up at the end of the night. This process is quite fast now with the new Cineform Codecs being released as they can pack fully raw 3D Quicktime files with both the left and the right data stream into one .MOV at a fraction of the size of the true digital negative. This simplifies everything, and as long as the codec from the Cineform website is downloaded to the appropriate computer, the footage can immediately be screened back in 3D in anaglyph or with a true stereoscopic monitor.

Our first day of shooting was cut short, as we needed a new camera head to be flown in from Toronto due to issues with the sensor. Once we had the new camera, the next day of shooting went off without a hitch and Darby and I were really pleased with the results. Our Helicopter Pilot, Barry Grant, quickly grasped onto the concept and approach we needed to get the best 3D. This typically meant getting as close as (uncomfortably) possible to the tree lines, cliffs and rivers in order to have the most immersive depth bracket possible. Atypical of 2D shoots, we needed Grant to slow the pace of the helicopter down to a crawl at times, since we often would rotate or dolly around various cliff faces and rocks, displaying their geometry and Spatial Realm Relation or as I have coined it, SAR (Spatial Area Relationship). 3D is really enhanced with camera movement. The roundness and relative size of objects become much more apparent to the audience when the shots move along the x-axis. I asked Darby to shoot from a ¾ angle in order to provide a diverse SAR and more desirable angle to display the depth of the trees and cliffs. If shooting straight forward at the subjects when shooting from a helicopter, “card-boarding” can often occur and should try to be avoided. Anything past 100 -130 feet with an interocular of 12inches will almost always flatten out and appear to be paper thin without any qualities of roundness and true depth.

Once the day got moving in the air we got into a steady rhythm and attained consistently great 3D shots. Grant brought the helicopter right near flocks of birds, eagles and even seals all of which we were close enough to photograph with substantial parallax resulting in decent 3D. Grant also buzzed the tops of trees for us, which really made the trees pop and lift right off the screen in 3D.

For quality-control and alignment checks I would use Anaglyph glasses with the small 10inch touch screen monitor. The Silicon DVR software is designed for 3D shooting and has many great stereoscopic tools for it, making it a unique brand of recording software and also a pioneer in 3D Capture. It allows for a variety of viewing methods all with the touch of a finger on the software interface. I typically swapped between side-by-side and Anaglyph that way I could monitor both eyes simultaneously and switch to see the proper alignment in Anaglyph, which is one of the most useful tools for immediate detection of disparities. My only complaint of the 1-Beyond DDR and Si-2k cameras is the fact they almost completely neglected the use of SDI cabling, which handicaps the operator who needs a true, full 1080 video feed. Our good and faithful friends at 3D Camera Company of Toronto, Canada, provided the gear for the shoot.

The screen shot bellow with your Red/Cyan Anaglyph glasses to see a screen shot of the shoot. This image is owned by and courtesy of Arcadia Films.

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