A New Dimension: Producing a 3D Wedding Film
Posted Oct 29, 2010

November 2010 EventDVFive years ago when the first HDV cameras hit, bringing HD production into the prosumer price range for the first time, some industry pundits rushed to pronounce it an “adopt or die” moment for event videographers. Of course, it wasn’t as simple as all that. Even though the first Sony HDV models (the FX1 and the Z1) looked like their DV counterparts (the VX2000 and VX2100) and were priced in the same ballpark, migrating to HDV in 2005 was a lot more complicated than buying a new camera. And as the consumer world inched its way into the HDTV era, with little unanimity on its approach, few clients shared the pundits’ sense of urgency that it was the hi-def way or the highway. But I don’t think anyone doubted that HD was the future; folks just disagreed on how long the road to that future would prove to be, and if it would really be paved with first-gen HDV gear (which, among other things, made the naturally lit world look a lot darker than nth-gen DV gear). Five years later, we’ve just begun to absorb the meteoric rise and impact of DSLRs in our industry, and the latest “next big thing” that threatens to rock the video world as it has made inroads in the film world is stereoscopic 3D. But if the first wave of HD buzz seemed premature, the notion of 3D production as the future of wedding filmmaking sounds like something out of science fiction. In our industry, the overarching objections to HD video—that is, besides the challenges of HD production and postproduction for early adopters, which were clearly temporary—concerned the fear of extreme close-ups in HD telling us too many things we didn’t want to know about our less-than-Hollywood-caliber talent.

The first wedding filmmakers to venture into 3D space—yes, indeed, there have been weddings shot and produced entirely in 3D by your industry peers—have all commented on low-light issues with Panasonic’s initial stereoscopic entry, the $21,000 AG-3DA1, which looks like a two-eyed version of the HVX200. But there are much broader issues about the viability and applicability of 3D wedding video, given that the Hollywood movies that most resemble wedding films (romantic dramedies or character-driven indie films, depending on your style) aren’t the type of films currently embracing 3D. And then there’s the perception that 3D production and postproduction must exist in an entirely different dimension from 2D video, which is a lot more daunting than the extra bits and pixels that came with HD.

We spoke with one of 3D’s earliest adopters in the wedding world—and the producer of Australia’s first 3D wedding—Abraham Joffe of Sydney-based Abraham Joffe Videographers (www.cinemaexperience.com.au). Although he has yet to fully take the 3D plunge as an AG-3DA1 owner or convert his entire business over to 3D production at this point, he has produced and delivered a 3D wedding film to a client and has lived to tell the tale. And—spoiler alert—so far Joffe's 3D production tale is a happy one.

Panasonic AG-3DA1

Shooting in Stereo
When Joffe found out that Panasonic would be shipping its first 3D cameras in August, he was intrigued. He’d caught a glimpse of the camera a few months earlier when Panasonic had brought a prototype of the AG-3DA1 to Australia for a multicity tour. “I must admit I was a bit of a 3D skeptic,” Joffe says. “But after seeing the footage live on a display, I was instantly won over. I was very impressed that they have managed to distill the complexities down to such an easy-to-operate camera.”

That first sighting planted the idea in Joffe’s mind of Abraham Joffe Videographers becoming the first studio in Australia to shoot a wedding in 3D. Having no prior history with Panasonic, Joffe’s next step was to get the company’s attention and convince them to lend him an AG-3DA1, which meant ensuring that there would be media coverage for the shoot. First, he convinced local TV affiliate Channel 9 to cover the event on the Aug. 12 airing of its A Current Affair program. And within days after the shoot, articles appeared in two Sydney-based news outlets, Screen Hub and SMARTHOUSE.

Then, Joffe needed to find a wedding—which meant, with August being the middle of winter in Australia, thus, the off-season for weddings in Sydney, he couldn’t simply look at his calendar and decide to shoot next weekend’s wedding in 3D. “With the time pressure to produce a 3D film” before the camera’s release, he says, “we had to pull it together quite quickly. The wedding we figured had to be outdoors to allow us … to descend on the ceremony. Not to mention the ‘behind-the-scenes’ crew” from A Current Affair that would be on hand to document the historic shoot (and Joffe’s own behind-the-scenes documentarian, 2009 EventDV 25 finalist Dave Cowling). “Also, the low-light performance of the 3DA1 was unknown to us at the time”—and it did, in fact, prove a concern, but more on that later—“so a well-lit location with plenty of room to move was desirable.” With those criteria established, they found Narelle and Ian Haines, a Sydney couple who was having an outdoor wedding on their target weekend (July 30). Joffe approached them with the idea of having their wedding shot in 3D, gratis, by an established studio in Sydney. “The couple we found was more than happy to have a free shoot, and it was important, of course, that they didn’t have a videographer already employed. It really was a win-win for all parties.”

Abraham Joffe filming Australia's first 3D wedding

Joffe has a long background in video production and wedding filmmaking in particular, including doing work for documentary wildlife producers Malcolm Douglas (“the original crocodile hunter”) and David Ireland. He was one of the first producers in Australia to shoot with DSLRs and one of only five shooters on top of the Sydney Harbour bridge filming the fireworks display on the closing night of the Olympics. But all that experience, in a sense, became secondary to what he could learn in the one night he had to prepare for the 3D shoot after receiving the camera, including 2 hours “with a Panasonic tech going over the camera and learning its characteristics. This brief [training] proved invaluable,” he says. “Without it, we would certainly not have controlled the shoot as well.” That said, he admits that “it was a fairly sleepless night before the [wedding] day. Several hours of testing the night before allowed us a certain level of confidence going into the wedding.”

Part of that testing and planning was determining how to adapt his company’s typical production process to the AG-3DA1, and vice versa. “We wanted the crew to stay as true to a ‘normal’ shoot as possible,” as Joffe and his crew worked with the two AG-3DA1 models provided by Panasonic. “To use the same tools and coverage meant that the shoot and results would be a good indication of how the 3D process would work on a real wedding. That way we could really test the workflow and give others genuine feedback. If we had had additional resources or not shot the preps and had hours to set up the ceremony shoot, that would have not been a true experience for us. Luckily for us, the photo shoot just happened to be prior to the ceremony (due to it being winter, we were limited in sunlight hours). That gave us more time on the day shooting before the critical ceremony record. The shooters were myself, Edgard Neves, and Alfio Stuto—members of our usual crew. The things that did change from our DSLR shoots were more gear! These days, one large camera bag can fit four 5D Mark II cameras plus lenses. Here, we went back to large-camera Pelican cases. Also, we have not had the Steadicam out for a little while since moving toward compact and lightweight Glidecams.” The heavier support devices were needed for the AG-3DA1s because they weigh in at about 8 lbs. each, substantially more than DSLRs, even with lenses attached.

One of the issues that arises with the 3D cam that can have a dramatic effect on how one shoots with it, Joffe says, is the limits of the camera’s convergence range. The convergence point in a stereoscopic 3D image produced by a twin-lens camera such as the AG-3DA1 is the point at which the optical axes of the “left-eye” image and “right-eye” image meet; the point varies depending on the distance between the camera and the subject. Part of the breakthrough of the AG-3DA1 is its integrated twin-lens setup, which provides much more flexibility than is available when multiple discrete cameras are required to shoot a 3D image. “The biggest change to shooting was definitely the minimum distance required to obtain an acceptable image. Anything closer than about 2 meters [about 6.5'] doesn’t work. They say the maximum degree of parallax the human eye can observe and create a 3D image is 2 degrees. The other issue to avoid is what’s called ‘window violations.’ If part of an object is hidden by the edge of the frame and another part is in front of the screen, it will result in an uncomfortable 3D image. We often compose shots using shoulders on the edge of the frame or other partial views, so we had to make sure these didn’t happen. It’s probably the worst result possible when shooting 3D if you leave something hanging on the edge of the frame—the viewers’ eyes actually hurt! For weddings and events where you are much more limited in your control of people and objects—it’s a tough ask.”

Though these factors might prove inhibiting to some crews, Joffe’s team approached parts of the shoot with the same sort of camera motion they’d use in 2D, Steadicam and all—with some inevitable modifications, of course. “Why walk when you can run?” Joffe asks. “Edgard is a very good Steadicam operator, yet he still had some effort in managing convergence.”

Edgard Neves shooting 3D on Steadicam

One unusual aspect of the shoot that affected, in particular, how Joffe crewed it, was the need for a “stereographer” to monitor the action and assess what both cameras were capturing. One factor that arguably necessitates the use of such a monitor is the fact that the AG-3DA1’s viewfinder shows only an overlapped image rather than a true stereoscopic 3D image. For this, Joffe used a 25'' 3D field monitor, the BT-3DL2550, provided by Panasonic for the shoot. “I think initially it is almost essential to have a form of display set up to observe the 3D image you are producing. Perhaps once you become really adept at reading the viewfinder, you won’t need to. But it certainly helped us achieve a great result. Because it was not practical to lug the 3D monitor into the hotel suite for the preps (or the location shoot), we made sure that we shot some variety in the convergence point to ‘cover’ the slightly blinded way that we were shooting. Ideally, a small 3D display will be produced and can sit alongside or on the camera.”

Live stereography with the Panasonic BT-3DL2550 25" 3D field monitor

Three Steps Up, Two Steps Back
Much as with the early HDV cameras, the low-light performance of the AG-3DA1 represents a significant step backward from the cameras most 2D filmmakers are working with now—particularly if they’re shooting with DSLRs. “I must say that the low-light capability of the 3DA1 isn’t fantastic,” Joffe acknowledges. “I estimate it is similar to Sony’s early Z1 camera. This will be disappointing to many as we have only recently been given blinding low-light sensitivity in DSLRs coupled with fast primes. I guess that will mean more attention required for night shooting. The other difficult aspect of shooting in low light,” he continues, “is that the cameras don’t have a lock on gain control. Perhaps the final release cameras will have this corrected, but a few times, we found ourselves shooting at more than +12 dB of gain without knowing it.”

Another aspect of 3D shooting that feels like a step backward from DSLR production, Joffe says, is that it necessitates a return to the more restrictive world of fixed-lens shooting. “We have a pretty sweet setup in these days of primes, multiple 5D Mark IIs, and sliders, Glidecams, and cranes. We, like so many, have fallen in love with the new tools available. Primes have changed the way we shoot. I also really enjoy the fact that using detachable lenses forces you to shoot much more deliberately. There’s thought behind which lens is used and how. I guess the thought process is still there when shooting with 3D,” he continues, “but we’re back to a zoom lens with quite a ‘video’ look to it. But it’s a compromise that is replaced with the new 3D element, which can be extremely satisfying when well produced.” And on the 3D shoot, he says, “The training on manual focus that shooting with DSLRs has given us certainly helped in riding the convergence and focus. A quick eye and mind is going to help a lot managing all the levels of control.”

The Premieres
One of the hallmarks of 3D moviemaking is the viewing experience. And even as 3D begins to move into homes, the 3D experience for nearly all of us remains a cinematic one. The first viewing of Joffe’s 3D footage, that afternoon at the reception, was anything but cinematic, but it was impactful all the same. “We played back scenes directly from the camera onto the field monitor to show people the 3D images,” Joffe says. “It wasn’t an edit in the slightest, but it had a huge impact. People were captivated.”

The real big-screen premiere for Australia’s first 3D wedding film—presented in large measure so that A Current Affair could capture crowd reactions in lieu of airing actual 3D footage on TV—came a week later at a local venue with about 100 people in attendance, including wedding-industry vendors, engaged couples, and so on. “The initial screening was a great way to build the buzz and get genuine feedback. Everyone turns a little childish when watching for the first time—it had an incredible response. I was fairly skeptical at first whether there would be any demand,” he says, but based on the response they had from that day’s 3D presentation, Joffe was “convinced it will be certainly an option many people will opt for. Eventually, when 3D streaming over the net becomes available, being able to watch something live will take on a whole new dimension.”

Editing in 3D (Glasses Required)
In the spirit of completing the project (and preparing for the premiere) just as he would with any 2D wedding, he moved on to the editing bay to cut the footage into a typical (well, except for the 3D part) completed Abraham Joffe Videographers production. And with the premiere coming a scant 7 days after the wedding, time was tight. They edited the footage on their current NLE of choice, Grass Valley EDIUS, augmented by a 50'' 3D Viera monitor supplied by Panasonic.

Editing 3D footage in Grass Valley EDIUS

“EDIUS currently uses a simple technique to cut and preview 3D using a split-screen effect. You take the stereo streams (I love talking about video as being stereo!) and squeeze each stream to 50% horizontally. The other stream is squeezed to the right and you play back both together. This stream is then outputted to the display via HDMI from an HD SPARK card.” All they had to do was set the monitor to “split-screen” mode, he says, “and presto, we had a live 3D image.”

Regarding the difference between how they would typically edit 2D footage and the approach they used for the 3D project, Joffe says, “we did not use dissolves or other effects. These are possible with third-party 3D-editing plug-ins, but we needed a quick, simple edit. This suited our style anyway as we keep things very clean in our traditional shoots. “Shot ‘life span’ was another aspect we had to slightly alter,” he adds. “To appreciate the 3D image, slightly more screen time per shot is usually desirable. Also, because of the depth of field, each shot seems to have more than one area to look at—almost multiple shots within the same shot. The final edit was mainly determining when the life span of each shot had been exhausted, and sometimes trimming frames where needed. We didn’t want it to be overkill and negatively affect the story and flow of the piece as a whole.”

One thing Joffe discovered that ran contrary to his original impression of footage shot with the AG-3DA1—and a bit of information that may prove valuable to early adopters concerned about the versatility of the camera—is that it is possible to create a 2D production from AG-3DA1 footage; even to produce both 2D and 3D versions of the same project. “You simply drop one of the stereo channels and you have 2D again. That is a huge benefit to people being able to at least offer a 2D dub of the finished piece to the client. I would think this is the same for most 3D systems, as you are simply working with dual video streams that are shifted from another.”

Seeing the Future in 3D
Shortly after this first foray into 3D production, the Abraham Joffe Videographers Vimeo page proudly proclaimed that the studio specializes in cinematic and 3D productions, which suggests that Joffe believes that the future of 3D wedding production—at least as a high-end offering—is now upon us, at least for his studio. And with recent news of other 3D productions surfacing in Australia, produced by EventDV 25 finalist studio D’nM Video Productions and (most recently) by EventDV 25 honoree Evro Moudanidis, and 3D work happening in parallel here in the U.S. with the likes of Philadelphia-based Lafayette Hill Studios (see October’s Nonlinear Editor column), the futuristic notion of 3D videography is edging into reality. “We are certainly going to be one of the early adopters of 3D here in Australia,” says Joffe. “I see far more potential in corporate productions. And that will be who has the budget for 3D early on. I think a 3D wedding package would need to start at $10,000 [about $9,600 U.S.] to be viable, remembering that you will most probably need a crew of three to run a successful shoot. We always shoot multicam, so the capital startup cost is pretty hefty. The rental production houses will do well at the start I predict. One thing to remember is that 3D can’t mix with 2D material and, certainly, not the look and feel that the DSLRs give. A 3D shoot would have to be stand-alone, although I’m sure hybrid packages will be out there. You would essentially have two crews if that’s the case—one cinematic and one 3D.”

As for 3D productions becoming mainstream, particularly in a business-to-consumer field such as wedding production, Joffe says, “It seems like a lot of pieces have to fall into place on the client side to make it viable.” One issue is delivery, the ability to share the work, which, even with YouTube and Vimeo claiming nominal 3D capabilities and 3D being one available feature on Blu-ray Discs, isn’t exactly ready for prime time. “Auto-stereoscopic displays are on the horizon, and I think this will have a big change in how people react to the prospect of having to wear glasses.”

But other project types in which videographers may find satisfying and remunerative work could go 3D much sooner. “Many productions will benefit from great 3D work—wildlife documentaries is an area of great interest to me personally. Remember, high-definition was not mainstream for a long time, and these days, we can’t think of life without it. Amazingly, sound and color had critics at the start too. For weddings, it will definitely be the high-end clients who could afford the production of 3D at least at the beginning. The market always has a way of correcting itself, so with the array of 3D cameras and systems on their way, I’m sure we’ll see all aspects of the market getting involved,” he predicts. “At the end of the day, we all know it’s the producer not the tools which make quality work—and I believe that will always be the case. What I’m certain of is that some very creative uses of 3D that have not been conceived yet are bound to emerge.”

And as for 3D finding a place in the current evolution of wedding filmmaking from a stylistic standpoint, Joffe says, “It’s all about subtlety when it comes to a great 3D production. Good 3D should just enhance telling of the story—not become the story. I think most wedding filmmakers are quietly interested in 3D, but I don’t see many forking out the big dollars right at the start.”

That said, Joffe sees the wedding filmmaking community’s response to his studio’s first 3D effort a good sign (even though they weren’t responding to the actual 3D production). “We had a fantastic response to the ‘behind- the-scenes’ clip we produced shortly after. The overwhelming response was positive. We’re stoked with the lovely feedback for our first 3D production. I hope this has helped inspire more people to take a look at producing 3D for the first time—it’s certainly thrilling seeing the world in this new way!”

3D Wedding Shoot - Sydney Australia from Abraham Joffe on Vimeo.

Stephen Nathans-Kelly (stephen.nathans at infotoday.com) is editor-in-chief of EventDV and EventDVLive, and program director of EventDV-TV.