This month we had an exclusive opportunity to talk to Cara Cheeseman, Post Production Supervisor for all 3D content, both internally and externally, at BSkyB. The 21 questions are gathered from a variety of industry professionals with an interest, some sceptical and some fanatical, in 3D
When it comes to 3D conversion... creating 3D images from 2D source material, is there acceptable methods? Acceptable equipment?
Currently there is no one system which can show consistent, high quality conversion or indeed cost effective alternative to natively shooting 3D. There are many automated systems but none of them can provide results that we are currently willing to accept (we have high standards and for good reason). Everyone is looking for ways to automate this process but, at the minute, there's no getting around hiring lots of VFX artists and getting stuck in with compositing techniques like rotoscoping, matte painting, camera projection, etc. We routinely test new hardware, software and put new theories through their paces however at this moment in time, in my opinion, nothing gives you the 3D experience like well shot, native 3D.
In real life, stereoscopic vision is taken so much for granted that most people are largely unaware of it until their attention is drawn specifically to it. Does the same apply to 3D television viewing - the 3D effect fading during the course of a programme? If so, is 3D not perhaps overkill?
That is assuming that the '3D' stays consistent. Often different scenes or shots are changed to make them more or less '3D' and it can then be used as a story-telling device or to visually enhance what you’re watching. The 3D effect is also dependant on subject matter. For example if you watch boxing, football or darts in 3D, which have all proved extremely successful and have delivered good viewing figures and even an action sequence in a film, you'll certainly notice it there and often be offering something extra that watching it in 2D/HD doesn’t.
It's there to improve the experience without stealing your attention away from everything else, people are often under the impression that 3D has to come out of the screen and grab you by the throat, but I believe to truly be an “experience” 3D should be largely subconscious. A colour grade or a good sound mix is essential to every film and makes a large difference to how you interpret the film; but if done well, you shouldn't notice it. It's one part of the experience that's enhancing all the other parts. 3D is often the same.
Aside from the technical issues with 3D, is it worth independent production companies seeking to produce quality 3D content for broadcast by BSkyB in the future?
Absolutely. My team and I work every day with independent production companies, often with their first foray into 3D and help them select the right kit and crew with varying levels of budget and turnaround schedules. We are a free resource to them in prep, production and post and can often make a very daunting experience into a real journey into what is possible in 3D. I actively encourage production companies and producers to test the boundaries of what is possible in 3D.
Sky were the first to publish requirement standards for 3D programme makers under the title "BSkyB Technical Guidelines for Plano Stereoscopic (3D) Programme Content". Has this been recognised by other organisations?
Yes it has. We are known to have and uphold the most stringent 3D technical guidelines of any 3D Broadcaster or distributor. Being Europe’s first dedicated 3D channel, we believed from the start that we should set the bar high in terms of offering a high quality and therefore a better and more enjoyable experience for our customers. We firmly believe that upholding our guidelines and helping production companies to achieve these high standards provides our customers with an exceptional 3D experience.
Our technical partners and equipment suppliers that we commonly work with often have producers the world over asking about our technical guidelines. Sky standards are largely considered the 'Gold Standard' in the industry. Even James Cameron had to agree to them when Avatar was broadcast by Sky in 2010. Sky 3D are in fact the only broadcaster in the world that was allowed to screen Avatar and James Cameron personally approved our 3D platform in being able to deliver an exceptionally high quality of 3D broadcast and he agreed to let us broadcast this to our customers.
There are a number of parameters in 3D testing: which one is most frequent cause of QC rejection?
It is very dependent on the project. Edge violations and depth budget violations are two, as are sync issues between left eye and right eye. Though we are finding that with more education of production companies and producers, better cameras and equipment these are becoming less and less common. In the past 2 years we have seen a huge improvement in the quality of 3D which we are receiving and people are become more aware of what makes a more comfortable and enjoyable experience for the viewer.
How do you check for compliance to the Sky standards as a process of quality control (QC)?
We have a combination of some very impressive hardware, software and experienced 3D QC operators based in house which scrutinise every show which is broadcast on Sky 3D. A QC report is then issued and we can discuss how to address any issues this raises and how best to resolve them. Some can be as simple as audio glitches, which occurred during layoff all the way down to eye mismatches and things, which exceed our guidelines on what we consider an acceptable quality. As I mentioned earlier though, these are becoming less and less frequent with the education of the producers and production companies.
MAM... is the management of 3D data files essentially the same as any other video file but with double the data or is there anything extra to consider. For example, does the convergence data get recorded in the Metadata? Do we care? Is there any other information that in your experience is necessary to record for easy management?
At Sky we have a large and complex MAM system for our 2D/HD Media storage, which enables us to move media in a tapeless environment. Being more 3D data specific - depending on the file system that is being used and the type of workflow, depends on the volume of storage needed and indeed what format it is ingested and stored as. Currently there are very few file systems that can handle what we call 'muxed' files. Muxed means that one file contains both eyes. These file types include stereo EXR (SXR), Cineform and .JS (Mistika files). All others like DPX require one file for the left eye and one file for the right eye. You can render both eyes to something like DPX as side by side but this will result in a slight loss of resolution. We usually ingest RAW files directly into one of our Misitika’s as the first step in our multiple 3D workflows/pipelines and depending on things like data resolution, working environment, timescale, budget and final destination of the material depends very much on the workflow and ultimately how we store and treat the data.
Will 3D sport ever be able to offer the variety of shots that HD sports does and maintain the same level of enjoyment?
That’s assuming that 2D and 3D obey the same rules. 2D can use tricks that 3D usually can't, such as shallow focus, whip pans, jump cuts, drastic focus pulls, over the shoulder shots, etc. There's a different way to filming 3D 'well'. It's not right or wrong, just different techniques that experienced professionals use to make the most of the medium. I think 3D adds a whole new element, which certain shots in 2D simply aren't able to offer. Certain sports can look exceptional in 3D and offer more detail and a different, and in some cases more enhanced, experience to the viewer. Just as going from SD to HD offered something new.
Should content producers be shooting in 3D even if they don’t intend using it now for future proofing?
Yes and no. 2D uses techniques that work well in 2D but don't suit 3D (shallow focus, etc, as discussed above). It's like any medium - if you're talented and you plan well, you can make the most out of it. You don't shoot a documentary in the same way that you would shoot a football match You wouldn't shoot 3D the same way that you would shoot 2D. Well, you can but it lacks imagination. In terms of future proofing I think it is much more important to consider things like resolution and shooting 2k and 4k instead of just HD.
What sort of increase in 3D occurred over the summer of 2012 and has this demand / trend continued?
Over the summer, we were pleased to open up access to Sky 3D to all Sky customers with a Sky+HD box so they could enjoy Eurosport’s 3D coverage of the Olympics. In our experience, getting more people to sample 3D is key to its success, as once people have experienced it they start to understand what’s so special about it. I’m not in a position to update on customers number following this summer, but given before that happened we were already reaching a quarter of a million customers, we were working from a very solid base and are some way ahead of that figure now.
You have great 3D content in sport and natural history. What other genres are likely to make engaging 3D?
We have some really interesting shows on the channel and we are bringing more options to the table in 2013/2014. Sport and Natural History have lent themselves very well to 3D and it really does enhance the experience for the viewer, which is what it’s all about. This year we have shown the Olympics in 3D as well as The Ryder Cup and our David Attenborough Natural History shows such as Kingdom of Plants and Flying Monsters have proved hugely popular with viewers but we have also discovered that music and live events work well and we are working more with drama and have some very exciting productions coming up. Don't think 'Genre'. Think 'Subject Matter'. Movement and depth always look good. Static shots of cardboard cutouts do not.
Apart from the need for heavyweight processing power, what are the challenges for 3D post?
I think planning and finding the best digital workflow initially is invaluable and can save time, money and grey hairs!
How much do you need to get the 3D depth right on the shoot, and how much can you fix in post?
If you’re talking about the Inter-axial distance (or inter-ocular for those who should know better) then yes, it is very important. Very few systems can manipulate this in post and flaws like occlusion will create artefacts when inter-axial distances are changed digitally. Best to get it right on set is the rule of thumb.
What one programme would you recommend to the 3D sceptic to convince them about 3D to the home?
In terms of a film...Avatar everytime, it looks exceptional but that’s down to the production value as much as the 3D. In terms of broadcast then I would challenge any viewer to watch any one of our David Attenborough natural history documentaries and not be blown away. Flying Monsters, The Bachelor King, Kingdom of Plants and our next show with him Galapagos.
Will 3D ever be more than just a 'niche'?The market is still at an early stage but with a total of 2 million 3D TV sets forecast to be sold in the UK by the end of 2012 it is growing fast. Before long 3D will be a standard feature in nearly all new TV sets so people will increasingly have the opportunity to enjoy 3D TV. The real challenge now in terms of the further growth of 3D TV is for producers and broadcasters to deliver outstanding 3D programming that really draws in viewers. Additionally, cameras, rigs and post toolsets get more sophisticated by the day making 3D production almost as simple as 2D, while film makers are becoming more literate in the medium as experience grows, increasing the calibre of the productions being produced.
What is your favourite bit of hardware / software?
SGO’s Mistika is an exceptional piece of kit. At Sky we have several of them and they are at the core of our 3D workflow. We couldn’t make our content to the calibre that we do without them. It is certainly without doubt the best 3D toolset in the business, as well as a complete finishing system including impressive conform abilities and powerful colour grading tools.
How close are we to glasses-free 3D? You cannot eat your tea while watching 3D. You cannot check twitter while watching 3D. It's all about glasses-free.
Sony have just released their first foray into this technology and James Cameron commented favourably on the Dolby glasses less 3D screen at IBC this year. The technology certainly isn’t far away from being a commonplace feature in many homes. I think as soon as you can put a 50-inch 3D television on the wall of a pub and 50 people can watch a football match in 3D without glasses, the market and demand will explode. In addition, as soon as you can buy a good quality 3D glasses free TV for less than £1000, people will automatically become more accepting. In 2 or 3 years time, it will become nearly impossible to buy a new television which isn’t 3D capable, with or without glasses and it will become more financially attractive to the consumer.
What do you most enjoy doing in your work?
Having the opportunity to work with the most groundbreaking and advanced technology and indeed technicians in the world is nothing short of a privilege. Sky pride themselves on constantly being at the cutting edge of technology and breaking new ground on what can be offered to the consumer and often can be seen as one of driving forces of the broadcast market and consumer appetite. It’s exciting to be a part of that.
Cara Cheeseman currently works as the Post Production Supervisor for all 3D content, both internally and externally, at BSKYB. She is also Managing Director for her own consulting company, Silverscreen Pictures, which provides end to end workflow consultation, development and supervision for 2D and 3D projects in both film and television. Prior to working for BSkyB Cara was the Head of Post Production for Goldcrest Post Production in Soho and early in her career worked in Los Angeles for prolific Hollywood director and producer John Avnet. Cara has worked as a freelance film and television consultant for the past 10 years having worked for Warner Brothers, Paramount, Disney and the BBC on such productions as Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader 3D as well as many others. More recently she has supervised on the award winning film The Chemical Brothers: Don’t Think and David Attenborough’s The Bachelor King 3D.
We’d like to thank Cara for taking time from her busy schedule to help put this article together.