Have you ever wondered exactly how they make 2D movies into 3D ones? Every house that does it has their own methodology, and FXGuide has written a brilliant article featuring case studies from the top houses doing it today. It goes over the keys to a good conversion, the different tools and techniques used, and the trials and tribulations that occur, even on new films. The distortion produced by anamorphic lenses, combined with a physical film scan, made John Carter particularly difficult, for example, while the fact that Legend3D now has Tom Cruise’s skull modeled and mapped for next week’s Top Gun 3D release means that the next Cruise movie they convert will require much less work.
Even an extremely digital production like Star Wars: Episode I has its troubles:
Over a 10 month period John Knoll supervised the stereo conversion of The Phantom Menace, performed by Prime Focus. The film, while extremely effects heavy, was still primarily a live action film so it was never going to be practical to reload the course files and try and re-render or “do something that would have been done on Toy Story – restoring the scenes and re-rendering,” says Knoll. “Our pipeline has changed dramatically enough since the work was started in 1997 that we don’t have machines that use the same software anymore. It was all animated in Softimage and the RenderMan renders dispatched from iRender – packages we don’t even run anymore.”
Knoll knew the film was long and so intended the conversion to be not only the best conversion ever done, but also a low-strain stereo final product, one without loads of gags and negative space ‘in your face’ stereography. “We’re trying to avoid going too extreme in places where it’s going to give you a headache,” says Knoll. “The biggest difference is that because George has an inclination to do very dense compositions – there’s a lot going on – having that extra dimension makes things spatially clearer, with the characters.”
This is a very long, somewhat technical, and detailed piece, but if you’re up for it, it’s really a fantastic and informative read. Make sure you watch the video on the Titanic conversion, where the supervisor is making key decisions on how much 3D pop (and more importantly, what pieces of the image will work best to emphasize the stereo factor) to give the diamond.
Most importantly, see the glamour of how 80% of Hollywood lives, with boring day jobs stuck in warehouses and other boring facilities grinding away for three weeks putting dust on mummies. 3D conversion still isn’t perfect, but if Top Gun, a fairly low-resolution and grainy movie looks as great as they say, the process probably finally come of age, and now we know the people who make that happen day in, day out.