2010 Conference Summaries

3D TV: a review | La TV relief : une mise à plat © D. Bouchet/CITIA

3D TV: a review

  1. Speakers
  2. Moderator
  3. Caution on the part of broadcasters
  4. A change of mindset for producers and directors
  5. From 7 Tonnes 2 to a 3-D 7 Tonnes 3
  6. (Re)inventing the grammar
  7. Additional technical costs
  8. Stop motion animation... and in 3-D
  9. 2D to 3D or native 3D?
  10. Is low cost 3D the remedy?


As both moderator and CNC representative, Baptiste Heynemann presented the current state of the market in the area. In 2009, the issue of 3-D TV was purely prospective. However, there has since been a before and after Avatar. In France alone, James Cameron's feature was released in 700 cinemas, with 500 of those equipped for stereoscopic 3D. To some extent, TV manufacturers all benefited from the NAB Show in Las Vegas to unveil their new models. Samsung, Panasonic, LG, Sony and even the previously cautious Philips yielded to the sirens of trend to talk about the upcoming marketing of 3-D screens. And finally, broadcasters like Orange, Eurosport and Canal+ have already made announcements about initiating 3-D programmes. The animation sector is particularly affected by this development and must be prepared.



Caution on the part of broadcasters

The floor was first given to the broadcasters present. Eleanor Coleman feels that, "it opens up narrative possibilities that shouldn't be overlooked. However, there is always the question of the extra costs of such productions."

Julien Borde, from France Télévisions, prefers not to make any firm predictions for 3-D programmes for young viewers. "It's going to be for tomorrow or the day after." And as far as the group is concerned he went on to talk about the various adjustments to be made: "In practise, each channel in the group has a different system of broadcasting. We first have to think about homogenising these systems before thinking about 3-D." Recalling that France 3 were the first to show a 3-D film at prime time in 1982, he adds that two programmes are due to be shown this Christmas. The first is a 52-minute TV special inspired from the series Grabouillon and the second two new episodes of the series The Little Prince, broadcast on the website www.monludo.fr, visible with appropriately adapted glasses.

The Head of the Children and Youth Unit also points out "the extremely long production period needed for animated series. The decisions we are making now about series to be shown in three years are not necessarily going to be governed by technical choices, but those to be taken over the next ten-year period will certainly be affected." Julien Borde responds cautiously to the question of the inevitability of 3-D programmes and the possible delays a group like France Télévisions might have in the race to offer attractive programmes in stereoscopic 3D. "Yes, we are being pushed – mostly by manufacturers – but we want to move forward prospectively, without constraints." And to conclude: "Anything that allows TV to innovate is relevant."

A change of mindset for producers and directors

As a producer, Ceri Barnes is also well aware of the relevance of 3-D programmes for children, but is more concerned about the dangers of eyestrain the technique could generate. It is with this in mind that her studio, Classic Media, is working on the filming of the series Postman Pat.

Paul Leluc, director at Blue Spirit of the Grabouillon TV special mentioned earlier by Julien Borde, feels that there are a number of questions associated with 3-D at the moment, like what are the specifics of a 3-D film compared to another? He goes on to explain that: "We are looking at two different types of writing here. Animation has codes that must be respected, while there is a more theatrical or live action approach to making a 3-D film. The concern is not to be at an in-between frontier state of these different approaches that would surely be more negative than anything else." There is also some "dissatisfaction with the hybridisation of Grabouillon, which is precisely at the frontier of 3-D animation. Yet on this type of production, the 3-D is almost natural in its form, but even in this case, it is more a question of juggling with it rather than actually creating for the format."

From 7 Tonnes 2 to a 3-D 7 Tonnes 3

7 tonnes 3

Lionel Fages, co-founder of Cube Creative Computer Company, has made 3-D films his forté, especially for fans of theme park "rides" and immersive programmes. On the strength of this experience, the studio offered Nicolas Deveaux, director of 7 Tonnes 2, one of the short films made at the studio, the opportunity to move into stereoscopy. The film features an elephant performing incredible acrobatic feats on a trampoline in a deserted gymnasium. "Right from the outset, we talked about doing the film in 3-D," explains Lionel Fages, "but for a whole host of reasons, it was decided to go ahead in 2D. It was only later that we considered 3D." In-house tools based on 3ds Max were used to re-do the set-up required for the 3-D.

Lionel Fages also argues the question of the economics of such a production. Following the example of a "flat" short film and the intrinsic difficulties of funding, the 3-D short has, as yet, no mature business model as it is still only emerging. He goes on to explain that "when you don't have any money, the transition to 3-D forces you to use limitless ingenuity: impossibility to edit the soundtrack, going from 4/3 to 16/9, reframing, etc." This means that in the interests of economy, lighting, rendering and compositing are based on the original short.

Nicolas Devaux, who was in the audience, points out the frustrations of changing to 3-D: "The staging lends itself well, but the question of timing, which is obviously different in 3-D, led to a few concessions. We had to rework the elephant and the framing." Although the depth didn't seem to cause a problem, the 3-D pop-out effects proved more difficult. "We were unable to cut the frame during these effects, especially with the elephant's trunk, which also affected the narrative." During the compositing, "we reworked the set – a white background – and decided to add volume lights to give additional levels to the foreground and background. We also had to reduce focal blur which was not in keeping with the 3D technique."

(Re)inventing the grammar

Stereoscopic 3D Consultant, Alexander Lentjes asks THE question that underlies the previous presentations and the wider concerns of producers along with the strategies of broadcasters: "Can we do everything in 3-D and are we talking about a new grammar?" While it is clear that some films gain by being shown in 3-D, this is not necessarily the golden rule. So far, most 3-D content is animation, because we consider this transition "easy", compared to live action, whether in films, commercials or even special events. But has this easiness been proven? Just as advertising is considered a testing ground for visual effects, Alexander Lentjes thinks that, "animation is the sand pit for 3-D," in the sense that we are playing around with experimentation and testing so as to improve later. We are now seeing a wide range of products offered by manufacturers: LCD or polarised glasses, autostereoscopic, lenticular, raster, active and passive 3D screens, etc.

Over and above this excessive and somewhat confusing supply, a few questions of common sense need to be asked, like the type of broadcasting medium or if the viewers are ready for all this. For example we already know about programmes with images in 8K in Japan, but the main problem is that it is impossible to place yourself correctly while viewing: "It's difficult to find your marks in front of the screen, so much so that the viewer needs to keep still if they want to really experience the 3-D depth effect."

Similarly, it is a known fact that the interaxial distance between the two eyes in an adult, which is around 6.5 cms, is not the same for a child. In this case, what sort of 3-D should be offered? One for adults and another for children? This is of course unthinkable. Another point that raises issues is the fact that children tend to be nearer to a screen than adults. In this case, what about eyestrain? And on the question of 3D programmes being shown on larger areas than initially planned, Alexander Lentjes points out that the convergence of both eyes will be very difficult to manage because 3-D has been designed for a given frame size. Along with these questions of common sense can be added the economic dimension of bi-focal viewing: production first, technique after.

Additional technical costs

Using the example of the TV special Grabouillon, where the spending was close to that of the series, Paul Leluc explains that he did a big survey of specialist providers as well as for finding the most efficient pipeline. "It would appear that the best solution is to focus on the pre-production. The 3-D set up is done during the layout stage, which means doubling the job posts. We also went from using 3ds Max 2008 to 3ds Max 2010, in order to use the new camera rigs." The special's director goes on to say that, "the goal is to create a native image that is as clear as possible for the two eyes so as to reduce compositing." When asked about rendering time, he admits that he is not exactly sure, although he adds, "The idea is to only take a few layers, with a maximum of three per eye. As both the lighting and FX are in volume most of the problems can be sorted out at the layout stage."

From the audience, Jean-Louis Rizet (ToonAlliance) talks about his work on Patrice Leconte's feature The Suicide Shop, which is in 2D but will be shown in 3-D. "We have started with a mixer that generates 2D but can incorporate 3-D and can also cope with multiple cameras. The first animation tests are currently underway." In fact, except for the atmosphere FX like smoke and the sprites 3D, everything will be in 2D. But in stereoscopic 3D.

Stop motion animation... and in 3-D

Ceri Barnes has decided to create the stereoscopic effect on the stop motion film Postman Pat by using a single camera that will be moved from the left to the right to end up with two images per shot. "The animators will have 3D screens to approve the animation." However, she stressed that a period of adaptation would be necessary: "The animators will have to train themselves up as for many stereoscopy is still not part of their repertoire." A screening room will be an essential element in the studio: each week the dailies will go under scrutiny for approval "in order to keep a closer eye on any adjustments or retakes." She also adds that "Eyestrain is also one of our major concerns for a programme that is aimed at very young viewers. We are certainly keeping in mind the need to focus the action on the characters and not the camera." Finally, the production team are currently carrying out tests with children to determine what sort of 3-D would be best for this age group: "We're trying to see with the kids if they are into the immersive experience or different pop-out effects."

2D to 3D or native 3D?

The question of stereoscopic 3D production costs is a major concern for broadcasters and the option of "transforming" existing flat catalogues into 3D is often considered.

Alexander Lentjes gives some evocative figures: "The cost of converting a 2D film into 3-D ranges from 5 to 20 M$ for a 90-minute film – 5 M$ for Clash of the Titans and 20 M$ for Alice in Wonderland. And a 52 X 10 min series would cost 87 M$ to convert. The break even or level point, making it possible to consider lower costs, is for a film with a budget of over 10 M$ and for a series of 58 M$. Finally, the budget for shooting in native 3-D is estimated at 150 % more than a 2D budget." These additional costs concern for the most part, layout, recording and render, storage, editing, pre-visualisation and post-production. Alexander Lentjes goes on to say that "these programmes will be expensive for the viewer. From the production standpoint, there will be a heavy initial investment, which will double costs, but this should go down to 130 % of a 2D budget. But, there are always going to be additional costs."

To quickly reach this stage, the 3-D consultant recommends having a stereographer in the crew from very early on in the project to guarantee the quality aspect and agree on the encoding rules (and therefore normalising the process) between broadcasters. Otherwise, "there is a risk of ending up with low cost 3-D," which would be "extremely negative for the future."

Lionel Fages has a similar point of view and estimates that converting from 2D is 18 % more expensive: "We're not talking the same figures exactly, but I agree with Alexander Lentjes about the need for a stereographer on the production. We're going to see a new profession emerging in our field."

Is low cost 3D the remedy?

Baptiste Heynemann then discusses the issue of automatic conversion, a low cost solution to get quicker 3-D catalogues. Producers and broadcasters are divided here, like Lionel Fages who is "100 % against," and Julien Borde, from France Télévisions, who is openly more inclined to the idea. Eleanor Coleman adds that at TF1, tests have already been carried out in this field: "Some have been successful, others not. So the process is only under consideration for the moment."

Alexander Lentjes reiterates his earlier warnings about the fact that the process could affect vision, especially for younger viewers. "With content adapted from the start, 3-D can be in phase with what is expected of it."

Orange and Canal+ have already announced several projects, including the Kaeloo series, produced by Cube and directed by Rémi Chapotot. This flat 3D series will also have a number of episodes available in 3-D. The director, who was in the audience, explains: "We have done a rough cut of the flat series and have decided to keep it in its 3-D version, even though, we have obviously had to slow it down." He also goes on to say that stereoscopy works well in cartoon.

With broadcasters alternating between being really involved or choosing the waiting strategy, producers and writers measuring their investment in different projects, and manufacturers who are pushing for a technological arms race, 3-D is really in need of a framework where it can ensure both quality content, adapted to broadcasting methods, and a high standard – therefore costly – that will not provoke a negative reaction from the audience. Alexander Lentjes adds, "that it is perhaps the moment to think about a 3-D certification."

In his conclusion, Baptiste Heynemann underlines that the CNC has set up aid for 3-D, along with its traditional schemes. There is now aid for new technologies in production, the RIAM programme and financial aid for technical industries. "The CNC is increasing its involvement and the amounts for its aid schemes."