At SXSW Keefe Boerner spoke on the 3D Steroscopic Production Tools, Production and Post panel. He has been a production coordinator, editor, visual effects and motion graphics artist, visual effects producer and post-production supervisor on feature films. Some of Keefe’s credits include collaborations with Robert Rodriguez on Sin City and The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3-D. In this interview we discuss the ins and outs of 3D filmmaking.
Highlights at SXSW this year?
I had a busy SXSW this year. I hosted a panel on 3D filmmaking as well as attending three screenings of a film I post supervised, Dance with the One. Because of a last minute cancellation on the panel, I spent most of the weekend arranging for a replacement, ftp-ing clips, preparing presentations, making DCPs and QC-ing the material at the Alamo Drafthouse for the panel. Most panels are a bunch of folks showing up 15 minutes beforehand. Not this one. We were working on it for weeks, selecting materials, making 3D DCPS and PowerPoints, coordinating what each of us was going to talk about. I wanted the panel to be very informative. Given that we were on the other side of downtown from the convention center, it was very well attended and had a great response. Folks were coming up to the panelist during the rest of the festival and telling them how much they enjoyed it.
I did attend the future technology panel and met Paul Debevec, who turns out is a cousin of a friend. He’s an associate director of the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies Graphics Lab and co-inventor of HDMI and Light Stage, necessary, cutting edge tools in the VFX world. There were more highlights of the week, but I had to sign an NDA.
How did you get started as a filmmaker?
I went to film school, expecting to work my way up as an editor. My desire to stay in Austin forced me, like others, to wear many different hats. I eventually got into motion graphics and visual effects. One of my former interns had gone to work for Elizabeth Avellan and called me up when they were looking for a VFX coordinator on Spy Kids. I worked with Robert and Elizabeth for seven years, working my way up to VFX Producer and Post Supervisor. After my wife and I had a child, I decided I needed to take a break from the 80 – 100 hour work weeks and took a job at the University of Texas at Austin, managing the facilities for the Radio, TV and Film Department.
What do you feel are the biggest misconceptions about 3D?
That all you need is two cameras and you can shoot a 3D film. It’s a specialized craft, like cinematography and editing. You need a stereoscopic specialist on your show who know the equipment, the theories and the ‘rules’ to advise production on how best to shoot 3D that is compelling, yet comfortable. The second misconception is that 3D appears the same, no matter the size of the screen. In reality, the stereo effect is lessened on a smaller screen and more intense on a larger screen. You cannot judge the 3D effect on a 19 inch field monitor if you are shooting for theatrical distribution. Of course, the Imax master is going to be different from the normal cineplex master as well.
Are all film genres enhanced by being shot in 3D?
Of course not. I really don’t have any desire to see ‘No Country for Old Men’ in stereo, nor most any other content. But what I would give to see ‘The Matrix’ in Stereo.
What are your favorite scenes from a 3D film and why?
Technically, if something was really good in 3D, I probably will not remember it. The problems or the thrills and great content are what stands out to me. I’m going to get nostalgic for a moment. When I saw ‘The Polar Express,’ I remember being thrilled by the roller coaster and flying ticket sequences. I adore ‘Coraline’, but it was mainly because 3D enhanced and was a perfect fit for an incredibly visual story. I’m happy with their decision to flatten the stereo for the real world sequences and increase the stereo for the imaginary world. So many of the shots were amazing. The Rats with their tracing left a strong impression, but again, it was amazing animation and art design and the 3D simply enhanced it. I didn’t really care for the narrow depth of field in some scenes – I would prefer wide depth of field in stereo to allow my eyes to wander in the scene – but I respect their decision.
Have you heard of D-Box (shaking amusement park-like chairs for movie theaters) and what are your thoughts on them being used along with 3D glasses?
I don’t think it is going to be able to replicate the thrill of an amusement park ride, where the entire viewing space and screen production is designed to work in synch to give you the impression of being in the experience. I don’t have a strong opinion one way or another. I know some folks who love it and some who think it’s lame, but they have a tendency to piss on a lot of things. Stereo has been around for a long time, this is a reincarnation of an experience that has been around for 50 years and more if you include still photographs. Despite the history of stereo, we are still developing the theory and trying new things out. D-Box is breaking new ground and it’s a risky proposition. You have an incredibly expensive technology that is only able to recoup it’s cost one ticket at a time. I really respect what they are doing and I think it’s like any craft, when the filmmaker goes into the expectation that there will be motion editing as part of the post process, you can design the action sequences appropriately. It’s still in it’s relative infancy, but I expect to see (or feel) great things if folks take it seriously and can design around the limitations. But to answer your question, as immersive as you can get into the film, I think 3D and D-Box could make a great combination.
What is your advice to low budget ($100,00-$500,000) filmmakers who want to do a movie in 3D?
Forget about Stereo and focus on getting the story, actors and production design right. I’d ask them why they feel stereo is important. Of course, the economics of box office make it very desirable to have a stereo release, but bad stereo can ruin a good picture. And, with major box office films dominating the 3D screen space, there isn’t going to be a place for a low budget feature. It can also add significantly to the time and expense of production. I guess I would first talk them out of it unless I felt all the money for other needs was appropriately cared for.
What is your advice to film executives who want to produce big budget 3D films?
Get the stereographer involved in pre-production. Their job is almost as important as the cinematographer, Art Designer, Costumer and Visual Effects Supervisor. Sets and action should be designed to take advantage of stereo and stay within it’s boundaries.
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