Having just got back from an North East trip – New York, Boston and Meriden/North Haven CT – I’ve had a good opportunity to think and observe trends outside my own environment. I see four major trends happening across production and, despite the publicity and inevitable NAB push, I don’t think 3D stereoscopy is among them (at least not yet).
Stereoscopy is indeed a trend in feature film production with an impressive percentage of last year’s box office attributable to 3D movies, but it will be a long time before it’s more than a niche for non-feature production. In fact the supply of 3D content vs the number of theaters equipped to display, is probably going to limit 3D distribution to the major studios and their tentpole releases.
That said, this year’s NAB is likely to be full of 3D capable rigs, cameras and workflows. For what display? Until the viewing end is more established production in 3D won’t be that important.
Right now the trends I’m observing are: more multicamera production; extensive use of green screen even for “normal” shots; 3D sets, objects and even characters; and a definite trend toward larger sensor cameras (both DSLR and RED).
The appeal is simple: acquire two angles on any “good” take. Of course reality television takes this to almost-ridiculous levels with up to 68+ hours recorded for every day of the show’s shoot. On more reasonable shows, Friday Night Lights shoots multicamera in real world locations for a very efficient production schedule.
While it no doubt saves production time, and therefore cost, it can limit shot availability (as one camera ‘sees’ another) or more bland lighting (to make sure each camera angle is well lit). Multicamera studio shoots – the staple of the sitcom – tend to be lit very flat, but Friday Night Lights doesn’t suffer for the multicamera acquisition.
All major editing software packages support multicamera editing. We’ve also seen an increase in requests for multicamera support in our double-system synchronizing tool Sync-N-Link.
Part of the reason that multicamera acquisition is becoming more practical is that the cost of buying or renting camera equipment has dropped dramatically, so that three cameras on a shoot are not necessarily a budget buster.
Green Screen (Virtual sets)
If you haven’t already seen Stargate Studio’s Virtual Back Lot reel, do it now. Before seeing it I had the sense that there was a lot more green screen used out there, but I had no idea that shows I’d watched and enjoyed employed green screen. The Times Square shot from Hereos, for example, did not feel at all composited. When simple street scenes are being shot green screen – things that could easily be shot in the real world – then you know it has to be for budgetary reasons.
Green screen (and blue screen for film) technologies are well proven. There are good and inexpensive tools that fit within common workflows to build the green screen composite. In other words, the barriers to entry are simply the skill of the Director of Photography on the shoot, and that of the editors/compositors in post.
When 70% of a show, like Sanctuary uses virtual sets, the necessity for anything beyond a good screen screen studio, with a good lighting kit and some smarts seems less important.
3D sets and enhancements
The third major trend goes hand-in-hand with the use of Virtual Sets: sets that are created in the mind of a designer and rendered “real” with 3D software. There are literally hundreds of thousands of object models available for sale (or free) online. You can hardly read a production story now that does’t feature 3D set or character extensions.
I should probably add motion tracking as another technology coming into its own, because it’s an essential part of the incorporation of actors into 3D sets, or the enhancement of character with 3D character extensions.
Fairly obvious to all, I would think, but the trend toward larger sensors includes the DSLR trend as well as RED Digital Cinema and the new Arri Alexxa. Wherever you look the trend is toward larger sensors with their sensitivity improvements, greater control of depth of field and drop-dead gorgeous pictures. Among other uses they make perfect plates for backgrounds in green screen work!
All four (plus motion tracking) trends contribute to reducing production cost, making more shows viable with ever fragmenting audiences.