We spoke to Chris Parks, Stereo Supervisor, on the Ron Howard blockbuster In the Heart of the Sea about how the 3D effects used in the film were created, and his experiences in bringing films such as Gravity to life.
Although 3D films are now becoming the norm for Hollywood blockbusters, there is a sense of excitement and anticipation at being dazzled by the way that medium can bring the storyline to life. But what is just as interesting is just how the 3D effects are created. At a preview screening of In the Heart of The Sea, a retelling of the classic story of Moby Dick from director Ron Howard, we were able to sit down with Chris Parks, the man responsible for creating the 3D version of the film.
Perhaps the most interesting part, that many film goers aren’t aware of, is that In the Heart of the Sea, and other films like it, was actually shot in in 2D as a standard film. Chris told us that the deciscion to make a 3D version of the film actually came quite late in the post-production process
‘I normally get very heavily involved in preproduction and spend time on set. This one it wasn’t until it was actually in the can that the decision happened. I’d seen the trailers and thought what perfect candidate for 3D. My background is in marine filming and I have always struggled in 2D to get the sense of the ocean across, and 3D has always made that easier. Seeing the trailers I knew what we could do in 3D. So I spoke to Warner Bros to see if they were interested and they said that if Ron Howard was interested, then they would go for it. So the decision basically came down to Ron.
I had a conversation with him. I spoke to him about what my plans were, what I thought we could do, particularly to bring the ocean to life, but also the emaciation scenes and the big impact scenes with the whale. But the emaciation scenes was what I thought would be interesting. Ron got really excited about that and what we could do with characters, their features and faces’
I was doing trips over to New York whilst Ron was working on Inferno whilst we were in post on this, and was going there pretty much weekly. For me its about understanding what the intent was, what was trying to be achieved what that narrative undertone was. You know, ‘why was this shot like this? Why is this camera moving there? What is it all about?’ so then I can be making decisions rather than sticking something in front of the director who then picks out the odd thing that they’re not happy with, Its trying to come up with a sense, with a logic that fits in with what they have done with the 2D. At the heart of it thats got to be what one’s aiming for – its got to be about the story, about what Ron wanted to do with the film, how he wanted to effect the audience. And of course there is the odd shot where you want to have fun and you want to have a bit more impact, but for the most part those are supporting what is trying to happen in the 2D. If you look at the big impactful moments in the film, they make an impact whether they are in 2D or 3D.
With the film having been shot in 2D, with 3D models used to create some of the special effects, it was the job of Chris and his team to convert the film 3D by blending all of the various elements, and as you can imagine, it is a huge task.
‘It is a lot of work by a lot of people. There are different approaches depending on the shots. Some of it you are cutting out all the main objects, repositioning them and giving them depth. You’re effectively sculpting those to give them volume and shape. Others you are effectively retro fitting the 2D footage to a 3D volumetric digital mannequin. You have models like you would it a 2D film, and you project on to that model. Then you place your cameras, effectively a camera for your left eye and right eye. It is hugely labour intensive. And a lot of work goes in to it.’
‘Typically it takes 6 months, but you are working with a lot of people, putting in a lot of man hours. I had a final 2D edit and the video effects to work with. I was able to go back in and use those digital video effects elements. So, for example, the footage of the whale, we had that 3D model, so effectively they are native – you’ve got the volume, you’ve got the shape, you’ve got the characteristics of that and you’re not having to create or sculpt that in the same way.’
Of course you are probably thinking that surely a lot of work could have been avoided by shooting the film in native 3D in the first place? Well, Chris believes it isn’t necessarily any easier, and it actually can be difficult to work like that on set, with decisions that will affect how the film look and films and having to be made there and then, and once it has been shot, there is no turning back.
‘When shooting in native 3D you are constantly having to make decisions about how far apart the cameras are what you are trying to do with the 3D and how that will relate to the video effects. On The Heart of The Sea, actually, it makes more sense to convert it in post-production. It is a very stylistic film, with a very painterly nature. Trying to create that for 3D all in camera would have been nigh on impossible. So for a film like this it makes much more sense to go for conversion – it gives you much more creative flexibility. ‘
As viewers we are slowly becoming accustomed to watching 3D in films, but filmmakers still have to be very conscious of what will and wont be accepted by an audience.
‘There is definitely a grammar to 3D that is different to the grammar of 2D. We’ve got a hundred years of 2D film language that we [the audience] take in to any film. On a film like In the Heart of The Sea, where we have come at the 2D and are converting that, you try and accommodate that [2D language]. Part of my initial conversation with Ron Howard, and the Director of Photography, Anthony Dod Mantle, was about trying to stay to true to their goals. You are always thinking, ‘what is the intent here? What is the intent of the cinematography? What was the intent of the video effects, or the direction? I have to ensure that the 3D speaks the same language.
One thing that many people feel about 3D films is that there is often a lot of 3D purely for the sake of showing of what could be done. However, Chris is very against this and when you watch the regular version of In the Heart of The Sea next to the 3D version, you will see that the two version are virtually identical, except for some very slight changes.
‘We treated and worked with things like lens flare differently. A lot of the flares are part of the video effects sequences and some of the flares are put in in post and we worked with those. We removed some, we dialed some down, positioned them differently. The lens flares are there very much for the aesthetics of the frame. But the sense of what you get from a 3D shot is different from what you get in 2D so we continued to use the flares, but we positioned them differently. We actually moved them back within the scene as normally they would appear right out in front of you [in 3D films] – you look at Star Trek in 3D and those flares all come out of the screen into the audience. In this film that didn’t really make sense with what we were trying to achieve, so we pushed the flares back in to the scene.
We avoided water spray jumping out of the screen. I like the peaks and troughs of any filmmaking, and with 3D I feel you get more benefit where you have those gentle moments and you are subtle and relaxed. It then gives more impact when you do want to do more. So stuff like when Moby attacks the ship, or the storm, we were pulling stuff out the frame more than almost any 3d film out there – it’s trying to get that balance. For me this was a film where you want to settle in to the narrative, you don’t want to feel the 3D in your face the whole time. If there was impact in 2D we supported that in 3D. Whereas in something like Pan, we wanted to have fun, it was almost an animation aesthetic to the 3D. We were trying to keep it more subdued, more like what we did on Gravity, were you settle in to the 3D effects and the narrative is allowed to take centre stage.’
As for 3D at home Chris feels that we are still a while away from it becoming the norm.
‘I’ve got a 3D TV at home and I think I’ve only ever watched one thing in 3D on it. It’s a different viewing habit. You go to the cinema because its an event. You put on the 3D glass because there is added benefit. To be honest there are plenty of films at the cinema that I would rather see in 2D. But that is starting to change. There are a lot films now where the 3D is much better, because it is being driven much more by the director. Three or four years ago, 3D didn’t really have that going for it and that has really changed. In the home, its not there yet. It needs glasses free TV’s, which will come, but it needs to come at a quality that matches what you get with glasses. You know, when you watch a 3D TV with the glasses it looks great, but that not how we view our TVs.
There are films out that I call ‘Why Bother 3D?’. There are 3D films from 2-3 years ago that actually you aren’t getting any benefit from the 3D, but then they throw something out the screen to remind you that it is in 3D. Of course audiences are going to get turned off by that, and I hope that audiences are starting to understand, that if that was the last film they have seen in 3D, then there are films out there now that are really starting to make it worthwhile.
When I’m working on 3D I’m thinking about how all the mans hours we put in can help the person sitting there, in their seat understand, believe, trust, fall in to, what the director is doing for you.
In the Heart of the Sea opens in the UK in RealD 3D on Boxing Day 2015 (26th December), and stars Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw , Tom Holland and Michelle Fairley.