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Tuesday, 23 April 2019 09:59 pm

Avatar shows Wellington at cinema’s leading edge

3d-top Scene from the landmark Wellington-made 3D film, Avatar. Photo: Fox International

Local film production innovators are reaping the reward of global attention after James Cameron’s Avatar premiered in London to glowing reviews. KYLIE KLEIN-NIXON spoke to a leading figure at Park Road Post Production about the 3D technology behind a movie picked to shine at the Oscars.

MEETAL GOKUL is confident the capital city is at the forefront of the technology behind Avatar.

The former Londoner, head-hunted by Miramar-based Park Road Post from British 3D software designer Quantel , says sister companies Park Road and Weta Digital are primed for 3D projects and facilities. “We’re pretty much at the forefront.”

The 3D market is booming.  Disney/Pixar has announced it will use the technology for all of its future releases.

3d-james Director James Cameron with 3D camera. Photo: Fox International

The most anticipated of these movies is Fox’s Wellington-made 3D magnum opus Avatar, directed by James Cameron (right).

So why are film-makers turning to 3D? Mr Gokul says it’s just natural progression. And he expects it won’t take long before we prefer our entertainment that way.

Over time our brains have become used to understanding flat 2D images but most of us actually see “in stereo”, making 3D the ideal medium for film and television.

With purpose-built, more versatile technology, modern 3D films have a natural sense of depth, not unlike animated versions of the hyper-real images created by Viewmaster toys.

Film-makers use the new technology to imitate the way the human eye sees the real world.

In the past 3D films have been either a “10 minutes long thrill ride”, relying on novelty and awe, or B-grade horrors with little concern for the story.

With the quality of images possible now, this won’t work for a modern audience, says Mr Gokul. “Your brain and your eyes can’t handle an hour and a half of things coming at you.  It’ll hurt, your brain will melt.”

Mr Gokul says 3D movie effects are made possible by radical editing software, lightweight HD digital cameras, finer lenses and more versatile “rigs” – tools used to mount the two cameras needed to record “stereo” images.

Unlike traditional film-making, filming in 3D requires two perfectly synched cameras recording the same scene. The two reels are edited and the double image projected onto one screen from two perfectly synched projectors at angles to the screen.

Special glasses block the left stream of film from the right eye and the right stream of film from the left eye, with either colour blocks – the classic red and green glasses of the 1950s and ’80s – or “polarisation”. This creates the illusion of depth, 3D.

In the early days of 3D, getting the cameras and projectors perfectly aligned was almost impossible. The size of the analogue cameras meant the lenses couldn’t be placed close enough to mimic natural vision.

Mirrors and prisms were used to overcome that – with varying degrees of success.

Post production on two separate reels of film was time-consuming and costly, with film-makers unable to predict the results until the process was finished.

New-generation cameras – being tested by Wingnut Films director Peter Jackson and used  in filming Avatar – are smaller.

Mr Gokul says the digital technology allows perfect, computer-directed control of lens alignment.

Powerful software called Pablo and Genetic Engineering make detailed editing possible while allowing multiple editors and artists work on both streams of film at the same time, eliminating match-up guess work.

3d-bottom Digital image suite at Park Road Post. Photo: PRP


* Edited version of a story first published on NewsWire on August 20, 2009.

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