Stereoscopy Guide

What you need to know before making a 3D Movie (Part Three)

What steps can you take to ensure your 3D movie is a success? This article tells you what you need to know. Part Three deals with the budget and logistics.

In Part One we looked at depth. In Part Two we learnt how to prepare a depth-budget.

In this part we’ll look at how 3D impacts post production and the actual budget and schedule of a production. By the end of this article you will have enough information to make an informed decision about your project.

Image Courtesy: Wikipedia: The National Archives UK
Image Courtesy: Wikipedia: The National Archives UK

Defining your 3D workflow

A 3D stereoscopic workflow involves twice the data as 2D. That’s a given. Ideally, you’d always want your left and right imagery separate so you can redo the 3D for different distribution standards.

Post Production

What do I mean by ‘redo’? How much can you ‘redo’ any 3D movie?

Actually, very little. Most 3D post production software, briefly covered here, is mainly for correcting what you have screwed up during production. They even have a word for it: Disparity. Any unwanted dissimilarity between the left and right images can be labelled a disparity.

In 3D movies, you avoid disparity like the plague. Here are some possible algorithms to correct disparity:

  • Keystone correction
  • Color and white balance
  • Parallax correction
  • Ghosting
  • Alignment – vertical and horizontal
  • Rotation – x, y and z axis
  • Zoom, resize
  • Floating window control
  • Titling and basic motion graphics
  • 3D (three dimensional, not stereoscopic) depth maps
  • 3D calculators, scopes, inspectors, etc.

The basic workflow isn’t dissimilar to a regular 2D workflow, if you have shot your 3D perfectly. If you haven’t, 3D post production becomes a whole different departmental headache. Money you tried to save on set by ‘hoping for the best’ will be spent here, with interest.

If you cannot get your 3D ‘mostly’ right during production, don’t make a 3D movie.


During production, you’ll need to log your footage as left and right, and will need to account for

  • Double the storage capacity
  • Double the cameras, or more, with matching lenses
  • Cost of a 3D-rig
  • Extra time to setup a 3D rig and align everything precisely
  • Extra weight for transportation
  • Extra crew (discussed next)
  • Extra capacity for dollies, jibs, Steadicam, shoulder rigs etc.

Every production is different and complex, and adding 3D to the mix just increases the variations possible.

Here’s an interesting infographic for your reading pleasure:

Ten Commandments

How many extra crew members will you need for 3D?

Do you need extra crew members for 3D? Or can you manage on your own?

The answer is, you need at least one additional crew member, and a very important one at that.


The stereographer is as important to a 3D movie as a DP is to any movie. I am absolutely convinced of the importance of this position, and consider it mandatory.

It is the responsibility of the stereographer to

  • Study the project and assist the filmmaker in calculating the depth budget,
  • Ensure your shoot goes well, and confirm you have captured the best stereoscopic imagery possible within your budget or constraints,
  • Ensure all tools are the best possible, perfectly aligned and calibrated, and
  • Sit through post-production ensuring the presentation is the best possible.

Next to deciding whether or not your movie will be in 3D, your choice of stereographer is the most critical decision you can make. Be thankful these people exist, and are willing to do all the complex calculations you don’t want to touch.

When in doubt, choose a stereographer with a proven track record over one who just knows the theory.


This is not a mandatory position, as a camera operator will be able to utilize the rig given proper instruction and training.

Once the rig is set up, there are few changes that need to take place during a take that aren’t in the regular purview of the operator.

Rig Technician

This is not a mandatory position. A rig technician is someone who knows the rig in question in full detail, and one who will be able to assist the stereographer in ensuring smooth and fast operation.

Since most rigs are rented, a good rig technician ensures a rig is in top shape, and is production-worthy. In any case, any decent stereographer will rigorously test rigs prior to commissioning them for a project.

How much extra will you spend on a 3D movie?

Now that you know how much time, money and manpower it will take it is fairly easy to estimate what it will cost.

Only an experienced stereographer can tell you exactly how much time each shot is going to take. Since every mis-en-scene is different, there are no fixed rules. It is critical to have the stereographer on board prior to budgeting and scheduling a 3D movie.

On average, people say it costs a third more for a stereoscopic project. But you would be foolish to use that as your rule of thumb. There are too many variables. If you have a well-oiled 3D crew, you might not have to waste any time at all on 3D. In fact, it would be very wise to test your workflow and crew on a smaller project prior to diving in on a feature-length movie.

Which 3D format is right for your project?

This goes back to our initial question: what are your distribution channels?

Image Courtesy: Amidror1973 at en.wikipedia
Image Courtesy: Amidror1973 at en.wikipedia

With cinema, you have the following technologies:

  • Anaglyph
  • Polarization systems – Read3D, etc.
  • Active shutter systems – Nvidia, XpanD, etc.
  • Interface filter systems – Dolby 3D, Omega 3D, etc.
  • Autostereoscopy – no glasses

Here’s the deal. You don’t really have much choice of 3D technologies, especially when you look into how a 3D movie is actually distributed. Depending on the cinema and the systems they have installed, you might have to make do on a system that you don’t like. It’s part of the game.

You must know exactly which system you are going to project in, and must have these technologies ready for testing prior to the actual shoot. You must go through your entire workflow with your crew to get a feel for it.

The cost of a failed test is far lower than the cost of a failed movie.

If you have gone through all the steps laid out in this series, you will be in a strong position to decide whether your project is right for 3D or not. It’s all that is expected of you. This is one of those instances where you must put aside your inner longings and take a hard, practical and honest look at the logistics and financial side of things.

Think about this: You can go ahead and make a movie with no hope of distribution (as I did) and fail. Still, your movie can be watched on any screen now or in the future. But for 3D, once you decide your screen size, and if it happens to be a 30 feet cinema screen, your movie will not be very bearable on your home 3DTV or projector. You can’t watch your own movie in 3D, if it fails!

Take your time, and think hard.

What’s the next step? Talk to experienced people. Conduct experiments, and read a lot. Here are a few good resources: