A Do-It-Yourself 3D Roadmap

Ghosts of the Abyss. Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour. The Polar Express. Up. U2 3D. Coraline. Success stories, one and all, but aren’t these films mostly mass-market, high-budgeted studio projects? Why should 3D films like these matter to someone creating a low-budget feature today? Is it even possible to produce a genre film with a low budget—say, between $500,000 and $1 million—in 3D? Some forward-looking 3D experts say that it’s not only possible, but even inevitable.

"For features, the RED ONE and the Silicon Imaging SI-2K seem to be the most popular choices today, although other cameras can work effectively in 3D rigs".


2010 will go down in history as the year that 3D features went mainstream. Two big factors in the explosive popularity of 3D were the release of James Cameron’s Avatar and a well-timed series of announcements by electronics manufacturers, cable channels and satellite networks. Avatar opened on December 18, 2009, to critical acclaim and commercial success. Within three weeks of its release, with a worldwide gross of over $1 billion, Avatar became the second-highest-grossing film of all time. The bottom line is that Avatar has become the most compelling commercial for 3D.

The P+S Technik 3DStereoRig is a 3D system that supports various types of cameras and lenses, including the RED ONE.

The second factor adding heat to 3D filmmaking was the simultaneous announcement of relatively affordable 3D televisions and 3D Blu-ray players at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show. 3D in the home will be more than just feature films, though. DirecTV, U.K. satellite provider Sky, Discovery, Sony and ESPN announced 3D networks and channels coming in 2010. YouTube has announced that it’s introducing 3D, which undoubtedly will open up exciting, new opportunities for 3D online. 3D content is clearly going from novelty theatrical experience to mainstream sensation in 2010.

While it may take a while for 3D production to become commonplace, if you’re planning a film in the near future, will producing it in 3D allow you to step to the front of the class? The answer remains in somewhat soft focus, but what is clear is that it’s possible to produce your low-budget film in 3D today. The workflow is becoming simpler, the gear is more accessible, and the audience for 3D content will continue to grow.


Where do you begin? An important concept is to understand how 3D photography works because the entire process of 3D production begins where it begins in 2D—preproduction. That is, the selection of a camera package and format that makes sense for what you’re going to try to achieve artistically. Almost any pair of cameras can be rigged to shoot stereoscopically. For features, the RED ONE and the Silicon Imaging SI-2K seem to be the most popular choices today, although other cameras can work effectively in 3D rigs. Since currently you must utilize two cameras to photograph one angle in 3D, smaller and lighter cameras naturally tend to be the most popular. Dual cameras are used to record the images as seen from two perspectives (or in animation, computer-generated imagery generates the two perspectives), and special projection hardware and/or eyewear are used to provide the illusion of depth when viewing the finished film. There are three basic types of camera systems used in 3D production: side-by-side, beam-splitter and self-contained.