The founder of Vision 3 talks about the company’s work on films including Jack The Giant Killer and Gravity.
Stereographer Chris Parks and the company he founded, Vision 3, are the top of a field that only a few years ago was virtually nonexistent. As studios make 3D entertainment a increasing priority, Vision 3 has become one of the UK’s top 3D service providers, working on such feature films as Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, John Carter, and Jack The Giant Killer as well as the ground-breaking David Attenborough documentaries Flying Monsters 3D and Kingdom Of Plants 3D.
Parks was a keynote speaker at Ravensbourne’s 3D Storytelling Conference in March where he discussed frankly about what was working in 3D production and what was still missing the mark. In an interview with ScreenTech, he expands on that Ravensbourne talk, sharing his insights on 3D production, how to bring 3D neophytes up to speed and what 3D can really offer beyond mere heightened audience experience.
You’re finishing Bryan Singer’s Jack The Giant Killer. What is happening on it now?
Chris Parks: We’re in post-production. All I have left is the depth grade in June, which is where I fine-tune the depth that I’ve put in place during shooting. It’s often underappreciated how much that final adjustment can affect the look and feel of the project. It will help achieve some things we set out to achieve when we were shooting - trying to give a sense of scale to the giants and a sense of claustrophobia to Jack’s poor hut. A lot of that can really be brought out in the depth grade.
Your early involvement can have a big effect on the look and style of the movie.
It depends on the film and on the dynamic with the DP and the director. Those relationships are critical. But the prep period can really help the DP and the director – and the designers as well – in the 3D design of the movie. On Jack The Giant Killer I started six or eight weeks before we started shooting. On Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón’s sci-fi thriller starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney), we did some initial test shoots and had some 3D conversation about a year before we started shooting. If I’m able to get the director excited about how he can use 3D, it can open up all sorts of possibilities. Often it’s the case that the director is incredibly busy, but even in those cases it’s important for me to get under the skin of the film and come up with a plan – some people call it a “depth script”, I think of it more as a “depth plan” – a structure and a logic for how the 3D will be used throughout the film. Every shot is different and you do adapt as you go along, but I’m a very firm believer in having an intelligence to the 3D. Some of the 3D effects we’re doing on Gravity are quite dramatic and a lot of that’s being pushed by Alfonso who’s really challenging me with the 3D about what is possible.
What do you think is the number one area where people need to be educated most with 3D?
There are a few things. We’ve had a lot of conversation at the studio level about 3D and my single, most passionate message for people is that 3D shouldn’t be the reserve of the summer tentpole feature. 3D in its current resurgence has been used almost as an add on to the VFX – “We have a visually stunning movie, let’s make it even more visually stunning with 3D.” I understand where that approach comes from, but I think that the incremental increase that 3D can add to the big summer movies is less than it can be in the cases of other films. You’ve already got impressive visuals and arguably the 3D doesn’t necessarily work best in those situations. The message I’ve been trying to get across is that what 3D can really excel at is the intimate moments, that conveying of emotion. In everyday life you know most of human communication is unspoken. It’s body language, subtle changes in expression, micro-movements in the face. Because of the extra information that 3D can convey, well shot, well-scripted depth can help the actor to convey much more. And I think it will require different acting skills, in the same way that acting for IMAX. You can underplay because you pick up so many more details. The visually striking sequences can benefit from 3D, but it’s the personal moments that can really benefit. And I think that’s where films like (Baz Luhrmann’s) The Great Gatsby are really going to be interesting. I don’t know how well the 3D will be done, but a film like that can hugely benefit from it. And hearing some of the tales from the set it’s sounding very exciting.
I agree. I’ve always wanted to see what Ingmar Bergman would have done with 3D.
Exactly. Another thing I’ve run into is that when people plan for stereo films, they begin to think they need a lot of depth in their scenes – “We need a mid-ground, a foreground, a background, we need to be able to see out over the vista and beyond, and that’s what will look good.” Actually, again, it’s almost the reverse. If we are trying to create a scene that has real power, that will give a tactile, visceral zing to the audience, I will often advise the director and DP and the designers that we want to be flattening off the scene. If we close the windows and draw the curtains, our experience is now fully contained inside the room. We’re not having to accommodate everything on the outside. Trying to introduce a background or a mid-ground into a scene can reduce the depth of the thing that you’re actually interested in. On a cinema screen, you can only introduce about 5% or 10% of the depth you can see in real life, so it’s not about just putting up a lot of depth on the screen, it’s about selectively creating scenes with a depth that will have an effect. 3D is about the space between objects rather than the objects themselves. It’s not about sticking an object in the middle of the screen. You want to use your objects to define a volume and that’s when 3D becomes satisfying.
How do you see things moving on from here in 3D?
There was a lot of hype following on from Avatar and a lot of it was rubbish. People were coming and talking about 3D as this thing that was going to dominate the world and was the answer to everything and talking completely unrealistically about how it was going to e used in films. It was being seen as a cash cow and a bandwagon that needed to be jumped on. It was exciting but it wasn’t leading to good 3D in a lot of cases. We had conversations where people would say, “We weren’t able to get this made in 2D, but 3D is now enabling us to get it made.” Now we’re past that hype and in this kind of backlash. Hugo has arguably helped to push us out of the backlash and I think the films of this year will help bring us up to a plateau of productivity. So though there has been a backlash, I think that’s expected, and I think now we’re past all that hype and it gives everybody a chance to actually make some good quality 3D films.