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Low Budget 3-D: Panasonic Brings 3-D to the Indie Market

by Jeff Steele

After everything Jeff”s written lately about the impact of 3-D on indie films, I couldn’t wait to get to Panasonic’s New Product Road Show (and lunch), at the W Hotel in Hollywood, because they promised to demo their new HD 3D camera – about $30,000 for the camera, monitor and two pairs of stylish 3-D glasses.

To add to the wow factor of the AG-3DA1, Panasonic set up a high-end 3-D camera near the buffet – $200,000 and the guy guarding it looked nice but probably wasn’t if you accidentally bumped into the thing getting more beet salad.

Inside, during the presentation, we were told that the conventional 3-D two-camera system is expensive, complicated, and time-consuming.

(See illustration from Panasonic’s sales brochure if you think I’m overstating.)Diagram of conventional 3-D vs. AG-3DA1

The time it takes for two-camera lens adjustments limits the number of shooting cuts per day.

For the independent film producer, the cost of hardware, the commensurate skills required of operators, and the resulting lengthening of the shooting schedule are all problematic.

The AG-3DA1 solves these problems. First, it’s two cameras in one housing: two lenses, lined up and locked down.

From the front it looks friendly and futuristic, like E.T. or a Viewfinder, depending on your cultural reference.

You can change the parallax (a word I don’t think I’ve used since Intro to Photography), from zero, so the image floats on the screen, to positive, so the image floats deep in the frame, to negative, so the image reaches out into the audience beyond the screen.

Next, it’s lightweight – a little more than two pounds – and can be hand-held, although Panasonic’s self-proclaimed product evangelist, Bernie Mitchell, said it “begs for sticks.” (Anyone for a 3-D remake of Climbing Everest?) We didn’t see any hand-held footage; would be interested to hear from anyone who has.

The AG-3DA1 is also versatile: pull a card out and, voila!, it’s a 2-D camera.

The learning curve with the AG-3DA1 is significantly faster than with more complicated 3-D systems, and Panasonic, via their education partner, Creatasphere, is offering workshops across the country, starting in the fall.

I asked Dom Cicchetti, Panasonic’s business development manager, higher education, who he thought would really benefit from the AG-3DA1, and he said, “Students and young filmmakers who really need to understand and work with 3-D. Game developers, and even seasoned professionals.”

Panasonic is betting that the explosion of 3-D content for film and television will continue, and they want a position at every entry point in the market.

Shipping begins in September. You can reserve your AG-3DA1 now for a $1,000 (non-refundable) deposit.

(For lots of pictures and a filmmaker’s perspective, visit animator and filmmaker Albert Art’s blog, The Rez. He put together a great product review after visiting the Panasonic pavilion during the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.)

RELATED POST:

Technology Good News & Bad News – in case you missed the link in the first paragraph, here’s Jeff’s most recent post about the potential impact of “big budget” 3-D on the indie film market.

8 Responses leave one →
  1. May 21, 2010

    The ghost truly is in the machine now. Sounds pretty cool.
    And TWO pairs of stylish 3D glasses.

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  2. Scott permalink
    May 21, 2010

    You know even if your filming in a living room a sence of depth and space is a big factor.

    I sometimes go to small theater in the round type setups in lA and you can be suprised how intimate it can feel, how you can sence a relationship to the actors and there enviorments. While a 3d camera is just an illusion of this relationship its an intriguing sence of space-playing with the paralax.

    Would watching a dogme 95 type movie feel diffrent in 3D? Yes and it may take some getting used to. However i am not sure that it would be an inherently bad experience, and that it couldn’t add something intresting to it-i think if done correctly it could greatly increase the sence of intimacy and relation to space in movies.

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  3. Pierre Lapointe permalink
    May 23, 2010

    As much as I was taken by some of the recent 3D releases and in particular how James Cameron handled it on Avatar, I’m still not on the 3D bandwagon – seems every 10-15 years, a resurgence of the technology comes up and studios and filmmakers are stumbling over each other trying to give 3D major props, but then the trumpets fade as quickly as they appeared.

    Perhaps indie filmmakers will be able to make $1M (or less) 3D horror films, but will they be able to show them in the theaters? Given that the studios are fighting each other to book the limited number of 3D screens, indie filmmakers will be left out in the cold because they just can’t compete when it comes to booking these screens. It’s true that there now are TVs being manufactured and handle the 3D technology pretty well, the majority of Americans cannot afford the steep price.

    Considering that the software developed for Avatar will be able to render any film in 3D – imagine’ Casablanca’ in 3D or ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (though probably a lot less effective). It could provide the studios another viable revenue stream. And again, where does this leave the indie filmmaker?

    Not to shirk the technology – it is impressive, and an effective marketing gimmick, but also limited to very specific genres.

    By the time the technology becomes more accessible and affordable to home consumers (TV and internet), it will remain the ‘big boys’ arena and when it does become mainstream, well, the novelty will have worn off

    I’m just waiting for the technology to produce motion holograms that can be seen anywhere anytime and the need for theaters will be a thing of the past! Gather your friends around, load up your iPhone 10G and project your movie in thin air – closer than we think?

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    • Pierre Lapointe permalink
      May 23, 2010

      Just want to add that this is by no means a post to discourage filmmakers from making 3D films, but I believe that indie filmmakers need to provide what the studios aren’t – better content, more creative ideas, great characters and dialog.

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    • May 25, 2010

      “…[E]very 10-15 years, a resurgence of the technology comes up and studios and filmmakers are stumbling over each other trying to give 3D major props, but then the trumpets fade as quickly as they appeared.”

      So true. That’s why I’m not that excited this time. Again.

      However, to contradict myself, I’m excited to see this current digital revolution has included advancements in 3D lensing technology.

      “…[S]tudios are fighting each other to book the limited number of 3D screens, indie filmmakers will be left out in the cold… ,” is the reason indie producers won’t be able to compete, even if the crew talent can be hired to handle the complexities of lensing 3D projects.

      But, on the other hand, I’d probably not turn down the opportunity to do another 3D project with the new toys.

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      • Pierre Lapointe permalink
        May 25, 2010

        Just to give some additional perspective on the 3D phenomena.

        From the MPAA website:
        “3-D releases are a key growth category; in 2009, 20 films –or 4% of releases –were released with digital 3D versions, more than double the 2008 total […] 11% of 2009 box office, or $1.1 billion, came from 3D showings.”

        “The fastest growing sector of digital screens is 3D. The number of digital 3D screens worldwide more than tripled in 2009, reaching 8,989, or about 6% of screens in the world. Digital 3D represents about half (55%) of all digital screens.”

        “Worldwide cinema screens have remained constant over the past five years at just under 150,000 screens. During that period, however, the growth in digital screens has accelerated. More than 16,000 screens, or 11% of the total, are now digital.”

        “There are 6,039 movie theaters in the U.S [representing a total of 39,717 screens; 7,736 of which are digital and 46% of which are 3D for a total of 3,548 or approximately 9% of all US and Canadian screens.]”

        There is other data available that forecasts the rate of growth over the next 5-10 years, etc.

        I suppose there’s an argument to be made to shoot digital 3D knowing full well that the probability is high that it will never be shown in 3D theaters, but that it might still have a slight chance to be seen in that format in its video incarnation somewhere down the line.

        But perhaps as I mentioned earlier, the technology at that point will allow the thoroughly convincing conversion of 2D content to 3D at an incredibly affordable price.

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  4. May 26, 2010

    They mentioned briefly about being able to put a card in front of one of the lenses to switch to 2D during a shoot. Wish they’d elaborate more on that. I think 3D can be cool in a movie, but not all the way through. Best way to use 3D is to create contrast. Some scenes there is 3D and some scenes there isn’t.

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  5. Pierre Lapointe permalink
    June 16, 2010

    For 3D enthusiasts, Panavision is offering a new 3D system that allows exhibitors to show 3D content on existing screens by using an affordable ‘special’ lens for traditional film projectors or a filtering system for digital projectors. Systems switches back easily to project 2D content. They will demo the system at Cinema Expo in Amsterdam June 21-24.

    This is exciting since this technology enables exhibitors to quickly increase their number of 3D screens at an affordable price. I have been critical of the 3D fad because of the low 3D screen count and availability to indie filmmakers, but this could prove to be a game-changer.

    Here’s the press release:

    http://issuu.com/pvmobile/docs/microsoft_word_-_new_cinema_system_from_panavision?mode=a_p&wmode=0

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