iamROGUE Finds Itself Deep Inside 'Sanctum 3D'

Tuesday, 25 January 2011 14:48 Written by  JimmyO
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iamROGUE Finds Itself Deep Inside 'Sanctum 3D'

James Cameron is arguably one of the most important filmmakers in Hollywood. His continued exploration of new technology in film has opened doors for other young directors that may have never been open. With Avatar, he created a dazzling world with strange and exotic creatures. It was an immensely satisfying visual experience.

With the remarkable 3D technology he created for Avatar, he is helping bring this concept to an entirely new world. In Sanctum, director Alister Grierson offers us a man vs. nature adventure that takes place deep down under the ocean depths. While the idea of several deep sea divers trapped in an underwater cave system may not sound that terrifying without some sort of man-eating piranha or shark, it is truly an effective, goose bump inducing nightmare.

Based on the real life experience of the film’s writer and producer Andrew Wight, the story follows a team of underwater cave divers. When a massive storm hits, they are forced deeper into this unknown territory. During their fight for survival, the group will face several life threatening challenges. The question is, how can they survive at near impossible odds? The cast includes Rhys Wakefield, Ioan Gruffudd, Richard Roxburgh and Alice Parkinson.

Sanctum 3D
creates this mysterious world with the help of the amazing technology brought to Avatar. Cameron is bringing what could have only been an opportunity for a massive budget feature film to a smaller film like Sanctum. Yet the quality certainly doesn’t seem to suffer.

Recently, iamROGUE.com had the opportunity to take part in a Mobile Viewing Experience for Sanctum. We were entranced by the breathtaking use of 3D throughout. One scene in particular where a character is looking for small pockets of air to survive is excruciatingly remarkably intense. This is an impressive feat to conjure this much excitement on this budget. It looks far more costly than you’d ever expect it actually is.

After the presentation, James Cameron, Alister Grierson and Andrew Wight gave us a little insight into Sanctum. Here is a portion of what they had to say in regards to 3D and working with a smaller budget.

Sanctum opens on February 4, 2011 at a theatre near you.

To begin with, can you discuss the 3D technology that you used on the film and how you were able to operate the large 3D cameras in the small underwater caverns?

James Cameron: The technology is exactly the same camera system that was used on Avatar, so it was 2007 technology. We hadn't had a chance yet to update it, but it was literally the same camera. Alister can speak more to how they managed working with the camera in such a small space.

Alister Grierson: It became clear very quickly, that it was very, very tricky. The cameras themselves were, for me mainly, business as usual. We asked people to stand in certain spaces and certain places. The trickiest part was how to handle the heat, water, and cold. Most of the time we had an A-camera and we moved the crane and B-camera, which could be used as a mobile camera or a steady cam. Essentially its business as usual, what slows you down is the number of people. There are more people on your team when shooting in 3D.

Andrew Wight: We just did what we needed to deal with so when we were designing sets and designing the production of the film we combined everything together. It isn't like we set out to do anything for 3D. We are making a story and we are making the best story on film we can. The camera just became part of it. At the end of it, if you are asking what cameras we were shooting with, it wasn't like, "Oh it's a 3D camera," it was just a camera and so you kind of get to a point where it is a part of the process.

JC: 3D should be transparent from the actor's standpoint and ideally from the director's stand point. The camera team is working with a different set of tools than they are use to if they were shooting on film. So to shoot 3D you have to make the transition of shooting digital, HD or some higher format of 2K or 4K. There are no film cameras that fit in a 3D range in a meaningful way. Some DP's have an issue with that part of the learning curve separate from the stereo portion of it, but our DP made both jumps quite expeditiously. Alister came down and watched us work on Avatar for almost a week just to see what the problems were. I think they went into it with their eyes wide open about what the problems might be. They were very careful with designing the sets so they could have camera access. The handheld rig probably weighed 33 lbs. It is the range of standard tools but the issue is that because there are two cameras in it they tend to be somewhat bulkier so all the claustrophobics have a hard time being in tight spaces.

AW: We actually did a lot of handheld work and we had a bungee system.

JC: It seems to me, looking into the production from outside, the physical excides of the production was much more their concern than the 3D. You know, moving that much water around and doing it safely. Having actors that are climbing in harnesses because they are appearing in the movie to be climbing without a harness, but they are actually cabled in. But you know Andrew being a hard-core diver, he wanted to put the actors on for real and they all trained for it. So it seems there were twenty other things that were more difficult before you even get to the 3D.

AG: 3D was really the least of our worries.

AW: Very much so. We really had to go through weeks and weeks of learning, diving, climbing and all these other skills. They were standing on the waterfall set having the water just being thrown at you all day. For the actor, I kept calling it "no acting required".

Can you talk about why you chose to make this film in 3D and where you see the future of 3D filmmaking going?

They knew if they wanted to make this movie it was going to have to be in 3D, that was a given. So once you get past those givens, it was up to them to solve the problem of how to do it. Truthfully one of the things that attracted me to this production was the challenge of shooting high quality 3D, live 3D, not converted after the fact, but doing high quality 3D on a relatively modest budgeted film. I mean, compared to Avatar, all movies are modestly budgeted. I mean this movie was made for $15 million compared to what Avatar cost. We didn't need that much on it. But the point was we are using the same methodology, same technology, and same aesthetic approach to stereo space and to how you manage stereo space. We created a good viewer experience, but now we're doing it on a more modestly budgeted film and one that had technical challenges that Avatar didn't. We didn't shoot one scene that had water or climbing or any of that stuff. In terms of where we are going with it, I believe there are going to be certain thresholds to it, like when consumer electronic manufacturers bring to the market sets that don't require glasses. Right now you are seeing a steady increase. The market is growing in the number of networks, broadcast companies, cable companies and satellite companies that are investing tentatively or aggressively in 3D. It is increasing all the time.

What we know is sports play very well in 3D. Obviously, cinematic, theatrical features play very well in 3D, but that is not going to be enough to feed the home market. The cameras are going to continue to get lighter and smaller and easier to use, more plug and play. They are going to continue to be more people doing it. Like, right now, we're seeing an explosive almost vertical curve in the number of people learning to do it and working with it. Like, I have a small company partnered with Vince Pace and we developed fusion cameras. All of our rigs are out all the time and we have to expand much more rapidly than we thought we were going to have to. We will literally be building hundreds of camera systems in the next year to service the demand. The number of screens has doubled in America. It has more than doubled worldwide since Avatar was released. I mean look there have been a lot of naysayers, people love to grumble and be negative about 3D. They like to say, "Oh well conversions hurt it and it's just a flash in the pan," but markets are trading on it so that's all bull. There were some dips, but they were dips in the growth curve. They never stopped growing. They continued to grow.

I am excited about the possibilities of new technologies, higher frame rates in the theaters, better camera systems and higher resolution cameras. But I am also very concerned about the possibilities of bad 3D being done because people get into it and they don't know what they are doing. They are under the gun financially and they are going with the wrong camera gear. Then there is the possibility of seeing some bad movies come to market. I think these fast conversions that are done during post-production are still a problem. Some studios are still going to have them out, although most people have started to gear toward native 3D.

AW: What we just demonstrated is that you can do it on a modestly budgeted film and do it well. It's not a compromise on the quality of 3D. Back to your point about where it is all going, when you look at cinema, there are lots of incremental steps. You got silent movies, black and white, they introduced sound, then stereo, then color, so they are all incremental steps and then we got 3D. If you start peeling the steps back, you start to understand how 3D is going to make a difference because I think you start to see things that are well executed side by side as we have done when we made the movie. We watched a lot of stuff in 3D and then we watched the same screen again in 2D and its like you turned the color off or you turned the sound off. So once you get use to it I think the audiences and the public will want more of it.

James, Avatar was such a large scale film in so many ways, what have been some of the challenges for you producing a smaller movie with similar equipment and technology?

JC: Here is the interesting thing; Avatar had so many broad visuals, if you will, that the difference in watching the movie in 2D and 3D is not that great. Because the more expansive the image, the less you feel in close contact with the objects and characters. So it is the intimate scenes in Avatar, where just a couple of people are taking, that was the most effective in 3D. Not the wide flying shots, the wide canvas scenes or the big battle scenes, so we knew that going in. The difference in experiencing Sanctum in 2D and 3D would actually be great because the 3D would constantly be informing you in the experience of watching the movie with the sense of claustrophobia. 3D works best in small spaces. If it is any more than twenty or thirty feet away it has very little impact up on a movie screen.

So we knew the claustrophobia of the film and the medium in which we were working would work together really well to constantly give the audience that feeling. We have done test screenings and we have seen there is a pliable, kind of white-knuckle sense of anxiety watching the movie, which is exactly what we wanted to create. Usually when you watch a movie your conscious kind of floats about the film but 3D kind of sucks you in and makes it a visceral experience. I think 3D and this type of film go perfectly well together. The other thing about a survival story, you want the audience to project themselves into the characters and really feel physically present and then you just ratchet it up with tension.

Are you looking forward to diving into Sanctum?

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