Q&A with (from left to right): Corey Turner (Paramount VP, 3D Post Production), Namit Malhotra (Founder & CEO, Prime Focus World), Benedict Murray (Senior Stereographer, Prime Focus World) and Aaron Parry (EVP & Chief Creative Officer, Stereo D).

MODERATOR (Jim Chabin, President, International 3D & Advanced Imaging Society):

Frozen is now the 6th biggest movie of all time - the biggest animated movie of all time. It’s just overtaken, this week, Skyfall, Dark Night Rises, Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean to be the 6th biggest box office grossing movie. Two movies are expected to break a billion dollars this year, Transformers, which will come from Paramount, part of Corey Turner’s work this year, and the Hobbit, the third installment of Peter Jackson’s trilogy, out this December.

The announcement that Noah would be released in 3D internationally came on February 6th. The movie has done $300 million, $200 million from international sales (as 3D).

Corey, when did you first get the word that you were going to get this assignment?

COREY:

We’ve actually been talking internally about doing Noah in 3D for roughly a year. In every production meeting I’d raise my hand and say “Noah?” It started to get a little more real, probably mid-December, when we decided, “let’s truly start investigating this”. We ended up pulling the trigger around Christmas Eve. We had people start on the day after Christmas on my editorial staff. We ultimately had about nine weeks, of that nine weeks roughly one and a half to two weeks was spent just doing turnovers to both Prime Focus and Stereo D. And then roughly about six and a half weeks of full on conversion, which I’ll let these guys talk about.

For 140 minutes, at this level of detail, for the time we had, the teams performed excellently. We have a real quality conversion. The story is a story that everyone knows, it’s a story that the filmmakers were committed to doing a high-quality, intense pseudo-action and adventure take on this biblical story all through the eyes of Darren Aronofsky, who definitely has a unique filmmaking style. With that said, they also wanted the 3D presentation to be real, immediate and add to the story, which I hope in your opinion we did.

I’ve seen this movie in 2D and I’ve seen it in 3D and it’s completely two different films, different presentation all together. Darren says the same. We had to strategize on how we were going to split the show up between Prime Focus and Stereo D to be able to achieve this massive workload of footage, but keep the scope and scale of the movie in mind.

 

MODERATOR:

Namit, what time did your team get involved?

NAMIT:

I think, when the decision was being made and we were reached out to by Corey and his team to evaluate the feasibility of making this happen in the time, knowing it was a very prestigious film and a filmmaker who was extremely specific about the way he’d like to make it work, we had to make sure we had a robust plan that would survive the onslaught of the time and creative expectations. I think we came back with something that everybody felt good about and we made it happen.

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MODERATOR:

When you get the phone call and given the task ahead, knowing you want to maintain the highest quality, and deliver the product that your team is proud of, what are the things that go through your head when you hear ”there is a short window here to take 140 minutes and make it look spectacular?”

NAMIT:

What we have found in most cases is that we can start our film way up early in the process from a creative designing and interacting perspective, but the way the tent-pole movies layout, the visual effects are usually waiting for shots to come from production towards the end. Most of us in the conversion business know we have to align ourselves with the visual effects companies, make our pipelines efficient enough to deliver some of the biggest moments of the film - which tend to be visual effects led - quite seamlessly. That seems to have become more commonplace for most of us. When you have good creative leadership, in this case with Darren and Corey being very specific with what they wanted, it becomes much more of an efficient planning and execution process which I think really helped.

 

MODERATOR:

How many people in total touched this film from Prime Focus?

NAMIT:

1500 people.

COREY:

Obviously it’s a lot of film. We split the film up in a way where stylistically we could achieve a specific look, so we split up about 55 minutes at Stereo D and 84-ish minutes at Prime Focus.  One thing we wanted to do was to go in and enhance all the faces to give them shape and texture, curvature, roundness, to mimic what you would get from a natively shot show. The thing about the long dialogue moments is that you have a long time to look around. We wanted to make sure that if you happen to glance over at a wall that had rocks or logs or plants you’d see detail there, it wasn’t just a cookie-cutter, fast-paced toss up against the wall conversion. We were entrenched day in and day out. Those of you who worked with me before know I’m every shot every show. So I sat down and we literally, on the Stereo D side and on the Prime Focus side, I literally went through every shot. To try and get it to what we felt was the appropriate presentation for this film.

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MODERATOR:

According to 3D lore, the hardest things to do in 3D are hair and rain, and here you have a cast of thousands and a ton of rain, and I thought it was brilliantly done, so persuasive and beautiful.  Were all the teams working on the same? ‘Cause they all had to come together in the end to create a movie so how did that work?

COREY:

Reel Four was the big rain sequence; it’s the big battle sequence. We knew we had to jump on that as fast as possible and that was the absolute first scene we kicked off on the Prime Focus side. On the Stereo D side we started on Reel One which was the intro to the movie.

My strategy going into this and the way we broke it up was, and I knew it’s a long film and there is a lot of dialogue, I knew that most people would decide if they liked the film in two reels: reel one and reel four. So, I wanted to get those going as early in the game as possible, so those are the two first pieces we kicked off: the opening of the movie which we see first and the big battle. Then we used those two reels to define the look of the rest of the movie.

 

MODERATOR:

Ben, what were you most impressed by?

BENEDICT:

Obviously, we are most pleased about the rain.  But also the consistency of the sculpting on the characters, and as Corey mentioned the attention to detail, especially hair detail. I think those along with the rain elements.

MODERATOR:

As we all know, 3D appetite in China is tremendous, there is a lot of enthusiasm in foreign 3D markets, are you encouraged to be more bold than you would in the U.S.?

COREY:

For us, we don’t go into it that way. We always try and do the best movie and the best presentation that we can that’s appropriate for that film. The aesthetics of this film, making sure it was clean and making sure it fit with Darren’s style, was extremely important.  When we got the go ahead I flew out to New York and sat down with Darren and just talked about what it is that he likes, what he doesn’t like, what his concerns were aesthetically. It was very important to him that we maintained the quality that he was able to get in the 2D version. I assured him that that was definitely going to happen, and we would probably enhance on some of the things he had done in 2D because effectively it would allow him more time to keep working on some of the shots that he wanted to improve as well, so it was actually a huge plus for him in that sense.

 

MODERATOR:

3D has come a long way, are directors/studios becoming more bold? How has it changed?  Has Gravity changed people’s perspective?

AARON:

I have certainly seen it win a lot of cinematography academy awards. So that’s pretty encouraging. I think more than anything from directors I think we see them embracing the medium a lot more.  Even when the studio has an influence on the film going 3D, it doesn’t take very long for it to become their journey and not the studio’s journey. I think we’ve seen that time and time again, where Directors are starting to own the medium and really envision their film [in 3D], we so often hear a Director say “my favorite version is the 3D version of my film”, even when it was done in a post production process.

NAMIT:

There’s a substantial evolution. The way I see it, it’s not just 3D for the sake of 3D, because it was originally contemplated as a tool that was in some filmmakers mind was a creative storytelling tool and for others it was a way for the studios or the “money guys” to find a way to make a quick buck. I think what’s changed in the last few years is the way it’s all integrated itself in more and more movies. We are seeing the level of technology has enhanced that ability to take movies like the example we just saw, and in short order make it seamless into the film. I think it says a lot about how the evolution of it being an economic incentive to transition to art form has made its way, I think most filmmakers and studios both realize there are incentives in making it right, what it actually costs, what the effort to get it done right involves. All of that is aiding the development of the industry in a much better way. Conversion was considered to be a bad thing a few years ago. I think today most movies are converted. All of us that do that are incredibly proud.

 

MODERATOR:

Michael Bay now, with Transformers, is on his second 3D movie. JJ Abrams, with Star Wars, is going to be on his second after doing Star Trek with Paramount. Exodus from Ridley Scott, it’s his second 3D movie. And I think the perception is that there’s a confidence level the director has when they are working on it for the second time - that it’s easier for them to have good questions, they have good observations that are based on the fact that they’ve been through this before. Do you think that bodes well for the crop of 3D movies that are coming out this year and next?

COREY:

I do, I believe the creative process is trial and error. Every single film that I’ve done where it’s the director’s first time doing 3D, they start out saying “I just want it really subtle.” Just really want it subtle, I don’t want to give anyone a headache, it just needs to be subtle.”  About five weeks later, is about the average, five or six weeks later it’s like “Give me more! Give me more!” So, I think the trend now is that once Directors have been through it before, they know what the gauges are, they know what rules, “3D rules,” they want to stay in line with and they know which ones they want to break.  They are now at a point where they make decisions and in my experience they make decisions on okay, I know certain things work for 3D and I know that certain things work for 2D, and how do I balance it for the best film I can have. Sometimes they make a decision on a shot that’s more appropriate for 2D, but there’s now a reason behind it, there’s a story reason or there’s some aesthetic or creative reason for why they are doing it, they’re not just doing it out of habit.  The saying goes “certain shots that are great in 2D aren’t great in 3D and vice versa”, well, now they are picking and choosing the ones they want.

MODERATOR:

There are 40 movies made this year in 3D, give or take. Half of those are animated. The other half are spectacle, action-adventure. 80% of those are now converted, maybe? I’d love to ask Benedict as a stereographer, are we at a point that there’s really nothing that native capture can do that you can’t achieve through conversion? Or do you still think that native capture is an important tool to have in the toolkit? How do you view the difference between the two at this point?

BENEDICT:

I think hybrid is great. There are certain things that you just cannot get natively. That being said, there are certain native tools that get the volume required for a director or a studio, or we have tools to bring those things out later in the process.  It’s best to have the tools working hand in hand. I don’t think one is better than the other. I think there should be two tools in the tool set.

AARON:

I agree with you completely that a hybrid is an awesome way to go.

 

Do we have any questions from the audience?

AUDIENCE MEMBER:

On the shots of the animals, did you extract every layer in depth, or were you just taking portions of the pictures and adding depth?

BENEDICT:

I think a lot of the bird shots and some of the big herd animals coming in had some elements, quite a few of them were done with good old fashioned roto and paint. One of the other shots that was really, really nice was a flock of birds flying into the ark, coming in and going out, flying through and panning across. Again we were very lucky to get some nice elements from ILM.  So, this is also part hybrid-converted. Sometimes you do not get those elements. So you basically work with your paint tools on what you get.

MODERATOR:

Aaron I’m going to start with you. In the last four or five years since the new incarnation of 3D, name two films that you really, really admire in 3D, that you feel 20 years from now people will be looking back and studying in classes?

AARON:

Certainly, we were very lucky to participate with Jim Cameron on Titanic.  I think in our specific industry I think it helped redefine and give everyone a little bit of hope of what digitally produced 3D could achieve. I do think that Gravity was fantastic from the standpoint of embracing storytelling in stereo. I think Life of Pi was fantastic, but at the same time I think a film like Avengers has its place in the 3D annals to sort of show you a different side of 3D. I’m a big fan of expanding the vocabulary of 3D, and I think we are just continuing to see that sort of blossom and unfold. One of my favorite parts in this film was the time lapse photography in stereo; it’s just something we haven’t seen. And I think any time we get that precious gem in a film that makes us believe a little bit more, “this is how films should be experienced”. I think that’s a great thing.

 

MODERATOR:

Namit, what are two films that you admire?

NAMIT:

I think Avatar set the whole trend for us. As a company that also worked on it, that film helped create our conversion capabilities. I think Avatar was the first one to really open my mind and really show me something I had not seen before. Then I think the last one was Gravity, which we just did. It was a perfect integration of storytelling and technology.

 

MODERATOR:

Well, as one who didn’t get a chance the movie in 2D and saw it for the first time tonight, I was blown away. I thought it was a magnificent piece of work, was really enthralled and blown away, I was so surprised at how great it really turned out to be, and it’s doing so well over seas and nearing $100 million here in the U.S. so continued good luck on that.

Corey and Benedict and Namit and Aaron, thank you so much for sharing this movie with us and your expertise. Thanks so much and congratulations.

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The above text is an abridged transcription of the Q&A that took place following the International 3D & Advanced Imaging Society's 'Noah' 3D Screening at Paramount Pictures Studios on Wednesday 23 April 2014.