City 3D: Creating End-To-End Stereoscopic 3D in Mexico

City Productions, and their parent company Grupo Nautilus, have always been into big things. What began as small, Mexico City film and video production house and publicity agency in 1982 has grown into a robust one-stop operation that takes the term “production” very broadly. Sure, they provide rental of film and video equipment with production, post production and screening facilities for music videos, commercials and feature films. But, not content to stop there, they also organize, plan, outfit, capture and hosts major events of up to 3,000 attendees. With that kind of large-scale experience, the group felt ready to move into their next big thing: 3D.

A spin-off company, called City 3D, began researching stereoscopic production with an eye toward creating a similar end-to-end operation, just like their event planning counterpart. Every piece had to integrate into one smooth system, from equipment and capture, through post, and finally to display and projection.

When they got to Silicon Imaging's SI-2K 3D system they stopped. “The SI-3D was the first camera system with built-in software that lets you synchronize, monitor, adjust, shoot, balance...basically control both cameras at the same time,” said Damian Aguilar, resident DP and stereographer. “This got our attention because it's an all-in-one solution for shooting 3D.” They decided to give it a closer look, and Aguilar is glad they did.

Silicon Imaging SI-3D camera with Zeiss DigiPrime lens“I’m really happy with the tools that the SI-3D system offers. The sync between cameras is just too easy, the size of the SI-Mini camera heads, the bit rate. The 3D display modes (anaglyph, side-by-side, mesh, 50/50, wiggle, split) are great for setting the I/O, to align the cameras, to match lenses. The possibility of playback on set in 3D instantaneously is just necessary to check that everything is going O.K.”

Because City 3D was looking for a full in-house workflow with Final Cut and their Quantel Pablo, the deliverable format was also important. With the SI-3D system, the left and right eye images are recorded in uncompressed RAW or CineFormRAW and are saved nondestructively with metadata in a single Quicktime-wrapped Cineform file for easy import to FCP, or separately to allow for other post production options. They had a winner.

One thing that Silicon Imaging didn't integrate was lenses. In fact, the camera has an interchangeable lens mount, so almost any lenses could be used. Knowing that they had so many options, the City 3D team went back to researching. Stereoscopic 3D was being done with many different lenses of various sizes and formats, but eventually they decided on ZEISS DigiPrimes. Their research led them to Band Pro in Burbank, CA. Band Pro had pioneered the DigiPrimes in 2001 and seemed like the logical place to start.

“We felt that the lenses were a good deal,” said Ana Leticia Reyes, General Manager of City 3D. “Plus, Band Pro offered support, with customs and with technical questions. They tested multiple lenses and matched them for best compatibility. When we ran into a problem, they answered very quickly. They also sell the SI-2K camera, so they were familiar with our system.”

There are many parts of stereoscopic production that are vital to prevent bad 3D, and having good, consistent lenses is one of them. Said Aguilar, “The Internal Focusing Design of the DigiPrimes is for sure another big reason to work with these lenses. When focusing the image remains perfectly centered. There is no tilt, rotation, or shift.  Each lens is designed to be virtually free of breathing, so focusing does not influence image size.”

Silicon Imaging SI-3D camera with Zeiss DigiPrime lensAlthough he prefers not to shoot below T 2.8 or T 4 in order to maintain depth of field, Aguilar appreciates the speed of the DigiPrimes. “When shooting through the mirror in the beam splitter mode of our Element Technica Quasar 3D rig, we loose between one stop and stop and a half. Having a T 1.6 is great.” City 3D was so impressed with the Quasar rig that they purchased another one, allowing for multi-camera production. To compliment what is already a top of the line operation, they also have Barco projectors and a RealD projection system for theater and location screening. City 3D brought in specialists to train them for every part of the process, not just stereographers, but also rig technicians and Pablo post-production experts.

Since acquiring their SI-3D package City 3D has been busy demonstrating their talents all over Mexico. Ever the consummate integrator, Reyes is looking toward the future, “Our challenge is to let the businesses know that 3D does not end in film and TV. We can do that, but we want to produce much more, from live events to entertainment for museums and amusement parks.

“The interest is there. The theaters are ready for the distribution. They’ve been screening 3D features for a few years. And a lot of production companies and publicity agencies are looking forward to creating 3D commercials and videos.” With all this possibility around her, Reyes is confident. “The market is just starting and we are pushing hard to show that we are fully capable of shooting any kind of 3D content, with the best quality.”