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How To Shoot An F1 Car In 3D

How To Shoot An F1 Car In 3D3D photography requires precision, tons of equipment, and heroic jury-rigging. Shooting a vintage Ferrari requires all of this plus serious balls. The Image Hunter shows us how it's done. —Ed.

I'm currently shooting some on-track footage for a new Formula One documentary feature for Spitfire Pictures, Flat-Out Films and Diamond Docs. Directed by Paul Crowder, written by Mark Monroe, produced by Michael Shevloff and Nigel Sinclair and co-produced by Rodney Frazier, the film largely tells the story of Formula 1's ‘golden age' and is due to be released in 2011. Alex King (who I had previously worked with on his Formula One TV pilot) brought me into the fold on this new project. He's producing the onboard driving segments on this one. Our job was to film some additional F1 racing segments with Vintage F1 Cars and get the viewer completely inside the driving experience.

THE MISSION The Formula One Documentary is a 2D film, however having previously worked with the camera house HD Camera Rentals and the 3D masters at World War Seven, I was able to get them on board to film in 2d AND 3D. They were excited to bring their 2D/3D rigs and knowledge to the track. Knowing that you can use 2D versions from the 3D rigs, it was a no brainer in trying them out.

How To Shoot An F1 Car In 3D

We flew up to Infineon raceway in Sonoma, CA to the Classic Sports Racing Group's 7th annual Charity Challenge. Here we met up with Bud Moeller to film his 1980 Ferrari 312 T5 Formula One car. It's got a 3 liter flat 12 cylinder motor making about 515 horsepower and was raced by Gilles Villeneuve and Jody Scheckter…an absolutely stunning machine. I was not into car racing before I began shooting these F1 cars. I'm not really a car guy (except for that 1974 Barracuda 440 Hp that I owned for all of 3 weeks and almost died in, that's another story) But once you see and hear these race machines skid around the track at breakneck speeds, it's impossible not to get hooked. I love watching the vintage F1′s, much more than the new race cars. They're more machine, more Mad Max and they feel more like you're watching a 70′s car chase film. In other words they look like they're DRIVING . We had one day to shoot the Ferrari in Sonoma, in what was billed as a test shoot to see what works. So we brought everything…

How To Shoot An F1 Car In 3D
(Bobby (left) Kenny, Paul, Alex, Me)

And now for the Technical Details….

The main rig was the new SI-3D mini system from Silicon Imaging, two SI-2K mini's, rigged side by side on a special plate Bobby Mansouri from HD Camera rentals had built. The SI-2K's were cabled to the new Cinedeck SI-3D solid-state recorder made specially for 3D ingestion and viewing and records onto SSD (Solid State) drives. The "display can show the left- and right-eye channels individually or combined in anaglyph, 50-50, wiggle, split-screen or side-by-side views." We used little C mount Schneider lenses 6mm and 8mm sets and filmed in the Cineform raw (Filmscan 2) codec.

How To Shoot An F1 Car In 3D
SI-2K Si-3D system being mounted on the front

We also had the new Panasonic AG-3DA1 to play with (see my previous post). Brad Schmidt from Go Pro brought up his prototype 3D Go Pro Camera. It wasn't a production model, essentially it was 2 go pro's fused together but synced through one record switch. He also had a suitcase full of 2D Go Pro cameras and a slew of Go Pro rigging equipment. To top it off I had my trusty 5D Mark II with me as well to shoot some 2D shots.

So what did we do? We rigged the shit out of this Ferrari. Key Grip Kenny Davis is an absolute wizard with car rigging. Kenny was a one man show, rigging camera's all over the car, in places I didn't think was possible. At one point we had 12 cameras on the car between the Si-2k 3D system, the 5D, Panasonic AG-3DA1 and multiple go pros. Really amazing work. This is especially impressive considering there is minimal footprint to rig from and very little metal to clamp onto. We did find the shots were much more stable when we had a roll bar or some sort of strong part of the chassis to clamp onto. The fiberglass body is very soft and vibrate a lot with the engine. Harmonic vibration is an issue with these performance race cars and when you have to mount from the body or rear spoiler it becomes an issue with some of the cameras. The roll bar is definitely the best place to clamp it.

How To Shoot An F1 Car In 3D
Kenny attaching the mount. Alex thinking about lunch.
How To Shoot An F1 Car In 3D
The Ferrari in action with the camera mounted
How To Shoot An F1 Car In 3D
spoiler camera mounts

3D on the Ferrari

If you haven't shot 3D before, there are different "limitations" you need to consider when creating your shot. The biggest consideration from shot to shot is the distance between the center points of the two lenses, which is referred to as the interocular distance or "io". The io determines everything from how close you can get to your nearest subject, and the total amount of depth in the shot. For maximum flexibility, a mirrored beam splitter is usually employed when shooting 3D. however, due to weight and rigidity concerns, for this test shoot we used a side by side rig. With most side by side rigs, the closest you can be to the subject is 7-20 feet, depending on the size of the cameras and lenses. Parts of the object that come closer than 7′ usually create hyperstereo distortion, or in other words, "crazy 3dness that hurts your face and brain." This is a severe limitation when attaching cameras to a race car, mostly because if you want to shoot 3D down at the car you don't have many places to put the camera. The solution is to limit the depth behind the subject and shoot it flat. this doesn't completely solve the problem but it makes the final 3D image usable.

We cant actually show you the final images yet…you'll just have to wait for the film to come out! I've seen some rough edits and the Formula One film is mind blowingly good! I can tell you about how the shots worked out though.

So for example in the picture below we were 2 feet above the helmet, and shot into the track. I absolutely LOVE this shot in 2D. The image is just the drivers helmet, the wheel and the front tires and you see just the chasis of the car whipping through the turns. It's stunning visually and a perspective you dont ever see on an F1 car. In 3D when you look at it on the big screen with 3d glasses without correction the helmet is a little bit hyperstereo. However Josh Ferrazzano at World War Seven was able to stretch and pull the image and make it work.

How To Shoot An F1 Car In 3D
Brad from Go Pro lining up the shots with Bud ready to drive

The next shot was with the Si-2k 3d rig on the tail of the car so we could see the whole Ferrari in action. Hypothetically, this shot shouldn't work as well in 3D because the fins are very close to the lens and would be hyperstereo. However World War Seven was were able to crop it down so that it works with minimal hyperstereo issues. One problem with 3D stereography is that the color red actually causes a lot of ghosting in the final 3D image. This can be resolved by toning down the red to some degree, but with a Ferrari of course that's an issue. 3D shooting is all about finding balance, knowing what will work safely, knowing what might work to some degree, and knowing what definitely wont work. As far as the 2D image from this setup it looks fantastic, like you're following a car in a video game as it tears through the track!

How To Shoot An F1 Car In 3D
Alex and I running back to check the footage. Watching the car whip around the track for the first time is certainly nerve-racking

The best shot for 3D was when we mounted the SI-2K to the fender on the front of the Ferrari. I could watch this shot for hours as it goes around the track. Everything is in complete perfect 3D nirvana because nothing comes within 7 Feet of the lens. This shot is absolutely stunning when you put on the 3D glasses and really feels like you're on the track.

We also mounted the 5D to the front of the car and to the side of the car. There were definitely HUGE jello issues in certain parts of the track and when it was mounted in certain ways. But when the footage is usable its gorgeous. If you're going to use 5D's for this kind of shooting you definitely will need a stabilization system and vibration reduction. We're working on that issue now so when we go again for re-shoots I will keep update that process. Here are some shots from that setup.
How To Shoot An F1 Car In 3D
Me thinking about lunch as Kenny does all the work
How To Shoot An F1 Car In 3D

STABILITY, HEAT AND THE CINEDECK I was quite impressed with the stability of the SI-2K's. Although they are a rolling shutter system they were very stable and had minimal if any jello effect. This is without any gyro stabilization in our mounts. When we do our final shoots and actually have the stabilization and vibration dampening on our mounts I expect them to preform amazingly. I can't say the same for the other cameras though. Rolling shutter becomes an issue with excessive vibration and camera movement and can create the jello effect. This is especially apparent with the Go Pros and the 5D. The go pros when mounted outside the car jello-ed like crazy…The 5D was usable in some spots and the shot looked beautiful but sometimes the jello-ing was out of control. If we had used the 7D or the 1D Mark IV it might have been better but nothing matched the SI-2K's. We also had the Panasonic AG-3DA1 mounted on the rear spoiler for one of the shots. They call the Panasonic a 3Mos chip, meaning it's a split between CMOS and 3CCD technology. CCD technology doesn't have the rolling shutter system so it wouldn't jello…however that's old technology and almost all new cameras are CMOS. The 3MOS is supposed to bridge the gap. We had the 3DA1 mounted on the tail so this wasn't the best test for it since it was bouncing like crazy, but it gave a great frenetic look to the race and didn't Jello at all, even with all the bouncing. I've heard there were issues with the Cinedeck overheating but we never had a problem with that. It preformed great, was outside the whole day and never overheated. The Cinedeck is AMAZING. I know of no other system that's super compact, lets you ingest, monitor and view looks for your footage. It's certainly worth every penny. The solid state recorder can capture up to 30 minutes of 12-bit RAW 2K or up to two hours of stereo material using the CineFormRAW QuickTime codec. You're going to need to get Cineform software, NEO3D which is first light and Remaster to convert the footage (unless there is another solution by now) an expensive solution, but worth every penny. Download the demo first and try it out. The Neo3D software allows you to color correct and transcode the raw footage and convert it to Cineform or pro res (The demo only allows Cineform).

How To Shoot An F1 Car In 3D

The Go Pro 3D system when it comes out will be incredible. A small 3D package that can clip on anywhere. I just watched some of the 3D footage coming off the go pro cameras and for that little chip, at times it really is fantastic. Because of the 3D some of the jello issues are minimized. This of course entirely depends on the placement of Go Pro. Try and find a spot that has the least harmonic vibration and it should work well. This of course doesnt have the same resolution, resolve or color space of the Si-2K, but for what you pay for this camera is going to explode on the market. The issues is you have to watch out for vibration. If you mount that Go Pro 3D to the top of the helmet, the footage will be great and will have minimal jello-ing, because the spine will work to dampen vibrations. As long as the drive isn't whipping his head around the footage will work and it will be in 3D (just make sure he looks out towards the track). Hyperstereo distortion should be OK because the interocular distance between the lenses is only an inch or so and that makes for safe 3D. The Go Pro 3D system should be out in January as its only a prototype now.

How To Shoot An F1 Car In 3D
Brad with his GO PRO 3D system

The Panasonic AG-3DA1 was also used a bunch on the shoot. We only were able to mount it to the car once, just suction cupped to the rear spoiler with no support, framed up on the track behind the car. This of course vibrated like crazy but it gave a really cool mad max like effect when the race cars came zipping behind. This camera was GREAT for shooting on the side of the track though. We filmed the cars zipping around and it felt like if the 1970′s had 3D footage, this would be it. With the camera low to the ground the cars racing by you could almost feel them going by you. It's really a great easy camera to shoot 3D with and brings you right into the driving experience. In 2D this all looked great and will cut well into the movie. Josh Ferrazzano of World War Seven trying to figure out how a camera works.

How To Shoot An F1 Car In 3D Josh Ferrazzano of World War Seven trying to figure out how a camera works

The Image Hunter is Eric Koretz, a cinematographer and photographer living in Los Angeles. He recently shot "Truth In Numbers: The Wikipedia Story" due out in December. This post was reprinted with his permission.

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