Field Update: Making a Stereo 3D Dance Film

Above: Dancers (L to R) Chauncey Parsons Hildestad, Avery Reiners. Choreography by Nicolo Fonte Still Photographer: Julian Fok We were going to film dance in stereoscopic 3D over six days. This meant we would have an opportunity for screen tests and experiment with 3D stereo. It would also give dancers time to recuperate in between takes and camera department time to prep our two cameras, one for each eye. We ended up condensing production into 3 days because of financing.
Above- 1st Assistant Camera Peter Planta. Photographer- Julian Fok.

Above: 1st Assistant Camera Peter Planta.
Photographer: Julian Fok.

One of our biggest challenges was our 3D rig system. It had to be assembled and tested, but optically it had to also match. I remembered we could not get a second set of macro lenses due to costs and filters not matching, setting us back 45 minutes. We budgeted one day of camera prep and it turned out we needed almost two days. Despite the efforts of our talented camera and stereo 3D team, I had to simplify the narrative in order to make our days. More so than a conventional dialogue script, filming dance required a high degree of flexibility. This may not work for many filmmakers and technicians. The process can appear free flowing and last minute to the uninitiated. I couldn’t properly measure my day through the page count of a script – a tangible way to chart the progress of a typical film production day. Instead, I used a series of dance phrases laid out on storyboards to help with communication.
Reference Storyboards of Choreography

Reference Storyboards of Choreography

With movement expression, screen direction is really important to establish character journey. Left to right is a western convention for progress; rising action can imply hope, or agreement. I thought having close ups of body parts would create a bad stereo 3D experience because of the disambiguation of body parts. However, in stereo 3D every nuance and twitch added to the physicality of the work. In one breathtaking sequence, the dancers simply moved towards camera. They went from being completely lit to silhouette highlighted only by a rim light. With stereoscopy and lighting, this simple movement towards camera became highly dramatic, accentuated by the roundness of dancers’ bodies.

Above: Cinematographer Stirling Bancroft
Dancers Avery Reiners and Chauncey Parsons Hildestad
Choreography by Nicolo Fonte
Still Photographer: Robin Chan

The film cuts in-between a field and a black box studio. We used parallax to emphasize the placement of dancers on our monitor display. “Parallax images are the images passing through to your left and right eyes. All 3D stereo media contain a pair of parallax images that individually, and simultaneously, pass to your left and right eyes. This is to convince your brain that there is an existence of depth in the media.” ( The dancers were behind or in front our binocular focus, creating the sensation they are moving in and out of our display respectively. Parallax helps with contextualizing depth and is a powerful storytelling tool, especially in a black box space where background references are minimal. Making this film has been challenging and rewarding. Through the enthusiasm and generosity of like-minded individuals and organizations, we were able to bring the teams (dancers, camera, stereo 3D) finally together this summer. What started as an idea over two years is now taking shape, and I look forward to presenting the results in the not too distant future. Jason Karman Website: IMDB:  
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