Run & Gun 3D Shooting on 'Final Destination 4'

No genre screams for 3D more than horror: shocking the audience with action that leaps right out at them is a natural fit. On the flipside, horror films generally have moderate budgets and are shot on location so shooting 3D outside the comforts of the controlled studio environment while still needing to work at a brisk pace is no easy feat. On Final Destination 4, cinematographer Glen MacPherson used the PACE/Cameron Fusion System (designed by Vince Pace), which consists of two cameras, in this case two Sony F23s, mounted on computerized chassis with a half silvered mirror, to lens the film on location at a pace on par with regular 2D shoots. We spoke with MacPherson about how his approach to shooting differed with 3D and how they maintained an efficient shooting schedule.

How does your approach change as a cinematographer when shooting 3D versus 2D? Do you frame differently? Block things different? Different camera moves? Light differently? Avoid zooming?
The approach to shooting 3D changes fairly dramatically compared to a 2D shoot. We definitely block a little differently to try to take advantage of the 3rd dimension. We’ll fill the space with the actors, placing them in backgrounds and foregrounds more than you might in 2D. I light to a higher stop to help keep all the actors and other elements in focus.

Framing for 3D is different in that you must always be aware of foreground objects that will intrude into the audience space as well as foreground objects that are just on the edge of frame. Sometimes an object will be seen by only one camera or “eye” and not the other which can really hurt your eyes when viewing in 3D. All in all, we frame, light and move the camera always with 3D in mind.

As a cinematographer, do you try to plan the scene so it can play out with fewer cuts?
I guess we try to avoid frenzied cutting. The viewer needs a little more time for their eyes to adjust to convergence and I/O changes from shot to shot, but we don’t stress over it.

Others shooting 3D have spoke of a balance having action jump out from the screen while limiting it enough so it doesn’t become a gimmick. Did you limit these or just embrace them since this is a horror film which is all about the shocking the audience out of their seats?
I find that a balance is needed. If every scene has objects jumping off the screen or is using huge 3D space, then there’s nowhere to go from there. It would be the same as shooting an entire movie in close ups. We kept the 3D space to a minimum for a lot of scenes so that when we needed to shock the audience, we could.

How difficult was shooting on location with the 3D rig? Did it limit the number of setups you can do? The types of camera moves?
My camera crew really stepped up to the plate and designed a pretty good system for keeping us moving quickly. We had one camera mounted to a 30-foot technocrane for almost the entire shoot. This kept us from having to power down the system to change setups. We could just swing it around and extend or contract for a new setup.

Of course we had to re-design a remote head to accommodate the cameras. We had three cameras with us so we would do a lot of leapfrogging with the gear. We kept a pretty brisk pace most days.

We put the Pace rigs through their paces, dropping one from a building with a descender rig, shooting inside a car the fills up with water, shooting at the bottom of a swimming pool and mounting them to a remote arm on a high speed camera car. With the right planning and prep I think you can do just about anything with the 3D rigs without having to slow down to a crawl.

How worried are you on set with perfecting the interocular? Or do you just get it close and rely on post for the fine-tuning.
The interocular is one thing that you need to get right on the set. This is the distance between the two “eyes” and is what we use to adjust the 3D effect. It has been described as a volume control for the 3D space. However, everything else we could adjust in post. We had an on set mobile lab with us where we could watch dailies in 3D and even do some quick tests before shooting a complicated set up. In this lab we could adjust the convergence, zoom offsets, vertical (mirror) offsets and camera roll. So we got these elements as close as we could without slowing down the shoot and adjusted them later in the day as needed.

What are the keys to making 3D production a seamless experience for the director, DP and other creatives?
Digital image capture has been the biggest improvement in the production experience. Being able to see your shot immediately in 3D helps everyone become more comfortable with the process. I’d say having the mobile lab makes a big difference as well. Vince Pace’s system makes it easier to focus on making a good movie rather that having the 3D process suck up all the attention.

What's the biggest misconception about 3D today?
I don’t know if it’s a misconception, but hopefully as more 3D movies are made filmmakers will begin to use 3D as another tool to tell a story and make interesting images instead of feeling they have to fill the movie with every 3D trick in the book. That will get old quickly.

Just as in the 70’s music producers would use stereo techniques to make guitar solos swoosh from speaker to speaker. You don’t hear that much anymore. Instead stereo is used to separate the instruments, create space and make a great listening experience. Hopefully 3D movies will mature to that stage.

What made you settle on the F23 as the camera of choice for the 3D shoot?
The F23 has a greater dynamic range than a lot of the other cameras and, to me, it handles the highlights in a more filmic way. I knew we were going to be in practical locations where I would not always be able to control the sun and I wanted a camera that could handle the contrast. The F23 gave me that.

By Matt Armstrong, StudioDaily