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A comedy 3d shoot for Sky

There is no shortage of firsts in Sky 1’s Christmas comedy anthology Little Crackers.

The series of 12 comedy shorts includes the UK’s – if not the world’s – first TV comedy to be shot in 3d. It marks the directorial debut for several of the writers – namely Catherine Tate, Julia Davis and Bill Bailey. And it’s Sky 1’s head of comedy Lucy Lumsden’s first series commission to air.

The starting point for Lumsden and Sky 1 controller Stuart Murphy was deciding on their comedy writing wishlist. “When we thought about who we’d approach the rule of thumb was would you read their autobiography?” says Lumsden, who declares she was “thrilled” by the take up, with top names such as Victoria Wood, Catherine Tate, Stephen Fry, Julia Davis, Dawn French, Bill Bailey, Jo Brand and Meera Syal all agreeing to pen scripts.

Next came pairing the writers up with a producer. Grouping several scripts with each producer made sense because it meant that more of the budget ended up on screen, explains Lumsden.

Renegade Pictures was a logical choice to make Meera Syal’s short film, to be shot in 3d, given the indie’s experience making C4’s The Queen in 3d last year.

Writer and comedy actress Meera Syal, who attended the shoot of her film, comments: “I think we discovered why not many people shoot in 3d, because it actually takes a long time to set up. Everybody was new to the equipment so it was quite a learning experience. Of course when it’s done in Hollywood movies they have multiple cameras, but we only had the one so everybody had to work very hard indeed.”

Director Peter Lydon admits: “It was a baptism of fire for all of us. With 3d it's a bigger rig, which needs bigger rooms or a set and somewhere to house the stereographer.”

Plan for double the space and double the time is Lydon’s advice on 3d shooting. “In 2d it takes 2-3 minutes to change a lens. In 3d it takes 20 minutes. Everything takes longer.”

One big challenge for Lydon was coming up with a visual style that would work equally well in 2d and 3d, given that most viewers would only be able to watch in 2d. The visual references for the short were the films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, whose fantasy style characterised by features such as Amelie and Delicatessen made a good match for Syal’s wide-eyed view of the world as a seven-year old.

Director of photography Chris Ross explains: “That meant avoiding gags that only worked in a 3d environment, because we knew that we would be producing a 2d edit as well as a 3d edit.” The camera rig used for the three day shoot comprised two Red One cameras with Zeiss Super Speed primes set up on a 3d rig – which created the interaxial distance mimicking the natural stereoscopic distance of the human eye.

Says Ross: “Shooting 3d is an incredibly complicated business because you have to take into account a third dimension. Whenever you frame a composition you plan it in 2d and then decide where in relation to the TV screen that depth is going to appear.”

One important tip is not to overdo the use of 3d perspective, adds Ross. “Most of the time you want to be gentle on the audience, with the subject appearing on the surface of the image and other elements falling off into distance so that the sensation of the three dimensions is an extension of the sense of perspective that you have in 2d.”

“But occasionally there will be a moment that you want to emphasise. We had to work out beforehand at what point in the story we are going to allow audiences’ brains to rest and at what point in the story are we going to push the boundaries by getting things to loom out at them.”

Ross warns that rapid changes of perspective in 3d are to be avoided because it forces viewers to change their focus abruptly. “If you have people watching 3d images with glasses you can tell when you have gone too far as people take their glasses off – usually when they see an image that appears to touch them on the nose.”

Ross likens the process to cutting to a close up. “You don’t want all the dialogue shot in a close up all the time as you lose the emphasis. You have to choose your moment.”

Posted 10 December 2010 by David Wood
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