I had the pleasure of interviewing James Cameron and Vince Pace at the IBC show in Amsterdam a few months ago. I will present and annotate the video interview in two parts, starting here with our discussion of 3D cameras and workflows. Part 2 will address the 3D transition for the cinematographer.
Vince Pace and James Cameron have been pioneering digital 3D filmmaking for a dozen years, starting with a focus on underwater movies, and culminating in the landmark 3D feature, Avatar. Pace is a cinematographer, stereographer and 3D maven. Cameron’s other directing credits include Terminator, The Abyss, True Lies and Titanic.
It’s fair to say that Avatar, the biggest grossing film of all times, accelerated the worldwide change-over to digital projection, as theater owners scrambled to get the revenue increase from 3D features.
Cameron and Pace are now on a mission to accelerate what they see as an inevitable transition to all-3D broadcast and film production. Cameron has noted that it was the introduction of color television that marked the end of black and white films. Similarly, he reasons that when most home screens are 3D, movies will necessarily follow suit.
The pair of filmmakers founded the Cameron Pace Group, a company that offers 3D services to filmmakers and broadcasters, and sports and performance events like the Cirque du Soleil. Cameron was quoted in the Hollywood Reporter as saying “our strategic plan is to make 3D ubiquitous over the next five to 10 years on all platforms”.
True to its mission, the Cameron Pace Group has helped many prominent filmmakers make their first 3D film, and the company’s credits include an impressive number of big 3D features including Pirates of the Caribbean 4, Transformers 3, The Three Musketeers, Hugo and The Life of Pi.
rigs and cameras too
For the movies cited above, the Cameron Pace Group provided their proprietary 3D Fusion Rigs, along with their workflow expertise, while the cameras came from rental houses.
Recently Cameron and Pace made headlines when they announced that they will be buying dozens of Epic and Alexa M cameras, in special deals with Red and Arri. Red head Jim Jannard stated that they were buying 50 Epics, while Arri confirmed that the Cameron Pace Group will be receiving the first batch of Alexa Ms ahead of everyone else.
I begin the video interview by asking the two about their choice of cameras.
A few notes on the interview:
Cameron stresses that a small camera is a must for 3D work. Many 3D camera systems are a step back to the old “refrigerator-sized” cameras of the 1950s. On some productions these bulky camera systems spend most of the time on a crane, because it’s easier to move them that way, and Steadicam operators have had a tough time, especially when carrying 2 Alexas. As illustrated above, the Epic is currently much smaller than the Alexa, but the Alexa M should help shrink the camera system to “hotel mini-bar” size.
I first met Vince Pace ten years ago at Panavision in Paris, where he prepped cameras for an underwater film that he shot called Expedition Bismark. At that time Vince was working with Sony 950 “T Cams”, an innovative compact design that separated the small sensor block from the electronics. Last year Arri introduced a similar idea with the Alexa M.
As Cameron notes in the interview, there is considerable brand loyalty to Arri and Red, and for the moment the Alexa M and Epic have emerged as the cameras of choice for 3D feature films.
As Cameron and Pace point out, shooting 3D, and more generally shooting digital, is changing what happens on the set. The cloning of original files and the creation of dailies are now done on set (or more often “near set“). In addition there is an increasing need to transmit meta-data — ranging from color choices and lens settings to camera positions and movements — to VFX, editorial and post houses. On Hugo for example, the filmmakers were able to see pre-visualization images with virtual elements keyed into the live action during the take. As Cameron puts it, “the lab is on the stage”.
This raises the question of who will provide these new near-set workflow services. Will it be the camera rental house, the post house, the production itself or a third party? The vision of the Cameron Pace Group is to have one company provide cameras, rigs and workflow solutions “from slate to screen”.
One thing is clear, filmmakers need to decide who will design and manage their digital workflow, and who will provide the tools for doing so on the set. And equipment rental and post houses need to adapt to new on-set tasks. There will not be a single solution for every production. Small films have different needs than big budget ones. Wim Wenders sought out two stereo 3D specialists to help shoot Pina, while Peter Jackson’s production clearly needs no outside help shooting The Hobbit in 3D with 30 Epics.
One important thing to take away from this interview is that 3D filmmaking is far from set in stone. As Cameron warns, today’s 3D rig may be tomorrow’s giant paperweight. Like all digital cinema technology, 3D tools and techniques are evolving rapidly. While I am not sure that the future will be all-3D, we are fortunate indeed to have passionate pioneers like James Cameron and Vince Pace to help us invent the future of cinema.
James Cameron Wikipedia article
Vince Pace bio
What is truly revolutionary about Avatar on thefilmbook
Hollywood Reporter article announcing the Cameron Pace venture
Cameron Pace Group web site
Jim Jannard’s thread about Cameron will buy 50 Epics
Arri video about the Cameron Pace Alexa M partnership
Part 2 of the interview with Cameron and Pace will discuss the 3D transition for the cinematographer.