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Cesar Sommer’s Custom Stereoscopic 3D Video Camera Rigs

April 19th, 2011 · 6 Comments · Shooting in 3D

I’m sure that most of you that follow the 3D Vision Blog have seen some of the great stereoscopic 3D works from Cesar Sommer, but he was focused on 3D photography and for a while now he was experimenting with 3D video. In the following special guest post by Cesar for the 3D Vision Blog, he explains how he started with 3D video and gives an interesting overview on the custom stereoscopic 3D video camera rig he has built. This can be quite useful to everyone venturing into the world of stereoscopic 3D video and if you still haven’t seen any of Cesar’s 3D photos, below you will also find links to check them out…

Hi dear readers of the 3D Vision Blog, you might have seen my work here on the blog or also the official powerpacks at Nvidia’s 3D Vision Live Portal.

I started this 3D film camera project around November 2010. After my 3D photo reel had been liked by the audiences and some people told me they would love to see some stereoscopic movie footage, so I’ve decided to get me a 3D movie camera. First of all I did order a mirror rig from the 3D Film Factory, but after a few tests I realized, that it wasn’t really what I was looking for – it was too big and heavy even choosing the mini rig. The quality itself was fine. But I think they are more designed for larger cameras, so you will be Ok with their rig if you are using such. The other thing was that its not supposed to work well with wide angle lenses, but I did knew that from the beginning as it is quoted on their website. So I came to conclusion to build one suiting exactly my professionals needs and the lenses I do prefer to use. At the moment I do not really plan to sell or build such rigs as I want to focus on content creation, but there might be exceptions…

Here are the basic requirements:
1. First not being too heavy as I often work with a small team or sometimes even just by myself also not too heavy so I’m able to move as freely as possible.
2. Allowing the use of wide angle lenses like 28mm on a full-frame, because if you use the mirror rig, then you are close to the subject and need a small IO (being close means that sight of view is smaller and when I did something indoor I often had problems not getting the scene as I wanted it to look).
3. A display to supervise the effect – if possible in 3D.
4. Running on batteries for a few hours – at least 1.5-2.5 hrs – that’s the time approx. it takes for a 3D photography shooting (without having to change batteries all the time!), so for a short filming I would have a second pair so approx 3-4 hrs battery life is Ok.

I decided to use my 2 Canon 5D mark II cameras as I am already using them for my 3D photoshootings and I have to say I love the image quality and creative freedom the cameras offer. And that way I have just one rig for shooting still photography and filming and could eventually do both without having to readjust the hardware, I need to change only the camera settings.

I did some tests to see how the syncing was on different exposure times 1/25 to 1/100 to see if there are problems or to see if some times are working better, my conclusion was that in most cases it was fine. When shooting 3D photography the maximum sync time was 1/200 and was sometimes really critical the “AT THE SWIMMHALL” 3D shot I did was extreme regarding syncing AND using flashes. So I guess using a time of 1/50 for filming is a great base (good also for critical light conditions) – not too blurry and not too fast – higher time = higher misssync…?

Anyway using the Shepherd in liveview and then trigger a shot and switching to filming without turning off the cameras – should do miracles in syncing as some sources say. I haven’t tried it enough to say it works 100%, but as said above on my tests – filming was Ok using the 5Ds. After that the real challenge began…

I started on measuring the distances of the cameras with lenses and IO to get all the numbers then I did a technical drawing and built a paper model to check it first, after that it was built of aluminium, because of being strong and stiff enough, but not to heavy. Different parts of aluminium were used depending if I had much weight to take.

After that i had to look out what kind of preview display would be great to have – unfortunately I didn’t find a 3D one that was small, running long enough on batteries in 3D mode, and having a good price tag. So I ordered smallHD displays which met my criteria. They run about 2-4 hrs on batteries, they are small and lightweight, enough battery time and full color polarized display in 1280×800 pixels. Perfect for me to supervise it and show customers the effect on set. I built them in 3D rig based on the planar construction – a polarized 3S display (as one image is mirrored from the rig. The one (mirror) in the display puts it back right. I’m very proud of it, came out excellent :)! Note if you want to build one: The polarization is 90 degrees in order to make it work you need to repolarize one display to 0 degrees.

I contacted smallHD. And they dropped me a message, they certainly have a look at it, check out their homepage, some info about my rig also there soon. The only issue it had – was that the signal coming from the Canons when filming – it displays the image a little stretched as it seems it is a issue coming from the signal (camera), but doesn’t matter that much to me, I see the effect and what I film.

Next on plan was to find motors and control elements for the lenses for pulling the sharpness. See final picture with the focus puller (the one above the motor photo). I found RT Motions – Wireless & Remote Lens Control Systems for Digital Cinema which had a good solutions and package ready for 3D. I think its a good solution. I showed Kris from RT Motions my camera with the motors built in and he seemed very enthusiastic – so I told him that it would be cool to have a IO slider for controlling also the distance, he said he’s working on a solution and in a few weeks I will be able to test it out and give input if needed – so very exciting – then I will be a really cool system! So RT motions will soon have also a IO slider in addition to what they have. The motors self calibrate at powering up in order to sync perfectly, you can also choose different smoothness – fast focus or very slow focus, you can tale a look here for more.

At the end I built a plastic chassis to cover it from unwanted reflections and a matte box. Also “legs” were added, on which I could put wheels if I need to shoot something near the floor or some cool (shots) angles from bottom to top. The weight of the monitor and cameras is distributed so that the camera keeps on my shoulder and doesn’t pull away from the body, also the position of the “legs” had to be carefully chosen, as the monitor pulls the whole rig towards left. The Controller aka Focus Puller can be used wireless and the legs can be removed if I place the camera on a tripod/dolly. The rig is built so that it allows me to use different sizes of lenses, so the important parts can be adjusted. Here I am on the photo connecting the batteries to the displays – in total 5 batteries: 2x displays, 2x cameras, 1x for motors, controller and receiver.

The whole construction is about 10 kg. including everything. And it took 4 months of work, but it is finally finished (and a lighter bank account…) – Et voila :)! The big rig I named “HOLLYWOOD-X-1” because of the display and all ;)

And if that was not enough I decided to build a hyper small one. I call it the “BABY-RIG” :) – as it is soooo small and lightweight – just around 1.5 kilos (and cute), but without motors, although the chassis already has wholes for making it motorized if I might need to, this one is more meant for travels and still 3D photography shoots. And small sequences of filming like an interview or other small things, scenes. You can see on the picture that I had one camera toed in (left) and also that the glass is kept as little in dimensions as needed. It fits in a backpack.

Well this weekend I was shooting a short and will present soon, really looking forward to it. For edit and post I’m using adobe premiere and after effects (mirroring) and color grading. I also use an android cellphone software when recording to make it easier to sync the both clips in post-production. It is called SL DigiSlate.

The YouTube video above is a short teaser in 3D. And I’m of course excited about future projects. If anyone is interested in collaborations and or sponsoring let me know. For advertisers/companies I do offer a full professional service in 3D stereo photography, so make sure to check my homepage www.cesarsommer.com for more info and references. Commercial shots included magazines for print and internet stereoscopic content so far. I’m also interested in better known fashion models or actresses for 3D still pictures shootings, maybe there are interesting constellations to team up for advertising projects or PR related content.

Make sure to check my official channels as I will start to publish very soon new work. It was a little quiet lately in productions as I wanted to improve quality and tech. Enjoy and thanks for taking time and I hope this review will help others who are just new to the world of stereoscopic 3D…

Cesar’s 3D photos in Video Slideshow at 3DVisionLive portal
Cesar’s 3D photos at 3DVisionLive portal
His YouTube video channel
His Facebook fan page
And Twitter account

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6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mathew Orman // Apr 19, 2011 at 16:10

    This is a dinosaur technique for making stereo footage.
    Why use two cameras if you going to produce footage which can be shot just with one camera and perfect sync using TRIDELTA beam splitter.

    With single camera and TRIDELTA adapter one can shoot with real time stereoscopic preview with 1 to 1 scale match .

    Here is an example of custom TRIDELTA adapter.

    The Canon 5D 3D video rig would look not much bigger than this example.


    Mathew Orman

  • 2 Dave G. // Apr 19, 2011 at 18:43

    Excellent work, Cesar! Making a DIY beamsplitter rig is a huge, huge challenge. I’ve kicked around the idea for a couple years now, and I’m still too intimidated to go for it. Props to you for making it happen.

    I see you have synched focus, I assume exposure is still set manually.

    Also, where did you get your beamsplitter glass from? That seems to be the most critical piece of the puzzle, and it is usually very expensive.

  • 3 josh // Apr 20, 2011 at 10:12

    Mathew Orman you seem to always point out something negative or faults in articles on this website.Do you have something online that you made to prove your apparent masterful understanding of everything 3D?

    the link you gave shows the crappy green and red type of 3d. i am not sure what it is called however from seeing Cesar’s work the green and red 3d looks like shit compared to his stuff. in addition are they just using a non-3d sony digital camera?

  • 4 Mathew Orman // Apr 20, 2011 at 16:34

    Each 3D image has a description underneath and the crappy green and red happen to be red/cyan encoded stereoscopic image.
    All TRIDELTA beam splitters use single 2D cameras.
    I do not claim “understanding of everything 3D?”
    If you have a specific question related to stereoscopic vision then please ask it here as there are many experts in this fields including the owner of this blog.

    Happy 3D viewing…

    Mathew Orman

  • 5 Cesar Sommer // Apr 21, 2011 at 13:40

    Hi thank you for watching!
    And your comments. Im glad it finally works,
    took me some time to make it work.

    Yes the exposure and camera settings are yet manually set on each camera. Also the WhiteBalance is slightly adjusted on each camera as the mirror has different color on the reflective and the transmittive side.

    If you are looking for glass you can google 50/50 beam splitter glass – i have mine from a swiss company.


    Best, Cesar

  • 6 Doug Betzold // Jul 15, 2011 at 21:16

    Hi Cesar,

    I love this post and am really impressed with your work and ‘just make it’ approach. I’m wondering about the monitor you made and how you repolarized the other monitor to zero degrees? I have been using a stereoscopic viewer with 2 portable DSLR monitors and wanted to create a planar one like this.

    Any help would be great and come check out my work and portfolio reel on NVidia3Dlive sometime. I created the first local 3D cinema ad in the US this year and had it run at the Seattle International Film Festival (for Kung Fu Panda 2) and other local theatre showings.

    Thanks for the post and all the best to you.

    Doug Betzold

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