I’m talking again with Barry Sandrew who is the Founder of Legend3D, one of the top companies specialized in 2D to 3D conversion about some interesting recent conversion work that the company has done. Barry Sandrew is one of the still not so many real expert in the field of 2D to 3D conversion of videos. We talk about the recently completed conversion of the movies Shrek, Shrek 2 and Shrek the Third for DreamWorks Animation by Legend 3D, what is happening on the 2D to 3D conversion world, and some other things that you might find interesting. Barry also shares his view on the upcoming conversions of some movie classics like Titanic, the Star Wars saga and the Indiana Jones series, and about what are some of the competitive companies in the area of the 2D to 3D conversions doing lately. I hope you will find this interview interesting and feel free to share your comments below…
Barry, it has been a few month since our first interview and there have been some interesting news around Legend3D, can you tell us in brief what is new?
There certainly has been a lot of excitement surrounding Legend3D since our last interview. We completed conversion of “Shrek”, “Shrek 2” and “Shrek the Third” for DreamWorks Animation which, together with our conversion on “Alice In Wonderland” and our current ongoing projects, makes us the most prolific conversion vendor in the industry and the company everyone seems to be seeking out.
We’ve increased our capacity by more than 700% both in our San Diego design center and our India operations, and we’ve taken on 5 new projects. Unfortunately, I can’t disclose what those projects are because of very strict NDAs with the studios.
Also since our last interview Legend3D hired a very significant Hollywood veteran, Rob Hummel, as our new President and head of Business Development. Rob came from a very productive position as CEO of Post Production, North America with our leading competitor, where he was also responsible for managing business expansion efforts. We hired Rob Hummel because he is a significant presence in the industry with decades of relevant experience. Rob has been high profile since 1979 with key positions at Technicolor, Sony, DreamWorks, Warner Bros. and Dalsa. The fact that he is held in such high regard within the industry was a significant factor in bringing him in to the fold. Rob is very knowledgeable in 2D-to-3D conversion having been an integral part of the process during its genesis and he’s considered an authority on just about every aspect of film production. We are obviously very pleased to have him join our ranks.
We have achieved a great deal over the past year, but one of the most important of Legend3D’s recognitions came from CONNECT, anon-profit organization promoting innovation and ties between universities and businesses in Southern California. Competing against 26 of the top high tech companies in the region, Legend3D was awarded CONNECT’s Most Innovative Product Award at an event hosting 800 people. Each year, CONNECT assesses high tech innovation in Southern California and recognizes the single software company that is considered the most significant technology innovator.
Legend3D has done the 2D to 3D conversion of DreamWorks Animation’s Shrek, Shrek 2 and Shrek the Third, how long has the work on the three movies taken you?
The work took us approximately 6 months to do, or more specifically, 8 weeks per title. This was a short period of time to complete the work but we devoted our entire studio and all available resources to the completion of the conversion of this trilogy.
How many people did you have working on each of the movies at the same time and do you think that doubling the team for example can halve the needed time, or even with more people you should still not rush things too much?
The number of people that we have working on each film is a trade secret, sorry. Regarding how accelerating the process might affect the work, one must always keep in mind that 3D conversion is a highly creative process. There are aspects of it that are very labor intensive and which can benefit from the addition of resources. However, the final depth placement and interaction with the client’s creative representatives require that a single creative decision maker working closely with the client; a process which would not be made more efficient by having more resources.
What is the timeframe you consider normal for a making a good conversion of a full-length feature film into 3D and is the major issue of bad conversions that conversion companies and the movie studios always want things to happen too fast?
Though we can convert a film in 8 weeks as we did with each of the Shrek films, the ideal amount of time to convert a film is between 12 and 16 weeks. The more time that we are given to complete the work, the better and more effectively the process will work. The longer that we have to do a conversion, the more creative thought can be dedicated to the project so having the appropriate length of time directly affects the creative process more so than the mechanical process of the conversion. There are a few companies out there doing conversions that are very shallow with many shots actually remaining in 2D. That work clearly lacks depth detail and have imperfections or artifacts caused by their conversion process. With those few studios time is not an issue because the short cuts they take to speed up their processes result in the quality of their conversion being compromised. We have never compromised on quality nor will we do so in the future.
Is there any difference for Legend3D’s conversion process if you are converting a computer animated movie or live action movie, which one is more complicated or there is no difference?
It all depends on whether or not the CG assets from the original computer animation production are available. If they are, then the process is very straightforward and the quality of the conversion is essentially the same as if it was re-rendered “natively” with another camera in the computer. If the CG assets are not available, then the computer-animated movie is handled in very much the same way as a live action film.
Why did DreamWorks prefer Legend3D’s 2D to 3D conversion method for the first three Shrek movies as opposed to just re-render the movies in 3D by themselves?
The process of recovering and de-archiving the assets of animation catalog titles, if they even actually still exist, can be very expensive, time consuming and requires a significant amount of skilled resources. We did receive a large number of assets from DreamWorks which was very helpful though all assets were not available. Without the CG assets, there was no way to convert the trilogy without going back and actually redoing the films. It would have been cost and resource prohibitive to do whereas I believe the partnership with Legend3D proved to be a more financially sound and efficient decision.
What is your opinion about the more recent live action movies that were released using 2D to 3D conversion, do you see general improvement of the quality of conversions?
I’ve been less than satisfied with the quality of the conversions that some competitors have produced following “Alice In Wonderland”, the first and most successful conversion this year in which Legend3D had a hand. I worry that the compromised quality of 3D conversions will ultimately hurt the industry. Indeed, there is speculation that a couple of last year’s titles were glossed over for Oscar nominations due primarily to the Industry’s perception of them as subpar 3D conversions. I think we are entering a period where conversion vendors producing inferior conversions will be eliminated and those that refuse to compromise on quality will thrive going forward.
Do you think that the lack of confidence and knowledge in most filmmakers to shoot in 3D, and the additional expenses are the main reason for them preferring to stay only in the more familiar 2D format or to go for 2D to 3D conversion?
I don’t think it is as much about a lack of confidence as it is about the filmmakers having a greater comfort level with the established formats they’ve used for decades. Those film makers that are truly savvy about shooting in 3D will tell you about the substantial extras that go into the various stages of pre-production, production and post-production of a 3D project. When these extras are taken into account, they result in longer production schedules and higher costs. The easiest way to produce a 3D feature film is to shoot it in 2D with the involvement of a skilled stereographer from the first day of pre-production and to hire a reputable and time/project tested conversion company like Legend3D as early on in the process as is feasible.
Another consideration the filmmaker has to deal with is the artifacts generated when shooting in 3D. In fact, artifacts resulting from shooting with stereo camera rigs can be greater than that created throughout the conversion process. An example of the issues that a filmmaker faces with shooting in 3D is the discrepancies that can result between the two cameras in the rig they are using. In an over and under 3D rig used for tight shots, one camera rests on top of the other and a mirror beam splitter is used to create the close interaxial that is normally required. One camera must focus through the beam splitter mirror, shooting polarized light, while the other camera is shooting the reflection off the mirror. This is just one example of an instance where shooting with 3D camera rigs can result in conflicting images, called binocular rivalry. In this example, one eye sees a reflection on a mirror and the other eye is looking through polarized glass. While this is not impossible to deal with, it is just one example to counter the current misconception that shooting in 3D is an automatic or easier way to create 3D, and that somehow it’s more “natural than conversion. This is where the term “native” drives me a little crazy because there is obviously very little involved in shooting 3D that is “native”. It’s not the way humans natively perceive depth. There are equally significant considerations when using a side by side rig where the cameras are positioned next to each other. In each case, discrepancies between the two lenses, sensors, etc. influence the ultimate quality of the stereo.
The news about Titanic, Star Wars, Indiana Jones going to be re-released in 3D after conversion led to a lot of controversy among fans, what is your opinion about bringing classical movies back at the cinemas converted in 3D?
If you have James Cameron working with a conversion vendor from the short list of viable conversion companies on “Titanic”, as well as George Lucas on “Star Wars” and Steven Spielberg on “Indiana Jones, there shouldn’t be any issues with converting their contemporary classics. I believe that as long as the original filmmaker and/or the original creative team is involved on some level, 3D conversion is a very acceptable option for the studios that enables our finest filmmakers to significantly and uniquely enhance these cornerstones of our cinematic heritage.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
We are constantly refining, expanding and evolving our process with each new feature film project that comes into the Legend3D studio because each title presents new and often unique challenges. Surmounting each of these challenges continues to provide us with increased flexibility and enables us to preserve and maintain the standard of excellence that we have been committed to since Day 1. We are currently working on a film that we consider to be one of the most difficult titles that will ever undergo conversion. For that film, we had our software engineers coding for the nine months prior to the start of conversion to customize and expand our technology so that we can better handle the film’s unique complexities. In fact, each feature film that we take on typically requires us to add features that complement and enhance our ongoing R&D development path. This has resulted in the creation of a very large, ever-expanding and sophisticated conversion toolset from which each new title benefits. I genuinely do not believe that there is a feature film project that exists as a catalog title, is currently in production or will be produced in the future that we cannot complete while maintaining the highest level of quality in the industry. We have a dedicated department of incredibly talented software engineers that continue to push the envelope and improve our process in ways that enable us to increase our efficiency and maintain the standards of excellence that studios have come to expect from us.