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Talking with Barry Sandrew from Legend3D about 2D to 3D Conversion

October 6th, 2010 · 8 Comments · 2D to 3D Conversion

The 2D to 3D conversion of videos and movies is still getting mostly bad publicity due to not so good examples of projects that were rushed too much, or were done on the cheap, however when properly made, using enough resources and expertise, and taken the right amount of time needed, the final result might actually be really good and hardly distinguishable from a material shot in 3D. The recent announcements about upcoming 2D to 3D conversions of very popular older, but cult movies like Titanic and the Star Wars saga has yet again led to a lot of controversy regarding the conversion process. But I had the chance to do a short interview with an expert in the field of 2D to 3D conversions, getting his opinion on some key subjects that a lot of people are interested in. I’m talking about Barry Sandrew who is the Founder, President, and COO of Legend3D – one of the top companies specialized in 2D to 3D conversion…

Barry, please briefly introduce yourself to the readers of the 3D Vision Blog.
My career began evolving in the entertainment business in 1986, when I invented the first digital process for colorization. Prior to that, I served as a staff neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School. I’ve been involved in the film and television industry for more than 23 years and am responsible for more than 14 VFX patents. In 2005, I founded Legend3D, a dynamic digital media and visual effects company that utilizes a patented 2D-to-3D conversion technology. This technology was recently used to complete the 3D conversion for the most complex portions of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland as well as three films for DreamWorks, and continues to be an access point for filmmakers, studios, and library holders across the globe.

Please provide a short overview of Legend3D – how did you start the company and what does it specialize in?

In 2005, I merged my expertise in graphic arts, image processing and neurophysiology to develop Legend3D’s patented 2D-to-3D conversion process, along with my associate, Greg Passmore. We advanced the colorization technology I created in 1986, and developed a proprietary process that combines technology and artistry to convert films from 2D to 3D. Today, my patented 3D technology has established Legend3D as a leader in the stereo conversion industry.

At Legend3D, we specialize in enhancing filmmakers’ storytelling by deepening their connections with audiences through the highest quality 3D, whether they are converting movies, television, advertisements, or mobile content.

You handled some of the conversion for Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. What were you specifically involved with (i.e. what scenes?)

Legend3D was responsible for converting the following scenes:
– The Mad Hatter’s sewing room
– Scene of Alice falling into the round room
– The Mad Hatter’s tea party
– Scene where Alice meets the Tweedles in the castle
– Majority of the castle scenes with the Queen of Hearts
– Part of the battle scene at the end
– The goodbye scene where Mad Hatter says goodbye
– The execution scene where the Queen of Hearts is watching the Mad Hatter get his head chopped off
– Much of the mushroom forest chases
– Scenes where Stayne and The Mad Hatter are fighting in the makeup room
– Other shots and scenes

Unlike Alice in Wonderland, which turned out to be a real blockbuster, Clash of the Titans was not well accepted. What is your opinion about the conversion process used for that film?

2D to 3D conversion is a time-intensive process. Clash was simply a reflection of pushing the process in too tight of a timeframe, in this case 10 weeks which actually turned into a time frame of 5 to 7 weeks. This can’t be done with quality.

What is your opinion about bad 2D to 3D conversions? Can they drive away viewers from 3D movies in general?

Of course, there’s always the likelihood that bad conversions will detract audiences. However, we have to remember that even with Clash of the Titans, the film broke holiday box office records. 3D has a way of immersing audiences that 2D cannot and that experience, even at a premium, is proving to be popular among consumers. I hope that the theater going audience and the eventual home video 3D enthusiasts become discerning consumers and reject poorly converted product.

Please discuss the 2D to 3D conversion process Legend3D uses and explain why it produces convincing results.

I can’t get into the technology in detail because it is proprietary. However, I can tell you that we use our colorization masking technology which produces better and more organic results than the traditional roto methods that all others use. Our process for creating volume in 3D is considerably different than all the other processes. It has proven to be higher quality and faster than the other conversion companies.

Are there scenes that are harder to convert from 2D to 3D, or that are even impossible to do a convincing volume perception? Or given enough time and resources, can any scene be converted?

I can’t conceive of any scenes that can’t be converted convincingly. Believe it or not, an intense dolly shot of two people eating lunch in an outdoor restaurant setting is more difficult than an effects heavy scene with explosions and pyro. The former is less forgiving and requires much more attention to detail.

Why are more studios considering shooting in 2D and going for 3D conversion over shooting with 3D cameras? Is it only because of the higher costs associated with shooting everything in 3D?

The market for 2D-to-3D conversion and 3D content represents an extremely large, fast-growing opportunity for studios worldwide. When filmmakers rely on conversion, they have tremendous flexibility to shoot as they always have and that’s extremely appealing compared to the constraints of shooting natively in 3D. 3D rigs are awkward and very tricky to use and two cameras have to be perfectly aligned and identical in every aspect. The director then has to spend extra time to block and frame a shot rather than in 3D.

To answer your question, there are higher costs involved when shooting in native 3D. However, studios are turning to 3D conversion for other reasons as well. Conversion continues to remain the preferred solution for filmmakers who are more comfortable in the 2D medium. Additionally, the quality of conversion from top companies, like Legend3D, are continuing to dramatically improve, making the process essential for effects driven feature films that demand cost effective solutions.

Do you see a lot of movie studios starting to work on conversions of older popular titles in order to bring them back onto theatre screens?

Absolutely. As you can imagine there are numerous older library films that lend themselves to 3D – for example Star Wars, the Harry Potter series, Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, Jurassic Park, Titanic, and, of course, animated films. Conversion is the only way the industry is going to create enough content to get to “critical mass” in the consumer market.

Do you think there is a potential market for TV shows and even advertisements to soon start getting their 2D-to-3D treatment with all the attention 3D is getting from home users?

The 3D home market is primed for growth, and with the onset of 3D programming from ESPN, Discovery, and DirectTV, it’s only natural that 3D advertisement will soon experience an increase in popularity. We’ve already received great interest from brands and advertisers looking to convert ads.

Can you share information about recent projects that you finished working on or are starting with, or is this confidential?

Legend3D has been one of the industry’s most sought-after companies for 2D-to-3D projects. As I mentioned earlier, we most recently performed many of the most intricate portions of the 3D conversion for Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. We’re also responsible for converting the first digital 3D advertisement to ever appear in movie theaters, titled “Skittles Transplant” for M&M Mars, which debuted June 1, 2009. In February 2009, Legend3D converted the opening credits and interstitials for the Super Bowl episode of “Chuck,” which was the first television show to ever air in 3D. Currently, we’re finishing a multi-picture deal with a major studio and beginning the conversion work on an upcoming feature film release for another studio.

What do you see in the future for 2D-to-3D conversion – say five or 10 years from now?

I see 3D conversion becoming an essential part of the 3D equation. Many of our most popular films will be converted as well as TV series and commercials. Vintage sports are also a possibility. Can you imagine the Ali/Fraser fight in stereo? Would be amazing to see and we can make it look exactly like it would if you were there in person.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers?

3D is not only a huge win for theater goers; it also represents a significant economic boost for the economy. The consumer electronics industry will revitalize product replacement cycles as the new 3D HDTVs come on the market. The Blu-ray business will get a huge boost as content becomes more prevalent via 3D conversion. And of course the studios and theatrical exhibitors are already seeing historically high revenues because of 3D. It’s all very positive news!

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8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mathew Orman // Oct 6, 2010 at 19:33

    What he didn’t tell us is that 2D to 3D conversion outputs totally flat textures without any specular effects.
    Real 2D to 3D requires creating 3D scene using CG graphics.
    The only use of original 2D footage should be motion tracking, scene’s perspective and sound, everything else must be new.

    Mathew Orman

  • 2 Dave G. // Oct 6, 2010 at 20:16

    Too many people think you get 3D just by adding in stereoscopic depth, almost everyone overlooks the role that specular effects plays. This is huge, huge, huge.

  • 3 steve // Oct 6, 2010 at 21:11

    He is fail, though its not like he’ll be honest given its his business to make these damn things..

  • 4 mgb // Oct 6, 2010 at 22:03

    Yep colorization was a big success wasn’t it ?
    Expect to see 2D-3D version showing on TMC at 2:00am

    Although if you took a typical Jerry Bruckheimer film and just made the explosions 3D – or just dropped in generic 3D with software you could probably still fill cinemas.

  • 5 Franco // Oct 6, 2010 at 22:55

    I agree with Mathem and Dave, it’s not just depth, the specular effects ( I guess you guys are talking about volume) can’t be made well in a 2D-3D conversion, no matter how good it looks.
    Watching Alice Wonderland in 3D, I’ve notice they did a hell of o job in 2D-3D conversion, but besides the Wondeland scenes, the scenes with real life characters you can notice there’s depth that is very convinceable, looks really good, much better than Clash of the Titans, but the real life characters they look like they are still in 2D, placed in a 3D enviroment. So, it looks fake, and it’s impossible to add real volume to those characters without the scene beign actually shot in native 3D, like Avatar.

    The Wonderland scenes were all made in CGI, so it looks gourgeous with volume and good sense of depth, it has excellent pop out effects and it looks like real 3D stuff, but only in the CGI scenes, and 3Dlegend was only responsible for those parts I guess, not the real life characters parts that look fake.

  • 6 Zloth // Oct 9, 2010 at 08:14

    Nice interview!

    I think there’s hope for 2D to 3D conversion, but I think it’s going to have to simmer for quite awhile before it gets really good. Like 5-8 years. I hope it takes that long before they can get to the good Star Wars movies. (They’re welcome to practice on Jar Jar all they like. ;))

  • 7 Barry Sandrew // Dec 20, 2010 at 01:56

    Franco – actually Legend3D converted every pixel in ever frame of the 20+ minutes we produced on “Alice”. Live action and all CG elements were presented to us as fully composited frames. In some scenes we were given elements that helped in our conversions but none of our shots were “native”. Happy to learn you couldn’t tell the difference.

  • 8 Akinmolusun Seun // Feb 5, 2011 at 12:17

    There is no way shooting in 2D and have it converted to 3D can be better than when it is shot natively in 3D, there will certainly be problems with some details(volume)i.e characters remaining in 2D in 3D environments, those faults are acceptable when they are seen in old films that are converted. Newer films should be shot with 3D cameras although 3D rigs might be awkward and very tricky as said by Barry, if its handled well or in the hands of expert like legend3D, production will be nice. Newer films should not be first shot in 2D and have it converted to 3D, never should it be encouraged.

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