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Added dimensions for 3D

Two of this year's most interesting trends are 3D and DSLRs. One production company has already combined the two to make 3D time-lapse recordings, developing its own rigs and controller systems to shoot the 3D sequences. David Fox reports.

Two of this year’s most interesting trends are 3D and DSLRs. One production company has already combined the two to make 3D time-lapse recordings. Site-Eye Time-Lapse Films has had to develop its own rigs and controller systems to shoot the 3D sequences, but the results are impressive and very compelling. David Fox reports.

Our normal time-lapse camera system is a DSLR controlled by some custom hardware and software, which all fits inside a security housing,” explains Brian McClave, one of Site-Eye’s owners. “We’ve done some extra programming to shoot both cameras at once, and automatically check the files between both to ensure everything is kept in sync.” If one camera drops a frame, it deletes the corresponding frame from the other one too.

The system allows for camera separations from about 2cm to about 4m, so for a project where it is covering the construction of a building, they can accentuate the stereoscopic effect if the object is quite distant. Normally, you only have camera separation of a 10cm or less, but the system is a lot more flexible than that.

“We shoot very high resolution, much higher than HD, so in post production we can correct any inaccuracy. If we do have to have two cameras 2m apart and there are some discrepancies, we can correct those in post because there is plenty of resolution to play with.”

They use different cameras depending on the project, ranging from 21megapixel to 5MP models. “It depends on the nature of the job, what kind of lens is required and what output is required,” he says.

“The camera is the easy bit, it’s the software and hardware back end that’s the fiddly bit.” The custom software was written in house, and Site-Eye also makes its own camera rigs.

“Getting extremely accurate sync times between the cameras is the really tricky part, removing the lag that typically occurs when you use normal timers.” They system allows them to shoot things that are moving quickly and still get accurate results.

Part of the difficulty with time-lapse, especially where the shoot only lasts a day (as most of its 3D shoots have so far) and goes from daylight to night time, is the huge difference in exposure times required, which could range from 1,000th of a second to three seconds – when you add the time needed to write the shot to memory it means you can only take a shot every six seconds.

Most of the 3D work it has done so far have been tests for showing at film festivals, mainly doing experimental shoots, looking at how best to combine the two techniques (3D and time-lapse), each of which is “quite mesmerising in itself.”

Site-Eye has done 2D time-lapse projects for Sky, including a series of ten-minute shorts for Sky Arts, shot from dawn to dusk, called Beautiful Britain, and is currently talking to the broadcaster about 3D. It has also done time-lapse work for BBC News (where it is currently shooting the London Olympic 2012 site as it is being built over several years). It also does a lot of shoots on landmark construction sites, which are used for news items and documentaries, and also shot a sequence of cars being cut up for the Discovery Channel’s Chop Shop.

It has been doing time-lapse for 12 years, and McClave has also been doing conventional 3D for about the same time – in 2001 he had a 3D film in the Sundance Film Festival. He was also the first (and probably only person) to film the Northern Lights in 3D, which required camera separation of more than 24km, as the images were more than 300km away. The 2002 production was for an art gallery installation and scientific use.