Magazine article American Cinematographer

Seeing Double

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Seeing Double

Article excerpt

Aside from a streak of popularity in the 1950s, 3-D movies have never quite taken off as a form of mainstream entertainment, partly because the technology necessary to produce three-dimensional motion-picture images is daunting to work with. Although entrepreneurial individuals have recently explored 3-D imagery in the digital realm, their solutions, though more compact than a traditional motion-picture camera 3-D rig, were still a bit unwieldy.

Enter New York native Jason Goodman, who has been a 3-D fan all of his life. "When I was a kid, I tried to make 3-D comic books using red and blue crayons, and that didn't work so well," he notes with a smile. After graduating from New York University with a degree in film, Goodman founded 21st Century 3D with the intention of making 3-D imagery a reality on a much more practical scale. He first tried to manufacture a 3-D camcorder from scratch, but soon abandoned the idea because of the complex R&D. Around the time he was getting ready to go back to the drawing board, Panasonic released its AG-DVX100 progressive-scan MiniDV camcorder. This opened new doors for Goodman.

"I had already figured if we were going video, progressive was the way to go," he asserts. "When Panasonic released the DVX, I saw a whole new opportunity for the 3-D camcorder." Goodman bought a couple of DVX cameras and started experimenting with how close he could rig them to each other to form a single stereoscopic camcorder. The first few versions were clunky, with overly large interocular distances and no method of precisely synchronizing the many features of each camera, even down to the basics of zoom and focus. Not too far into his experimental modifications, Goodman learned that Indiana-based company ReelStream was trying to modify the Panasonic DVX100 so the signal could be intercepted from the analog to digital CCD converters before it went through the considerable compression and manipulation necessary to record a signal onto DV tape, then export that signal out to a disk drive. Goodman teamed up with Reel Stream, and their collaboration sent Goodman's project, the 3DVX, in a new direction. "ReelStream was offering an uncompressed interface from the DVX100 straight to disk," says Goodman. "I knew that if we no longer needed tape, we could go buck wild on stripping the DVX down to the optical blocks and send the data straight into a computer."

ReelStream succeeded in developing a hardware modification for the Panasonic DVX100 that allowed access directly to the AD converters and achieved a data stream of raw 4:4:410-bit RGB uncompressed information exceeding 720p. This system is called the Andromeda Data Acquisition System. The heart of the Andromeda pipeline is the controlling software suite, SculptorHD. "While ReelStream was continuing the development of Andromeda," says Goodman, "we worked on stripping down the DVX to the point where we could get two of them as close together as possible. We got pretty bold."

Removing both VTR mechanisms from two DVX100s, relocating some of the buttons and interfaces to the top and/or back of the camera, slicing into the plastic housing around the lenses and seating them together, Goodman and his team managed to get the two DVX100 cameras to an interocular distance of 2.75" - very close to human vision.

Their goal, however, was a truly portable camcorder, not a camera hooked to a computer, so 21st Century 3D sought to push the project further. By incorporating a heavily customized and reconfigured Macintosh Mini computer into the body of each camcorder, Goodman was able to put the computer inside the camera, and through painstaking effort he achieved feats electronic engineers said were not possible. "Other than the Ethernet ports, which we've relocated, all the other ports on the Mac Minis have been desoldered, and we've directly re-soldered onto the Mac Mini motherboard for USB, VGA, FireWire, everything. We've done stuff that a lot of electronic engineers we couldn't do without destroying the Mac Minis. …

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