Magazine article Filmmaker

Teaching Immersion and Stereoscopy

Magazine article Filmmaker

Teaching Immersion and Stereoscopy

Article excerpt

The profusion of virtual reality projects showcased at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival is a testament to the fact that the tools and techniques for cinematic storytelling are expanding. Film schools are adapting, often quickly creating new courses that attempt to help students navigate this new frontier. My colleague Eric Hanson, for example, now teaches a course in University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts called "Experiments in Immersive Design." The course was originally designed to help students understand the history, theory and practice of three-dimensional filmmaking. But under Hanson it has shifted more to incorporate his background and interests. A professor in the school's animation division, Hanson is a visual effects artist with expertise in lighting, rendering and compositing. He's also a partner, with Greg Downing, in xRez Studio, a small shop located in Santa Monica, Calif., dedicated to exploring super high-resolution imaging techniques. The pair's credits include effects work on The Fifth Element, The Chronicles of Narnia and Spider-Man 3.

Hanson begins his class with a two-week introduction to stereoscopy, and then divides the rest of the semester into three sections. The first section explores the I MAX format; the second section investigates full-dome filmmaking; and the third section is devoted to virtual reality. Hanson's approach is hybrid: students consider the kinds of experiences and stories that might work best for each format, as well as the histories, tools and workflows that make sense. Hanson says that the class functions more effectively now because so many of the tools for creating this kind of work are much more accessible, and the workflows, while still somewhat daunting, are becoming more manageable.

In the course's two-week introduction, students learn the nuts and bolts of stereoscopy, with attention to some terms that are pretty foreign to most film students, such as "interocular distance" (the distance between your eyes) and "zero parallax plane" (the plane of projection in 3-D). While the focus on these very technical ideas may seem off-putting, Hanson's approach is playful, inventive and decidedly DIY. Students are encouraged to explore, hack together tools and workflows and have fun.

For the IMAX section of the class, students investigate the differences between traditional cinema screens and giant screens; they look at the tools that are appropriate for giant screen and the differences between cinematic cinematography and giant screen images.

In the full-dome section of the class, the students study the AlloSphere at the California NanoSystems Institute at the University of California-Santa Barbara. The AlloSphere is a 30-foot sphere within a three-story echo-free cube used for creating immersive experiences of many different forms, from a walk through the inside of a brain to large-scale data visualizations. What is the language of cinema for a space like the AlloSphere? How would you tell a story within this space? What kinds of stories or experiences might be most powerful?

The students also visit Ed Lantz's Vortex Dome in downtown Los Angeles. Lantz is the CEO of Vortex Immersion Media, Inc., which is based at L.A. Center Studios, and is working avidly to explore the cinematic potentials of full-dome projection. Hanson devotes time to the principles of immersive cinema and, again, to the kinds of stories that might be possible in the full-dome experience. …

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