MARTIAL ARTS 3D VIDEO FILMING
It’s a whole new art, both of fighting and filming
By Antonio Graceffo
Watching the proof of our 3D martial arts fight on a video monitor was incredible. The spinning, dancing, battling images popped off the screen like holograms in some advanced video game, but it wasn’t a random CGI image, it was me. And it was one of the coolest projects I had ever been involved with.
My greatest aspiration is to one day become an action figure.
The video was cut into a series of free promos that will be running online at 3Dguy.tv and on youtube, which you can watch with 3D glasses. A new martial arts series will be launched in August, hosted by Antonio Graceffo. As far as we know, it will be the first ever 3D martial arts series.
The way I got involved in this project was a lot of luck. I had just arrived back in Bangkok, when Al Caudullo, who owns a company I had worked with last summer, 3D Guy TV called me for a one-day video shoot. He asked me to bring a friend, to be my opponent, and we filmed in a park.
Shooting 3D is a whole new art and presents a lot of different problems, compared to regular 2D movies. First off, movie sets which work in 2D will not work in 3D because they will look flat. Movie sets today, especially large sets, like cityscape backgrounds, are done in 4th Dimension.
If you wanted to shoot a movie and have the characters in New York and you wanted the Empire State Building, Rockefeller center, and the New York Public Library in the background, first off, those buildings are nowhere near each other, so it would be impossible to get them all in a single shot. Next, they are so big that if you had two people standing in front of them, you wouldn’t even recognize the buildings or wouldn’t be able to see very much of them. So, you create a 4th dimension set. The set would be custom made, including the buildings you wanted. Then they would be shrunk down to size that would make them appear bigger than your stars, but small enough to fit into the frame. Next, to give them depth, there would be a mix of 2 and 3D scenery. If you go to the New York section of Universal studios, you will find a small version of the New York Public Library. The building is mostly a flat painting, but the stone staircase in front is real. And part of the lion statues are real, 3D. The other parts are painted on. To complete the illusion, a 4th Dimension set is tapered on the sides so that it creates an artistic vanishing point, to make it appear that you have a wide shot and the images melt away into the horizon at the ends of the shot.
In reality, if you shot a picture of a building in New York and had the same perspective, your stars would be two little ants, barely visible in the foreground.
With 3D, things change. If you shot the same set on 3D you would be able to see that half of it was painted on the wall and that the parts that stuck out were only inches deep. Remember 3D gives real perspective. 4th Dimension only gives the illusion of perspective.
So, a lot of old scenery will have to be scrapped when shooting in 3D. Luckily, my shoot was outdoors, in a garden with a playground.
When we arrived at the shoot, I immediately spied a gazebo which had a roof made of crisscrossed steel. I though, wow! Perfect. We could put the cameraman up there and he could shoot form bird’s eye perspective, down through the holes in the steel.
But with a massive 3D rig, 23 kgs, plus a monitor, it would have been nearly impossible and stupid to try and climb up anything. Next, Al explained that if you shot from directly overhead with a 3D camera, the actors would look like they were six inches tall.
I am already self conscious about my height. So we left the bird’s eye shot out.
While we are on the subject of body image issues, I got seriously out of shape in Malaysia. With 3D I was worried that I would look even fatter, or my fat would come out of the screen and spew onto the audience. In normal shooting, a camera adds ten pounds, so I never do a three camera shoot. But with 3D, I was really worried I would look like Jaba the Hut.
The other thing I was concerned about was whether or not I would need to wear the glasses during the shoot. It seemed safer not to wear them. But then I was worried I wouldn’t appear in 3D.
Al told me not to worry about the fat thing. Then he called me an idiot for asking about wearing glasses during the shoot. It’s refreshing, working for someone from Brooklyn, who knows how to speak his mind, even if his mind is full of venom.
During the shoot, I noticed Al wearing the glasses, however, and I was a little jealous. I wanted glasses too. He said it was because he needed them to watch the monitor. That made sense. When I am filming on my 2D camera, obviously, I have to watch the monitor to make sure I am picking everything up and getting the right shots. But with 3D you need to wear the glasses to see everything properly, on the monitor.
When Al said “action,” we began fighting. Ulysses is an experienced Muay Thai fighter. He has had a number of fights and spars regularly. So, he knew how to circle and stick and move. The problem is, in movie fighting that can be very boring. For one thing, real fights are composed of five two minute rounds. The first two rounds are usually pretty slow, with two fighters feeling each other out. They don’t really get going till the third and fourth rounds. But in a movie, a fight scene rarely lasts more than a minute or a maximum of three minutes, but not 15 like a real fight.
The audience doesn’t want to see circling and isolated strikes. They want to see pounding and pounding, and hitting, and popping and possibly some blood and death.
Real tournament fighting, jab, jab, front kick, circle, step, jab…isn’t going to cut it.
I explained to Ulysses that in movie fighting he just needed to hit and hit with intensity and not worry about getting hit back. We started fighting again and Ulysses, to his credit was doing much better, but Al stopped us again.
“3D is not just a film effect.” He explained. “It is psychological. It is an illusion. The audience sees the 3D because they believe in it.” Al went on to teach us that if during the fight we moved too much and part of our bodies went out of frame, or we got cut in half, the part that remained on screen would revert to 2D and the scene would be ruined. “As good as the movie Avatar was, there were several scenes where the movie went back to 2D because of these types of mistakes.”
“Action!” yelled Al, and we began hitting each other. Two seconds later, he was already yelling “Cut!” Apparently every time we moved or circled we were going out of frame. Al marked the ground where we needed to fight. After one more cut, he tightened up our fighting area. Eventually it got so small he asked us, “Can you guys just grapple?”
I wanted to do a couple of sweeps or throws, but aside from the fact that we were fighting on concrete, the only safety gear I had with me was an oral dam with a hole in it that I use for administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Actually, the sweeps would have been problematic, anyway, because they would have taken us out of frame. The more we filmed, the more I realized how narrow the “in frame” area was and that it was limited not only by breadth but also by depth. Once again, this was 3D, depth TV. Getting too far away from the camera, under the camera, over the camera…left or right, we would go out of frame. But the real no-no was to be half in and half out.
The second half of the fight scene consisted of a chase across the playground and a very cool final fight on the sliding board. On the way to the sliding board, Ulysses was chasing me. He leaped up onto a row of park benches, got beside me and leaped off, giving me an elbow to the top of the head. I had wanted to shoot the leap from several angles, including from the ground and from bird’s eye perspective, but it just wasn’t possible.
Next, we fought on the sliding board, which worked extremely well for 3 D because Ulysses leapt off the board on top of me, dropping both a knee and an elbow on me.
Al said, “We are pushing the envelope today of what has been done with 3D.”
3D really lends itself to action. Shrek was great in 3D because there was constant action with things leaping off the screen at you. “The Office” in 3D, wouldn’t be as exciting. It is an extremely funny show, but you need action to really capitalize on the 3D. So, a martial arts fight scene was perfect for 3D. BUT, there are special problems with shooting in 3D.
For one thing, as I said earlier, the camera weighs a ton. At this point in time, you can’t just pick up a 3D camera and run with it. In our fight scene there was a chase sequence. Normally the cameraman would run in front of us or behind us, but you can’t do that with 3D. The camera has to stay put.
You can move the camera to get multiple angles as you could with a 2 D camera. Al says that when you are used to it, moving and re-setting the 3D camera isn’t any harder than doing the same for a 2D camera, and he was very fast. He told me, though that you had to be really careful about how you did scene cuts cut-aways.
When you cut the action and then restart, in 3D you have to make sure that the actors are in the same exact positions as they were before. This is true of good 2D filming as well, but for 3D you have to ensure that the actors are on the same relative plane. Remember the camera picks up depth. So, for example, when shooting a 2D fight scene, I can put the two actors facing each other, inches apart, but one is slightly closer to the camera to the other. When the far away guy punches, his fists will appear to go through his opponent. So the opponent reacts, and it looks like he has been hit. With 3D if we had that same layered effect, the audience would be able to see the distance between them.
In fact, in some of the better, clearer shots, the two fighters popped off the screen so well, that you felt you could pass your hand between them. If one punched and the other reacted the audience would just laugh, because you would see that the punch missed him by a mile.
3D is going to create a whole new type of scenery. It will also create a new type of fight choreography, and in the end, it will create a new type of action movie star.
And since I am one of the few who has experience, I just wanted to say, I am available for your next 3D action film.
About the Author: Antonio Graceffo is a martial arts and adventure author living in Asia. He is the author of the books, “The Monk from Brooklyn” and “Warrior Odyssey. He is also the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.
See all of Antonio’s videos on his his fightcon.com channel
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