Presentations at SMPTE’s first-ever conference focused exclusively on stereo 3D, held in New York last week, ran the gamut, dealing with everything from camera rigs for stereo acquisition to the effects of video compression and the challenges of transmitting a finished 3D signal. Last week, I ran down the basic content of presentations by Panasonic, which described its new 3D camcorder, and Sony, which outlined a potential suite of post-production tools that may one day address all the imperfections of run-and-gun stereo acquisition. This week, I’ll take a brief look at a few other papers that provided hints (and wishes) for the future of 3D image capture.

Attending the two-day conference meant getting an awful lot of information to process. Some of it may even have seemed contradictory, or at least counterintuitive. But information is what’s needed right now, and in large quantities. One audience member succinctly summed the current quality-control dilemma facing stereoscopic acquisition in one of the day’s Q&A sessions. “It used to be, as soon as the image came on screen, you knew there was a problem,” the attendee said. “Now, it takes two hours before someone gets a headache.” This conference was all about figuring out how to head off those headaches at the pass.

The conference opened with Alexander Melkumov, director of the Department of 3D Digital Cinema of the Russian Cinema and Photo Research Institute and president of Stereokino, doing his best to change conventional thinking about stereo acquisition. He called the use of two-camera rigs for capturing 3D “archaic,” comparing it to the old three-strip film process for capturing Technicolor movies.

Stereo optical blocksInstead, Melkumov described the Russian “Stereo 70” system, which he said has been used to shoot more than 30 3D films since 1966. The camera works by exposing both the left-eye and right-eye images on a single piece of 65mm film, yielding two stereo frames that, at 18mm by 26mm, are each close to the size of a standard 35mm frame. Special “optical blocks” were developed to make the system work, and the design was updated last year for use with digital cinema cameras, he said.

Melkumov showed images of a Phantom 65 high-speed camera outfitted with two different kinds of 3D lenses designed to capture left-eye and right-eye with a single sensor, including the just-developed “new-generation” ZEPAR lens from MKBK, the Moscow Cinema Design Bureau. “More than 60 years have passed since Eisenstein saw the first 3D Soviet film, and we are still not ready for it,” he lamented. “We do not have cameras to produce 3D movies that would match the level of traditional movie cameras.”

His final argument was for an increase in digital sensor resolution that would make it possible to capture stereo images side by side, in a fashion similar to the Stereo 70 approach. “We hope that the companies developing digital cameras will design with an 8K sensor, the size that will be equal to the 65mm cinema standard for the production of high-grade and quality 3D movies,” he said.

Bernard Mendiburu, a digital cinema consultant, spoke about the characteristics that will be necessary for tools now in development tools that seek to fix 3D images in real time. Amusingly, he characterized the struggle for quality stereo imagery as “Captain Roundness vs. the Evil Cardboard Puppeteer.” “We need to find a way to have 2D crews shooting perfect 3D,” he said. “In a movie production, what’s expensive is time. You can’t have 100 people on the set waiting for your 3D camera to be fixed.”

The problems facing 3D shooters are staggering — lens imperfections that will never be noticed in a flat image suddenly become deal-breakers when images captured by that glass are paired with those of another lens that has its own singular characteristics. For example, he noted that problems are introduced because 3D cameras are likely to use zoom lenses rather than primes for