AToMiC: Where’s the puck headed?

As 3D goes mobile and glasses-free, Canada’s 3D pioneer explains why the time is now for brands to get in the game.
james Stewat w3D camera filming

An OP/ED by James Stewart

Once upon a time, the Information Superhighway belonged mainly to innovators and early adopters – the geeks among us. Eventually, we non-techies were able to log on without incurring a migraine. Today, the vast majority of us Google as often and naturally we blink.

So too regarding the evolution of 3D digital technology. Make no mistake: this brave new world is no longer a gimmick on the periphery, nor is it ‘coming to a screen near you soon’. Witness for example the impressive new array of 3D-ready screens and devices recently (or seconds away from) being released. Perhaps the most exciting advance is 3D’s newly evolved autostereoscopic status. In lay terms, this is a fancy way of saying “Cool, no more glasses”.

As we speak, virtually every sumptuous, hyper-crisp 3D sportscast under the sun is now available on ESPN; likewise, Discovery/Imax now boasts 3net on a 24/7 basis. High profile acts like the Black-Eyed Peas and Cirque du Soleil are grooving and back-flipping in front of 3D cameras; two more Avatars and a Titanic 3D are slated for upcoming rreleases, while directors like Spielberg, Coppola and Scorsese all have 3D films in production. Next year the BBC will be broadcasting the 2012 Olympics in 3D – a wholly thrilling prospect if ever there was.

Moreover, all of this fresh 3D content is now moving well beyond the confines of the cinema, and quickly slipping into the realm of everyday usage. For instance you may now enjoy 3D imagery on, say, your brand new LG Optimus tablet. Or perhaps you prefer the HTC EVO 3D smart phone, or the newest Toshiba laptop. Gamers are going nuts for Nintendo’s most recent glasses-free 3D handheld; just around the corner the iPhone 5 is set to embrace its patented holographic future. Many of these newest devices also come equipped with 3D cameras for recording: Imagine the intense pleasure of being in the room with your child as she takes her first steps – again. If you’re a creative, imagine the potential and sheer fun to be had in exploring all the new avenues to highlight your brand, to astonish your clients with previously unimaginable feats of imagination.

All of this to say that, to date, relatively few brands have so far made the 3D leap: Pepsi, Coke, Toyota, Sony, Armani, and Mazda are among these digital 3D pioneers. Today only a few dozen or so 3D commercials currently exist. Out of this batch, my company, Geneva Film, has produced a good share, including the most recent 3D spots for Lexus and Sprint. So what gives – what is the hesitation among smaller agencies?

Whether speaking at TED or Cannes Lions, I’ve come to understand that most marketers and creatives simply need more information. Once the costs are outlined, an explanation of how 3D actually works is provided, and the storytelling potential revealed, most ad people soon begin to envision 3D as well within the realm of possibility, and real excitement takes hold.

First off, 3D commercials can still be screened in 2D. Launching a campaign in both formats is entirely feasible, which may assist your wide release. This option preserves the huge 3D “wow” factor while maintaining the penetration of 2D.

As far as costing, for live action 3D production, my estimate is 10 to 25 percent above shooting a typical spot in 2D or “flattie”. For bigger budget campaigns, 3D will cost less because you’ve already invested in higher production value. Given the entire workflow is digital (acquisition to post to projection), you can expect some upfront costs here too.

If you’re shooting 3D, careful storyboarding is crucial: you need to gauge how much 3D to use, in other words, quantify the “depth budget”. Figuring out how much 3D should take place in front of the screen (negative parallax) versus behind the screen (positive parallax) will help you board your script. Depth budgets are also influenced by story genre and demographic. In Werner Herzog’s documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams, for example (a film which Geneva was very proud to be part of), the positive parallax beautifully heightened the existing phenomenon of ancient cave art. In contrast, shooting a comedy with lots of gags would involve more negative i.e. “in your face” parallax.

Live action 3D requires two cameras – each replicating the view of one eye. By moving the cameras closer together or farther apart, or by pointing them slightly inwards or outwards it’s possible to create all kinds of very powerful feelings. Bottom line, we all know emotionally-charged content is the basis for every great spot. The intensity, immediacy and raw visceral impact of shooting 3D takes this to a new level.

Lastly, 3D in advertising yields eye-popping returns in memory retention with audiences exhibiting 92% total recall of an ad, with 68% of that number showing a higher likelihood of following through with a purchase of the product advertised – a significant increase over the same commercial in 2D. In studies from multiple independent sources – including ESPN, Xpand and Texas Instruments, the data shows an average increase in viewer retention of 15%. For a nominal increase in production costs, you get a 15% – 20% increase in ad recall. Who doesn’t want that?

Given the rapidly increasing presence of glasses-free 3D, and the sharp increase in 3D-ready playback devices, integrating 3D into your toolkit is a must. As Gretzky would say, you can go to where the puck is, or you can go to where the puck is going to be.

James Stewart is a director and founder of Geneva Film Co. a Toronto-based leader in 3D commercial production. When he is not on set, he is regular presenter on 3D at conferences like TED andCannes Lions. He will next be opening eyes at ATOMIC October 4th.