Disney's Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour not only broke box office records when it was released earlier this month, playing to sold out shows across the United States—it also made history. It was the first live action feature to open in digital 3D, and it was the first film produced using Quantel's Pablo 4K with the Stereoscopic 3D option.
The film, directed by Bruce Hendricks, was also produced in record time. Shot in Salt Lake City in November, the concert film was in theaters a mere 11 weeks later. That allowed Disney to capitalize on the intense interest in the Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus live concert tour, which wrapped up its U.S. run just days before the movie's debut. Completing an ordinary feature film in less than three months would have been a tall order, but, given the daunting technological hurdles, to do so with a 3D movie was an almost super-human feat.
Color grading and compositing was completed at FotoKem using a pair of Pablo 4Ks, each with the stereoscopic 3D option, in DI Theaters set up specifically for 3D work. An industry leader in both 35mm and 70mm 3D, the venerable facility was the first in Hollywood to acquire Quantel's new stereoscopic technology, which was introduced last September.
Still, considering that the project effectively required coloring and conforming two 80-minute films (due to the left eye/right eye film streams), it was not a task that FotoKem took on lightly. "At the beginning, we said, ‘Can it be done?'" recalled John Nicolard, FotoKem's Head of Digital Production. "We carefully evaluated everything on paper and concluded that we could, and then we dove in and did it. It turned out to be an amazing project from beginning to end."
FotoKem's first step was to set up a pipeline to take full advantage of tools and efficiencies inherent in Quantel's Pablo 4K platform and stereoscopic 3D technology in order to keep pace with the film's breakneck production schedule. Anticipating that convergence (effectively adjusting Z space) would present a challenge, FotoKem General Manager of Digital Film Services Bill Schultz, an Academy Award-winner for Scientific and Engineering Achievement, worked with Quantel engineers to implement special developmental software that allowed convergence adjustments to be made in real-time without rendering.
"Bill was able to incorporate Quantel's new software into our existing pipeline—which was robust already," explained Nicolard. "That allowed us to handle the amount of work that needed to be done, address technical requirements to make the film look as good as it does, and get it done in the allotted time. The ability to make real-time 3D convergence adjustments was the single biggest win."
Still, the project required a literal round-the-clock effort. Academy Award-winner Michael Tronic, edited the film, cutting 19 songs (12 of which were eventually used in the film) on average at one per day. FotoKem then went to work, conforming each new sequence overnight for a screening with Hendricks and Tronic the following morning.
"Our Pablo 4K pipeline allowed us to quickly and accurately conform each song, and that was a key to the success of the project," Nicolard stated. "Bruce and Michael were able to watch new scenes literally hours after they were cut. They discussed it and suggested changes—and we were able to make those changes immediately and move forward."
In addition to grading, Fotokem used the Pablo 4K and Stereoscopic 3D technology to perform a variety of visual effects functions. The majority involved subtleties such as removing a camera flag from a performer's eye. The system allowed such effects work to be done in stereo and before rendering, resulting in more accurate adjustments and less time spent waiting for media to render.
"We added text to identify various people who appear in the film," recalled Nicolard. "And Pablo gave us the ability to dynamically converge the text, independent of the background plate. That gave us better control over the IDs. It was a big advantage."
The productivity of the workflow was also enhanced by Genetic Engineering, Quantel's team-working infrastructure. The system allowed two Pablos to share data so that grading and conforming work could be carried out simultaneously.
Convergence posed the biggest challenge to the smooth operation of the workflow. "Production didn't shoot with locked-off cameras," Nicolard noted. "They had seven 3D rigs that were on cranes and flying all over the place, so points of convergence varied. When you cut scenes together, it can be a little disconcerting, because your eye is moving all over the place. As a result, we needed to put each sequence through an additional balancing pass to make it more comfortable to look at."
The developmental software provided by Quantel engineers provided the solution to such convergence issues. The software offered the ability to play out and process two streams of synchronous, high resolution media simultaneously without rendering. Not only did that make conforming 3D material almost as quick and straightforward as conforming conventional 2-D media, it enabled stereo strength and convergence to be adjusted on the fly. FotoKem artists were thus able to experiment interactively and achieve the perfect 3D effect for each shot.
Given the time pressures and the fact that this was the first true "battle test" of the Quantel stereoscopic technology, a few complications might have been expected, but the work proceeded virtually without a hitch. "We worked unbelievable hours—but everybody was dong that. The sound people, the production people, the editor and the director were all working morning, noon and night," Nicolard said. "It was a wonderful collaborative effort. The Quantel software worked extremely well. If we had not had the 3D convergence capability we would never have been able to complete this on time. Never."