Home Theater Forum had the chance to speak with Bob Whitehill a stereoscopic supervisor at Pixar about 3D and the release of Cars on 3D. We also spoke with Josh Hollander, Director of 3D Production for Pixar and that interview can be found here.
HTF: Hi, Bob, how are you this afternoon?
Bob Whitehill: Good, how are you?
HTF: I want to say not only thank you for the great 3D work you do, but also for the talk you gave for a group of our members at Disney Studios in Burbank about a year ago. It was just fantastic. You talked about working in 3D and the work that was going into Nemo 3D conversion and we just got so much positive feedback from that 45-minute presentation. It was one our favorite presentations of the week. [Here is a link to that presentation].
Bob Whitehill: Wow. Terrific, thank you so much for sharing that.
HTF: We got a lot of feedback both just how engaging and enjoyable and a fantastic -- what a fantastic presenter you were and then just how easy you were able to present a complicated topic so that everyone could understand it.
Bob Whitehill: Well, nice, thank you very much.
HTF: In that presentation you talked a little about smart 3D parameters.
Bob Whitehill: Right.
HTF: And I was just curious if you could talk little about how you balance those against the extreme 3D payoff shots.
Bob Whitehill: Well, you have to take into account what is the purpose of the moment, what serves the film best at a particular moment. And for the most part we want to make sure that we have dimensional rewarding 3D on screen at all times. And so we're not as concerned with creating 3D moments as we are just making it feel right, sit right and we're very conscious of scale issues and not breaking the world so that the cars or helicopter shot of a stadium feels too much like a toy set because you can risk desiring too much 3D and making something look miniaturized. But as you say for those moments, we really want to give the audience of ours that's pursuing the 3D version some reward. And so like in the opening race crash in Cars we worked hard to get the tire, when there's a piece of debris of tire sailing toward the audience. We wanted to make sure that it was a impactful moment in 3D. And at the end when King is finally spun out and kind of flips over the camera we wanted to make sure that it was rewarding and dramatic. So we kind o, take our cues from the movie as to when and where we can make things more extreme and when does it really fit in well with the story.
HTF: You are revisiting titles like Cars and Monsters, Inc. that were not theatrically released in 3D with 3D conversions. What factors go into considering which titles you re-release in 3D?
Bob Whitehill: Creatively, which is kind of what I can speak to, I think all of our films lend themselves well to 3D because of our medium. 3D animation working in those dimensions we are very conscious of trying to use the camera in deep and rewarding ways and so they fall gracefully into 3D.
And you know, in terms of which ones have reached our audiences thus far, I think there's a variety of different decisions that go into which ones come out in terms of the initial box office and in the initial DVD sales and so forth. But creatively I can see benefit to virtually any Pixar movie being enhanced by being in 3D.
HTF: Is it more difficult on the creative side to convert a film like Cars or Monsters, Inc that everyone knows and loves the presentation they saw originally than it is to make a film from scratch like Monsters University?
Bob Whitehill: You know, I think that because people are familiar with and are sort of attached the original Monsters, Inc. seeing it in 3D just gives them an added sort of pull into that world. It's sort of like, if you took an older movie that the soundtracks might have been mono or stereo and you did a surround sound mix with it. If it's done wisely and well then I think any audience would enjoy that sort of, you know, bump up in the technology and presentation of one of the films.
So yeah, I think we feel so good about our films and our ability to do the 3D well that it does seem just like an added bonus, an added feature for our audience to be able to experience in 3D.
HTF: I know with Nemo you mentioned during your presentation with us last year that the particulate matter formed its own set of unique challenges and that was difficult to work with when you were revisiting Nemo. Were there any challenges like that that were unique to Cars?
Bob Whitehill: Cars was a very visually sophisticated film originally. And what that meant was extremely high render times for all the details like in Radiator Springs, every crack in the concrete and every weed growing up between the buildings. It was very, very sophisticated and it used a lot of what we call paint fixes which are sort of ways that we can fix small problems on screen without having to perhaps model or recreate and reanimate every bit of the frame and so we would have these cheats, the kind of paint fixes to make the image look just perfect. And so Cars was a challenge in just its level of detail and its complexity and taking these paint fixes and these cheats that had made the mono version look so pristine. And now we had to recreate the stereo version which meant taking these fixes into another eye view. So Cars was quite a challenge because of its complexity.
HTF: When you talked to us about Brave last year you mentioned that between the 2D and 3D version there were certain items that you need to adjust because once you get into depth of field something that looks fine on 2D might not work well on 3D. Were there any scenes like that you can recall from Cars where you had make adjustments just to make everything work in the depth of field?
Bob Whitehill: So the depth of field approach to Cars is a rather broad depth of field, meaning that a lot of the shots are already in focus and so I don't think we had too many challenges in Cars about bringing blurry objects, sharper into focus. We did have some challenges with very low cameras, the cameras are often locked very, very low to the ground plane with Cars racing overhead. What that means is that we can only dedicate so much 3D screen space in a shot. And so when it's -- the camera is right on the ground and we're dedicating almost all the 3D we can play with to 18 inches of asphalt rather than being able to spread it over all the Cars that are racing toward us.
And so we did do more camera re-positionings in Cars where we would take the camera up off the ground or perhaps out away from the wall of the race track so that we could spread more of that 3D depth deeper into the scene and not have to dedicate it to just a very small patch of concrete directly in front of camera.
HTF: Putting you on the spot, what's your favorite scene in Cars now it's been done in 3D and then looking at the library of films you worked at Pixar, what's your favorite overall 3D presentation?
Bob Whitehill: I think in Cars, my favorite 3D moments may be the opening race. I really love what we were able to do with the graphics that the racing sports network has put together to introduce us to the characters. And so that's a wonderful little montage of shot, the different you know, angles of the characters and different graphics that cull out their standing in the points total and so forth. And then we move right into the opening race crash which is so interesting in stereo. So I really love a lot of the racing stuff in Cars.
And then also the drive with Sally when McQueen and Sally leave Radiator Springs and he's grown to sort of appreciate Radiator Springs and she's grown to trust that he will not try to escape and they are really furthering their relationship along. I love that drive to the waterfall and to the forest. Many scenes in Cars, I think worked really well in stereo.
Overall, boy, one that's really actually pretty fun in 3D is the Mater's dream sequence from Cars 2 where he is sort of putting it together he hasn’t been helpful to McQueen as he had hoped on the trip and so we're seeing a lot of flashbacks in different unique angles of scenes that we've already seen before and we're sort of flying through this mindscape. As Mater was coming to this realization, that was something that we worked closely with John Lasseter on and the camera crew on to make sure that we had maximized the 3D potential of that scene.
HTF: I'm glad you mentioned the racing montage from Cars and Josh [Hollander] might not be happy that I say I actually stopped and re-wounded and watched that again because I don't want him to think it took me out of the story but it was amazing where you literally had three or four windows with different -- like you said, racing stats or Cars driving and each one seemed to have its own unique depth of field and level of 3D intensity marking it as being completely unique from the others on top of the overall deep background. That was just an amazing, amazing scene to watch.
Bob Whitehill: That's terrific that you are noticing that level of detail that we worked toward. As you can imagine it wasn’t easy to layer everything and make it all play nicely with one another. Dissolves are another challenge. You have these beautiful long dissolves during some of that racing stuff where they'll show the leaderboard and then cars racing, banking around that turn and then back to a different score board. We had to layer those in such a way that the dissolves worked really cleanly and well together. So it was a lot of fun work and I do feel very proud of it.
I think it just plays wonderfully in 3D. I hope at some point you'll be able to see it on a big screen because it really holds up well and it's really impactful on a screen as well.
HTF: Do you think there are any plans to theatrically release it in 3D?
Bob Whitehill: Not that I'm aware of at this time.
HTF: Well, as one member of the 3D anonymous support group to another [that was how Bob welcomed HTF members at the 2012 HTF Meet] I definitely appreciate the work that you've put in creatively with Pixar 3D titles. You guys are just doing some phenomenal work and I'm so glad that you're revisiting your catalogue and giving us more to watch for those of us that have 3D displays at home.
Bob Whitehill: Well, thank you, Adam, that's very encouraging. You've given me some inspiration to work even harder to make these movies all that they can be.
HTF: On behalf of just not me and my family who enjoy them, but all our members who have 3D displays a big thank you. We like getting that quality 3D presentation at home and with Pixar I think, people know what they are getting.
Bob Whitehill: Nice. Well, thank you so much.
HTF: No problem. Appreciate your time this afternoon.