Production designer and d.p. discuss challenges of stereo shooting

Neither Martin Scorsese nor the top members of his creative team had done a 3D film before they embarked on “Hugo,” but their first effort ended up garnering near-universal praise for the way they used the stereo medium to enhance the storytelling. Variety’s Inside Production talked to “Hugo” production designer Dante Ferretti and cinematographer Robert Richardson.

Interview with Dante Ferretti

Variety:
How many films have you done with Marty?

Dante Ferretti:
This is the eighth.

Variety:
And you hadn’t done 3D…

Ferretti:
None of us had done 3D.

Variety:
What did you have to do differently?

Ferretti:
With 3D I had to be more careful with the foreground. You have to put more stuff in front of the camera. Once we started to build and make models, we looked and said things like, “Oh, maybe we need something more in the foreground, one more column here, a kiosk there.” Day by day you understand better how to do 3D. Then we did some tests and saw we had to add even more stuff. The detail was very important, the clock tower, the smaller clocks, the machinery, the gears.

Variety:
So the job of the set decorator is critical.

Ferretti:
Yes. Francesca (Lo Schiavo) did a fantastic job. We were surrounded by objects in the café, the kiosk, the toy shop, the Melies studio. Everything was built like it was during that period.

Variety:
Were you able to evaluate the quality of the 3D on the set?

Ferretti:
Yes, when we were shooting we could see everything in 3D. We had a big screen and glasses, so we could see if something was wrong.

Variety:
Where did you shoot?

Ferretti:
We build the entire movie on stages at Shepperton, Pinewood and Longcross (in the London area). We built everything from scratch – an entire train station, the lobby, platforms, and put a real train inside it. It was a huge job. The movie is set in Paris but we shot in Paris only five days. We recreated Paris in London.

Variety:
How long did you work on “Hugo”?

Ferretti:
I started in November, 2009 and finished in January, 2011.

Variety:
What are you working on now?

Ferretti:
I’m doing “The Seventh Son” with (“Mongol” director) Sergey Bodrov, and with Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore. After that I’ll work again with Marty on “Silence.”

Interview with Robert Richardson

Variety:
“Hugo” was your first 3D film. . .

Robert Richardson:
Yes. I was excited and also daunted. Not only was it my first 3D film, it was my first feature-length digital capture. Up to that point I had only used digital for commercials. We used the (Arri) Alexa camera on “Hugo.” We had two Alexas on a Pace rig.

Variety:
Did you consider shooting on 2D and converting to 3D?

Richardson:
It was discussed primarily from the point of view of economics. We knew it was X amount of money to achieve 3D on-set, so the question was how much more time will be needed to do the conversion. But Marty always wanted to shoot with 3D, and for both of us it didn’t make sense to shoot it any other way.

Variety:
What was it like shooting digital?

Richardson:
I embrace digital cinema, I didn’t try to emulate film. My intention was first and foremost to provide a digital 3D presentation, second, a digital cinema 2D presentation, and finally a film presentation.

Variety:
Were you able to make the decisions on-set that you needed to?

Richardson:
Yes, we had 3D monitors and glasses, and the best part of the process was being able to make decisions based on the intent of the director so we could get him what he was looking for, whether it was a heightened depth of field, a shorter depth of field, whether to embrace the actors, and so on. Not being able to do so on-set makes very little sense to me.

Variety:
So for you, stereo capture doesn’t stack up well against conversion?

Richardson:
It’s a complicated question. If you ask me how Jim Cameron does a conversion, it will be excellent and exquisite. His knowledge of 3D is so fine, and he has the time and the finances to control it in a manner to get him exactly what he desires. For a filmmaker who doesn’t have his level of expertise there’s no question that 3D shooting on set is vital. And why would you hand your conversion work to another company? It makes no sense to me.

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