Filming in Macro 3D: Fire Ants 3D and MicroPlanet

Michael Watchulonis, 3DigitalVision
Interview by Brinda Paul, 3D Content Hub

Emmy-nominated filmmaker Michael Watchulonis, 3DigitalVision talks candidly about his last two 3D film projects, the experience of filming in macro 3D and the fascinating world of creepy crawlies. He also reveals that the secret to a successful 3D film is essentially the same as for a 2D film – a compelling storyline.

Q. Michael, it’s been a long time since we last had you on the blog. How has Fire Ants 3D (links) worked out for 3DigitalVision? Has it been successful so far?

We’re really proud of “Fire Ants 3D: The Invincible Army”. It’s playing worldwide on VOD services and recently launched on Blu-ray in Germany, Austria, Ireland and in the UK. Fire ants are a fascinating creature with a compelling story that is intertwined with global commerce, agriculture, and even ecological disaster. Studies show that they have the ability to inhabit 50% of the earth’s land surface. If fire ants aren’t in your country, they’re probably on the way.

Q. What was your next project after that?

We took the macro 3D filming techniques honed on Fire Ants and applied them to a new film called “MicroPlanet”. In that film, we take the viewer on a fun ride from the bottom of a lake onto land and into the forest. We were able to capture unique 3D footage of flat worms no larger than the head of a pin, mosquito larva feeding and diving, toads courting and mating in the moonlight, crayfish battling over food and digging their homes, and endangered tortoises. Even the secretive Ant Lion digging a trap and ambushing ants, dragging them to a rather disturbing demise under that sand. Much of it has never before been captured in stereoscopic 3D.

And we also tried something new on that project. We had a young girl narrate the story, which I think really lends a fresh sense of wonder to a natural history film.

Q. I’ve seen MicroPlanet, and thought the idea of narration by a little girl – brilliant, it added a new perspective and yes, a sense of ‘wonderment’ to the film. Besides allowing you to hone your ‘expertise’ in macro photography, what else fascinated you about this film?

I’m always amazed by the behaviors and beauty of insects and these tiny creatures when we fill a 3D screen with them. You may think that something as seemingly ordinary as a crayfish isn’t interesting, but we shot them at a scale that would make them 12 feet long as seen on your 3D TV. They look like alien monsters with truly beautiful colors. We can see in incredible detail how they expertly use their mandibles to tear a snail out of its shell.

Properly shot macro 3D is just very cool and a whole new way to look at the little creatures that we share our planet with.

Q. What are your plans for this film?

MicroPlanet is also selling well around the world, thanks to the efforts of our distributor, 3D Content Hub. It’s the third film of ours that will be published on Blu-ray in multiple countries before Christmas 2012.

Q. Do you have any words of advice and tips for filmmakers that are about to embark on their first 3D project?

First, I very highly recommend working with an established 3D professional, even if you are a 2D pro. If you want to produce and actually sell 3D content, you also need to adhere to the published 3D standards of the major 3D buyers. And remember that story is always important. 3D is an additional visual layer added to the project, but the film must have a compelling story that pulls you through from beginning to end.

Q. Now to money matters & the question on everyone’s mind: In your opinion is 3D doing as well as projected? Are you optimistic about the future of 3D?

3DigitalVision was among the very first production companies creating and selling 3D content specifically for the TV market, and we’re still optimistic. It’s clear that 3D TV went from too much hype (from some) to a few critics trying to dance on its grave… to where it is now: growing 3D TV sales and a growing content market. Our content sales are up year over year, and we’re taking on bigger projects like the new series we’ll be announcing.

We’re also optimistic because we can produce our projects in-house. So we carefully control the cost of everything from scripting to rendering the master in 3D.

The bottom line for us is that a good 3D film is a compelling visual experience and absolutely adds to the entertainment value.

Q. What about 4k, will it help 3D or is this the next big thing the industry is jumping on and will be pushing 3D to the background?

3DigitalVision has been working in 4K and 4K 3D for some time, so we’re ready for that content market when it begins to develop. We’re in pre-production on one project that will be shot in the next few weeks in 4K 3D. We’ll take it to market in 3D HD and have the 4K version ready to go when the buyers are looking for it as the first 4k TV sets are slowly rolling out.

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