By Alexander Melkumov

The stop-motion puppet animation is a cinema form where one can see the highest expressiveness of the 3D effect in cinema. The reason for that is a presence of an important premise, which belongs to the nature of this form of animation. On the one hand, there is a rich texture of material and surfaces similar to the real world supported by the stronger tangible property because of greater image shrinkage, but on the other hand, - there is much stronger acute sensation of binocular (stereoscopic) effect, which usually increases when the discerned object comes closer.

Former Soviet Union was a pioneer in the creation of 3D puppet stop-motion animation. The first of these 3D animations - film “Souvenir” (director Albert Tuganov, “Tallinn Film”, Estonia) was produced in 1979 using a 3D system “Stereo - 70” developed by the All Union Cinema and Photo Research Institute, NIKFI An entire feature was shot on 70mm film by 70CK-D camera supplied with a specially designed 3D lens, which were enabled to get the image of two side by side frames of left and right angle simultaneously. Selected film format enabled to have an automatic synchronization by capturing two different angles with the size of each frame similar to the standard 35mm format.   Also, the camera was supplied with a unique binocular view finder, which allowed to observe a 3D-image of a compassable frame to creators while shooting. The actual film media technology of the stop-motion puppet animation is an integral part of the Russian technology “Stereo -70” awarded by The American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science for Technical Achievements in 1990.

The peculiarity of the film production technology in 3D cinema is that to achieve a photographic quality similar to the quality of a 2D-image on 35mm film, it is necessary to increase the width of a film-negative at least twice. In the period of development of the 70mm cinematography this direction was profitable. But today it indicates departure from the technological standards and as a result, the cost of production would significantly rise. It especially concerns the animation that requires operative control not only for the animator’s work, but also for receiving a photographic results which are limited to the length of periodically developed negative to be no longer than ten meters. In addition to that, the shooting phase in contemporary puppet animation is a very first stage of creating a scene and subsequently undergoes computer processing. For example, the ropes of hanged decorations are erased from the image and various visual effects imitating natural phenomena are added (rain, snow, fog) and so on.

Animation mode of filming in the stop motion animation allows an easy replacement of the film technology with a digital technology. This became possible after the rise of digital technologies, appearance of the photo cameras with matrices of sufficient capacity on the market, and lastly, developed techniques of laser recording on a film negative.

Starting in the year 2005, the Cinema andPhoto Research Institute of Russia (NIKFI) took a serious approach in developing technologies of making 3D films in the digital format. One of the directions taken was a development of a “film free” process.

As in traditional stop-motion animation,a 3D shooting with one digital camera is not only purposeful, but highly recommended. Moreover, the digital photo camera is much more effective instrument than digital movie camera. The wide spread opinion that the interaxial distance between two lenses (base of the shooting) should be equal to the observation base (interaxial distance between eyes) – which is 65mm, is a great mistake. Actually,thereare the objects with expanded scale of image on the screen. That is why for a natural perception of 3D image without an effect of miniaturization we need enough depth of correctly reproduced space, which means that shooting base should be reduced in inverse proportion to the image of the object on the screen. Thus, in case when the average scale of the image of a person on the cinema screen is equal to 2.5, it means that the shooting base’s size should be not a 65 mm but only 26 mm.

In case with puppets, whose scale on the screen normally is even larger, the distance between the shot angles fluctuates from 20 to 5 millimeters. It is impossible to install two digital photo cameras, or even worse, two motion-picture cameras, in such a short distance from each other. In this case, it is sufficient to use one photo camera, but supplied with a special precision platform which would allow us to move photo camera from one angle to another precisely only by several millimeters during the shooting of every frame of the animated film. In fact, such electronic and mechanical platform bears the functions of a movement mechanism and 2-angle 3D lens simultaneously. Hence the technical requirements necessary in designing and construction of such a platform. They are : the precise value of standing from one frame to another, which is equal to 0.01 mm, and the absence of a vertical parallax (the coincidence of the horizontal lines in zero). Operating of such a platform similar to the animator’s traditional “communication” with the trigger button.

One button touch is sufficient to shoot every phase of an animated film from two shot angles. The device receives an order to film the shot of the left shot angle, and after that it moves into the point of the right shot angle. During the move, all the data gets transferred onto the server’s hard disk. After moving into the right shot angle, the device receives another order to film the second shot, and only after that it returns into initial position of the left shot angle while the second shot filming data simultaneously transfers onto the hard disk. Electronic system which operates the platform is arranged to not begin the move of the device until a short is exposed (the maximum duration of exposing is 4 seconds), and not to begin the second shot exposing until the device occupies the precise position of the right shot angle. Filming of a new frame of the animated film is made possible only when an animator presses the button again. As a rule, the size of the shift (the basis for filming), which is constant for the period of filming a scene, is set by a mechanical limiter. Depending on the plan scale, the shift size can vary from 2 to 30 millimeters. This range is sufficient for filming puppets which are made to fit the sizes being standard for stop-motion puppet animation.

After researching the market of the professional digital photo cameras at the beginning of 2005, we opted for CANON 350D camera. Regarding the correspondence of the price and the quality, this camera was suitable for us in terms of the matrix size being close to the standard of 35 mm frame.

In the stage of experimental work we have decided to be limited with 8 mega pixel matrix. The camera has a good software according to computer control and a convenient interface for further data processing. This model is capable to record the files in RAW and JPEG formats. And most significant factor for using this camera, is that it is highly important to receive a video files without advanced calculations of RAW files of large capacity. There was a fitted objective with a focal zoom within the range 24-100 mm connected to the camera that was corresponded to the optical ruler of stereo glass whose sufficiency has been examined by years of successful stereo filming, including filming of stop-motion puppet animation.

An interactive table was developed to correct performance of stereo photography and to produce a stereo parameters calculations which would give a cameraman chance to determine if the required size of the displacement meets with the scale of a plan and focal distance, and if the flatness of the ramp has been chosen correctly according the camera movements (shooting base) The same table indicates the depth of correctness for comfortable stereographic space.

By means of active glasses, the film crew has a possibility to see all the filmed materials as a 3-dimensional images on a monitor immediately after the scene has been filmed.

An animation filmed according to such technology could a digital have in addition to format by DCI, a recommended 1570 as well film format as the one used for that have been a Giant Screen (IMAX) demonstration on technology on the GSCA conference in the first presentation of this Galveston (Texas) was performed by demonstration of the experimental one minute trailer in 3D 1570 format in September 2006.
At the next conference held in Vancouver n September 2007, there was a presentation of the first 3D puppet film for Giant Screen - “Scarecrow” (“Chuchelo”) created by Russian Cinema and Photo Research Institute (NIKFI) jointly with “NUKU FILM” studio (Estonia).

Currently in production (UMP studio, Moscow, Russia) a 90-minutes full-length stereo film “Blue Beard” (“Sinyaya Boroda”) uses this technology in which filming puppets taking place with the use of Chromo key and backgrounds are made in CG.
The presentation of the film’s trailer took place at London’s Film Expo in March 2008.


3D shooting in the stop-motion puppet animation with a use of one digital camera allows to obtain initial material which meets the requirements and the stereoscopic parameters of the “Stereo-70” system and is capable to transform material in any film media and digital formats. It is necessary to take into account that the problem of registering the double volume of the information is solved not by increase of the matrix size and the number of cameras, but only by changing filming angles in a consecutive order.

The final stereo image in this process, does not require an expensive preliminary scanning of a 65-millimeters cinema negatives in order to superimpose a 3-dimensional computer generated models into the scene. The profitability of digital technology is higher in comparison with film technology since digital technology allows to have an operational control over the image.

The authors of the project:

Alexander Melkumov – has been working in 3D cinema since 1979. He is graduated from All Union Institute of Cinematography (Moscow, former USSR ) in 1980 with a golden medal for his achievements. His thesis project (director and cameraman) was a short 3D film “To Bulgaria in Winter”. He is one of the founders and currently a general director for The Scientific and Creative Center “Stereo Kino”. He is also the head of the 3D Digital Department of the Russian Cinema and Photo Research Institute (NIKFI).

Sergey Rozhkov – head of the stereo cinema laboratory at the Russian Cinema and Photo Research Institute (NIKFI). He has been working in 3D cinema since 1976, first as a cameraman for puppet stereo film “Magic Lake” (1979), and then as a consultant-stereograph for more than 10 stereo films, currently supervising production of the 3D feature film “Blue Beard”.

Photos Demo 3D film "Scarecrow" Other News