Newark in 3D

Question: Can you give us an overview of NEW WORK: Newark in 3D at the Newark Museum? 

The timeline for our commission was straight forward.  The Museum gave us a green light in January of 2009 and by Spring we had commitments from SONY for the EX3 cameras, Bogen/Manfrotto for a heavy duty Manfrotto 526 tripod,  Really Right Stuff's stereo bar and camera mounts, Leica's Range Finder, DM-Accessories plate to stiffen the connection of the EX3 cameras to the camera mounts, and Kata and Pelican cases to safely transport the gear.  Our charge was to create a film inspired by a piece in the Museum's collection.  We chose Manhatta,  the 1921 avant-garde film by Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand.

But the most important thing was to get up to speed on the technical aspects of filming in 3D.  And for that,  SONY hooked us up with tornado chaser/3D wizard Alister Chapman who, via several Skype sessions and emails,  patiently walked us through just about everything 3D, from rig to editing to projection.

By May, we were scouting and securing locations, like Newark Airport, the 26th floor of 744 Broad Street, and Penn Station.  By June, we were shooting in Newark.  One of the first shoots was a parade in the Ironbound.  We knew this event was going to be very crowded, so we decided on a small parallel rig using two Flip cameras secured via an 8 inch Manfrotto tripod plate mounted on a monopod.  We kept the Flips separated by about 2.5 inches so they mimic interocular distance - the distance from one eye to the other.

By July, we had graduated to the EX3s and were shooting all over the city - Port Newark, Mount Pleasant Cemetery,  Passaic River, Lincoln Park, Tiffany Blvd. - it was magical for us to shoot in all these locations, to gain this access to our city and see it from unusual vantage points.   Later on, viewing the images in editing gave us an extra sensation - the naked human eye cannot discern depth separation between objects when they are far in the distance,  so in order to photograph them in 3D,  the cameras have to be separated by more than 2.5 inches - this is called hyper-stereo.  Viewing these results, we realized we had created images that were not able to be seen by the naked eye - exciting and metaphoric.   Nearly all of our scenes were shot with hyper-stereo cameras.  Some images were captured with cameras separated by as many as 50 feet.  We called these images "the eyes of God."

By August, the film was edited and installed into the Museum’s South Gallery.

Question: How was the installation created? 

If you see New Work, it's edited in B&W and has a 4:3 square-ish format.  We decided on these standards since Manhatta is a 4:3, B&W film.   We also decided to project in anaglyph since it can be screened with a standard projector.   We were able to fine-tune the projection surface when DIY Theatre donated the special paint which prepared the perfect reflective surface.  B&W anaglyph, when correctly done, produces clear, crisp, ghost-free, silvery images and uses filters that are the most cost-effective.

Since New Work had a 4:3 aspect ratio, Tim Wintemberg (the Newark Museum’s Director of Exhibition Design) and our curator Beth Venn (Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art) suggested that it be projected full wall for a fantastic immersive effect.  They created an intimate and elegant gallery for the piece.  Really, they helped create more than an installation, they helped create an experience.  Adjoining the New Work space was a gallery that had an LCD monitor looping Manhatta, which was directly opposite to New Work.  The New Work walls were painted a matte black.  Wing walls in the back of the space gave a bit of closure to the room and helped keep it darkened from stray light - so it resembled a black box theater.  Since the film is 6 minutes long and it’s meditative, we knew that some people would want to watch it multiple times, so the Museum created cloth-covered, foam cubes for movable and comfortable seating.  We also used surround sound, so that sound wasn’t just in front but coming at you from behind.

The result was that the projection wall seemed to dissolve.  Because the projection was full wall, we were conscious when shooting to include a bit of the ground at the bottom of some of the compositions, so that the viewer could almost literally “step” onto the streets of Newark.

Question: The poetry? 

We met the poet Jon Curley, loved his work, intellect, and the sound of his voice, and asked him to create the poetry for the film.  We gave him very little direction - other than "Whitman-esque," in tribute to the Walt Whitman Leaves of Grass intertitles in Manhatta -  because we didn't want his poems to somehow detail our images as if the piece were a documentary.  We wanted the poetry to have a very loose, tangential association to the compositions yet speak of the universality of the city and thus, the images.  Jon wandered Newark streets for inspiration, then sent us tracks of his recitation which we began to juxtapose to the images - to see what “felt” right, even choosing words for sound rather than meaning - sometimes running out to replace images that would better accent Jon’s words.  At the same time, into this soup, we began to mix tracks from Newark musicians:  the Newark Boys Chorus School,  Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart Choir, Arts High School students - never using the compositions wholesale, but almost as sound effects, to accent the totality rather than form a pad.  We massaged the images, poetry and music until the piece felt homogenous - as if it had always existed.   

Making Newark in 3D - AT THE NEWARK MUSEUM  


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