A First Look at Cineform's Neo 3D

Product Review: Cineform's Neo 3D

If you're working in the Stereo 3D arena, you know how difficult it can be to produce high quality content that doesn't give the audience a headache. Since there are no rules for 3D, you must rely on your proven knowledge, as well as finding a way to previsualize your content during production, instead of waiting for the final render to realize something went wrong. This is where the professional tools come in.

With the right equipment (I use a 3D Vision system coupled with a Quadro FX 4800 videocard) you can work in 3D inside Maya, many compositing apps, and also editing suites like Neo3D, which is the software I will be reviewing. Neo3D is a 3D editorial and digital intermediate software by Cineform.

Neo3D is made up of 3 different elements: the Cineform DI compression format, HDLink (an app you use to capture and convert video footage to Cineform format) and Firstlight 3D (used to create 3D cineform files, and perform Stereo adjustments).

The Cineform format offers amazing compression without compromising quality. Cineform files are no more than one tenth of an uncompressed video file, and the difference between them is not even noticeable. You can use this format for your entire workflow and then export your distribution master in DPX format with no problem.

HDLink is an app similar to the Media Encoder available in Adobe CS. You use it to batch-encode multiple files into Cineform format. You can also use it to capture video directly, if you have the hardware for that (since most of my work is completely computer-generated, I lack that specific hardware).

Firstlight 3D is the one you will spend most of your time on. When shooting in 3D, you will end up with 2 video streams, one for each eye. This is also the case when working with computer animation (unless you post-processed your shots in side-by-side format or something similar). You can use Firstlight to take 2 video streams and combine them into a single Cineform 3D stream.

Once you have your 3D stream, you can do a series of adjustments in Firstlight 3D. For example, you can adjust the eye separation, camera tilt, and such. These can be very useful when you're using 2 cameras in one rig (for example, if you were using a parallel rig, maybe your cameras were not perfectly aligned and that needs to be fixed).

The application also has color correction tools. These can be used to perform other tasks, like correcting the exposure difference that occurs when you're using a beamsplitter rig, as well as adding color effects and different LUTs to your streams.

Firstlight 3D allows you to visualize your 3D clips using a wide variety of modes, depending on your hardware. If you lack specialized hardware, you can still use anaglyph, although personally I don't recommend it because the color bleeding greatly degrades the viewing experience (thus affecting any adjustments you may need to perform, especially color correction adjustments).

Adding overlaid graphics, text, subtitles, and such, can be challenging in Stereo 3D if you don't have a 3D monitor, unless you can already "recognize" the depth of a clip by looking at the different depth cues (object separation, etc.). Luckily, Firstlight also includes a toolset that allows you to add these in 3D space.

All this data (color correction, overlays, 3D adjustments), are stored in what Cineform calls "active meta-data." This allows for a faster, renderless workflow, and prevents your files from losing quality over multiple encodings, since the changes are kept in that metadata.

For editing, I use Adobe Premiere Pro, and Cineform Neo3D is fully compatible with my NLE system. There's a variety of Cineform plug-ins available to you after you install Neo3D. Some of them are for color correction effects, and there's also one that allows you to edit and animate your interocular separation. Taking your Cineform 3D files into Premiere Pro means you've already fixed any issues that may have been present during shooting (camera misalignments, differences in color and exposure, and so on). However, when editing your sequences together you may realize you need to adjust the eye separation for depth continuity purposes, and that's why this specific plug-in is so important.

Editing in 3D works a lot better if you have a big screen because that gets you closer to what you will see in the movie theater (depth perception in a small editing viewport is different from that on a big screen). If you have a 3D LED TV, you can use that as an external monitor and feed your video sequence to that monitor. Like Firstlight 3D, Neo3D allows you to select a view mode for the clips inside Premiere Pro, so you can set your view mode to side-by-side, over-under, or anything your 3D TV recognizes, and start editing in 3D.

If you visit the Cineform website, you will see 3 different apps in the Neo series: NeoHD, Neo4K and Neo3D. All of them include Firstlight, as well as Cineform 3D creation capabilities. However, Neo3D includes some features not available in any of the other packages, such as a ghostbuster to supress color bleeding in high contrast images (when you see a slight trace of the other eye's image in your main eye, similar to a semi-transparent overlay, that's known as ghosting), some advanced 3D adjustment settings, and the ability to feed both streams directly to a RealD projector.

As I said at the beginning of this article, there are no rules for 3D (although there are already some proven formulas). Working in 3D is a combination of technical know-how and professional tools, and Neo3D is one of them. You get an amazing lossless compression format, a highly specialized tool to deal with 3D footage, and also the ability to edit in 3D. If you're serious about Stereo 3D, professional tools like Neo3D must definitely be in your toolset.

For more information on Neo 3D, please visit the Cineform website.


Sergio Aris Rosa [nemirc], is Sr. Staff Writer for the Renderosity Front Page News. Sergio discusses on computer graphics software, animation techniques, and technology. He also hosts interviews with professionals in the animation and cinematography fields. You can follow him on Twitter, and if you want to see what he's up to you can visit his blog.

November 15, 2010

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