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Curry College film students truly multidimensional

By Natalie Fuelner
Globe Correspondent / May 3, 2012
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With careful movements and attentiveness to every instruction, a dozen students at Curry College carry the Red Epic 3D camera out of the classroom and into the quad. Over the next few hours, they will put everything they’ve learned about manipulating three-dimensional effects to use, creating a short film.

The students are part of professor Jerry Gibbs’s Digital Documentary and Movie Making class, the first of his to incorporate 3D but by no means the last.

This semester, Gibbs began teaching 3D film techniques in one of his classes, but by next semester four will include 3D instruction. According to the school, Curry is the only school in New England to incorporate 3D techniques so thoroughly in regular curriculum.

Phone calls to nearly a dozen schools found that some held workshops or offered a lesson or two on 3D productions, but none had made it a regular part of the curriculum.

“I became fascinated by where [3D] is today and where it will go tomorrow,” Gibbs said. “I really think people will be clamoring for the content and I want our students to get their start in it now. This is the future.”

So last month, Gibbs brought in a 3D professional to the Milton campus to show the students equipment and techniques being used in the field every day.

Jason Goodman, chief executive officer of Los Angeles-based 21st Century 3D, worked with the students during a weeklong workshop using the Red Epic — the camera used to film such movies as the upcoming “Amazing Spider-man” and “The Hobbit.”

He walked them through the process of creating a four- or five-minute “short,” and on the last day helped them use his professional-grade gear to shoot a dancer performing around campus. The footage captured will be used this semester and next as the students learn to create their own films and feed them to the school’s 3D YouTube channel.

Goodman said the skills students are learning, whether at Curry or at other colleges in workshops, will put them ahead of the competition when they graduate and join the workforce. Even though some say 3D is a fad, Goodman said, there’s no denying that there’s a demand for well-rounded filmmakers.

“So many of today’s film students will need to be into and understand non-raditional entertainment, 3D being one of those,” Goodman said. “For these students, learning 3D is just going to expand their options.”

Goodman said that from what’s he’s seen, Curry is one of the few colleges in the country with this level of 3D training. “There’s a lot of people doing 3D professionally, but not so much at the college level,” he said.

Gibbs’s interest in bringing 3D to the classroom began at a conference a few years ago. At the time, 3D cameras were out of the college’s price range, but he kept in touch with the camera companies and watched for new technology.

“It was pretty clear to us that 3D was moving in a different direction when I started to see that manufacturers of cameras for HD were starting to get into 3D,” he said. “So you have to ask yourself as an educator, if we are going to make content for this burgeoning industry, who is going to know how to make that content — it has to start at the college level.”

In January, the school purchased its first 3D camera — an HDC-Z10000 from Panasonic. It’s a far cry from the Red Epic, which costs from $48,900 to $70,800, that the students used in the workshop. But at about $3,000 apiece, the Panasonic camera fits in the school’s budget and is “compact and something you can teach the basics on,” Gibbs said.

Since then, students regularly don the black glasses that allow them to see the footage as 3D instead of two blurry images, and listen in as Gibbs explains various techniques and critiques work students shoot outside of class.

He doesn’t have any textbooks to teach from, but learns about the new equipment and shooting technique by asking other professionals and doing his own research. It’s a challenge Goodman says 3D filmmakers face every day.

“Sometimes we work off the cuff; that’s what technology is all about and how we’re going to figure it out and get to where the future is going,” he said.

The students don’t seem to mind, however, and their excitement is evident. They are eager to talk about the gear and where they see 3D film heading.

“It’s absolutely incredible to see it and use it,” junior Tom Quinlan said. “I mean, really 3D is movie-making at its finest; it suddenly makes what you do as a filmmaker look like art.”

Others see their training as an opportunity to jump ahead of the competition in a somewhat saturated television and broadcast market.

“This will put us one step ahead of everyone out there competing for a job. It’s innovative, it’s new, it’s creative, and it puts you in front of the curve,” sophomore Simon Polakoff said.

Next semester Gibbs is eager to try incorporating the new camera into the school’s regular news broadcast and at live events. He’s even hoping to bring in President Obama to speak at a college-sponsored event the students can then shoot in 3D.

There aren’t any news channels currently shooting in 3D, but Gibbs says it’s not far off and when it does happen, he wants his students ready to give the viewer a one-of-a-kind experience.

“What people are realizing is that 3D isn’t just about the hand coming out at your head,” he said. “It’s really most effective when it’s used to enhance the experience, to take the viewer there so you’re seeing a real person or looking through a window into a real world.”

Visit www.boston.com/milton to see a video of Curry College’s 3D film making class.

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