The New 3D Technology Behind 'Pirates of the Caribbean'

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides - Movie Still: Johnny Depp w boat - 2011
Disney Enterprises

The James Cameron and Vince Pace-created Fusion 3D camera system has a new feature that makes it easier to shoot in challenging locations.

When the production of Disney's 3D Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides tapped the James Cameron and Vince Pace-created Fusion 3D camera system, it used for the first time what might be a promising development in that technology.

A new, modular "x frame" system is "going to be a part of almost every" Cameron-Pace supported 3D project going forward, Pace, co-chairman and CEO of Cameron-Pace Group, told The Hollywood Reporter. Going forward, that might include support for features, documentaries, episodic TV series -- and Avatar 2 and 3.

For this latest Pirates movie, director of photography Dariusz Wolski (who also lensed the three earlier Pirates films) and his team incorporated this new x frame approach into the shoot, which used the Fusion system with Red MX cameras. Production involved shooting on location in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Los Angeles and London.

Simply put, x frame is about reducing the size of the system -- which is something that the industry as a whole is working toward when 3D gear is concerned. "They had to be able to go from studio rigs, to handheld, to Steadicam -- and had to do it in the jungle in Hawaii," Pace told THR. "In some places the road was about 3 feet wide. There was no way to bring in heavy equipment on trucks. ... We had to treat this almost as a military operation, so if they had to take equipment on a helicopter and transport it to a beach -- which they did -- they were not restricted by a large support infrastructure.

"We concentrated on reducing the size as much as possible and increasing the mobility and making the rig robust enough to handle that kind of environment," Pace explained, saying that the company is now able to configure a Fusion system that in some cases might be 30-40 percent smaller than anything it did before.

As each production has different demands, the plan going forward is to use this x frame approach to create customized Fusion systems for anything from a small movie to a tentpole. "There are so many different recording options and configurations that it's hard to create a one size fits all," Pace said. "The package that gives you good 3D and a good workflow doesn't have to be the Avatar package."

Pace sees the potential of the x frame system extending beyond features, and at some point, contributing in the young area of 3D television programming production. "Where it really starts to pay off is when you are getting into episodic television," Pace suggested. "I think (the x frame system) will migrate to that type of television work where you want to make sure your footprint is mobile and has the least amount of impact on the set."

Pace also believes this system could be useful to filmmakers who what to shoot nature documentaries. "They can bring (only) the necessary equipment."

To begin to get this system in the hands of filmmakers, the x frame technology has already been shipped to Budapest, where Fusion rigs are being used to shoot 47 Ronin.

Development of Cameron-Pace's Fusion camera system began more then a decade ago. Since then it has been used in a variety of situations, including a dive to Titanic to shoot Cameron's 3D documentary Ghosts of the Abyss and recently on location with Michael Bay on the upcoming Transformers: Dark of the Moon.