The International Writers Magazine: Filmtalk
Filming Action and Martial Arts in 3D
Creates Both Challenges and Opportunities
“In some ways, 3D is like real life. It’s the way we see the world normally.”
3D Guy, Al Caudullo.
Putting on those funny glasses and watching the proof of our 3D martial
arts fight on a video monitor was incredible. It was weird to see an image
of myself, leaping out of the screen and jumping back into the fight. It
was sort of like the first time you ever saw yourself on a movie screen or
on TV, but with 3D it was really unique because you just aren’t used to
seeing 3D images at all.
3D in 2010, is what TV was in 1950 or radio in the 1900’s. It is a brand
new, wide open opportunity, a chance to get in on the ground floor of the
new new-thing. If you kick yourself for not buying stock in Yahoo or
Microsoft in the early 1990s, cashing in on 3D will give you a shot at
In July of 2010, director Al Cadullo of 3D Guy TV and Explore World TV
filmed a one minute martial arts fight in 3D, with me, (Antonio) and
Ulysses Chan, a Muay Thai fighter from Taiwan. The one minute clip was to
be used as a proof for his new concept of a martial arts travel show in
Since then, he has begun producing a number of 3D travel shows, mostly for
the Wealth TV network in America, which will be going to a 3D format 24/7
in January, 2011.
Having worked with Al on several 2D fight scenes last year, and now,
several 3D shoots, this year, I asked him what the primary difference was
in shooting 3D vs. 2D action.
“In general, 3D gives you different tools to use.” Said Al. “In 2D, if you
want the audience to focus on the main character, you focus on him and
blur out the background. But in 3D, everything is in focus because
non-focus doesn’t work. Your eyes don’t have blur, unless you need
glasses. So in 3D, you need to use lighting more effectively and place the
characters in the 3D plane, where maybe they are coming off the screen
more, to set them apart. Someone made the point that setting up 3D is more
like setting up a live play, because you don’t have blurred backgrounds. You use lighting to accentuate your characters more.”
“Plus there are the gimmicks, which are fantastic. You can have a punch
come off the screen, and it makes the audience duck. It makes the movie
more fun. In some ways, 3D is real life it’s the way we see life normally.”
That first 3D fight scene was shot in a park in Bangkok.
learned that shooting 3D is a whole new art and presents a lot of
different problems, compared to regular 2D movies. First off, movie sets
which work in 2D will not work in 3D because they will look flat. You
would be able to see that half of the background was painted on the wall,
and that the parts that stuck out were only inches deep. Remember 3D gives
real perspective. 2D only gives the illusion of perspective.
When we arrived at the shoot, I immediately spied a gazebo which had a
roof made of crisscrossed steel. I though, wow! Perfect. We could put the
cameraman up there and Al could shoot form bird’s-eye perspective, down
through the holes in the steel.
But Al explained that if you shot from directly overhead with a 3D camera,
the actors would look like they were six inches tall.
I suggested that Al could place the camera at a certain point and then use
zoom. But he quickly corrected me.
“Take the word zoom out of your vocabulary, because the human eye doesn’t
have zoom.” That made sense. 3D works more like the human eye. When you
have an object in real life, and you want to see it closer, you move your
eye closer to the object. And that is what you must do with camera in a 3D
“3D is more honest.” Insisted Al.
When setting up the fighters, we had to be careful how they were, not only
in relation to the camera, but also to each other. You also had to be
aware of every object in view and see how many different planes and layers
you had, and if they made sense. Al used a pocket laser device to
calculate distances and explained that there was a special software
package for creating 3D computerized mockups of locations, in advance, to
help you plan your shoots.
During the shoot, the director had to wear glasses to watch the monitor,
but obviously, needed the naked eye to watch the actors. There is a lot of
juggling in 3D. It is also a good idea to play back every single take,
immediately, and watch it with the glasses. If the lighting is off or
someone goes partially off screen, the whole image can go flat. And the
footage would be unusable.
It seemed to me that you needed a lot more knowledge to shoot in 3D. Al
Said, “To do 3D you need to first learn all of the rules, then throw the
“This is the rule in 2D as well.” He explained. “And it took brave people,
going out there and doing things everyone thought would fail, in order to
create great new techniques.”
“Action!” yelled Al, and we began hitting each other. Two seconds later,
he was already yelling “Cut!” Apparently every time we moved or circled we
were going out of frame. Al marked the ground where we needed to fight.
After one more cut, he tightened up our fighting area. Eventually it got
so small he asked us, “Can you guys just grapple?”
The more we filmed, the more I realized how narrow the “in frame” area was
and that it was limited not only by breadth but also by depth. Once again,
this was 3D, depth TV. Getting too far away from the camera, under the
camera, over the camera…left or right, we would go out of frame. But the
real no-no was to be half in and half out.
The second half of the fight scene consisted of a chase across the
playground and a very cool final fight on the sliding board. On the way to
the sliding board, Ulysses was chasing me. He leaped up onto a row of park
benches, got beside me and leaped off, giving me an elbow to the top of
the head. I had wanted to shoot the leap from several angles, including
from the ground and from bird’s eye perspective, but it just wasn’t
Next, we fought on the sliding board, which worked extremely well for 3D
because Ulysses leapt off the board on top of me, dropping both a knee and
an elbow on me.
Al said, “We are pushing the envelope today of what has been done with 3D.”
Al meant that we were maximizing the technology, but he told me that the
future of 3D goes way beyond action and martial arts.
“What everyone expects in 3D initially is a lot of in-your-face gags and
gimmicks. And that’s what we will have to deliver for a little while. But
then, I think 3D will settle into something that is more immersive. You
will feel you are looking inside the window and feeling what is really
For the moment, a martial arts fight scene was perfect for 3D. Unfortunately, however, at this point in time, you can’t just pick up a 3D
camera and run with it. You had to cut, move the camera, and shoot the
same scene again to get multiple angles.
When you cut the action and then restart, in 3D you have to make sure that
the actors are in the same exact positions as they were before, including
their plane, relative to each other. If we reset the actors incorrectly,
the audience would be able to see the distance between them, and the
audience would know that the punches and kicks were missing by a mile.
“Right now, people want 3D images that jump off the screen and land in
your lap.” Said Al, but eventually, he believed that all sorts of shows,
from news to game shows would be in 3D. I saw a 3D concert that he filmed
and it really was like having a holograph of the band singing in my living
Two of the shows Al is shooting for Wealth TV right now are Markets and
Tastes, a food related travel show, and WOW, a travelogue, showing various
cities around the world. The shows have some action of course, but they
also have eating and shopping and hotel rooms. So, they are already
departing from the frenetic action and lizard-jumping gimmicks.
“A 3D travel show allows you to experience a place as you never could in
2D. The same goes for a 3D food show.”
Until we have movies with senses of touch, taste and smell, 3D really does
add another dimension to your viewing experience. Al is working on a golf
travel show which obviously has stunning images of golf balls jumping
right at you and panoramic views of golf courses from around the world. We
have also begun filming my martial arts series, Brooklyn Monk in Asia,
which is all in 3D. He has plans for a show called Tech Toys which will
explore all of the latest gadgets on the market, telling you which are hot
and which are not.
3D is the new new-thing, but it isn’t quite ready for independent and
student films. “The Blair Witch Project” in 3D is still a while away.
First off, the cheapest professional grade Sony 3D camera is $21,000. That
is more than the total budget of “Blair Witch.” Sonny is coming out with a
consumer-grade 3D camera for just over $1,000, but until we review it, we
won’t know if the quality is there yet to make affordable 3D movies.
3D is the radio of the 2000’s. People always said I had a great face for
radio, and now I am putting it to work.
© Antonio Graceffo August 2010
Antonio Graceffo is a martial arts and adventure author living in Asia. He
is the author of the books, “The Monk from Brooklyn” and “Warrior Odyssey.
He is also the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which
traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various
See all of Antonio’s videos on his youtube channel, brooklynmonk1, send
him a friend request or subscribe.
Antonio is also on twitter, with the name, Brooklyn Monk. Follow his
adventures and tweets.
His books are available on amazon.com
Contact him: Antonio@speakingadventure.com
His website is www.speakingadventure.com sign up for his mailing list on