The pressure to come up with new and exciting dance moves often keeps choreographers thinking outside the box. Now, with the flood of 3-D film releases, they must also think outside the frame.
"It's not just the choreography within the frame but the frame itself," says Jon Chu, director of "Step Up 3D," which opens today. "With 3-D, the frame becomes a much more active partner, and it becomes a duet between audience and dancers."
"Step Up 3D" and "StreetDance 3D" demonstrate how choreographers and dancers have managed to overcome the rigors of 3-D filmmaking to create dance sequences that take full advantage of the eye-popping format.
"You normally think of 3-D as the action coming out of the screen," said Dania Pasquini, who co-directed "StreetDance" — about an urban dance group that partners with a ballet troupe so they can share their rehearsal space — with Max Giwa. "We wanted viewers to become part of the scene. It's not a roller-coaster ride. It's about depth and added dimension."
That movie has opened in Europe, Australia and parts of Asia, and is looking for a U.S. distributor.
Indeed, creating dance scenes for 3-D requires an entirely new mentality for choreographers, most of whom have worked exclusively in traditional screen formats.
"Most of us are used to choreographing left to right, which is 2-D. When you're relaying choreography in a 3-D manner, the angles are completely different," said Rich Talauega, half of the Rich + Tone choreography team that worked on some of the dance sequences for "Step Up 3D," the third installment of Disney's profitable franchise. This one follows a ragtag troupe of street dancers — including Moose (Adam G. Sevani) and team captain Luke (Rick Malambri) —who take on New York's toughest dance groups in a series of high-energy competitions.
"We had to make certain formations deeper to create more punch on screen. We tested some moves in advance, and some of the stuff just didn't work. We had to rearrange certain formations to complement the depth of field," Talauega said.
The viewer's eye tends to wander all over the shot in 3-D movies, which means that every inch of the shot needs to be filled. To that end, the makers of "Step Up 3D" created vibrant visual themes for each dance scene, including one that involved flooding the set so that dancers could fling water in the direction of the camera.
Choreographer Nadine "Hi-Hat" Ruffin, who has worked with numerous pop singers including Missy Elliott, created the dance moves for the water scene.
Dave Scott, who choreographed the film's opening scene — a colorful chase through New York's Washington Square Park — said 3-D changes the way dance professionals think about the frame.
"It made my creative outlook go haywire. I wanted to do so much more," he said. For the chase scene, the filmmakers incorporated balloons, soap bubbles and other colorful distractions into the choreography.