Tips for Making a 3D ‘Split Depth’ Video - Tutorial

The popularity of Split Depth videos has skyrocketed recently, partly due to ‘big brands’ adding them to their marketing arsenal. Intrigued by this trend, I decided to make some of my own - and ultimately document aspects of my workflow that I think worked well (plus a few areas that could do with improvement).

Before we get started, here are two Split Depth videos I recently created, that I’ll refer to throughout the post. Pro tip: try moving your head closer to the screen while closing one eye.


One: Try shooting your own footage

To be clear, I’m certainly no expert in videography. I do think there are some simple film techniques however, that will dramatically improve the Split Depth effect when used. Personally, I believe making smart choices during the filming process is often more important than how the video is edited. Plus, I find creating the video from scratch to be more rewarding.

Below is a shot of my very simple setup for the Remote Control video. The next five points will cover a few things from this setup in greater detail.

Two: Shoot really wide

If you only remember one thing from this post, I hope this is it. In my opinion, shooting at a relatively wide focal length has the most dramatic impact upon a Split Depth video. Perspective distortion is your friend here - take advantage of it! Let me explain.

The entire point of this effect is to isolate the foreground object from the background. That’s why the foreground object travels in front of a fixed white line… but more on that later. If we can alter the perceived depth during the filming process, then this will only strengthen the overall effect.

You can see this in action in the images below (yes, it’s the same cat in both). The photo on the left was shot at 29mm from 1 foot away, whereas the photo on the right was shot at 105mm from 12 feet away (the change in distance allows both shots to be similarly framed). Notice how the background seems further away at 29mm? This is exactly what we want.

Images by /u/Popocuffs

My current camera is a Canon 60D, on which I mainly use a Sigma 17–50mm F2.8 lens. In both the Baseball and Remote Control videos, I shot at 17mm. You can of course get wider lenses, or even add distortion to the shot in post - however you want to ensure that a sense of realism is maintained.

Three: Get close!

Although this is probably a little obvious, it’s worth reiterating. The closer you can get the foreground object to the lens (especially when shooting wide), the larger and more prominent it will appear in the shot. The image below shows how close the remote was to the lens during filming.

Four: Experiment with depth of field

When it comes to Split Depth animations, a shallow depth of field is often contentious. Some argue it helps sell the effect, others will say it’s pointless. Personally, I prefer it - but this is up to you and your taste.

One thing to remember, is to make sure that the majority of the foreground object is in focus. I recently shot a Split Depth video of my brother lighting a candle, however the DOF was too shallow. As a result, it didn’t appear natural when combined with the white bars.

Five: Keep the object in frame

Although this rule can be broken sometimes, it’s usually a good idea to keep the main object within the video frame. If you allow the foreground item to be clipped, the 3D effect will often be ruined. Best to play it safe.

An example where the framing could have been better, is in this recent Facebook ad I saw.

Six: Managing the white bars

There are a few common ways of implementing the fixed white bars. Your choice will depend on the type of shot you start with. Generally, I like to use two white bars, as it allows me to keep the actor behind one of them. In my opinion, this increases the perceived change in depth. This method isn’t without it’s limitations however.

For example, when editing the Baseball video, I was forced to break an important rule: never ‘cut’ through a line. As you can see below, the only way the bat can end above the right bar, is to first cut through the left bar. In most cases, this would have ruined the effect. Fortunately, as the swing occurred so quickly, the cut was relatively unnoticeable.

Additionally, I’ve found that it’s usually better to use a relatively large foreground object, as it will contrast better against the white bar.

Bonus tips

  1. Minimise distracting objects. Try to limit the number of irrelevant objects in the foreground and background of the video. The focus should be on the primary object, not other clutter.
  2. Avoid white backgrounds. I made this mistake when shooting the Remote Control video. As you would’ve seen, the white bars seemed to blend into the background. I experimented with different coloured bars, but ultimately stuck with white as it contrasted with the black remote best.
  3. Shoot with a high-ish FPS. This was also something I realised after editing the Remote Control video. At 24 FPS, the remote seemed somewhat ‘shaky’ as it moved in front of the white bar. Compare this to the Baseball video, which was shot at 60 FPS.
  4. It may take awhile. Be prepared to do more than a few takes. Getting the foreground object to stay in frame can be challenging!

Wrap up

The above points shouldn’t be taken as hard and fast rules. There are plenty of cases where it would be smart to contradict them. I just wanted to share a few things that seemed to work well for me. If there’s anything else you want to know, or anything that you feel should be added to this post, please leave a comment! Also, if you have any Split Depth animations you want to see made, let me know - I’m always up for a challenge.

Finally, here are the above videos in GIF form. These are lower quality than the YouTube versions, but given the popularity of r/SplitDepthGifs, I thought it was only fitting to add these.


If you enjoyed this post, and want to check out some of my other work (or future Split Depth videos), feel free to visit me on Twitter or at jessehead.co.