The come-back (again) of the third dimension in movies

After the early tests (1838),a golden era (1952-1955), a revival (1960-1979), and the beginnings of IMAX 3-D (1980-1984), it seems stereoscopic movies are in for a new-new-new revival!

James Cameron is the leader of this movement that never quite stopped, after having filmed two 3D IMAX 3-D films, he “is committing ALL his future film projects to 3D.”

“Adding 3D stereoscopic display to the burgeoning digital cinema rollout is the best way to save the theatrical experience. And, bring people back to the movies.” he said in his NAB’s Digital Cinema Summit keynote.

Indeed, you can’t copy a 3d movie; who has stereoscopic displays at home? (Well.. I have but I’m not a normal guy..)

From Wikipedia: “In November 2005, Walt Disney Studio Entertainment released Chicken Little, in the new digital 3-D format known as REAL D” (who bought Stereographics, the famous 3d glasses maker).

Disney discovered that something like 10% of its screens (those with 3D projectors) generated more than 25% of the revenue from “Chicken Little” in 3D. (…)

Shooting in 3D Cameron says adds about 15% to overall production costs. Transforming a blockbuster film afterwards – such as exploiting In3’s 2D to 3D technology services – costs more. Still, George Lucas is committing the Star Wars saga to the treatment as is Peter Jackson for the Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong.

And more is coming! DreamWorks Animation announces its intention to produce all of its films in stereoscopic 3D technology starting in 2009.

The trend is set.

3d movies imply new ways of filming, of course on the hardware side, but the composition has to deal with the 3rd dimension to create a new grammar. Lenny Lipton, CEO of REAL D says :

The control of space is different. What is accomplished in planar, or 2D, filmmaking with focus and lighting and perspective can now be addressed in additional ways. (…) Placing objects in relationship to the plane of the screen. This is entirely in control of the filmmakers. In other words, pay attention to what plays at the plane of the screen, what plays in audience space, and what plays in screen space or behind the plane of the screen.

If you’re interested in the technique, the REAL D blog is interesting.

In order to take full advantage of the new technology, DreamWorks intends to make films with the stereoscopic 3D concept in mind from the beginning of the production process. The company believes that this approach will increase its storytelling opportunities and create a more immersive movie-viewing experience.

“Historically, 3D has been used primarily as an add-on or a bonus feature,” Katzenberg (Chief Executive Officer of DreamWorks Animation) said. “And while audiences have enjoyed that, they haven’t really seen the true potential of this technology. We’re going to use the latest stereoscopic 3D technology to build our movies from the ground up. We believe that this will create more opportunities for our artists as well as more compelling experience for the audience.”

The growth in the number of theaters capable of projecting 3D films has dramatically risen in the past two years. It is expected by 2009 that there will be several thousand screens equipped for 3D.

Last week I was invited at La Géode‘s (IMAX theater in Paris) inauguration of their digital stereoscopic projectors. They use 6 Barco Galaxy projectors and Infitec technology for filters and glasses (Note that the displayed image isn’t 360°, it’s “only” about 30mx20m). Some 3D effects were really well done, and I can’t wait to see movies that are specially tailored for this kind of displays!

Once you’ve started tasting 3d viewing, getting back to 2D is frustrating.
But the next step is even more interesting. Some people you know are already working on stereoscopic, realtime 3d, interactive content (so many words!) for such theaters, and that, my friends, is really impressing. Stay tuned!

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  1. There’s an article about the IMAX 3D in the January (07) edition of Computer Graphics World.

    Some quotes :

    “Robert Zemeckis decided that The Polar Express would be the perfect film to roll out in both 35mm theatrical release and the highly immersive IMAX 3D”

    “Digital technology allows you to create a second movie, which is for another eye, at a reasonably small incremental cost compared to producing a movie from scratch or shooting a live-action movie with a stereo rig,” Engle notes. “To move a camera and take another picture doesn’t really cost a lot in a virtual world.”

    “On a per-shot basis, we can decide to make the theatrical release the right- or left-eye [render],” explains Engle. “Our general rule of thumb is that it’s the left eye, but we can switch back and forth depending on the composition of the shot.”

    “”The questions become, how do you make this more efficient, how do you streamline the process? So many of the techniques used to create the theatrical release are 2D techniques, like matte painting or rotoscoping. Anything associated with the image plane becomes problematic when going into the 3D world.”

    “Depth of field—an accepted convention in the ordinary theatrical release—can actually look rather strange in a stereoscopic IMAX movie. “CG cameras don’t have depth of field, and it’s added as a forced process to make [the production] look more filmic,” says Murray. “With the stereoscopic film, if something in the foreground is soft, it looks wrong. Depth of field can feel like a mistake in the stereoscopic film.”

    “Last Spring, Sony announced the creation of Imageworks 3D, a division that put a stake in the ground with regard to future stereoscopic work. Now, in principle, every CG production produced at Sony Pictures Animation could be converted for stereoscopic viewing via IMAX or other means”

    “What the company came up with was a system for exhibitors that required an upgrade to a digital projector, a silver screen, and disposable glasses. Real D’s digital projector partners are Christie, Barco, and NEC; its server partners are Kodak Digital Cinema, Doremi, and QuVis. Theater owners, many of whom already possess a DLP digital projector, simply added Real D’s shuttering device, the ZScreen. This hardware/software device fits on the front of the projector, running 144 flashes a second, alternating left-eye/right-eye views. For viewing, audience members wear disposable polarized glasses.

    “It takes 15 minutes to install the hardware/software upgrade,” says Lewis. “We supply the installation, maintenance, and constant upgrades.” In return, the exhibitor pays Real D a combination of an annual license fee and a per-ticket percentage. ”

    “Following the 3D version of Chicken Little was Monster House, which, says Lewis, played in Real D on 4 percent of the screens but accounted for 15 percent of the overall box office. The stop-motion Nightmare Before Christmas (which, like Chicken Little, was transformed from 2D into stereoscopy by Industrial Light & Magic) is also a Real D film. Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf, being produced at Sony Pictures Animation, is expected to open November 2007 in 1000 Real D-enabled theaters.”

    “Next year, says Lewis, his firm expects to release five stereoscopic films in Real D-enabled theaters, as well as begin to provide live-streaming events and concerts in 3D. “Content is blowing up,” says Lewis. “If you build it [in 3D], they will come—and they’ve been coming pretty quickly.” —Debra Kaufman

  2. A good introductory article about stereoscopic movies at :

    Some quotes :

    How do the experiences of viewing IMAX and Real-D differ?

    Engle: I think the biggest difference is that when you’re in an IMAX theater, you’re usually immersed in the screen without even looking at any content. Once you sit down, it takes a good turn of the head to look from one end of the screen to the other. The result of that is that you generally feel like you’re in the image on an IMAX screen, more so than you are in a conventional theatre screen. The Real-D system currently is targeted at multiplex type theaters with 40 to 50 feet wide screens where you can see the edges. What that means in terms of the experience for the audience and for the way in which you create the content is that an IMAX theater can be much more immersive, and of course, that’s why they call it “the IMAX 3D experience”. Contrast that with a multiplex theater, where it’s literally as if you were looking through a window and experiencing a deep world. We’re capable of pushing things out of the screen but that effect really depends on how things are composed. Fundamentally, IMAX will feel like you’re more in the world, and multiplex Real-D will feel like you’re watching the world. Both IMAX and Real-D offer compelling 3D experiences for their audiences. As co-creators, Imageworks is always trying to find the best way to match the director’s vision to the best use of stereoscopic presentation. Sometimes that will mean IMAX and sometimes it will mean Real-D.

    Can you talk about working with a filmmaker as creative as Robert Zemeckis?

    Bredow: It’s interesting to get to work with somebody who’s obviously experimental and innovative in filmmaking. Basically, when you get to work with someone like Robert Zemeckis, his focus is to be able to tell stories with whatever means are available to him. When he sees an actor like Tom Hanks, and wants him to play a six year-old kid, you start to realize the extremes that he’s interested in going, to be able to tell his stories, which makes it a lot of fun. That starts with things like acting and characters and who’s playing his main characters, and goes all the way to technical innovations in terms of how to make the audience experience his movie firsthand in 3D. That was my experience on “œThe Polar Express”.

    Are there any striking differences between the pipelines created at Imageworks to process IMAX and Real-D?

    Engle: The primary difference between the Real-D and IMAX pipelines are in the ways the cameras are created. With a Real-D presentation you need to be more aware of how the edge of the screen can interfere with the 3D effect. You need to adjust the overall depth of the scene into the screen plane.

    Should all films be in stereoscopic 3D, or do some films possess characteristics that specifically call for a 3D viewing experience?

    Engle: I think that CG features have a special quality which lend themselves to stereoscopic presentation I look forward to seeing a few live action blockbusters in stereo but do we really want to see every film in 3D? Maybe I’m too old, but I saw a clip of a classic movie musical not too long ago which had been converted to 3D and I thought to myself, yeah that’s neat, but there’s something to be said for leaving those historical gems alone. Maybe it comes back to the whole question of colorizing a film, for example, do you do it or not? If you did a version of “Casablanca” that was in color and 3D, it would just be a different movie; I mean, why bother? I’m generally against it. I would much rather leave it alone and let people enjoy it for what it was. I suppose there’s the other argument that says if you make it 3D or in color, then it reaches a new audience that wasn’t there before, but I like to think that people are cleverer than that.

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