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How 'Maze Runner' and Barco's New Panoramic Format Could Alter Moviemaking

Could three screens stitched together be the wave of the future?

Maze Runner Cover - P 2014
Courtesy of Boom!

Earlier this year, digital cinema projector maker Barco unveiled Escape, a new theater configuration that is a sort of Cinerama for the digital age. Now, the first Escape theaters are getting the finishing touches and will open with Fox’s Sept. 19 release of The Maze Runner, the first feature film to be specially prepped for exhibition in these venues.

One of the early challenges for this brand will be how to produce movies to support the format. Escape uses three digital cinema projectors and three screens — one in the traditional center position and the others on either side wall to create a panoramic image. And Fox is already testing production options from visual effects to unique multicamera setups.

In the case of The Maze Runner, the film was shot in a traditional way, before the decision to use Escape was made. The center screen will display the live-action film, and imagery on the side screens will be extensions of the scenes — i.e., a larger maze — created using visual effects.

“Based on the speed we needed to get this to market and the creative challenges, we tried a new way of rendering and creating the material,” Ted Schilowitz, who is Barco’s “CinemaVangelist” and also works as a futurist at Fox, tells The Hollywood Reporter. This pipeline was built around a Crytek gaming engine for rendering, and computing hardware from Devil & Demon (Schilowitz is president of D&D). The artists worked inside the D&D mobile production unit dubbed Devil’s Playground. (Schilowitz says this sort of setup might also be useful to the struggling VFX industry because “we need to better the tool set so people can be more profitable with their work.”)

Fox is also experimenting with how to photograph movies for Escape, trying various single- and multiple-camera setups. That has included shooting vistas lensed with a Red Epic, and Red Bull tests that involved multiple GoPro camera configurations for action shots.

Additional testing has involved converting previously released films to the Escape format. "We did a test with The Devil's Double (which Lionsgate released in 2011), and now we are discussing the possibility of a re-release of that movie in the Escape format," says Schilowitz.

Production costs involving Escape remain to be seen, Schilowitz admits, “because there are so many different ways to skin this cat, that we’re just learning now.”

The first Escape theaters in the U.S. include Cinemark 18 & XD at the Promenade at Howard Hughes Center in Los Angeles; Cinemark Paradise 24 & XD in Davie, Fla.;  Cinemark Legacy Theatre & XD in Plano, Texas; Cinemark @ Seven Bridges and Imax in Woodridge, Ill.; and Cinemark’s Redwood Downtown & XD in Redwood City, Calf. The Maze Runner is also scheduled to open in October across Europe, including at a new Kinepolis Brussels Escape theater.

 

Schilowitz declines to comment on ticket prices, noting that these will be set by the individual theater.

Email: Carolyn.Giardina@THR.com
Twitter: @CGinLA