Digital 3-D has hurdles to jump

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BUSAN, South Korea -- Digital 3-D movies may represent the future of the movie business, but a number of obstacles -- cultural as well as technological -- must be overcome if the future is to come into focus.

That was the consensus reached by a number of the participants at BIFCOM's centerpiece seminar on the 3-D Cinema Market: The Opportunities and Challenges," held Tuesday afternoon at the Grand Hotel.

"In Japan, 3-D movies are not all the rage," journalist and 3-D filmmaker Takayuki Oguchi said. Citing both traditional Japanese art and modern anime, he pointed out that Japanese culture favors "very flat images."

In Korea, where a ticket to a digital 3-D movie can cost 10,000 won -- as opposed to 7,000-8,000 won for an average weekday ticket -- Kim Sung-woo, manager of the CJ CGV theater chain, noted that some digital 3-D movies like "Meet the Robinsons" encountered "price resistance." Although he also pointed out that large-screen, Imax 3-D titles like "The Polar Express," which have commanded a premium ticket price of 14,000 won, have performed strongly at the boxoffice.

Still, the participants agreed that there is a definite need for both producers and exhibitors to cast their lot with digital 3-D.

In the '50s, when TV first posed a threat to movies, Lee Seung-hyun, professor at KwangWoon University, noted that "3-D movies were intentionally developed in order to make sure people got out of their homes and got to movies."

Now that sophisticated home theater systems are posing a similar threat, cinematographer Koo Jae-mo, who moderated the seminar, noted that "the future of theaters, physical theaters, is at stake."

"We need to develop our own proprietary technology," Kim said, noting that his theater chain has installed the Master Image 3-D display system, developed in Seoul, while rival chain Lotte Cinema has used the 3-D system from American purveyor Real D. "The government needs to provide support for digital cinema and 3-D systems," he said.

In the U.S. there are about 700 digital 3-D screens, and by 2009 -- when big ticket 3-D movies like DreamWorks' "Monsters vs. Aliens" and James Cameron's "Avatar" hit moviehouses -- experts predict there will be anywhere from 3,000-6,000 screens in play.

But at the moment there are only about 30 digital 3-D screens in Korea.

By 2009, it's predicted that about 10 3-D titles will hit the marketplace -- though no Korean projects have yet to be formally announced.

As a result, "there is a content gap at this point," said Matthew DeJohn, manager of operations for the Los Angeles-based In-Three, a company that is pioneering what it called Dimensionalization, a postproduction process that turns 2-D films into 3-D movies.

DeJohn said that Dimensionalization could be used to create new 3-D versions of titles in existing film libraries and could also assist filmmakers creating new movies in 3-D by helping them perfect their shots. "From the producers' and distributors' view, it gives us the opportunity to create new content," he said.

Kim suggested the Robert Zemeckis' upcoming "Beowulf," scheduled for release in Korea on Nov. 15, will be something of a test case because unlike previous animated CG movies that aimed for the family audience, "Beowulf" -- based on the epic poem, employing such stars as Angelina Jolie and Anthony Hopkins, using sophisticated motion capture and promising plenty of violence -- is a movie for adults.

"All the 3-D films we've seen until now were for families and children," Kim said. But with "Beowulf," "the make or break of this movie will determine the flow of 3-D movies for adults in the future."

In the Japanese market, where audiences prefer that English-language movies be dubbed so that they can hear the actors' original voices, Takayuki said that for 3-D movies to become popular they need to stick to subtitles rather than dubbing. To date, however, since most of the 3-D movies have been pitched at kids, they've been dubbed, which turns off older moviegoers. "If the 3-D will be a dubbed version, only children will come," he said.

If 3-D does take root this time around, it could eventually change the aesthetics of movies.

In the question-and-answer session that followed the presentation, one cinematographer complained that at the 3-D movies he'd seen "it looks like you're looking at a puppet show."

While a number of the panelists disagreed, DeJohn said, "The techniques (for filming a 3-D movie) are going to change over time."

Filmmakers working in 3-D are likely to favor longer shots, he said, since in 3-D, "you can look around (in the frame) and every image is more interesting than a 2-D image." There will probably be less rapid editing, so that the viewer can take in all the information on the screen, and filmmakers will also have to consider the "question of breaking the edge of the frame."

Getting 3-D right, DeJohn said, "would take an artistic approach. Cinema has a 100-year history, and we can't break filmmakers out of a 100-year tradition right away."
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