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Confab highlights ups and downs of the 3-D business

WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- Underscoring the growing global interest in 3-D, both for theatrical release and in the home, 3Ality Digital CEO Steve Schklair told attendees at the 3rd annual AnimfxNZ Symposium held at the Wellington Convention Center how his company recently lensed an episode of NBC's "Chuck" in the 3-D format.

3Ality Digital -- the company behind the musical documentary film "U2 3D" -- handled the special episode of the spy comedy series, set to air Feb. 2, the Monday following the Super Bowl. Plans to distribute glasses to consumers are under way.

The exec offered his perspective on the prospects of 3-D in the home. "The good new is there are at least two million 'stereo-ready' sets in the U.S. market waiting for stereo content," he said. "The bad news is the market has moved away from rear projection TVs, so that will eventually go away."

But he added that new options for 3-D TV are on the way. "The home market is moving forward because there is starting to be content in the market."

In New Zealand, 3-D is starting to make inroads: There are believed to be seven 3-D-ready cinema screens currently installed. Production is already taking off, with James Cameron's "Avatar" (slated for a Dec. 18, 2009, release by Fox) in production at Peter Jackson's Wellington-based Weta and "Tin Tin" awaiting start of production.

"3-D came on us really quickly," said Aimee McCammon, GM of Peter Jackson's Park Road Post, speaking of its reach in the region. "Everyone is asking what 3-D is going to do to our production schedules."

Schklair said: "With 'Chuck' we did a location move and 47 setups in one day. That was proof that it doesn't take longer to shoot if it is done right."

He said that the show's regular crew worked with 3Ality technicians on the episode. The team also was able to view what was being shot in 3-D on-set. "It integrated seamlessly," Schklair said.

Habib Zargarpour, senior art director at Electronic Arts in Los Angeles, said, "On the games side, the question is what is the standard format in the home going to be for people to start supporting 3-D."

Addressing the theatrical market, speakers noted that a transition to 3-D technology -- with the required digital-cinema installations -- has largely stalled.

"There are big plans to switch to digital cinema, but today nobody can access the funding," said Patrick von Sychowski, COO of Adlabs Digital Cinema in Mumbai. "The only screens that are getting converted today are maybe a couple of screens in each multiplex specifically for 3-D. ... You do not get half the benefits by switching half the screens or half the cinemas. You get twice the logistics, twice the problems."

Today, there are an estimated 1,300 3-D-ready screens in the U.S. and 700 in the rest of the world.

"If you are to have 4,000 3-D ready screens in the U.S. by December of next year, things need to be happening right now," von Sychowski said. "I think we will probably see a doubling of what we have today, but we aren't going to be close enough to make James Cameron happy.

"There aren't really any other major digital-cinema drivers," he added. "There isn't that much money to be saved from abolishing prints, if you consider the recoupment period for paying off the projectors."



Panelists also emphasized a need for quality 3-D production that will not give viewers eye fatigue, particularly as many viewers are still forming their impressions about the digital 3-D format.

"It scares me a lot to see companies spring up, screw two cameras together and say 'we are in the 3-D business,' " Schklair said. "Poorly made 3-D will rip your eyes out. SMPTE is looking at quality standards, but it will be years before that comes out. I look forward to the day when people who get a headache will say, 'That was a really badly made 3-D movie.' Right now they say, '3-D still sucks.' "

Looking beyond 3-D, sessions underscored the message that emerging technologies are ushering in new creative possibilities and democratizing filmmaking.

What will be the result of this trend? "There will be a thousand shit films made -- and two really great films," Park Road's McCammon said during another session.

"The key is having tools that can bring the filmmaker's creative vision to life," she said. "Technological change is happening on two levels. There is a really high end. The other end is making filmmaking more accessible. People with no money but amazing ideas can have different entry points for getting into film."

Organized by the New Zealand Games Animation and Visual Effects Trust, the confab also was presented with participation from the Visual Effects Society and Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences.

The event was set to conclude Monday with a screening of "U2 3D" at Park Road Post.
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