Reliance ramps up 3D capability

Indian co. positions itself to handle film's next wave

CANNES -- Reliance MediaWorks, part of the Reliance ADA group, is training a small army of artists to meet the rise in demand for 3D films following the huge success of James Cameron's "Avatar" and other films.

Films like "Avatar," with its record-shattering $2.7 billion global boxoffice, "Alice in Wonderland" and "Clash of the Titans, have convinced studios to spend extra cash and add a third dimension to movies to boost boxoffice earnings.

While film directors like Cameron debate whether converting 2D films to 3D, or filming directly in 3D, is the best way forward in the future, studios are using conversions as the most cost-effective way to meet audience demand.

Reliance, part of the conglomerate owned by billionaire Anil Ambani, has begun training more than 2,700 artists to make 2D pictures into 3D in the next year or so.

Based in India, they aim to process between 10 to 15 films per year, each worth between $8-15 million to the company, targeting "blue chip" projects from major Hollywood studios.

"We are looking at focusing on A-list clients," Anil Arjun, CEO of Reliance MediaWorks, told Reuters. "And while scale is important, volume is not necessarily the key driver," he said.

Experts in the field warn that the laborious task of high-quality conversion is complex, but Reliance hopes to prove doubters wrong with its first film, likely this year.

When asked if he thought the 3D project a risky one at time of economic uncertainty, Arjun replied: "In 2009, probably the worst year for the world economy, the film industry grew substantially. And we also focus on next-generation applications like 2D to 3D and high definition."

EXPLODING GROWTH

In fact, the industry installing digital projection systems in theatres, anticipating huge future demand for 3D films.

The number of digital movie screens in European Union countries, for example, went from about 1,500 in 2008 to nearly 4,700 in 2009, according to industry group MEDIA Salles. And consumer electronic makers such as Sony Corp are just now starting to ramp up 3D TV set production for homes.

To insure quality, Reliance has linked with In-Three, an established 3D player in Hollywood which shared its technology and will oversee its progress via information sent down Reliance's high capacity fiber-optic cable.

"They reckon that a film like 'Clash of the Titans,' even though the 3D was very poorly received (by critics), probably added $20 million to the opening weekend boxoffice in the United States," said Patrick von Sychowski, head of strategy at Film and Media Services, Reliance MediaWorks.

"That means (the conversion) probably paid for itself...in the opening weekend, so...it's something that studios are willing to spend on because they see the immediate paybacks.

"Right now, on the back of 'Avatar' and 'Alice in Wonderland,' everybody wants every one of their (major) titles to be in 3D. The world has only just woken up to 3D and you can't magically create a facility able to handle 10 to 15 titles overnight. We're ramping up really quickly."

As well as 2D to 3D conversion, another 1,200 artists will restore old films so they can be watched in high definition.

Damian Wader, vice president of business development at In-Three, said the Reliance tie-in was not about acquiring cheap labor in India, but did concede that it would represent significant savings.

"It's not this cheap labor that everybody keeps quoting," he told Reuters. "It is skilled labor. There's no doubt about it. But it certainly is done in a less expensive way than it would be if you ran something similar in America."

He added that providing another company with the company's technology should only help boost the nascent business.

"We already have turned people away," he said. "There's so much work to be done out there, we need to work together."
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