New tools are fueling the 3-D revolutionA funny thing happened at January's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Amid the usual grand introductions of next-generation gadgets and personal technology, the buzz in many circles centered on old-fashioned movies.
Well, the films might be traditional but the 3-D exhibition that is poised to gain widespread acceptance this year is as cutting edge as anything introduced by Microsoft or Samsung.
Indeed, as the 3-D movement grows to include more than a dozen major releases in 2009, the manufacturers of the necessary projectors, cameras, post tools and 2-D/3-D conversion systems are rushing to provide fuel for the revolution. This year will see the introduction of projection systems for bigger screens and less expensive solutions for smaller theaters and markets. Camera manufacturers have developed rigs and other ancillary products to make 3-D productions as standard as 2-D ones. Postproduction tools will multiply tenfold, with new software for editing, color grading and compositing. And cutting-edge monitors now allow viewing of 3-D material in edit bays and color correction suites.
At the same time, new 2-D-to-3-D conversion systems are poised to reintroduce audiences to classic films, but in a whole new dimension.
The following highlights some of the new 3-D tools to look for in 2009.
The trend in 3-D projectors is bigger and brighter. RealD, which licenses its technology to Christie Digital, Barco and NEC, is leading the charge with its RealD XL system; Christie Digital has a new projector that uses the RealD technology to project 3-D with a single projector, on screens wider than 75 feet.
Also new from Christie is its Brilliant3-D technology that puts 3-D content on the screen in full 2K-resolution via digital projectors powered by Texas Instruments chips. All Christie digital-cinema projectors already project in 2K resolution, and the company makes a cheaper single lens for 3-D (and 2-D) content. Smaller market theaters also can get on board the 3-D bandwagon with a value-oriented 3-D projector from Barco.
If 2K resolution isn't enough, Sony Electronics upped the ante in late 2008. The company is demonstrating a single-projector 3-D "adaptor" that turns a Sony 4K projector into one capable of screening 3-D content. Scheduled to be available in March, the new lens units, which meet all the digital cinema requirements, are simple optical/mechanical devices that take only a few minutes to attach to the lens mount of the projector.
In addition, RealD has announced an agreement with Doremi Cinema to integrate its "ghostbusting" technology into Doremi's d-cinema servers. The new technology, which will eliminate the double images that can bedevil 3-D film, will be on view in March.
3-D cinematography consists of arranging two side-by-side cameras, so most of the rigs have been strictly do-it-yourself, until recently.
P+S Technik has introduced its 3-D Mirror Rig that that lets the user adjust the two cameras. That saves time on the set and enables shooting with a tripod, on a crane or with a Steadicam.
Silicon Imaging competes with its integrated 3-D stereoscopic camera control and recording environment, with 3-D visualization tools. Unlike ordinary filmmaking, the 3-D filmmaker often doesn't get a chance to look at the material he's shooting in three dimensions. With these visualization tools, he can now view the stereo image live to see how the 3-D shot looks as it is being captured.
Silicon Imaging and CineForm, whose software "decodes" the Silicon Imaging camera's images in real time, also have extended these decoding abilities to support 3-D capture, storage and playback. This supports the workflow of 3-D's two streams (right eye, left eye) from a Silicon Imaging camera through to editing, effects and other postproduction tasks. Otherwise, all the edits, effects, color corrections and other postproduction tweaks would have to be copied from one eye and applied to the other, a time-consuming and repetitive task.
As 3-D shoots gear up, manufacturers of postproduction equipment have been busy retooling their systems for stereoscopic filmmaking. Quantel was the first to debut 3-D color correction and finishing with its Pablo system. Now, according to strategic marketing manager Mark Horton, Pablo will work with the popular Sony HDCAM SR tape format.
"It allows you, instead of loading in the material eye-by-eye, to ingest stereo at the same time," Horton says. Quantel also will distribute the SIP2100, a stereoscopic image processor designed by 3ality Digital that analyzes and corrects stereo image problems.
"Two cameras on a rig can have different color measurements, vertical positioning, rotational differences and a range of other operator problems," Horton says. "If you run pictures through this new box, you don't have to guess or look at the material frame-by-frame."
Avid Technology also is moving forward in the 3-D arena. It demonstrated a new stereoscopic 3-D technology at November's 3-D Summit.
"We showed an integrated stereoscopic environment where editors can continue to work in the Media Composer interface and watch the project in 3-D in the cutting room," says Avid solutions marketing manager Michael Phillips. Avid has not announced when the technology will be available to customers.
Other players also are busy bringing new products to market. Autodesk has announced new versions that support 3-D post for three of its long-standing products: Maya will offer a flexible stereo camera rig with stereo viewing; Toxik will import CG information and view stereo output even while interacting with a scene; and Lustre will feature a stereoscopic workflow with the power of parallel processing and GPU rendering.
Da Vinci Systems has announced real-time 2K stereoscopic color grading with its Resolve R-3D system. The R-3D enables simultaneous grading of both streams in real-time, to a 2K projector. Even though the R-3D effectively doubles the amount of information processed, all of da Vinci's existing suite of color grading tools can still be used for real-time results.
Eyeon Software is in beta with Version 6 of its Fusion compositing software, which fine-tunes its existing stereoscopic 3-D capabilities. From the Foundry comes Ocula, a collection of 3-D plug-ins for stereoscopic imagery. These include too to correct horizontal and/or vertical camera alignment issues; a way to create a single view from a stereo pair; paint; and rotoscoping.
Digital Ordnance's Frame Thrower is a real-time 2K-playback system for 3-D, for use with d-cinema projectors or 3-D-capable monitors.
As for monitors, TRUE3Di recently unveiled three 3-D preview monitors for images from 8 to 40-inches. Alioscopy USA is looking for partners to manufacture its 3DHD display, available in 24-inch and 40-inch models, with a specialized lens. Both Codex Digital and S.two, which offer digital recording devices, are now able to record the outputs of a dual camera rig.
Although 3-D television might seem distant, some companies already are showcasing the products to bring that reality closer. RealD demonstrated its new POD technology, a 3-D-format solution that connects between HD television and any HD source.
"RealD's introduction of POD technology is the first step to enable 3-D in all types of displays," RealD chairman and CEO Michael Lewis says. RealD first tested its POD technology on Dec. 4, at the live NFL 3-D broadcast to theaters in Boston, New York and Los Angeles.
2-D/3-D Conversion Systems
The idea of turning a 2-D film into 3-D is intriguing for studios with large libraries of potential stereoscopic releases.
In-Three, which uses its patented software tools and techniques to create a second "eye" from any two-dimensional image, has emerged as the go-to company for such endeavors. It now is in the process of productizing its technology, says president David Seigle. R&D is ongoing for In3gue (pronounced "Intrigue"), which is expected to launch in 2010.
"We want it to be fully functional and documented, with training materials so it's solid as a rock," says Seigle, noting that the company is looking for partners -- most likely CGI and VFX facilities -- to commercialize the product.
"This is a new way of doing 3-D," he adds. "The reason this works well is we never lock in depth. We do depth-grading and can always adjust it to get the live action to work with the CGI."