3D films have their moment at Oscars

Wins for 'Avatar,' 'Up' show that format is making inroads

The 82nd Annual Academy Awards proved a coming-out party for movies shot and released in 3D.

With two best-picture contenders -- "Avatar" and "Up" -- and nominations and wins in categories from animated feature to production design, the stereoscopic 3D format made inroads this year with mainstream audiences and the Academy.

"I think this is a huge moment in the acceptance of 3D, and it is not relegated to a genre," "Avatar" helmer and Oscar best director nominee James Cameron said last week at the Visual Effects Society Awards. "I think this is a profound watershed moment."

More than 50 years ago, when Hollywood first flirted with 3D, the results received little respect. "Kiss Me Kate" (1953) was nominated for one Oscar: best music scoring. A year later, "Dial M for Murder" was shut out of the Oscar competition, though the DGA did nominate Alfred Hitchcock for its directing prize.

This time around, animation was the first genre to widely embrace 3D, so it was no surprise to see two nominees -- Sunday's best animated film winner "Up" and the stop-motion "Coraline" -- in the format. But 3D also made the cut in mainstream categories including best picture, direction and original screenplay and in craft categories including editing, cinematography, production design, sound editing and sound mixing.

"Avatar," nominated in nine categories overall, won three Oscars: for visual effects, art direction and Mauro Fiore's cinematography."Up" was nominated in five categories and won twice, including for Michael Giacchino's score.

"There is a whole generation of young kids where, if they have a chance to see a film in 3D, they will go in 3D," said VFX supervisor Joe Letteri of "Avatar," which took home the visual effects prize Sunday. " 'Avatar' brought that feeling to an adult audience."

The challenge, Letteri said, will be to keep older filmgoers coming back for more and to continue advancing 3D techniques.

"For other filmmakers to sustain that, it is really just a question of people understanding the technique," he said. "Not misusing it is important, and then just getting practice with it."

Ed Catmull, president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios, cautions that storytelling remains the central element.

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"It's just about the story," he said of the 3D films that earned best picture nominations. "They are up there because of the story, and they work well without stereo 3D also. I view it as an enhancement, but we don't want to forget that it is really about the story.

"The issue with live action is getting it so that it is practical and manageable, and so it artistically fits. Some of the 3D films frankly are only relying on the effects, and we will see some of that. But I think that will change, and then stereo will become what it should be: an artistic addition to films."