As a beginning, 3-D best
Confab treated to 'Monsters' popHailing digital 3-D as the biggest innovation in moviegoing "since the advent of color 70 years ago," DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg took the stage at ShoWest's opening session Tuesday to unveil an eye-popping scene from "Monsters vs. Aliens," which Paramount will release on March 27, 2009.
In his role as 3-D proselytizer, Katzenberg told exhibitors gathered at Las Vegas' Paris hotel that moviegoers will be willing to pay premium prices for the heightened experience that 3-D offers. "I believe this is an opportunity for all of us to actually grow admissions, not just revenues," he said.
Katzenberg acknowledged the work of director Robert Zemeckis and Disney's Dick Cook in demonstrating there's a market for 3-D. "If not for them, their pioneering and pushing in 3-D, I wouldn't be here today," he said.
But with at least 10 3-D movies on tap for 2009, he promised moviegoers haven't seen anything yet.
"Until now, almost all the 3-D movies released have been movies that been made in 2-D and then postproduced in 3-D. And as good as they have been, they are actually nothing compared to what can be done when movies are made from the beginning in 3-D," he said.
DreamWorks Animation plans to release all its movies in digital 3-D beginning next year, and Katzenberg dubbed the studio's efforts "Ultimate 3-D."
He showed a test scene from DreamWorks Ani's "Kung Fu Panda," a 2-D movie opening June 6. As a demonstration of the company's newfound abilities, the DreamWorks animators returned to the script and reshot the scene in 3-D, with plenty of flying spears as it showed a villainous snow leopard staging a sort of prison break.
That clip proved just a warm-up for the morning's main event as Katzenberg offered up a scene from "Monsters," in which the U.S. president, voiced by Stephen Colbert, confronts an alien craft, which doesn't respond well to his "Close Encounters" musical overtures.
The feature is directed by Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon, produced by Lisa Stewart and co-produced by Jill Hopper and Latifa Ouaou.
Katzenberg also unveiled the voice cast headed by Reese Witherspoon as California girl Susan Murphy, who is unexpectedly clobbered by a meteor and grows to 49-feet, 11-inches tall and labeled a "monster" named Ginormica.
She is captured by the military and held in a secret government compound. The world learns that the military has been quietly rounding up other monsters over the years, but their confinement time is cut short when a mysterious alien robot lands on Earth and the motley crew is called into action. The assorted monsters are voiced by Hugh Laurie, Will Arnett and Seth Rogen. Kiefer Sutherland plays a general, and Rainn Wilson and Paul Rudd are also in the cast.
In an interview, Katzenberg also commented on the notion of 3-D in the home, saying that he doesn't believe it will work anytime soon, at least in the next three or four years.
"It is technically doable today — in fact, Samsung has already manufactured 2 million TV sets that have 3-D capability — but there are two overwhelming practical issues," he said. "In order to get the real impact of 3-D, it must cover your peripheral vision. So if you have a 50-inch TV set, in order for it to have impact, you need to sit about 70-75 inches from it. This is fine for gaming — that is what's going to drive it — but as an in-home experience, you have to actually sit very close to a television set for two hours, something that is physically impractical in almost any home.
"Second, in order for 3-D to actually work, it needs to be in a completely dark room."
Katzenberg also spoke on the topic of converting 2-D features to 3-D, which Disney recently addressed when it announced plans to convert Pixar's "Toy Story" films for a 3-D rerelease.
Conversion is not on Katzenberg's agenda, as he is focused on DreamWorks' proprietary 3-D process, which is first being used on "Monsters."
"It's not good enough for me yet," he said of 3-D conversion. "We are committed first to defining what is the premium experience. (Conversion) is just not the same. A movie that is made in 2-D and converted to 3-D — to me, it is like taking a movie made in black and white and converting it to color.
"The tools for doing that are improving, so I'm not saying it won't get to a place where I'll feel comfortable and confident about this. I'm sure Disney is well on to this," he added.
What is needed to drive 3-D? Simply put, more theaters, according to Katzenberg. He hopes to see 3,000-5,000 3-D-ready theaters for the "Monsters" release.