film reporter

Biz trying to widen scope as 3-D surges

Five thousand 3-D-ready digital-cinema screens will be installed in the U.S. by May 2009. That is the current target in the stereoscopic 3-D movement, according to Joshua Greer, president and co-founder of leading 3-D provider Real D.

Another goal is to reach 1,200 screens for the November release of "Beowulf" in 3-D, upping the screen count from the roughly 700 that were in place as of the March 30 opening of "Meet the Robinsons" in 3-D.

Vendors have expressed confidence that the goals are achievable. Meanwhile, some suggest the target number of screens needs to be set even higher to accommodate competing 3-D releases in 2009.

The movement continues to prompt discussion and analysis, some of which occurred last weekend at the Visual Effects Society's annual VES Festival of Visual Effects at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills.

For instance, the topic surfaced during a panel on the making of the "Shrek" features. DreamWorks Animation already has said that it intends to release all of its animated features in 3-D beginning in 2009. "Monsters vs. Aliens" is expected to be the first out of the gate from the studio; the initiative also would include "Shrek 4," slated to bow in 2010.

The speakers from DWA report that the studio is at work on the creation of the 3-D stereoscopic production pipeline, which likely would be a part of DWA's Glendale locale as well as its PDI facility in Northern California.

Head of character animation Tim Cheung explains that much of what was used to create some Imax 3-D for "Shrek the Third" (which never was released) resulted in lessons learned for future productions. "It was interesting because during that project we learned that you can't use the same filmmaking process," he says. "(For instance), the shots can't be too close up, or the shots have to be longer sometimes."

"We also took a sequence out of 'Shrek 3' and tried to reconceive it from the start for 3-D," DWA production executive Phillippe Gluckman says about more recent efforts. "You really want to think about 3-D from the get-go."

The 3-D movement in cinema might also prompt innovation in other areas, like special venue attractions. As 3-D stereoscopic content has long been a component to some theme parks rides, the use of 3-D in theaters might challenge ride creators to further differentiate themselves.

"It forces theme parks to think about what else they can do," says effects pioneer Jeff Kleiser, whose visual effects innovations range from features to commercials to theme park attractions. "Those include (experiences) where the audience is moving on platforms in synchronization with a visual impression from the cinema.

"I think a lot of what we call 4-D effects become much more important," he adds. "By 4-D effects I mean some sort of physical gag that subjects the audience to water spraying on their faces or wind — all sorts of physical effects that support the story. These sort of things can happen in theme parks and can't really happen very efficiently in movie theaters, and certainly not at home."

Meanwhile, the 3-D dialogue continues in larger circles. One emerging dilemma in centered on marketing as the opportunity to show 3-D trailers in front of 3-D movies is currently quite limited.

"The challenge is how do you show a trailer in 3-D in front of 2-D (content)," says Buzz Hays, senior visual effects producer, feature production, at Sony Pictures Imageworks. "There are a lot of internal discussions about how to make this happen."

Showing a trailer in 3-D, Hays points out, presents a logistical challenge. "It's essentially giving glasses out for three or four minutes of film materials," he says. "It's bit of a dilemma because we don't want to show a 2-D trailer for a 3-D movie (which is an alternative). That doesn't really make sense."