NAB 2012: Producer Jon Landau Reveals How 'Titanic' Was Converted to 3D

The film had James Cameron’s “imprint on every shot," Landau says.

A library of 3D titles will hold a greater value than one that is in 2D, Titanic and Avatar producer Jon Landau said Monday at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show.

Titanic 3D -- the subject of his session -- has already earned $201.8 million worldwide since its April 4 release.

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2D to 3D conversion isn’t “a technical process, it’s a creative process that uses technology,” emphasized Landau, who was joined for the discussion by William Sherak, president of StereoD, which created the 3D version of Titanic; and Titanic’s VFX supervisor Rob Legato, who moderated.

For Titanic, the conversion was a detailed process that took 14 months and cost $18 million. Landau said that getting it right means “finding a library title that justifies [3D conversion] and a filmmaker who can be involved. The creative team needs to be a part of the process.”

The project began with remastering the film in 4K (which was accomplished at Reliance MediaWorks), and then Stereo 3D took it into the 3D realm with a team of about 450 people.

Calling it a “filmmaker's first artistic approach,” Sherak described the StereoD approach as a frame-by-frame process where the filmmaker determines the depth of everything in the frame.

Landau confirmed that director James Cameron’s “imprint is on every shot.”

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“He used what he remembered from the set,” explained Landau, citing the dinner table scene as among the most challenging. “The detail was so complex, and Jim was able to look at a shot and recall that the table was ‘this big’ and really place it and make it feel comfortable [in 3D space]."

“We used our learning experience from Avatar on this film,” Landau continued. “Action is not necessary where you want to emphasize the 3D. At the end day, movies are about the close up. People go back because of the narrative story.

“The subtleties in the performances -- to me 3D is about enhancing those types of moments,” he added.

The idea to realize Titanic in 3D was not a recent one. Landau related that he and Cameron first started to think about it around 2000. Then, four years ago, Cameron and Landau gave one minute of Titanic to roughly 15 different companies as test material. "We felt the potential was there," Landau said.