2009: The Year of 3D

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Sun, 11/09/2008 - 19:00 -- Nick Dager

The coming year promises in many ways to be a make or break year for digital 3D in movies. Current plans call for Hollywood to release 25 or more 3D titles in 2009. That amounts to a 3D release every other week although the studios being the studios it might be more appropriate to preview this as the Summer of Too Many 3D Movies All at Once. That discussion is for another day. Can all of these movies possibly succeed? Will 3D prove to be a fad yet again? In my mind before we can answer those two questions there are a long list of other questions that must be answered first. Here are ten questions we will explore in depth in our yearlong series of Special Reports – 2009: The Year of 3D. 1. Do 3D movies really generate more revenue at the box office? Much has been made of the notion that 3D movies today automatically generate more revenue. We’ve repeated it many times in Digital Cinema Report. Is it true or are there other factors? And do the added expenses of 3D outweigh the added income? Just as important when the public can choose from a selection of 3D movies at the same time which ones will they choose? And won’t boil down to the old adage that content is king? 2. How much more expensive are 3D movies to make? It is taken as a given that producing in 3D is more expensive that producing 2D. How much more expensive? What adds to the cost? Will these costs come down as 3D becomes mainstream? 3. Some top cinematographers insist quality 3D can be shot with film cameras. Are they right or wrong? I recently interviewed Daryn Okada a veteran Hollywood cinematographer and the current president of the American Society of Cinematographers. He has yet to shoot a feature film digitally and told me that he believes it would be possible to shoot a better 3D product in film than digitally? Do all cinematographers agree with that? What are the facts? 4. What makes shooting in 3D difficult and how hard is it to learn? When you study the production values of a project like last year’s U23D it seems that every kind of shot in a filmmakers’ toolkit is possible in 3D. Is that true? If not what production tools are needed? What if any additional challenges are presented when a scene is 3D? 5. Have scripts changed because of 3D? Do they need to change? Thankfully we seem to moving quickly past the time when 3D means the sort of pie-in-your-face moments that are more typically (and properly) the province of theme parks. Referring again to U23D there were times when all the 3D perspective did was give you the sense that you were actually onstage with the band. For me that heightened the experience immeasurably and was all I need to find 3D preferable to 2D. Once the creative community fully understands the possibilities that 3D allows storytelling will undoubtedly evolve into something we can only start to imagine today. 6. What technology if any is currently missing from the overall 3D workflow of production and post-production? Referring again to U23D I toured the facilities of 3ality the company that made the movie and saw the interesting combination of off-the-shelf and proprietary tools that were used to edit the project. Pace Technologies also has a set of proprietary 3D tools it has developed and perfected in real-world settings. Both companies hope to sell or license some of these tools to the market. What other tools are needed? Who will develop them? 7. Does 3D change sound in movies? If so how? Ask companies like Dolby this question and you get a resounding yes. Other companies are developing audio tools for 3D as well. What’s in the pipeline and when will new ideas come to market? 8. Which glasses are really more cost-effective: disposable or re-usable? Recent articles have raised the point that there are ghosting effects in at least some of RealD’s disposable 3D glasses. Yet some exhibitors still balk at Dolby’s approach which is to offer more expensive reusable 3D glasses. What are all the pros and cons of both approaches? Are there other ideas for 3D glasses out there? 9. How soon will we see widespread 3D systems in the home? The idea of 3D in the home isn’t even an issue of if versus when; home 3D systems are available now. The Disney Channel aired the Hannah Montana concert on television earlier this year. As we will report in our next issue JVC and Sensio are currently working together on a 3D home system set to be ready for market next year. But the most important question is this one: 10. What do professionals in production post-production and exhibition need to know to compete in a world dominated by 3D content? The next few years will see growing demand for technology to create 3D movies and other content and people who understand what is a new visual language. Our goal with our Special Reports – 2009: The Year of 3D is to provide the information you will need to succeed. We invite anyone in the industry who has something to add to this effort to join us. We welcome your input.