Academy Makes Way for 3-D

For the Acad's animation branch, 2008 may be remembered as the last fling with the flat. This year only one animated feature was submitted for Oscar consideration in stereoscopic 3-D: Fly Me to the Moon. But with all the major U.S. animation studios embracing 3-D, 2009 could see half or more of the eligible animated features made in 3-D: Up from Pixar, Monsters vs. Aliens from DreamWorks Animation, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs from Sony Pictures Animation, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs from Fox/ Blue Sky and the stop-motion Coraline from Laika, to name just a few.

That does bring a headache, however, the likes of which the Acad has not seen since its earliest years. The problem is that since 3-D is far from ubiquitous in theaters, movies are going to be released in both 2-D and 3-D for the foreseeable future, so there's no way to be sure how Acad members -- who sometimes see movies at multiplexes like everyone else -- will view them. And since 3-D homevideo is still a headache, anyone checking out screeners will watch them in 2-D.

Pics haven't received such dual release formats since the dawn of talkies, when some films went out with sync sound for theaters that had sound capability and silent-with-titles for theaters that didn't. To make things more complicated, even for Acad members who seek out 3-D, there's no guarantee that's how the filmmakers want them to see their pics.

"If the film qualifies in both forms, the producers can designate which way they want it screened for the committee," says Bruce Davis, executive director of the Academy.

This year, the Acad's animation committee was able to screen Fly and the other submitted pics at the Linwood Dunn Theater, which has digital 3-D capability. But the org's larger Goldwyn Theater lacks the digital projector required for modern stereo.

"We have to be able to go 3-D," concedes Davis. "We've had 3-D equipment in the budget for the Goldwyn for two years now and we just haven't pulled the trigger." Davis expects full 3-D capability by May, in time for next year's crop of 3-D toons.

Since 3-D advocates consider stereo an enhancement, it would be natural to assume 3-D would always be the preferred format. But this year, Disney chose to submit Bolt in 2-D, even though the Mouse House plans on releasing most of its animated features, both from the Walt Disney Animation Studio and Pixar, in 3-D from now on, and its chief creative officer, John Lasseter, is an avowed 3-D buff.

"In 1989, we did our short Knick Knack in 3-D," Lasseter tells Variety. "In fact, the year before that, when I got married, my wedding pictures were in 3-D." Lasseter swears by the format, which helps auds get caught up in the story.

"Within the computer you're building a true three-dimensional world, but the movies and the still images are a 2-D view of a 3-D world," says Lasseter. But screening in 3-D, "can really show the world we have created in the computer, more than seeing it in 2-D."

Bolt, he says, was the first Disney toon made with 3-D in mind from the start. "When you see it (in 3-D), you feel like you're more present with the characters, you're in the world that they're in," he says.

Unfortunately for Disney, the studio did not have a 3-D print available for submission by the Acad's deadline. But Lasseter isn't worried about the viewing format.

"I think when it comes to the Academy or other award bodies, it's, 'How entertaining is the film? Does it really move you?'"

By David S. Cohen, Variety