'It' is 3D's Lost Opportunity

The death of Michael Jackson, followed by the success of and mostly positive reviews for Kenny Ortega's behind-the-scenes docu This Is It, has made the cancelled London concert series one of the great what-ifs in showbiz history. The docu at least partly reclaims Jackson's reputation as a musician and performer. But for the handful of 3D companies that were working on the concerts, Jackson's death and the cancellation carries an extra sting. Besides losing a collaborator and colleague, they lost a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to showcase their work and products.

The plan was for the live Jackson to interact with 3D images on the giant video wall during Thriller and Earthsong. The grand finale for the show was to have been M.J. Air: Jackson climbing up a staircase into a projected 707 that would take off over the audience.

"This is something that had never really been done before," said John Meglin, who was producing the concerts along with Paul Gongaware.

The live aud would have watched wearing RealD 3D glasses, but the real innovation was the screen: a 90 foot by 30 foot LED video wall adapted for 3D by Kerner Technologies. Because it was a backlit LED screen, it was bright enough to cut through the concert lighting, says Meglin.

Kerner Technologies CEO Eric Edmeades explained.

"The idea was that, in the concert, you would create this much more immersive environment because the wall would bring a lot of the content right out over the audience," he said.

The concerts were to be the grand unveiling of the Kernervision brand for 3D displays in about the splashiest debut imaginable.

"It's only when I went to see (This Is It) that I really, really got how difficult it will be to find something comparable by way of a launch. Michael was just an unbelievable genius and knew how to move an audience better perhaps than anybody," he said.

Vince Pace, a 3D camera maker whose products were used to shoot the Thriller footage, agrees. "Michael was trying to be out there with something unique and different, ahead of its time. Now you've got to find the next person who's ahead of their time. I'm sure it'll come, but it's unfortunate."

Kerner is actively looking for a new venue to unveil Kernervision, which will be the brand not only for 3D video walls for concerts and sports venues but for home 3D products, including an aftermarket converter to make HD flatscreen TVs show 3D.

While the launch of Kernervision was stymied, at least for now, some of the 3D efforts on the movie were more or less completed, even though after Jackson's death it wasn't obvious where they'd be seen.

I.E. Effects also created 3D visual effects for Thriller and M.J. Air. Bruce Jones directed the live-action Thriller footage, which was shot at I.E.'s Culver City HQ. Among the effects created by I.E. for Thriller were ghosts swinging on a crystal chandelier and a 3D head of Vincent Price, which was to be seen in a crystal ball. All these effects were completed in 3D. So while so far the rumors about a 3D release have proven unfounded, there are 3D elements available for a future release.

And since This Is It was too late for this year's Oscar consideration, it could well get into the race a year from now, when many more 3D screens should be available and there will be plenty of room for a 3D re-release. But there is no replacing the live concerts and the ground-breaking combination of live and digital 3D technology they would have represented.

"If there's one thing I hear again and again from people who saw This Is It," says Meglin. "It's 'I wish I'd seen that show.'"

By David S. Cohen, Variety