Vet Filmmaker's Aim is 3D for the Masses

Randal Kleiser, best known for such iconic 1970s hits as Grease and The Blue Lagoon, has become a passionate advocate of stereo 3D who hopes to spread to mobile devices. But Kleiser is no recent convert: He was actually part of the team of directors, including James Cameron and George Lucas, who came to ShoWest to promote digital 3D in 2005, when their passion still seemed something quixotic.

A principal in 3D technology startup CubicVue, Kleiser said he's been fascinated by 3D ever since he saw the Ping-Pong sequence in 1953's House of Wax when he was a kid. But the first opportunity to work in 3D came to Kleiser, who directed the 1992 sequel Honey, I Blew Up the Kid, when Disney asked him to direct a 70mm 3D attraction Honey, I Shrunk the Audience that ran in theme parks for more than a decade.

Lensed by Dean Cundey (Who Framed Roger Rabbit) with two interlocked 70mm cameras, the film was shown in a theater with 600 seats "mounted on a computer-controlled platform that could move in sync to the screen, and various devices built into each seat that would stimulate the viewers' senses," Kleiser said.

"The concept was that the audience was experiencing a live stage event," he added. "To create this effect, we calibrated the distance of filming and projection so that an actor's onscreen image would be life-size on the 54-foot-wide screen. To give the impression that everything was live, we could not have the intrusion of film grain. Because a beam splitter was used for the second camera, an entire stop was lost. The movie was shot with a huge amount of light on 5248 (color negative) film to give it a sharp quality. In preparing to shoot the film, we screened every 3D movie we could find to analyze what worked and what didn't," he added. "It soon became clear that this was another world with its own techniques, terminology, rules, problems and choices."

So Kleiser came to study the grammar of 3D, becoming well-versed in topics such as convergence points and the causes of eye strain.

"Cutting patterns in 3D greatly affect the viewer's comfort," he said. "Every time there is a cut, the eyes have to readjust to the new planes of depth. This is a physical effort by the viewer's eye muscles each time the scene changes. A fast cut sequence would send most people screaming for the exits. In Honey, since we were trying to create the feeling of a live event, there are no apparent cuts. The eyes never have to adjust to a new plane; the 3D effects happen within the proscenium.

"One of the most distracting phenomena in the 3D format is when an image 'breaks the frame,' that is, when it appears to be closer than the plane of the screen but cut off by it," he continued. "For truly controlled and effective 3D, the screen needs to be thought of as a window. Any image can be inside the window, or come through the window, but can't break through the window frame."

Kleiser's interest in 3D took the director to various technology conferences.

"At one of these I met inventor Michael Mehrle, who showed me an iPod he had converted so it showed 3D without glasses. I was blown away. It was basically a piece of plastic with thin lines of color that sent one image to each eye. It was like the screen was wearing the glasses instead of the viewer. His process uses magenta and green as the two colors that, when viewed, are merged into full color by the brain." (The system could be developed to support other color systems.)

With this development, Kleiser, Mehrle and several additional partners formed CubicVue to bring this technology to consumers with an appetite for 3D. The CubicVue technology essentially displays glasses-free 3D on a cell phone, tablet, game console, media player or other portable flat-screen device.

"Now we are searching for the perfect partner to take this technology to the next level," Kleiser said, adding that CubicVue is talking with potential partners for licensing, manufacturing and distribution of the technology. The aim is to have product on the market before the end of the year.

The technology uses a patent-pending color filter that could either be embedded into handheld technologies or layered over screens on existing devices. Mehrle said the technology is capable of supporting full-resolution imagery to each eye (1280x1024), and theoretically could be applied to any size screen, though small screens are practical and thus the company's focus. CubicVue is aiming to create the standalone filters for a retail price of less than $50.

Mehrle said the system could be used to view any stereo content that was encoded with a free open source code, which the company will make available.

"The 'standard' that we support is already available on YouTube," Mehrle said, explaining that there is therefore a wide range of 3D content on the Internet that is already encoded for use with the CubicVue system.

"Available 3D content is growing by the day. But I think gaming will be the killer app in the future, because it is interactive," Mehrle said. "Games can be very quickly supported. And if a game studio decides to adopt our system, all of their content will be automatically in stereoscopic 3D."

While serving as chief industry liaison for CubicVue, Kleiser also is in discussions about directing some new 3D productions and monitoring 2D to 3D conversion opportunities for some of his films, such as his classic Grease (whose sing-along version opens July 8 in theaters).

"It needs to get a little better before I do that," the helmer said of the conversion process. "I don't think conversion techniques are there yet. It can be effective, and it can be not so effective with the current technology. Sometimes I think it is better not to do it at this point. Sometime it is distracting because the current technology is not up to speed to really make it flawlessly invisible. I imagine that will change in a year or two."

Kleiser also shared his thoughts about uses of 3D. "I'm not that interested in seeing My Dinner With Andre in 3D, although some people say they would. There are certain movies that don't need it."

Kleiser said that once the CubicVue technology is released, he would also like to create specific content for the portable platform.

"There aren't more autostereoscopic screens on the market right now because they are not very friendly for the user," said Rob Auten, CubicVue's chief development officer. "They are very particular. They are either very expensive or require complicated integration from the manufacturing level. We are -- with technology that is around right now -- trying to create something that is easy for the consumer to apply or for the manufacturer to integrate and that doesn't require a new panel.

"Our base product is very simple," he said. "We are hoping simplicity and a higher-image fidelity will provide an exciting product."

By Carolyn Giardina, The Hollywood Reporter