Making 3D Movies – Part II

"Yesterday, I attended the SMPTE pre-conference on 3D held in Brooklyn, New York. It was a nice complementary conference to the 3D Cinema session held at 3D BizEx last month in Burlingame, CA, as I learned more about the 3D cinema process and issues - and had a chance to have dinner with a who’s who of 3D experts.

Last month, Matt Brennesholtz wrote that 3D movie making requires a completely new way of approaching the movie. 3D specialists are needed, an intensive post-post process for 3D FX is required, and creating a 3D movie is expensive. Yesterday, I heard some of these themes amplified, but learned a lot more about the mistakes that can happen in 3D movie making and how some of these are fixed.

This list is extensive including left/right eye reversal, unintentional monoscopic frames, out of sequence stereo frames, etc. We heard a lot about choices made in dimensionalizing the movie. Keeping action within a limited volume is a good thing and violating this causes eyestrain. A scene transition where the focus depth changes even modestly is noticeable and can cause discomfort. If the content is dimensionalized for a 20-foot screen, it does not look good on a 60-foot screen, and visa versa. There is some concern that movies will need to be re-dimensionalized depending upon the screen size where they are shown, including the small screens for RPTVs and home theaters.

What was exceptional about the event was all of the 3D content that was shown. For example, some content was shown to demonstrate the effect of mistakes and errors. Other content demos were used to show how parameters could be adjusted to create better 3D effects that reduce eyestrain, augment or reduce the 3D effect and create 3D images that are, "painless and beautiful."

We saw clips from Beowulf, Chicken Little, Star Wars, U2 3D (gave me shivers), Open Season, Nightmare Before Christmas, Polar Express, as well as lots of other content shown by some of the producers and cinematographers in the room.

Many of these scenes were very good, some outstanding, but some also produced eyestrain - for some of the reasons explained by these very same experts. This is one of the most experienced and talented 3D content creators on the planet and the demos of 3D content were clearly not defect free. Granted, this could probably have been fixed with money and time, but it is also a reflection on the state of 3D content creation. With a lot of effort, outstanding 3D content can be made when the display format is known and the exhibition format determined. But this content is clearly not plug and play from one venue to another. This hurdle will take some time to overcome.

There were two other clear messages that came through from the conference:
- The 3D industry needs to train a lot more people in the art and science of 3D movie making.

- Better 3D workflow tools, particularly in 3D editing, are desperately needed.

Workflow tools are being developed in house by the major studios right now, as if the industry is "building the bridge as it walks across it." This is changing however, with more sophisticated tools expected from commercial suppliers over the next couple of years.

My colleague George Isaacs attended a very similar event in London on the same day and heard almost identical ideas and messages. One surprise from both shows, and one which generated some interesting dinner conversation, was subtitling for 3D movies. Warner Brothers is doing the international distribution of Beowulf and thinks subtitles are needed instead of dubbing. They did some experiments in various subtitling methods and showed to the audience in NYC using Polar Express as a test movie. The subtitles were shown over the content and in black bands below and above the movie. The text was also placed at the screen as well as in front and behind the screen. Most interestingly, the majority of viewers found that text above the movie was preferred and even a little in front of the screen seemed better. We may need to call these "supertitles," as this is the format Warner Brothers will use.

Overall, the mood of the crowd at the New York event was quite upbeat. They know they are at the beginning of a major transition in Hollywood and that challenges remain, but they are very bullish about the future. As one participant paraphrased an exchange that occurred between DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg and National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) President and CEO John Fithian at ShowEast last week, "Is 2D digital cinema the dog and 3D the tail, or has 3D become the dog wagging the 2D digital cinema tail?" Guess what answer this partisan crowd favored?"

By Chris Chinnock, Display Daily