Imax Signs 4-Film Deal with DreamWorks Animation

"Imax and DreamWorks Animation have agreed to release the studio's first three 3D motion pictures worldwide in Imax 3D: "Monsters vs. Aliens" in March 2009, "How to Train Your Dragon" in November 2009 and "Shrek Goes Forth" in May 2010. A fourth DreamWorks title, "Kung Fu Panda," will be released in Imax's 2D format in June 2008. The films will be distributed by Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom.

Earlier this year, DreamWorks announced plans to release all its computer animated films in 3D starting in 2009. It was welcome news for all that had a stake in the emerging 3D film industry, such as privately held Real D, the leading provider of digital 3D projection technology. At the time, DreamWorks made no specific mention of Imax and its giant-screen format.

DreamWorks had planned to release the original "Shrek" movie in Imax 3D in 2000, but the idea proved to be several years ahead of its time. The release was cancelled due to financial issues gripping Imax and the exhibition industry back then.

But Imax is now on the threshold of a transition to digital, and the slate of DreamWorks 3D titles it announced Wednesday is expected to be among the first presented with its new digital projection system, scheduled to be launched in June. Gelfond said the potential of the new Imax digital projector "facilitated" the agreement with DreamWorks because the cost drops to almost zero compared to $45,000 for one Imax 3D print.

One exhibition industry source said the expense of Imax prints and the complexity of transporting them has long been an issue for Hollywood studios and commercial exhibitors, but should be addressed with the introduction of the Imax digital projector. "When it becomes digital, you're talking about a whole new model," the source said.

If the DreamWorks films are big at the Imax box office, that could be enough to lure other studios, namely Walt Disney, into the Imax camp as well, the source added.

While a 40-minute computer-animated film, "Sea Monsters," opened in both digital 3D and Imax 3D last month, the release of Paramount's "Beowulf" this weekend marks the first time a feature film is released in both 3D formats. The source said the overall results at the box office were modest, but sales at Imax theaters were "substantially higher" compared to the majority of digital 3D presentations.

"Beowulf" is expected to be the widest digital 3D release ever, in the neighborhood of 1,100 digital screens. By comparison, the film will open in 124 Imax theaters worldwide.

A film industry source said the Imax-DreamWorks deal shouldn't come as a surprise, as the studios want as many "eyeballs as possible" for their 3D films and Imax understands it's not alone in delivering 3D to audiences. Most studios see 5,000 screens as the magic number, and a pipeline of 3D content, such as James Cameron's "Avatar," together with the Imax-Dreamworks releases, should help make that happen by 2009, the source added."

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