Wednesday, December 10, 2008

3D and DreamWorks

Jeffrey Katzenberg was in Toronto last Monday, talking about DreamWorks' commitment to stereoscopic 3D and showing clips from the forthcoming film Monsters vs. Aliens.

Katzenberg believes that in 5-8 years, all movies will be projected in 3D. He stated that there were 10 or 11 films (both live and animated) slated for release in 2009 and two dozen for 2010. All future DreamWorks releases are slated to be 3D, starting with Monsters vs. Aliens. Dreamworks' features currently cost $150 million, and 3D will add an additional $15 million to their price tag.

Bloomberg news reports specifics about what 3D films are coming:
Next year's 3-D releases include a version of the original "Toy Story" from Disney and James Cameron's "Avatar" from News Corp., the director's first feature film since "Titanic" in 1997. Disney plans five 3-D films, the most of any studio. In February, NBC Universal will release "Coraline," based on the book by Neil Gaiman. "Monsters vs. Aliens" is set for March, DreamWorks Animation's only movie of the year.
Katzenberg foresees theatres adding a $5 surcharge over regular admission rates for the 3D experience. There are currently 1000 screens in North America able to project 3D. In 4 months, there will be 2500 and by 2010 there are expected to be 7500. The Bloomberg article implies that the current economic downturn is going to slow the spread of 3D venues.
Cinedigm Digital Cinema Corp., a supplier of software to run digital theaters, had planned to convert as many as 1,500 screens by March 2009. Now, with funds on hold, the company expects 100 to 200, chief executive Bud Mayo said.
While box office grosses have gone up, movie attendance has gone down. The increase in ticket prices is responsible for the increased grosses. The same economic downturn that's slowing down installation of 3D projection may also cut into 3D box office if the theatres charge more for the dimensional versions.

Because not all screens are currently equipped for 3D, DreamWorks will continue to release its films in flat versions to theatres and for home formats such as DVD. Katzenberg acknowledges that films are going to have to be satisfying experiences without 3D and that 3D will be the icing on the cake. He does foresee 3D becoming available at home in the future and expects that its first successful home application will be in gaming.

Katzenberg admitted that it was going to be up to the audience to determine if 3D would become the dominant projection method, but that he was excited about the possibilities since seeing The Polar Express in 3D.

I found the first clip from Monsters vs. Aliens to have some problems, though I'm not sure if it was the clip itself or my need to adjust. 3D imagery contains more information than a standard movie in that the viewer is taking in depth information in addition to everything else. I found the cutting in the first sequence, where the President confronts the alien, to be too fast. I couldn't decipher some shots before they were replaced by others.

However, I found the later two excerpts, the first introducing the monsters and the second a battle on the Golden Gate bridge, worked better for me. I don't know if it was the nature of the direction and cutting in those sequences or if by that time I had seen enough that my brain was more in tune with reading the images.

Certainly, as a society, we take in visual information faster now than in the past. I remember reading an interview with Ward Kimball who talked about having to trim older Disney shorts when they played on television as they were paced too slowly for the TV audience. I don't doubt that with greater exposure to 3D imagery, the audience as a whole will be better at deciphering what's in front of them, but I do think there's a danger of cutting too quickly for the time being.

3D has been tried many times before. Katzenberg said that he felt the move to digital was going to make the difference in terms of audience acceptance. Maybe 3D will be a way for studios to attract more people to theatres in the current economy or maybe bad economic news will prevent that. For now, Hollywood is betting heavily on 3D. Only time will tell if it becomes the new standard or remains an occasional novelty.


Mitch K said...

I loved my View-Master as a kid, but I could only look at it for so long before my eyes bugged out of my head.

I'm definitely not paying an extra five bucks for a gimmick.

Oswald Iten said...

I'm glad you mention the "deciphering" problems you had. While I think turning out hybrid films (for standard as well as 3D screens) always leads to compromises it's certainly sad to see 3D films that rely on editing patterns (to name the most obvious difference) that are based on the perception of 2 dimensional pictures.

It's a little like Fantasia/2000 - supposedly "made for" IMAX screens - which actually looked better in its standard theatre run because many of the compositions disintegrated when enfolding our whole field of vision.

To really get you (or me at least) excited about the 3D (and the 5$ extra), someone should start doing strong movies that work better in 3D. After all, 3D should be one more stylistic device (like color or sound), not just a gimmick.

Maurice said...

To me this looks just like the craze in the 1950s of basically the same thing. I'm sure 3D won't last.

Manuel Quiñones said...

I never attended a 3D projection, but I wonder how the new dimension can improve narrative. The dramatic effect of close-ups in 3D can add to the film experience as being lived in real. For me, it is probably not a big step as where sound, color, or 5.1 surround.

Mitch K said...

Another comment: This stuff isn't REAL 3D. Some planes appear closer than others, but everything on those planes are still FLAT.

Andy from Aceanim said...

"5-8 years, all movies will be projected in 3D"

The problem with saying "all" is that you are guarenteed to be proved wrong. However the problem with not using "all" is that you sound wishy washy.

Here in London, I still watch movies that have no sound track of their own, or are in black and white and sometimes are on 8mm. So I'll bet that "all" movies won't be in 3D but suggest 90% of film cinemas in the USA will have the facility to do so.

Maurice said...

Iam in complete agreement with Mitch K. Unless the movie image was frontway and sideways projection (or something like that) making it an actual three-dimensional image from all sides (in which case the theatre would be like a hockey arena), I as a consumer would not consume such an expensive gimmick that only claims to be 3D.

At least IMAX keeps its promise that the image is really big.

J. J. Hunsecker said...

I'm still waiting for Smellovision, despite what Carl Stalling says about it.

Anonymous said...

There are many aspects of cinematic language that need to change when you create a '3D' film and one of the most important factors is the length of the shot. Quick cuts just don't work in 3D since the brain has to work too hard to process the extra depth data.

Maurice said...

To me it's interesting to note that theatrical 3D viewing of animation (as far as I know) is limited to CGI ("Meet the Robinsons" and now "Monsters vs. Aliens") and stop-motion (the annual holiday rerelease of "The Nightmare Before Christmas").

Traditional animation, apart from that of Disney, barely even gets regular restorations to preserve it, now that the people involved are rarely ever kept bust making new 2D product.

The only 2D Blu-ray titles out (to my knowledge) as I write this comment are the Disney classic "Sleeping Beauty" and the most recent hand-drawn highlights: "The Simpsons Movie" and "Persepolis".

Tim said...

ALL movies will be in 3D?
Every studio will go to the extra expense of shooting each and every film from now on? Even the independents?
Yes, I am sure films like "The Shawshank Redemption", "Doubt", "Juno", and "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" will look much better with added depth.

I want to see Meryl Streep cry in 3D!!

Maurice said...

Meryl Streep crying?

Tim, you probably have no idea how random that sounds.

Which seems appropriate seeing that Meryl Streep turns up in some of the most random movies I've ever seen advertised. I never liked Meryl Streep.

King M. Mugabi said...

if it will motivate the audience to the theater and not to simply pirate the material and potentially my future, i'm for it