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Hollywood makes plans for 3D

11 January 2006

Recent movement in Hollywood suggests that 3D feature films may be shifting from novelty to a more serious business model, writes Carolyn Giardina.

Walt Disney Studios recently hatched it animated feature ‘Chicken Little’ in 3D, and in doing so introduced what it calls ‘Disney Digital 3D’ on roughly 85 custom 3D-ready digital cinema installations in North American and four in Mexico.

In collaboration with Disney, Real D provided its 3D platform while Dolby Laboratories installed its Dolby Digital Cinema systems. Operating with the Dolby servers at the various sites are Christie DLP Cinema projectors or Barco DLP Cinema projectors. QuVis’ QuVis Cinema Players was installed at the theatres Mexico.

The big picture is more 3D is on the way. George Lucas has already announced that he would release all six Star Wars films in 3D, beginning with the first in May 2007 in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the first film, ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’. Director James Cameron (‘Titantic’) has plans do his next two releases in 3D, director Robert Zemeckis’ (‘Forrest Gump)’ next animated film Monster House is due for a 3D release in mid ’06, and other leading directors such as Peter Jackson (‘The Lord of the Rings’, ‘King Kong)’ have expressed interest in the format.

Even before ‘Chicken Little’ arrived in theatres, some recent 3D successes had already caught Hollywood’s attention, notably last year’s Zemeckis-directed ‘The Polar Express’, which surprised many with strong box office returns from a relatively small number of 3D screens. Director Robert Rodriguez also achieved success in the 3D realm with his ‘Spy Kids 3D: Game Over’ and ‘Shark Boy and Lava Girl’ in 3D.

Theatre owners see the possibilities. "I’ve seen the [3D] demos; I’ve seen ‘Chicken Little’, and 3D is really cool," said John Fithian, president of the US’ National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO). "With digital cinema, 3D is no longer a novelty and it provides something you can’t get a home…It’s going to make money and bring more people to the theatres."

"The 3D that people are seeing today is different from the traditional creature 3D movies-both in the quality and the way the movies are being put together. It’s a different experience and from an adverting point of view, it’s a more attractive output," added QuVis VP of sales and marketing James Graham.

But there are some biggest issues being watched in this space. Digital cinema stakeholders believe 3D could be a catalyst in driving a digital transition, as numerous manufacturers say that it is less complicated and less costly to prep a digital cinema theatre for 3D viewing, compared with today’s film-based theatres.

"The promise of digital cinema is a factor," says Loren Nielson, partner in Entertainment Technology Consultants firm. "Every 2k DLP Cinema projector is ‘3D ready’ making coverting the theatre a not so arduous process.

"Meanwhile the glasses are more sophisticated, and some brands are both inexpensive and disposable," she added. "In the past, viewers had to deal with the discomfort of the glasses, but the 3D technology has gotten to a point where it’s quite comfortable to watch and the technology for capture and postproduction has advanced to such as degree that what we can process ….can be a compelling experience.

Nielson concludes, "It seems the pieces are in place to promote 3D."

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