The buzz-word at this year's CES show in Las Vegas was 3-D, and left consumers with more questions than answers regarding what was on the horizon and whether or not it was worth investing in, especially after many had just purchased new HDTV displays within the last 24 months.
On February 18, 2010, Trailer Park, in association with iHollywood Forum, hosted an industry panel discussion on 3-D technology for cinemas and home theater. Prior to the discussion, attendees were treated to a demonstration of one of Panasonic's 3-D displays and 3-D Blu-ray players. The 3-D on Panasonic's set up was breathtaking, rivaling that seen recently in movie theaters. Panasonic's 3-D glasses use LCD shutters which sync with the display, so that the left eye only sees the left frame and the right eye only sees the right frame, similar to the original IMAX 3-D technology (where you had to wear a heavy helmet-like headset, although IMAX has since switched to polarized glasses like those found in most amusement parks) and the current (and more comfortable) XpanD systems which use light-weight glasses. I have yet to see a feature-length film with XpanD glasses, so I am curious if this system is as headache-inducing as the original IMAX system was for me. RealD is my preferred format in movie theaters, with Dolby 3-D running a distant second.
The event's sponsors spoke briefly before the panel began about their companies and what they provide to the industry. Manuel Guiterrez of TDVision Systems discussed how his company was the first to produce a 3-D Blu-ray disc and that their technology is listed as part of the MVC standard. They also provide a complete acquisition, encoding, decoding and visualization platform for true 3-D HD video.
Jordan Fall of Virtual Images Unlimited provided samples of the lenticular 3-D covers they created for DVD and Blu-ray releaes such as New Line's Journey To The Center Of The Earth, Universal's The Hulk, and Paramount's Friday The 13th, in addition to other 3-D marketing solutions including posters for Fox's Avatar.
Jon Currie of Zpryme Research & Consulting spoke of the market research his company has completed regarding consumer reaction to the new 3-D specification. His presentation can be downloaded here.
Michael Stroud of iHollywood Forum then introduced the members of the discussion panel:
Jason Brenek, Sr. Vice President, Walt Disney Studios, responsible for worldwide digital cinema and digital 3-D efforts along with alternative programming.
Tony Jasionowski, Panasonic Consumer Electronics Sr. Group Manager Technology Liason & Alliance, responsible for new magnetic and optical technologies, formats, product planning, engineering and promotion, and actively involved in the DVD-Forum, Blu-ray Disc Association, among others.
Lenny Lipton, Stereoscopic vision system inventor, former CTO of RealD, founder of StereoGraphics Corporation, and President of Oculus3D. His inventions include CrystalEyes, the first shuttering eyewear for stereoscopic displays and RealD's Zscreen.
Rob Engle, 3-D Visual Effects Supervisor at Sony Imageworks, involved or supervised the 3-D adaptations of Polar Express, Beowulf, and Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs.
Charlotte Huggins, Producer of 3-D films Journey To The Center Of The Earth, Wings of Courage, Fly Me To The Moon, and Honey I Shrunk The Audience.
Joe Alves, Director of Jaws 3-D, also an award-winning production designer on such films as Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Jaws.
Before the discussion got underway, moderator Michael Stroud talked about his reaction to this year's CES, “what I thought of when I saw CES was the interesting dichotomy between what we see in movies and what we see on television. The rapid adoption in movies versus where are we going in TV. This is one of the reasons why I decided it would be a good time to do something like this, step back a little bit from the hype and see what the reality is. See what the industry adoption curve for consumers is actually going to be.”
For 3-D to be successful, Charlotte Huggins stressed the need “to create compelling stories that people want to see. That's what (James) Cameron did, that's what (Robert) Zemeckis is doing, that's what Sony Imageworks and other people are doing now.... I was in the Panasonic booth (at CES). Hat's off, it was amazing.”
Rob Engle talked about what he thought made Avatar such a box office success: “One of the things that is really great about Avatar, specifically, is that it managed to get a lot of people to see what good 3-D can be. You talk about hype, but I think there is also this myth that 3-D has to be gimmicky or somehow intrusive to tell a story. There are a lot of examples, and unfortunately I've worked on some, where 3-D gets in the way of the story. What Avatar did is, I don't think there was a single moment in that movie that was gimicky, and that showed people how good 3-D can be...”
Jason Brenek posed the question, “What makes a film, from a genre perspective, worth making in 3-D? We started with kid's films because it's the perfect 3-D environment. The CG environment is perfect for 3-D because you can manipulate everything, add extra cameras. But what we found when we did the litmus test was, would you make There Will Be Blood in 3-D? We spent a lot of time talking about if that film was worthy of it. What we realized over time was, although we haven't gotten to it yet, was Yes, by any means, for that particular film. But the genres are certainly starting to play out. Children's, horror, adventure, sci-fi, action. We're slowly check boxing all the lists. Would a romantic comedy, would a drama be better in 3-D? I personally think so. But I also think once you get 80% of the content to 3-D, and you've got the distribution channels to supply that content to everyone who wants to see it, the 2-D experience will be an inferior viewing experience. You'll have the same situation that you had with HD to standard def, or DVD to VHS. You'll have people saying that it's a richer experience.”
Tony Jasionowski added, “When people see what I call good 3-D, they really get it. The key here, as Charlotte mentioned, is the compelling content. There's good 3-D, and there's bad 3-D. What we need is more of the good 3-D. Panasonic will have the platforms for that.”
Joe Alves spoke a bit about the resurgence of 3-D in the 1980s and how it related to making Jaws 3-D. “I didn't make Jaws 3-D to make it 3-D.... When it came to (film number) 3, the studio and Zanuck/Brown washed their hands and didn't want anything to do with it.... They sold it to a guy that did That's Incredible and he wanted to do live sharks and mechanical people... I went scouting with the writer, Richard Matheson, and we went to a (underwater) theme park and there was this incredible underwater 3-D film showing, and I thought it was wonderful and I loved the depth...” He also spoke about not hiring a certain young filmmaker. “When I was doing Jaws 3-D, Jim Cameron called me said 'Can I shoot the underwater sequence?' And I said 'Gee, I would love to have you do it, but Landsburg got somebody else.' So, I didn't hire him.” Lenny Lipton reminded Alves, “You didn't hire me....You probably don't remember me.... I showed you (a couple of reels). Do you remember what you said? You said, 'The 3-D is really good, but we can't show this to the guys upstairs because the movies are shit.' So I didn't get the job.”
Michael Stroud then asked if there is a home market for 3-D. Tony Jasionowski responded, “At Panasonic, obviously, we think it's going to be a huge market. It's going to take some time. We're really dependent on this compelling content. When that comes, I think we're going to have a tremendous opportunity. We're bringing the theatrical experience into the home.”
Jason Brenek added, “From our experiences, we've seen that it is clearly a 'You've got to see it to believe it' type of experience... From a studio perspective, we certainly need the downstream channels to make the economics of our business work. So we are embracing 3-D to the home, from a broadcast perspective, obviously from a packaged media perspective. We certainly think that with all the tests and focus groups we've done, when the consumers see it, they understand it, and they can understand the translation from the in-theater experience to the home, just like they've done with sound and visuals and everything like that with their home theater systems.”
Rob Engle also added, “I have to make it clear that I do not speak for Sony Corporation.... I think that one of the things that has been fairly clear is that films themselves, 3-D films, are not a good sales force to drive the option of home 3-D systems by themselves. However, we look at the entire gamut of possibilities. When we look at the idea of live sporting events, (like) the Super Bowl or the World Cup Soccer games. When you look at the idea of people taking personal photographs or home videos in 3-D, if you look at video gaming, you put all of those together, it comes to a friendly compelling experience. I at one point purchased a very inexpensive 3-D lens for my camera and started taking home pictures of my daughter, and it is night and day the experience between looking at a still photograph in 2-D and looking at it in 3-D.... What I'm really getting at is, sure, movies are cool, and of course, I work in that business, but you've got to look at the whole picture, and the whole picture is what's going to sell that.”
Tony Jasionowski agreed. “We are actually looking at it from that perspective as well. It's not just the movies and the studio content, but it's the whole gamut of the content. We need lots of content, lots of compelling content. That will drive the hardware into the consumers' homes.”
Michael Stroud asked the panel, “Does the hardware have to be revolutionary to make this happen? In other words, can you add it as an option?”
“Each manufacturer is different,” Tony Jasionowski replied. “Panasonic's perspective is we are going to have four models that will be available with this HD 3-D capability, in 50, 54, 60, and 65 inch. These are basically step-up models for early adopters, much like Blu-ray... We've been traveling across the country with these 103-inch plasma TV's to demonstrate the experience, to get people to see the benefits of this immersive experience.”
Joe Alves expressed some concern about where 3-D would be used. “...on the nightly news I really don't want to see all the pores in their skin. What they used to do years ago is use soft focus on the stars so they look beautiful. If you want to see football games, soccer games, stuff with a lot of dimension to it. But the nightly news in 3-D? That might be a little disturbing.”
“There is one big difference, I believe, which is that the direction that television panel technology has been heading has been very high refresh rates,” Rob Engle explained. “That was happening before 3-D became a part of the equation. And it's that very high refresh rate which enables the 3-D frames differential displays. The same way that a digital cinema projector is capable, without really any modification, just the addition of some outboard equipment. The same way that a digital cinema projector is capable of becoming 3-D capable, I'm not suggesting a home television is capable with a simple addition of becoming 3-D, but the point is that the delta of developing technology between a 2-D set these days and a 3-D set is actually pretty small. And it's a big difference between a standard def TV and a high def TV. I think the distinction between those is substantial.”
Michael Stroud asked the panel if we are headed towards a transition where all films will be 3-D, and if so, what the time frame would be. Rob Engle emphatically replied, “Yes, someday, every film will be 3-D, just like every film will be color.”
Charlotte Huggins added, “There should be no movies created in 2-D. It's silly, at this point.”
Rob Engle continued, “I think all we're talking about is just a matter of degree, at this point, which is the second part of your question, how long before that actually happens. It's already happening. In fact, I work at a digital effects company, and I can tell you candidly that I think almost every film, at least 80% of the films that we're talking about these days, the question has come up, 'Gee, should we do this in 3-D?' Instead, that's the Avatar effect. But the other extent is people are realizing what a compelling medium this is. So, it is going to happen. The time frame is completely available. I would never say when that is going to be.”
Charlotte Huggins then took the conversation in a different direction, with her concern over the type of content. “I keep wondering, over and over, it seems like right now, what everybody's selling is either feature films, made in 3-D, on television sets, or sports. There really doesn't seem to be anything else. And the early adopters are ESPN and other sports programs, and I keep thinking, I wonder, are the consumers sports consumers? I love sports. I'm sad I'm not home watching the Olympics, and I can see them looking beautiful. But I still don't think that's the number one thing that people sit and watch on their television sets. They watch stories, they watch real people, whether they're real people on reality television or imaginary people like on Lost. We were making movies in IMAX that cost up to $15 million, and there were 23 screens. I worked on Wings of Courage at Sony, and Peter Guber greenlit that movie at $10 million, and it ended up costing $12 million, and there were (only) like 7 IMAX 3-D screens. What the hell is he doing? The cameras were the size of refrigerators. He was a future thinker. Guber was looking ahead. We're all sitting here partly because of that, because he really created a story with a director, Jean-Jacques Annaud, an actor, Val Kilmer, in IMAX 3-D, when there were no theaters to show it in. It seems like, if I were Panasonic, or Samsung, or LG, or any of those, they buy content, and it can't just be sports. You've got to sell to women. I'm sorry. You've got to tell me some stories that I want to see in 3-D on my small screen. Not feature films made for giant screens put on a little box, and not just sports. Something's not right here. You go to CES and it's just this multi-billion dollar industry, and then you go out into Hollywood, and nobody's talking about 3-D TV. So, I don't know what you guys do out there (motioning to audience), but we should be making 3-D television shows.”
When asked about the opening of Sony's 3-D Technology Center to offer training to filmmakers, Rob Engle was enthusiastic. “The basic idea is to get people thinking about how to make high quality 3-D, because if we fall into the trap of producing poor quality or gimmicky 3-D, all we do is turn off the audience. The audience will go away... It benefits all of us to have everybody learn how to make good 3-D.” Lenny Lipton added, “We've got to see changes in projection, too.... It's just too dark, that's what I hear when people see 3-D movies. We'll see those things change, we'll see progress.”
Jason Brenek spoke about sports and live-action 3-D production. “You have to change the way you shoot and produce sporting events to take into account the 3-D medium. Slower pace, certain shots that don't work, certain shots where you don't need 3-D because the 3-D doesn't even register.... The learning curve is incredibly steep, you do produce things in a separate way, the pace is different, and the cuts are different when you're working with 3-D live.”
Michael Stroud asked the panel about the high cost of the 3-D glasses, as well as their lack of standardization. For example, you own a Panasonic 3-D TV and invite your friends over to watch the Super Bowl, but not everyone has glasses or glasses that are compatible with your TV, and you can't afford to buy glasses for everyone. Tony Jasionowski responded, “With time, as with anything else, standards will be developed... The Consumer Electronics Association is actually trying to come up with a single standard for glasses.”
Lenny Lipton raised the issue of consumers willingness to wear glasses at home to watch 3-D. “We just don't know what the circumstances or acceptance will be.”
Rob Engle also raised the concern of consumer's willingness to upgrade to a new 3-D television after just purchasing an HDTV within the last two years, especially after last year's mandatory conversion from analog to digital. “We're going to fight that battle. That just proves we have to have the content and we have to create a compelling experience, and hopefully, maybe the standards will catch up before people buy them so they don't have a bad experience.”