Disney's 3-D romp steered by Imageworks

Disney’s “G-Force” wound up being a guinea pig in more ways than one. The secret-agent critter pic had been planned as a 3-D project, had seen those plans dropped, then went back to being 3-D after all halfway through shooting.

As a result, the pic combines two completely different approaches to 3-D stereo: Visual effects shots rendered in 3-D at Sony Imageworks make up about three-quarters of the movie, while live-action footage without vfx was converted from 2-D to 3-D by several vendors, including In-Three.

Helmer Hoyt Yeatman asked Imageworks’ Rob Engle to make sure all the pic’s 3-D had a consistent look. “Taking those two disparate techniques and blending them so they’re seamless was a unique challenge,” Engle says.

As “G-Force’s” 3-D visual effects supervisor, Engle also updated a seldom-used technique to make the 3-D effect more startling.

“There’s a scene in a pet store where a snake lunges at the camera,” he explains. “We thought, ‘that’s a good 3-D moment.’ ” But because the film was composed for widescreen, the snake’s jaws were cut off by the top and bottom of frame, spoiling the 3-D effect.

So for 3-D screenings, the projected image will actually be letterboxed, with black projected above and below the frame. Objects that come out toward the audience, like the snake’s jaws, can break into the black letterboxing, so they appear to extend beyond the frame.

“It heightens the idea the snake is in the audience with you,” Engle says.

The Honolulu-born son of a submarine captain, Engle was involved in technical theater in high school before studying electrical engineering. He worked for eight years at Hewlett Packard before he realized there was a way to marry his interest in electronics with his love of showbiz.

“When I saw ‘Jurassic Park,’ I thought, ‘I’ve got to get into this.’”

He’d collected Viewmaster discs as a kid, but it was “Polar Express” that got him interested in 3-D movies.

“I realized it was a transformative medium,” he says. “It’s not something everybody’s going to love, and it’s going to take a while before a lot of people embrace it, but as you see it, you get it. You understand why it’s different, and it’s compelling.”

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