Third dimension turns captions into a conundrum

PARIS — Europe seems to be embracing 3-D movies, but stereo subtitles are proving to be a stubborn problem.

“As of today, there is no economically viable system to create subtitles for stereo 3-D films,” says Stephan Faudeux, topper of stereo 3-D confab Dimension 3.

The main problem for subtitles in stereo is that no one has fully figured out where to place them in depth-space. If they’re placed incorrectly, they’re more disruptive for the audience than subtitles in 2-D.

Moreover, for distributors, 3-D subtitling is a bigger headache than 2-D subtitling. That’s because on stereo 3-D pics, subtitles have to be embedded into the “digital cinema package” (also known as the DCP, i.e. digital print), just as they are on film prints.

“Disney used to say they’d never do subtitles and instead chose to release their films entirely dubbed,” Faudeux says. “But for Cannes, the Pixar team had to insert subtitles manually in each shot.”

At the Dimension 3 forum, which took place near Paris June 2-4, Imax’s general manager of theater development, Julian Stanford, said the company has created a software program that automatically calculates the depth of the 3-D image and places subtitles at the same plane as the main object moving in the shot on the screen.

Tommaso Vergallo, director of digital cinema at Gallic company Digimage, who also attended the forum, announced the shingle has developed a tool that allows filmmakers to customize subtitles for different shots, with a choice of colors, sizes and typefaces.

Jocelyn Bouyssy, CEO of Gallic exhib chain Circuit George Raymond (CGR), the only fully digital multiplex in France, explains: “For us there is no problem. We showed ‘Beowulf’ in stereo 3-D, and the few subtitles in the film didn’t jump out of the screen since they were in 2-D. And most 3-D films we get are dubbed anyway.”

Bouyssy adds, “The real challenge will be to come up with subtitles for live 3-D shows.”

CGR will avoid the issue altogether on two releases: Chris Wedge’s “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” and James Cameron’s “Avatar” will both be dubbed.

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