DreamWorks topper offers sunny view of 3D's future

Last week, Jeffrey Katzenberg was 3D’s bad cop, beating up Warner Bros. over its conversion of “Clash of the Titans,” and warning studios to take the high road or face dire consequences.

Wednesday at NAB, though, he was a good cop, optimistic about the future of 3D and newly diplomatic about the Warner hit he so recently bashed.

An SRO crowd had gathered in hopes of seeing an eruption from Mt. Jeffrey. But when an audience member posed a question about the 3D pic’s quality, Katzenberg declined. “I’m going to shock you (and) take a pass on that,” he said, drawing murmurs and laughs.

“I don’t think it’s for me to comment on other people’s (films). I want to move on and say that broadcasters, moviemakers, we have a huge opportunity in front of us, maybe the best opportunity we’ve [No Paragraph Style]Text (Text Styles)seen in decades.”

He predicted rapid improvement for 3D production tech and video displays, including 3D without glasses on cell phones at next year’s Consumer Electronics Show and on small-to-midsized TVs within five to seven years. He conceded the format won’t be for everyone and disclosed that – like about 10% of the population – he’s a bit sensitive to 3D.

“At our studio, I’m what they call the hurl-meter,” he said.

Last week, in a session with Variety reporters and editors, Katzenberg charged that Warner Bros. had “snookered the movie audience” with “Clash” and warned that low-quality 2D-to-3D conversions would shatter consumer trust in the premium format and kill the industry’s new golden goose – an opportunity so great it has reversed the long-term decline in admissions and even made up for the loss of DVD revenue at his studio.

But optimism, and the idea that 3D is in its infancy, was Wednesday’s message. Katzenberg even took a sunny view of the suddenly controversial practice of converting 2D movies to 3D, especially for homevideo.

Noting that the tools for creating stereoscopic 3D animation have improved rapidly, Katzenberg said the format is beginning to attract major capital investment.

“So now it’s in the most rudimentary stage” he said. “It’s going to change very, very quickly. I’m actually pretty optimistic that 12, 18, 24 months from right now there will be a quality process.”

The closest he came to repeating his attack on “Clash” during some 40 minutes on stage was in response to a question from David Wertheimer, executive director of the Entertainment Technology Center at USC. Wertheimer referenced an article by the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern, in which the critic attributed some the problems he’d seen in “Clash” to technical issues involving active-shutter glasses.

“Well…,” Katzenberg said, pausing to choose his words. “Maybe.” He said he’d called Morgenstern to discuss that article, hinting he disagreed with the critic’s conclusion. Later, in a one-on-one conversation with Variety, he said he is upbeat about 3D exhibition despite widespread reports of such problems.

“Enthusiasm from the moviegoers has been off the charts,” he said. “To think that there are not going to be some glitches and speed bumps along the way, is unrealistic. We’re trying to roll out and create one of the greatest transformations of visual images that has ever happened in history … I think to have an expectation of instant perfection is neither practical nor realistic, and we will fail.”

Asked about his earlier warning that low-quality conversions could put an end to the 3D business within a year, he said that wasn’t meant as a prediction.

“I was saying that could be a consequence if that was to happen. Now if you’re asking me if I think there’s any high degree of likelihood that it will happen, I do not.”

He called reports that Martin Scorsese is going to shoot in 3D “the best news of anything I’ve heard” and disagreed with media speculation that 3D will make stars irrelevant. “I don’t think in any fashion shape or form it diminishes the imperative of a great actor as the protagonist as a story.”

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