Artists find ways to emphasize latest technology

If the box office and premium ticket prices for 3D over the past two years are an indication, auds clearly like seeing Hollywood’s tentpoles on the bigscreen in 3D. The challenge for marketers, especially of live action 3D titles, is how to convey the essence of the experience beyond simply touting that a release is in 3D.

For the upcoming October bow of “Saw 3D,” Lionsgate’s marketing team created the illusion of a 3D eyeball image for posters and online that has real dimensionality onscreen and even seems to move relative the viewer’s position. The rendering was so effective that links to it, posted on several horror and movie sites, went viral.

But marketers are still tackling the challenge of distinguishing 3D films from the growing pack, and communicating the dimensional difference.

“The real key to selling a 3D movie in a 2D marketing environment is to figure out how to get the illusion of 3D in a 2D space,” says producer Charlotte Huggins, whose 3D film credits include “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and “Fly Me to the Moon 3D.”

Until recently, advertising for most 3D films has been fairly straightforward, often decidedly low-tech and non-immersive: a poster of an audience wearing 3D glasses, or recoiling from a movie that seemed to leap out at them. Attenuated characters — long, slender letters that seem to start or end at infinity — are another simple trick used in posters and artwork. (It’s been around since the first wave of 3D. Just look at the poster for 1952’s “Bwana Devil.”). Another technique involves “breaking the frame”: showing a traditional film frame, or screen, and an object breaking away from it (think of the “Despicable Me” double billboards, connected by rope). Advertisers have also used lenticular printing — layering images together to give the appearance of depth — since the 1940s.

The key art for the just-released “Piranha 3D” used careful imagery and outlines to give the illusion of punched-out letters and 3D fish without having to use special printing technology.

The film’s 2D and 3D trailers also tagged the 3D aspect at the end. More attention came from a Funny or Die video spoof about why the comically gory pic deserves an Oscar, touting “Piranha’s” 3D elements several times while an actress wears old-school red and blue glasses.

While 3D trailers are one of the best tools to lure auds, marketers can’t rely on that method. They can be shown in front of only 3D films, and there often aren’t enough 3D films out at any one time to consistently promo the pics.

Marketing using 3D elements is often more complicated, and certainly more expensive: A trailer costs about 30% more to make in 3D than in 2D, and lenticular posters can run in the hundreds of dollars per poster.

“Everything about 3D is more expensive,” Huggins says.

But the biggest challenge is still strategic. Even if technology exists to make extensive, immersive 3D promos online, studios are wary of anything that could dilute the value of the film itself.

“Studios are reluctant to jump into some of the 3D technology for websites because it takes away from the 3D equity of the theatrical release,” says Michael Romero, partner and managing director of ad agency Heavenspot, adding that while studios are open to ideas, they’re not quite ready to take the plunge. “We have not yet gotten the greenlight to build a full 3D website, but the capabilities are there.”

The challenge for marketers is to design campaigns that best convey the illusion of 3D in a 2D space without taking away from the film’s potency.

“It’s about ingenuity and graphic design and key art design,” says Huggins, citing advertising for “My Bloody Valentine” as a campaign that delivered. The lenticular posters and billboards, she notes, were so well-designed that the image of an axe coming toward the viewer still gave a sense of 3D when transferred to some of the film’s 2D promotional materials.

With the growing roster of 3D movies (23 were released in 2010 and 30 are slated for 2011), marketers are under the gun to make ingenious promos pop — while also seeking to contain costs.

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