Controversy surrounds conversion to the format

The aftermath of the holiday weekend saw more controversy about 3D conversion, with filmmakers and 3D conversion vets complaining that studios are slapping low-quality 3D on their pics without taking the time to use the technology effectively.

“Avatar” producer Jon Landau told Daily Variety, “Conversion is a creative process, not a technical process.” When it’s done quickly, as an afterthought, he said, the movie suffers.

Landau didn’t name any titles, but the latest pic to come under scrutiny is Paramount’s “The Last Airbender.”

Pic withstood scathing reviews, especially for its 3D version, to deliver a solid first weekend. If it holds, as many 3D releases have, it could be a real hit.

Yet 3D accounted for just 54% of the pic’s opening weekend gross. Since 3D tickets command an upcharge of 30% or more, well under half of “Airbender’s” opening weekend admissions were for 3D, even though it was marketed as “the 3D event of the summer.”

Warner has several converted 3D titles opening later this year, including perhaps the highest-profile 3D opener since “Avatar”: “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”

Imax is in talks to handle 3D conversion for Part One of “Deathly Hallows,” both for its own screens and for non-Imax screens. If the deal goes forward, it would be the first full-length conversion for the supersized-screen company, which has converted portions of previous “Potter” pics.

Warner has a long-standing relationship with Imax and a deal to release up to 20 pics in Imax theaters through 2013. At least some of those will be 3D.

Still, handing a crown jewel to a vendor that has never done a full-length feature before is a risk. The problem is that few companies have done a full-length feature, and fewer have done it well.

Landau argues conversion is especially problematic when it’s done quickly, during post. “You can’t be converting the movie and finishing it,” he said.

That’s what happened with Warner’s “Clash of the Titans,” which was converted in less than 10 weeks even as the pic’s climax was being recut. Newcomer StereoD was given around 12 weeks to convert “Airbender.” Early indications are that “Harry Potter” will be converted on a schedule similar to “Airbender’s.”

The most successful converted film to date, “Alice in Wonderland,” was designed for 3D from the start but not shot in 3D. Barry Sandrew of Legend3D, which worked on “Alice” with Sony Pictures Imageworks, said, “Converting a feature film is really hard, and there aren’t that many that can do it.” Sandrew said he’s seen some companies deliver “embarrassments,” but those disasters won’t be seen by the public because other companies have stepped in to rescue those movies.

Tim Sassoon of Sassoon Film Design said, “Producers need to start taking 3D seriously and apply the same critical and creative faculties to it that they do to every other part of the filmmaking process.”

“What producer would agree to send their entire soundtrack; ADR, Foley, SFX, composing, scoring and mixing, to an inexperienced and unsupervised shop on the other side of the world, purely on price, for them to ‘do’? And yet that’s exactly what’s being done with 3D, and we’re seeing the consequences.”

One movie that won’t be converted is “Transformers 3.” Michael Bay’s Par tentpole will be shot in native 3D with Pace camera rigs. Topper Vince Pace is among the leading providers for 3D camera rigs but isn’t entirely negative about conversion.

“The only way to really evaluate a 3D vendor, a 3D camera system, a 3D process, is to look at those images up on the screen and say is that what you want for your film,” he said. “I think eventually you’re going to see films that take the proper amount of time, that did approach (conversion) correctly and be done well. But most of the films that were done don’t fall into that category.”Pace rigs are in use now on Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo Cabret” and on the new “Pirates of the Caribbean” as well. Each production is using a different digital camera: “Pirates: is using the RED; “Hugo Cabret” is using the Arri Alexa; and “Transformers” is starting with the Sony F35 and shifting to the Alexa when it becomes available.

Having seen some “Hugo Cabret” footage, Pace said “I think we’re headed for a fantastic presentation of what this medium can do, but unfortunately we’re going to stumble over dead bodies of people who just tried to get it out there and put the 3D monicker on there and call it quits.

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BITS & BYTES: Earlier this week there was another spate of news stories that “Titanic 3D” was “confirmed,” but Jon Landau said nothing new has been announced. The target release date has long been the 100th anniversary of the ship’s sinking. Landau declined comment on whether a vendor has been chosen and said work has not yet begun. … The Hollywood Post Alliance is taking submissions for the HPA Judges Award for Creativity and Innovation in Post Production. Submission period runs through July 19. … Digital Jungle Post Production has launched a series of RED ONE training workshops. … The YES Network’s July 10 and 11 3D telecasts of the NY Yankees vs. the Seattle Mariners will be carred on Blue Ridge Communications, Cablevision, Comcast, Cox, Service Electric Broadband Cable, Time Warner Cable and Verizon FiOS. … A report from IMS Research estimates nearly 6 million 3D TV sets will ship worldwide this year. … A 3D Lexus commercial, the first for a car company, has bowed in theaters in front of “The Last Airbender.” … The Mill is creating visual effects for “Coronation Street’s” 50th anniversary episode. … Prime Focus VFX contributed “sparkle” vfx to Robert Pattinson’s Edward Cullen for “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” …

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