3D Shows Enduring Value, Delivering Entertainment Not Found at Home (Guest Column)

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Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

When I was a kid, I saw “Star Wars” half a dozen times in the theater. After seeing Han Solo steer the Millennium Falcon into hyperspace, the world opened up, and like so many others, I headed to Hollywood with the hope my imagination would take further flight.

Over the past 20-plus years working in entertainment, mostly in visual technology and 3D innovation, I have personally witnessed a few hyperspace moments: the teal and violet of James Cameron’s Pandora in “Avatar,” the isolation and stillness of space in Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity” and Mowgli magically swinging from vine to vine in Jon Favreau’s “The Jungle Book.”

There have been a number of articles written of late about the 3D-versus-2D battle within our industry. As someone who’s been at this awhile, and seen a few peaks and valleys on this subject, let me offer a counter point of view.

The mission when I founded RealD was to create technology that gives directors and visual artists the ability to reimagine what was thought possible on the screen and immerse audiences in extraordinary new worlds more deeply than ever before. Over the past decade, Cameron, Cuarón, Favreau, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Ang Lee and many others reimagined the cinematic experience, and audiences took note. All of the top 10 highest-grossing films of all time have been released in 3D. Nine of the 10 highest-grossing films of last year and this year were released in 3D. 3D remains an $8 billion business globally.

For example, nearly half of all domestic moviegoers who saw “Jurassic World” chose to view the feature in 3D. That means almost 50% of the U.S. box office for that blockbuster was made up of audience members willing to pay a premium for a better experience. Furthermore, 43% of domestic moviegoers bought 3D tickets for “The Jungle Book,” and 46% of the domestic opening weekend box office for “Doctor Strange” came from 3D ticket sales — and the format held strong with nearly 40% of the film’s total domestic gross coming from 3D. These figures are significant. In any other industry, percentages like these for sales of a premium offering would be considered a massive success.

Our internal research shows roughly 80% of all North American moviegoers are open to a 3D experience. We should lean in and embrace them.

So, what needs to be done? For starters, 3D cannot be an afterthought. As productions are carefully crafted from beginning to end, 3D needs to be imagined from the start and be a part of the creative process from capture to delivery. 3D films need to be made properly and with purpose, thoughtfully marketed and always presented with technical excellence in theaters.

We realize that one bad experience in 3D could affect a moviegoer’s preferences for life. This is especially challenging because not all 3D is created equal. As a science and technology company, RealD is constantly researching and developing new technology to make the viewing experience better. This includes the glasses, the screen, the projector and every aspect of presentation. Today’s audience is very savvy and values stellar presentation. We all must sweat the details.

In theatrical exhibition, competition doesn’t stem from one format over another. Our competition is the many ways audiences can now consume entertainment and the quality of time associated with the entertainment. We need to constantly remind a new generation of moviegoers (who predominantly absorb content on mobile devices) that the collective, shared experience of seeing a film with optimum visuals is second to none. And when they come into our movie houses, we need to welcome and dazzle them with the best experience imaginable. For many fans, 3D remains a fantastic differentiator from what’s in their homes and on their phones.

I would invite anyone working in 3D technology — our competitors and our colleagues, studios, distributors and exhibitors — to do everything they can to continue to perfect the moviegoing experience, no matter the format. Innovation by one moves us all forward.

And in the hands of gifted storytellers, 3D will continue to transport our imaginations light years ahead.

Michael V. Lewis is the co-founder and CEO of RealD, the world’s largest 3D cinema platform with more than 32,000 screens in 72 countries.

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  1. John Harris says:

    As an exhibitor, 3-D is the most exciting medium for the audience. When an audience emerges from a good 3-D film, they exude excitement and pleasure. Do it right and they’ll come back.

  2. Jesse Skeen says:

    I’ve been a fan of 3D ever since seeing “Treasure of the Four Crowns” in 1983. I was glad to see 3D make a comeback, but the industry has made MANY mistakes with it. First of all it should NOT be treated as an “option” or “add-on”- a movie is either in 3D or it isn’t, there were NO 2D showings of any of the 80s 3D movies and theaters did not charge a premium for them. I haven’t gone to many 3D movies in theaters lately because of the upcharges, but I didn’t opt instead to see a crappy 2D showing just to save money, I waited til I could buy it on 3D Blu-Ray for about the price of two tickets. This whole talk about “percentages” of people who saw a certain movie in 3D vs 2D is silly- having worked in theaters through the 90s, I saw that the majority of people didn’t care so much about the technical specs of their screenings as much as it starting at the time they wanted to see it. It’s obvious though that charging extra for 3D is turning more people away from it than bringing in more money overall.

    If the 3D picture in theaters is dark, the solution is to FIX IT, not to just give up and go back to 2D! If you’re thinking like that, you probably don’t like 3D to begin with. I would not go back at all to a theater that showed me a dark 3D presentation, even for 2D movies- that just shows that they don’t care about their presentation. I’ve pretty much given up on theaters myself because the ones in my area have so many problems, though at least the 3D presentations I’ve seen at them have been decent.

    3D post-conversion really needs to stop- either shoot your movie in real 2-camera 3D, or don’t. Conversion can look good, but it’s not a substitute for the real thing and there have been enough bad conversion jobs that have turned people off from them. All of the 3D classics from the 50s were shot in real 3D, I find it hard to believe that doing so now is impossible.

  3. Ray says:

    Have to agree with Mulder on all counts. And yet, despite sure-to-be strong sales for it, Lionsgate refuses to release T2 3D on disc…2D only. (As if another 2D release that might be a tiny bit better than the last version you bought is preferable to a new, different experience provided by the 3D…which is the actual reason for this new edition’s creation. Good work Lionsgate.

    • James Krisvoy says:

      3D films in the 50’s were shot on twin 35mm film. There was no video correction & at times left & right images could be out of sync. That has been resolved with digital projection but many exhibitors may prefer to let their projection bulbs die before replacing tthem..resulting in dark lackluster images. While Hollywood needs to get its act together.so do the theatre chains.

    • DeskMan says:

      Lionsgate is insane not to release T2 3D on disc. It may be a conversion, but with Cameron fully behind it, it’s undoubtedly as good as the one given to Titanic. Cameron’s openly supports the format and continues to make movies in it, but Lionsgate figures that the ONLY reason most people will want to upgrade this continuously re-released title isn’t a worthwhile reason after all.

      American studio/distributor execs overestimated the market for 3D discs in the first place — thinking it was the next revolutionary format and we’d all be having “3D parties” in our homes — and now they’re underestimating the size of the niche it was always destined to be.

      If they’d prefer I spend my money on 3D discs from their U.K. divisions — or in some cases, their competitors’ overseas divisions — that’s fine by me. The British 3D editions are the bee’s knees, and I’m sure the T2 3D set releasing there will be, too.

  4. Mulder says:

    Although this article is more about 3D in the cinema, my family and I love it both at home and in the cinema. I actually prefer it at home on my own equipment. I have seen some cinemas whose equipment was not up to par so the 3D wasn’t as great or as bright as it could have been. This is the fault of the cinema, rather than the 3D technology itself. At home, we have an OLED tv, with Passive 3D. And it is completely mind blowing. Every friend, every family member that I have demonstrated 3D to are mesmerized by it. I wish I could spend some time with some of these 3D naysayers, put Guardians of the Galaxy 2, or Kong: Skull Island, or Ghost in the Shell (or any number of other great 3D movies) on one screen, and the 4K HDR version side by side on another screen, and run a comparison. Because EVERY single 3D blu ray I have blows away it’s 4K counterpart, and not just by a small margin (I have both 3D and 4K versions of multiple releases). I think it would be a more difficult argument for some of these naysayers if that were to happen…I’ve seen too many people compare the 4K and 3D versions of new blu rays (on a high end television with good 3D capabilities) that come away with the realization that 3D is the better, more immersive format. That’s why most of these new releases on 3D blu ray outsell their 4K counterparts (check Amazon’s sale numbers during the first week of releases). That’s why people that have seen both the 4K and the 3D blu ray of Guardians in the Galaxy 2 prefer the 3D version over the 4K version (check out some of the reviews from average Joe’s and see for yourself, check out the reviews on YouTube). I imagine that the industry has banded together to push 4K on everyone because they can convert their entire back catalog to 4K, and cause many to double dip or even triple dip. They could not do this with 3D, because of the cost of conversion and because too many titles just wouldn’t “work” for the format. So, 4K is being pushed, while 3D is being pushed aside for the home market. It’s a money grab, nothing more. Realistically, there is room for both 4K and 3D formats…choose the one you want! They made a huge mistake when they removed the 3D feature from tv sets in the U.S….time will tell how this comes back around to bite them when someone starts noticing how 3D blu rays continue to sale, and decides to put the feature back on one of their sets. When that happens, that company is going to be riding high and monopolize a portion of the market that others ignorantly decided to push aside.

  5. someone who knows says:

    Interesting that Lewis completely ignores IMAX’s recent decision to program primarily 2D and talks all about the success of 3D but fails to mention how the market has slumped dramatically – so much so that he has to wave around the success of older titles like Jurassic World and Jungle Book. Jurassic World. Ha! That is so 2015. How did THIS YEAR’S films like Guardians of the Galaxy, Planet of the Apes, The Mummy or Spider-Man do in the 3D format? Especially here in the good old US of A? They tanked in 3D because people don’t want to pay the premium. Greg Foster and IMAX are right.

    • DeskMan says:

      GOG2 was HUGE in 3D. No one ever expects the 3D to out-do the 2D versions — it’s a friggin’ ALTERNATIVE, for gawd’s sake — but the percentages they DO make on 3D are very respectable, especially in the case of Guardians 2, Wonder Woman and most other SUCCESSFUL movies that also have 2D options. If the movie fails in 2D, it will fail in 3D as well. The Mummy is a perfect example.

    • JR says:

      Don’t know about all these titles ( didn’t The Mummy bomb in both formats?) But I know that both Guardians and Wonder Woman both did over 40% 3D business. And IMAX is bringing WW back to their theaters for a one-week run in 3D.

  6. Andy Gilleand says:

    If you want to truly test the popularity of 3D, make the prices the same as 2D. Some people may avoid 3D because of the premium price, but if it was the same? So many more people would be watching 3D. Theaters can still pay studios the premium if they distribute the price of the tickets in a way where they end up making the same profit they did before the price change.

    • Jesse Skeen says:

      That simply makes too much sense. Common sense doesn’t exist in the theater business, that’s why I got out of it. If the industry really wanted 3D to be a huge success, they would have dropped the upcharges long ago. Instead it’s left people like me giving up on theaters altogether.

    • Mulder says:

      Ummmm…Imax came out with another statement clarifying what they meant. Do you have figures to back up what you say about the movies you mentioned tanking in 3D? Last I heard, those movies performed very well in 3D, and the 3D blu rays sold out everywhere….

  7. Project Bluebook says:

    First of all, if people truly loved the 3D format or even just accepted it, it never would have disappeared from televisions and from movie theater ticketing schedules. If your market is shrinking, there’s a problem.

    I can empathize with RealD CEO’s point of view, but it seems he’s in denial about the format (along with everyone else left in the 3D business). “Proper” marketing, scheduling, and improved presentation will not force people to like 3D again. The whole problem with this thinking is that you can’t force consumers to do anything. If people don’t like something, it’s not going to last. No one wants to deal with glasses, the dark picture, the blurriness, the effect’s lack of purpose, and the upcharge.

    If the movies were stellar some customers might put up with all the above issues, but unfortunately every release is simply post-converted without the director’s support or even involvement. It’s unprecedented to see something so removed from the creative process.

    3D had its moment, and seems to come and go every 25 years or so. Maybe we’ll see glasses-free in the next wave, but the current digital 3D format is finished as far as I can see.

  8. Pippy says:

    Also, if ‘3D is here to stay’ … why did IMAX just announce it was cutting back it’s 3D presentations to ‘reflect consumer demand’? I’m not taking the piss out of people who love 3D … although I feel somewhat sad for anyone who can’t just sit and enjoy a 2D movie with their regular eyeballs. My beef is with exhibitors and studios who gouge consumers for what is clearly an inferior presentation. Since the rise of DOLBY VISION, pretty much all my 3D gripes have been put to rest. DOLBY screens are the go-to for large blockbusters, and they’re rarely (if ever) projected in 3D in those auditoriums.

    • Todd says:

      Good LORD! Who the hell says people who like 3D can’t watch 2D movies with their “regular eyeballs”? Are you even aware that MOST movies made in any given year, even this year, are ONLY filmed and presented in 2D? THAT’S THE NORM, NOT 3D! I’m all for leveling some abuse at exhibitors who charge premiums for 3D when it actively prices people out the experience, but to throw mock pity at 3D people as if they never watch 2D movies is staggeringly unfair. There’s just no such thing as a 3D fan who ONLY watches movies in that format — we’re MOVIE fans, we watch everything! — yet you think that because we support the format we completely ignore standard 2D movies. Sigh. There’s nothing to feel sad for because no one, anywhere, does that, so your “sadness” is a very condescending, which is the whole reason I responded to your original post in the first place: your entire attitude toward 3D (“3D is thankfully on its way out”) is mean-spirited and unfounded, based on what appears to be a personal distaste for it. The only legitimate complaints ANYONE can rightfully have toward the format are premium ticket pricing and improper illumination. Other than that, it’s purely a personal preference, and that’s no reason to wish it would go away, especially when 2D is ALWAYS an option. For those that DO enjoy it, the format on its own terms is virtually perfect — especially in comparison with what audiences had to put up with in the 1950’s and 1980’s — with most present-day conversions (if projected at proper light levels) being beyond the pale technologically, and even better if the films were actually shot with 3D rigs (which, sadly, happens far too infrequently).

  9. James Krisvoy says:

    Exhibitors need to step up to the plate & provide significantly higher illumination on their 3D screens. I have seen both above average as well as deplorable 3D presentations within the same multiplex over a short duration of time. Most issues relate to screen illumination. When a paying audience paying a higher price is cheated by a lackluster 3D presentation…that has the strong potential to hurt boxoffice receipts….so everyone needs to get it together. I believe I have seen the latest Real D screen locally & if so that appears to be part of a hopefully positive solution.

  10. Todd says:

    Thankfully 3D will be around for a long while, and will get periodic boosts from shows like the Avatar sequels, which will be shot in 3D rather than post-conversions. People who can’t afford the extra two or three bucks for a 3D screening will always have a flat 2D option available to them. More power to them. You’ll notice fans of 3D NEVER attack the 2D experience, because that’s how the majority or movies are still presented. But for those who do enjoy 3D, the tech is near perfect at this point. I can attest that the better theaters DO project 3D films at the proper brightness, while others still need to figure that out, but considering 3D is almost exclusively used on big-budget blockbuster/franchise movies and computer animated pictures, there will ALWAYS be more 2D offerings for those people so horribly, horribly offended by the existence of this technology that they’re in no way forced to use. The real beauty of 3D over the much-hyped but still-not-widely-adopted virtual reality is the fact that you can enjoy it with a simple pair of light-weight glasses that fit all users, rather than a lonely, solitary experience “enjoyed” with some big junky wired-up box plopped on your head.

    • Pippy says:

      “there will ALWAYS be more 2D offerings for those people so horribly, horribly offended by the existence of this technology”

      Remember when THE WALK and EVEREST opened, exclusively in large-format 3D? If you wanted to see those movies their first week, you literally HAD to wear the 3D glasses.

      I don’t know anyone who’s ‘horribly offended’ by the existence of technology, that sounds some weird defense against people who don’t like wearing unnecessary glasses in a dark theater.

      • Todd says:

        The point about people being “horribly offended” was directed at people like you who clearly wish the whole format would just go away EVEN THOUGH you have the other option. Your two examples don’t count because BOTH films eventually had wide 2D releases. They may have opened in “exclusive” 3D engagements, but everyone knew there was a later wide release coming in BOTH formats.

      • Some people are very negative about the format. Celebrating when companies removed the feature from tv’s and going out of there way to post about how happy they where about that in 3d sections of forums and the like. I think even for films made for 3d, both 2d and 3d options should always be available (the only kind of exception I would make would be things like one of screenings of older films, due to the very nature of them being one of screenings).

  11. Pippy says:

    3D is thankfully on its way out, regardless of what a RealD Exec tries to spin. It’s an unnecessary price gouge that leads to an inferior viewing experience. With theaters already projecting films at diminished lumens to save cash, who needs an extra layer of darkness to watch a 2D image projected on a flat surface? The beauty of movies (cinema) is that they (ideally) work, as is, out of the box, no assembly (or special glasses) required.

    • Reg says:

      Funny, 3D fans never piss on regular 2D movies the way people like “Pippy” here feel compelled to do. And it’s a technology they are IN NO WAY forced to use because there is ALWAYS a 2D option for any movie presented in 3D. And yet, because they don’t like it personally, it just gotta be be a dying technology, even though it’s been around for over a DECADE now, far longer than in any of its previous iterations (1950’s, 1980’s), and is even more popular overseas. I just don’t understand why some people can’t enjoy the flat 2D movies — which are still the majority — and lay off the pissing and moaning about something they don’t even use.

      • James Krisvoy says:

        If you dont like 3D then dont see it..but do not make that determination for those of us who do like it…whstever our motives may be. Period!

      • Reg says:

        We can disagree all we like, but clearly someone who disagrees with YOU deserves a condescending reminder of what comments threads are used for. Not sure you’re so cool with us being cool after all.

        And again, complaints about 3D “taking over the best screens” and “optimal showtimes” don’t hold water. I don’t care where you live, but you’ll never convince anyone that those are primary reasons to dump the whole format (!). “Best screens”? It’s pretty rare to find a movie-plex these days in which ALL the screens and projections systems aren’t optimal — we’re not dealing with film projection and 30-year-old screen material anymore. Worst case scenario is that IMAX screens get the 3D version first, but that makes perfect sense as it IS an added attraction just like IMAX itself. Can’t handle the 3D because of pricing and lack of brightness, then wait, or see it on a regular 2D screen which is in all likelihood an “optimal” 2D screen. Once the lights go down, the added size of an IMAX screen is barely noticeable if the movie’s compelling.

        But hey, you’re the expert on PR spin, apparently, so feel free to continue being one of the sole voices of dissent on this issue wherever your travels take you. Or better yet, save yourself the apparent headaches and just stick with 2D. It a great way to enjoy movies, too.

      • Pippy says:

        Didn’t mean to ‘piss and moan’, Reg. Was just stating an opinion, something I thought these comment threads were used for. To be honest, I don’t ‘always have a 2D option’ because the 3D shows frequently take over the best screens. I’m actually frequently frustrated by 3D showtimes that take the place of optimal 2D showtimes. But that’s just my opinion, just like you have your opinion. We can all be cool here right? Free to disagree and all that?

    • Walter says:

      3D is not on the way out. Did you even read the article?

      • Reg says:

        Wow, Pippy, you really think the opinion of one of the inventors of modern 3D holds no water? Only an “outside expert” will suffice, eh? (presumably even better if they echo your minority thoughts on the subject).

        Clearly you don’t like 3D, you don’t like the glasses, you don’t like being “gouged” for event films even though they’re playing in 2D in the same damned theater, and you don’t like premium pricing and poor lighting (those last two being the ONLY complaints about the format that ACTUALLY hold water).

        You have other options. No need for those awful “dark sunglasses” whatsoever! ;)

        But hey, thanks for being that bastion of righteousness and rightness in the fog of PR spin we are all apparently incapable of identifying (even if the facts being presented are accurate!). LOL

      • JR says:

        I wish people who don’t know any better would quit using “dark sunglasses” as a 3D negative. IF projected properly, the glasses simply serve to view the film in the manner it was intended. (Think of it as correcting the image.) I saw Guardians of the Galaxy 2 in IMAX 3D and that image was pretty damn bright. I didn’t need it any brighter as I don’t have to have my eyeballs blasted out of my eye sockets.

      • Pippy says:

        – James: the solution is brighter screens, which costs money, which some theaters don’t want to invest in. Is that constructive enough for you?

        – Water: I did read the ‘article’ which was written by a CEO of RealD, not some outside tech expert. The reality is most casual filmgoers actively avoid 3D presentation, regardless of what the RealD CEO’s pie chart wants to show you.

        Sorry if my comment came off as ‘negative’. I’m someone who likes to provide a counter-opinion to obvious PR spin (it’s been a dying format for years guys, let’s get real). I’m just someone who loves movies, who finds the theatrical experience, when presented properly to be fully immersive enough, and someone who finds the dark sunglasses to be an unnecessary distraction. My viewpoint is entirely my own, though it does seem to reflect the vast majority of moviegoers who are tired of being gouged for lame ‘event’ films over and over and over …

      • James Krisvoy says:

        Pippy offers no solution to the problems of poor projection..just a complaint. Hiw bout being constructive?

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