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Dawn of a beautiful day for 3D?

U2 film the first multi-camera digital 3-D feature

Big premieres are nothing new at Cannes, but if the team behind “U2 3D” is right, Sunday’s 12:30 a.m. screening could prove to be a landmark.

The film, the first live-action, multi-camera digital 3-D feature, has had strong buzz since some footage was screened at ShoWest in Las Vegas earlier in the year.

The film will get no 2-D or celluloid release, insist its producers. So if the film lives up to the hype, it may kick-start demand for DCI-compliant digital projectors among exhibitors who have been cautious until now about making that investment, especially in Europe.

If that happened, no one would be happier than the film’s producers, especially David and John Modell and Jon and Peter Shapiro.

With “U2 3D,” the foursome are going after what they think will be a lucrative business providing live 3-D broadcasts of sports, concerts and other events to d-cinema screens.

“That really can be done right now,” John Modell told Variety. “It’s not big a jump to do it in 3-D. What is tricky is doing real-time image process-ing so you don’t send an image down the line that hurts people’s eyes.”

To that end, the Modells joined forces with 3ality Digital, which developed digital tools to make 3-D more com-fortable to watch. The results will be on display for the first time with “U2 3D.”

The Modell brothers grew up with the combination of media and sports. Their father, Art Modell, pioneered daytime television and later shaped the development of American football by helping broker network TV deals for the NFL during the 1960s and ’70s.

The younger Modells were involved in the design of a new stadium for their family’s team in Baltimore in the 1990s. David Modell, a musician and music producer by trade, was looking for state-of-the-art stadium signage when he dis-covered a company rolling out its first giant LED screens. The first and only one in existence, they told him, was being built for U2.

“I wound up for six months on and off tour with them, doing due diligence, seeing how it worked for them and talking to their technical people.” Along the way, he also got to know the band’s visualist, Catherine Owens.

Years later the Modells and filmmaker/producers the Shapiros became interested in 3-D, beginning with Imax 3-D. Their first goal was to make a 3-D feature about American football, but with the advancement of digital cinema they became more interested in live digital 3-D events, including sports and concerts. First, they decided, they should make a digital 3-D concert film.

Says Modell, “We thought, if we had the dream group of people to work with on something like that, it would be U2. They just really get it about pushing the envelope.”

They approached Owens, who had continued to work with U2 and directed their “Original of the Species” video. She spoke to the band about it in New York. “We’re always just thinking what can we do now? What technology is out there that we could have some fun with?”

She also felt that the band was at a peak and that the Vertigo tour was worth docu-menting. “It’s as simple as that really. It was really on a whim, it was just ‘Is this something we can make exciting and creative? And if we can, let’s do it.’ ”

They gave the go-ahead for test footage to be shot in Anaheim, Calif., in March 2005. Soon the filmmakers were in South America filming the band’s dates there.

U2 even went so far as to perform their songs in an empty stadium so close-ups could be filmed.

Owens, who is also a sculptor, is being credited with using the third dimension of film in innovative ways.

She says hard cuts are too hard on the eyes in 3-D; every edit had to be a dissolve at no fewer than four frames.

“There’s a conversation that the back of the brain is having with the front of the brain in 3-D,” she says. “Your eye is saying to you this is comfort-able and this is not comfort-able. And you really have to pay attention to that.”

She also made ample use of 3ality tools that conform the depth of each shot before and after an edit.

The result impressed even people who make their living with 3-D.

“Once I saw this footage there was no turning back,” said Sandy Climan, CEO of 3ality.

“It was as if a window opened, not intellectually, but viscerally and emotionally. It’s not appropriate for every film, but for the films that it benefits, once you see it in 3-D you’re not going to want to see it in 2-D.”

As much buzz as there is, the producers have not yet inked a distribution deal, though there has been plenty of interest.

“The band are very inter-ested not just in how much money we’re going to get in distribution,” says John Modell. “They want a plan as innova-tive as the film itself.”

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