Film has stock answer for 3D shortage

Companies offer tech solution incorporated in the print

Interest in stereoscopic 3D has become so intense that industry pros are wondering aloud if this is 1927 all over again, with 3D pics set to sweep 2D away just as talkies supplanted silents.

Certainly the rush to cash in has amazed even longtime advocates of the format. One producer with 3D experience reports barely being able to keep up with meeting requests. Projects are scrambling to find 3D camera rigs, which are still scarce, and experienced 3D technicians, who are scarcer.

Also still scarce: 3D screens. Everyone agrees that releases including 2009’s “Coraline” and “Avatar” left tens of millions in box office (and maybe more) on the table because they had to vacate their 3D screens. Now Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland” will be forced out for DreamWorks Animation’s “How to Train Your Dragon,” which in turn will be have its 3D run curtailed by Warner’s “Clash of the Titans.”

That screen shortage is the driving force behind the drive to revive 3D on 35mm film, which seemed to be obsolete.

A new 3D-on-film company has made its bow: SoliDDD, using a variation on the “over-under” 3D method also favored by Technicolor. (“Over-under” 3D uses the top half of 35mm frame for one 3D “eye” and the bottom half for the other.) That makes three we know of: Technicolor 3D, Oculus3D and now SoliDDD.

Neal Weinstock, SoliDDD CEO, told Daily Variety he made some sales at ShoWest but wasn’t ready to release figures.

3D has long been the carrot to entice balky exhibitors to adopt d-cinema; some have even said it’s the only enticement for them to go digital, arguing that distributors, especially the majors, stand to benefit most from the mothballing of release prints, while exhibitors are asked to absorb the costs.

“There’s no question that film is going to be an interim (3D) solution for most North American theaters,” Weinstock said. “But film will continue to exist for the rest of the world. We have a lot of interest from Bollywood. They don’t trust digital because the projectors work under high heat and humidity.”

But the 3D-on-film companies are betting plenty of North American theater owners don’t much trust digital, either.

Last week, a demo of Oculus3D’s system in Burbank was followed by a heated discussion among a cross-section of movie pros.

On one side, a longtime film editor insisted, “It’s 1927 and this is sound. This is the future of movies.” Oculus co-founder Lenny Lipton concurred. “Once a new technical modality takes hold, there’s no going back. It’s the end of the old and the beginning of the new,” he said. In other words, say goodbye to 2D moviemaking.

But on the other side, an independent producer lamented “I want to go 3D, but it adds 20% (to the budget). My backers aren’t sold. I’m looking three years down the road. If I go 3D, will there be enough screens?”

And in the back, an independent theater owner asked, “This system is going to cost me $20,000. How will I make that back?” His theater is in a mountain resort town and he reports no one refusing to buy a ticket because he didn’t offer 3D.

There, in one room, was the industry’s 3D conundrum. Is this 1927? Is 3D going to make 2D obsolete? Is it really attracting larger audiences? Does the money work?

Notably, no one in the room thought 3D was a passing fad. Everyone was excited about the format. But there wasn’t the same enthusiasm for expensive d-cinema projectors and the promised benefits of alternative content.

Just a year ago, 3D was the tail wagging the d-cinema dog. Now it’s become a very big dog in its own right.

Exhibitors have been known to cut corners on, well, almost anything they can, including cleaning 3D glasses. So 3D proponents knew how to react to the Italian government’s move to ban reusable glasses over hygiene concerns (Daily Variety, March 23) .

More surprising was the Italo health ministry’s recommendation that children under 6 not be exposed to 3D at all.

The ministry, reports Daily Variety’s Nick Vivarelli, based its decision on a finding by the country’s high council for health, which said “the use of these glasses can cause in some cases some functional disorders such as nausea, vertigo and migraines.”

“These are temporary disturbances due to the fact that in small children binocular vision is not yet present, or not entirely consolidated,” said the council, “or because they may have problems with their eyesight that they are not aware of.”

But Italy’s Ophthalmology Society weighed in with a contrary view, saying binocular vision is developed at four months old. “Taking children to see a 3D film is not dangerous,” they said, adding it might even reveal if the child needs an eye doctor.

It’s not the first time questions have arisen about 3D and tykes’ vision, though. One Oscar-winning technologist has opined that 3D will remain a niche format due to similar concerns. He argued that it is unnatural to ask the viewer’s eyes to focus on the screen while converging in front of or behind it (decoupling convergence and focus, in technical terms), especially for the long hours kids spend watching TV.

Adverse affects on kids, he argued, will lead to 3D TV being banned in homes, and without 3D homevideo revenues, 3D movies will never become ubiquitous.

But vision experts Daily Variety contacted scoffed at the idea, saying you could as easily argue that it’s unnatural for children to learn to watch a flat 2D screen instead of objects in space. Meanwhile, DreamWorks Animation topper Jeffrey Katzenberg has insisted 3D is more than paying for itself on the theatrical grosses alone.

Expect more controversy, and more confusion, about the safety of 3D, especially for children, until more conclusive studies can be done, especially of 3D TV.

Bits and Bytes: Reports out of Florida say Digital Domain is making a pitch to buy the naming rights for the New York Mets’ spring training stadium in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Digital Domain has announced it will have a facility in Port St. Lucie and will partner with Florida State U. on an educational initiative. A DD insider who asked not to be named said that the naming-rights deal was aimed at community outreach, not trying to turn DD into a consumer-facing brand. … San Rafael, Calif.-based Polygon Entertainment has announced it’s adding 2D-to-3D conversions to its offerings. Conversion is a burgeoning field after the success of the converted “Alice in Wonderland” but quality remains a question mark. The 3D on “Alice” was generally singled out for poor notices, even by critics who like the format. … D-cinema hardware makers have talked about being “DCI compliant” — i.e., meeting Digital Cinema Initiative (DCI) specifications — but there hasn’t been a body to certify compliance. Finally, CineCert is doing certification testing, and DLP Cinema has announced that the subcomponents for DLP Cinema 2K and its upcoming Enhanced 4K platforms became the first to pass DCI procedural tests, a major step to formal certification.