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3D requires the best and brightest

Exhibition, projection still a major weak spot

Exhibition and projection are still a major weak spot for 3D, but help is on the way. That was a running theme in Wednesday’s discussions at the 3D Entertainment Summit.

DreamWorks Animation’s Jeffrey Katzenberg took a moment in the middle of his denunciation of low-quality 3D conversions to say that laser-driven D-cinema projectors, which should solve many of the brightness issues plaguing theaters, should be ready within 18 months. He said laser projectors would cut power demand for projectors, thus reducing costs.

But the topic really recurred in earnest in response to a question from the audience during a Wednesday-morning panel from Steve Barnett, VP of post-production for Twentieth Century Fox. (The two-day 3D Entertainment Summit at the Universal Hilton is presented by Variety.)

Barnett observed that on “Avatar,” there were problems nationwide with too-dim projection. Where 3.5-foot lamberts are considered acceptable, sometimes only two-foot lamberts were making it to the screen. (A “foot-lambert” is a unit of luminance.) In other words, the image was only about half as bright as it should have been.

“I’m finding there is no standard for 3D projection,” Barnett said. “The standard for 3D projection is pretty much set by people saying, ‘I already bought a projector, I’m not buying another one.’ How can we get exhibitors to put the 3.5 foot lamberts on the screen?”

One response: an industrywide effort like the Digital Cinema Initiative to set standards and specifications.

But even the 3.5-foot lamberts standard was never ideal, said Buzz Hays of Sony’s 3D Technology Center. It was adopted, he said, only because “the (Digital Cinema Initiative) was well in place before 3D was even considered.” The DCI would barely get us to the 2D levels we were used to.” With light inevitably lost in filters and mirrors for 3D, 3.5 was simply the best anyone could do.

“It’s a solvable problem,” he said, noting Imax 3D uses bigger screens without these problems.

Hays reported hearing a rumor that RealD’s light-doubler technology, intended to solve some of the brightness issues, is being used by some exhibitors as an excuse to put in a smaller bulb. Barnett interjected from the floor, “It’s true.”

“Innovation hasn’t come from the exhibition side of things in quite some time,” said Hays. “We can show 3D in 14-foot lamberts, and the results are nothing short of spectacular.”But other phases of post will have to adjust, Hays noted. “Now movies are being timed for 3.5,” he said, which means that if brighter projectors show up, the extra brightness would show the color incorrectly.

Steven Poster, d.p. of “Cats and Dogs 2” and prexy of local 600 of the Intl. Cinematographers Guild, complained that 3D projection reduces the dynamic range of the image, darkening the brightest portions — an issue he attributed to compression, not brightness.

If so, then that particular improvement will have to wait until a future version of digital cinema and a revised DCI spec. On the other hand, he said, 3D TV doesn’t have the same issues, so a full HD image on a 3D TV might have whiter whites and blacker blacks than the same movie in theaters.

Home 3D will be a big topic today at the summit.

Bits & Bytes

Laser Light Engines, which develops and manufactures laser light sources, has named longtime Disney exec Bob Lambert to its board. … Variety sister publication LA 411 has launched its 411 iPhone app. … The 3D Film Festival, which opens Sept. 30 at the Los Angeles Film School, has tapped Thomas Jane (“Hung”) as its host and master of ceremonies. Jane, who directed the 3D “psycho-noir” feature “Dark Country” will also serve as an ambassador of the festival during the fest’s four-day run. … Xpand has introduced Universal 3D Glasses, designed to work with all home active-glasses systems. The specs are available in four colors and various shapes and sizes … The Toronto fest’s Bell Lightbox went all-Dolby for 3D, digital cinema and digital surround sound. … The Hollywood Post Alliance has put out a call for presentations for the 2011 HPA Tech Retreat. … Entity FX is keeping busy with “The Vampire Diaries,” “Smallville” and “Hellcats.” Entity is also contributing vfx to features “Conviction” and “Yogi Bear.” Company has facilities in Santa Monica and Vancouver, B.C. … The Annie Awards have put out calls for entries and judges to serve on nominating committees. Judging will take place Nov. 6 at Woodbury U. in Burbank. … NewTek is producing a “Lightwave 10: Rigging Revealed” DVD featuring artist Lino Grande. Disk will be bundled with Lightwave 10 for those who purchase before Sept. 30. …