NAB: Cameron sets Pace on 3D future

Venture banks on biz's wholesale transition

James Cameron had this two-part message for the TV business Monday: Your business is about to go 3D, and it’s going to be a lot less painful than you think.

Cameron is never one to make idle predictions, but to back up his prognostication he announced a venture with his longtime tech collaborator Vince Pace paving the way to that brave new 3D world — and to cash in when the rush to the format arrives: the Cameron Pace Group.

In an exclusive conversation with Variety after their keynote, Cameron and Pace said CPG will expand rapidly to meet that anticipated 3D demand, adding management and R&D staff, and opening offices abroad. He said the range of services it will offer will be driven by client demands, and it will strike alliances to develop 3D gear.

Cameron, appearing with Pace in a ballroom packed with broadcasters and broadcast tech suppliers at the kickoff of the NAB confab, said the transition to 3D television was going to happen much faster than usually predicted, even as soon as five years.

“I would caution anybody in the broadcast industry against not being ready when content starts to flow,” he said, “because at that point I think the people who are first and foremost as leaders of 3D content creation will be the winners in the overall broadcast marketplace.”

Cameron and Pace painted a very specific vision for the future of 3D broadcasting — a vision that differs from many earlier predictions. They see distinctions between 3D and 2D production fast disappearing, with directors and technicians simply putting 3D cameras where they put 2D cameras, shooting more or less the way they do now and grabbing one eye from the 3D cameras for 2D telecasts. That would eliminate the need for a separate 3D production and telecast. “Otherwise the business model just doesn’t make sense,” Cameron said.

CPG’s first alliance, with camera-maker Arri, was also announced Monday. CPG and Arri have collaborated on a new 3D camera based on Arri’s highly regarded Alexa digital camera.

Cameron and Pace see the world shifting from having fewer than 100 3D rigs, mainly for feature films, to having thousands of such rigs, most for broadcasting. As a leading maker of 3D rigs, CPG would stand to benefit greatly should that happen.

In the meantime, Cameron is trying to reassure broadcasters they can and probably should keep on as they are used to — at least until they are comfortable working with 3D.

“If you want to shoot everything with a long lens, we have the technology to make that good 3D,” he said. “But if you want to embrace 3D and do something that is in and of the fabric of 3D, you will do it differently. But that’s an opportunity, it’s not a penalty.”

He noted that in movies the shift to 3D was especially jarring for some filmmakers because it meant switching to digital at the same time, which was too much of a change. Broadcasting, he noted, is already digital, so it’s less of a shift.

As for the business side, he predicted 3D VOD would be an interim phase. Instead, he said, the ideal business model would arrive in around five years, “where everything is in 3D and people demand 3D the way people used to demand color, and if you’re not broadcasting in 3D you’re not playing the game, and you’re not getting any revenue.” He predicted broadcasters that have more 3D programming will have a competitive advantage in the upcoming transitional phase.

All this assumes greater consumer uptake of 3D sets. Cameron predicted sets would soon drop active-shutter glasses in favor of cheap, recyclable polarized glasses and that sets without glasses would arrive as consumer products in as little as five years.

Cameron’s predictions are far more optimistic than many, especially after consumers failed to rush to buy the first generation of 3D televisions, but he said the entire industry is still learning about 3D. “What are we, five years into this thing? We’re the equivalent of the auto industry in 1903,” Cameron said.

CPG’s first tech alliance, with Arri, has already yielded the Alexa M, a modular 3D camera weighing just 5½ pounds and smaller than a shoebox, with all the electronics off-boarded and tethered to the lens and sensor by a fiber optic cable. It’s designed for feature or studio shooting.

In other 3D news out of the NAB Show, RealD announced that it has pacted to film the Royal Opera House production of “Madama Butterfly” in 3D. Co-production will be filmed in July at Covent Garden and shown exclusively at RealD-equipped theaters worldwide. ROH production is directed by Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier, with cast including Patricia Racette as Cio-Cio-San and James Valenti as Pinkerton. Phil Steather is producing the 3D film version with Julian Napier directing.

Also, Avid Technologies announced that it has licensed RealD’s stereoscopic format for use in its Media Composer editing system. RealD’s patented side-by-side format for sending two images on a single HD frame is used mainly for broadcast.

Steve Shannon, RealD’s executive vice president, told Variety the RealD system “works with all those kinds of normal workflows that are based on a single-frame, 2D-type of picture. It lets you run 3D content through what was previously a 2D system without any complex upgrade in hardware or bandwidth.”