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RealD Saw the Light — and Want You to See It, Too

Hollywood excited by innovations aiming for brighter, clearer movie theater experience

RealD CEO Michael Lewis
Courtesy of RealD

During post for “In the Heart of the Sea,” director Ron Howard had a problem.

A key shot had looked fine in 2D, but 3D conversion had turned a pleasing amount of film grain into sizzling clusters of digital blocks. When stereo supervisor Chris Parks attacked the problem with the usual de-noising tools, the image became dark and mushy.

The solution came from an unexpected quarter: RealD. The 3D projection company has expanded its tech offerings in new directions, and its innovations have Hollywood excited.

“They’re working on laser projection as well, reducing speckle, and basically creating stunning images,” says director James Cameron. “I’m very excited about how my ‘Avatar’ sequels are going to be presented because of the advances that RealD are continuing to make.”
DreamWorks Animation topper Jeffrey Katzenberg says, “We have a very good collaboration between our tech folks and theirs, most importantly with the R&D side.”

It was RealD’s TrueImage, which uses proprietary software to improve clarity and detail in digital moving images, that saved the day for Parks. “It gave us so much more than we had originally,” he says. “It improved the 2D (version) of the shot, as well.”

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Peter Ludé, senior VP for innovation at RealD, says TrueImage wouldn’t be possible without recent advances in cloud technology that allow the software to run on hundreds of CPU cores simultaneously.

“We have a very good collaboration between our tech folks and theirs, most importantly with R&D.”
Jeffrey Katzenberg

“The cloud service is what makes TrueImage not just exceptional, but extremely practical and inexpensive to use,” Ludé says.

TrueImage is just one in a battery of new technologies being developed by RealD that the company hopes will fuel its future growth. In theatrical 3D, most of the light from the lamp is either lost in the projector or aborbed the screen and glasses. RealD aims to improve theatrical 3D by boosting the amount of light that gets to the viewer’s eyes.

One brightness booster is RealD’s XL Cinema System, an add-on for digital projectors that recovers the light lost through RealD’s polarization system — typically about half the light coming from the lamp.

The company’s latest offering is Ultimate Screen, a screen that increases reflectivity, returning 91% of the photons from the projector to the audience, as opposed to the 51% reflected by traditional screens. It’s also robust enough to shrug off softdrink spills that would ruin a traditional silver screen, as CEO Michael Lewis recently demonstrated in China (pictured).

“With a typical 3D screen you spray on an aluminum flake that ends up in very random patterns on the vinyl,” Ludé explains. The result, he says, is that under a microscope, traditional screens look like “the Rocky Mountains followed by the Grand Canyon … with huge holes, peaks and randomly shaped things, which is why they absorb so much light.”

But with an Ultimate Screen, we’re gently building little undulations in a precisely molded process, exactly where we want them to be.”
Cameron, for one, is excited about the promise of brighter screens. “If they can double the screen brightness then they’re back to there being zero penalty for putting the glasses on,” Cameron says. “That will be amazing when you couple that with laser projection.”