Tech company RealD built itself up as the most popular system for projecting 3D in the world. But lately the novelty has worn off for the format.
RealD hasn’t been content to sit back and watch as the 3D boom flattened out, though. Now the company is entering the world marketplace with a pair of premium cinema packages, aimed at paving the way for a new era of immersive storytelling that includes not just 3D but brighter images, the clarity of high frame rates, 4K resolution and high-quality sound.
“You’re seeing it with Ang Lee’s film [‘Gemini Man’]; you’ve seen it with Peter Jackson’s films; James Cameron is coming out with ‘Avatar’ [sequels], says RealD CEO Michael V. Lewis. “What we’ve been incubating over the three or four years is: ‘How do we take that concept of immersive cinema, event cinema, and put in a package that is usable by cinema operators around the world?’”
The company’s answer is two turnkey packages: RealD Cinema and RealD Luxe. They give theater owners an option for a premium offering to compete with the likes of AMC Prime, Imax and Dolby Cinema. RealD Cinema is aimed at theaters with 40 to 50-foot screens; RealD Luxe is for houses with larger screens. Both are now available to exhibitors.
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After a period of beta testing in China, where about 100 screens have been outfitted with the technologies, the company is marketing the packages worldwide. Lewis says there are 3,400 theaters without a premium offering in the U.S. alone. That is the target market for these RealD packages, which include laser projectors, a high-tech “Ultimate Screen” with greater reflectivity and less drop off from center corners, and a customized sound system.
“We’re looking to sell a well-priced Mercedes as opposed to a very expensive Ferrari that has limited traction around the planet because there are only so many theaters that can support that economic model,” says Lewis. “We’re curating the entire cinema experience, as opposed to just providing 3D.”
The first American installation of RealD Cinema is at the Regal Cinemas at LA Live in downtown Los Angeles, which has been already used for premieres and high-profile screenings.
The newly equipped RealD Cinema booth at the Regal has the clean look of a Star Trek set. It boasts two blue-laser phosphor projectors (normally used for giant-screen theaters) for 3D, so the left and right images can appear on screen simultaneously; that makes 3D viewing more comfortable. The projectors run on laser light, so there are no exhaust hoods to funnel away heat. Each projector has its own polarizing screen. (The system is so much brighter that RealD provides anti-reflective 3D glasses along with it).
RealD’s entire pitch includes production tech as well, most notably TrueMotion and TrueImage software. With “TrueMotion,” footage is shot with a 360-degree shutter at 120 frames per second, providing a master image that is extremely sharp, with almost no motion blur. Then the “shutter” is created in post, where motion blur can be added to create the look and feel the director and DP want, potentially changing the look from scene to scene or isolating parts of a shot to be softer or sharper. Cinema technology pioneer Doug Trumbull has long advocated a similar concept.
Helmer Ang Lee, whose “Gemini Man” was screened for social media influencers at the RealD Cinema at LA Live, says he continues to be a fan of the combination of high frame rates and 3D, but admits he is still learning how to use it.
“Thanks to [‘Gemini Man’ cinematographer] Dion Beebe, I think we’ve found new ways of lighting a scene,” says Lee. “We use more lights, but it’s more of a surrounding light. The way we used to light, you’re creating dimension on a flat surface — that’s kind of the art —through shadows, through perspective. Now you’re getting the illusion of another dimension, plus it’s digital. I think you need a different aesthetic. So we’re searching for that.”
In addition, says Lee, art direction has to be done differently for this format. “You see the paint on everything. You have to do it more carefully, especially aging. You have to be more careful. Also, you have to choose good-looking objects. Real locations as much as possible.”
“Once your eyes are trained to it, it’s a beautiful thing. It so favors close-ups on faces, the beauty shots,” s filmmakers who have so far eschewed 3D and HFR, Lee says to filmmakers who have so far eschewed 3D and HFR. “To my eyes, when you have that extra dimension, you can work on some really beautiful images.”