Running the Numbers and Testing the Technology
The 3D “super session” that opened the HPA Retreat took place at a local multiplex with stadium seating and a generously proportioned, 60-foot screen lit to a little more than four foot-lamberts by a single projector. That’s still a small fraction – just about 30 percent – of the brightness generally specified for 2D exhibition (14 foot-lamberts) but for 3D on a screen of that size, it’s a breakthrough. The installation of a new “light doubler” from Real D made the difference – but not without introducing some new potential issues for 3D post-production. H. Loren Nielsen, co-founder and president of Entertainment Technology Consultants, noted almost as an aside that, as screens get bigger, so does the actual parallax between projected left-eye and right-eye images that provides the illusion of depth. “That implies that … we have to master for different screen sizes,” she said.
One limitation for 3D’s expansion, according to Millard Ochs, president of Warner Bros. International Cinemas, is that the perception within the studios themselves is that 3D movies are necessarily animated films. But he said the fast-approaching golden years of the baby-boomer generation represents an unmissable opportunity to reissue live-action films in 3D. “There’s a lot of archive material in there. Start taking a look at it,” he urged. The point was underscored by a brief demo reel shown by David Seigle from In-Three, which has in years past exhibited compelling “dimensionalized” footage from the original Star Wars film (although an announced theatrical release never materialized). This year, In-Three showed footage from Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith and the 1978 zombie classic Dawn of the Dead. (For more information, see Seigle’s white paper on “depth-grading.” [PDF])
Max Penner, a co-founder of Paradise FX, also underscored the importance of broadening 3D’s appeal away from kid flicks and special-interest documentaries. He described the tapeless 3D workflow for Dark Country, a low-budget thriller directed by Thomas Jane, which relied on Final Cut Pro, After Effects, and Iridas products. “I applaud all the higher-end philosophies, but we have to have that lower-end content,” Penner said.
On a live-action shoot, the production premium jumps to anywhere between 15 and 25 percent of below-the-line costs, although that’s expected to drop, Hays said. “The real cost is the impact on your shooting schedule,” he noted.
Finally, creating a 3D version of an existing 2D production will run somewhere between $75,000 and $125,000 per minute, Hays said. Obviously, this tactic will make sense for some types of content, but not for all of it.
Once you know how much it all costs, how do you figure your chances of recouping? Well, the market is still nascent, so even though there are finally enough 3D-capable digital cinemas in the U.S. (about 1000) for a given 3D project to make money without a 2D version released in parallel, don’t expect miracles in the short term. “Does the business model work?” asked Peter Dobson, CEO of Mann Theaters, thinking about the investments required by exhibitors to keep these movies on 3D screens – which tend to be larger auditoriums – even as admissions drop steadily following strong opening weekends. “So far, no.” The release of 10 3D movies in a single year’s time, Dobson said, “would just about make it work.”
But as long as the exhibitors can figure out how to show the movies, studios are starting to get excited about making more of them. Don Tannenbaum of Warner Bros. noted that $35 million of Beowulf‘s $82 million domestic box-office haul came from 3D engagements, representing 3.9 million admissions. The studio reaped $7.8 million from increased ticket prices for the 3D version, and estimates that it generated about $22.5 million in incremental revenue – that is, money from patrons who would not have seen the film at all if it were released only in 2D. That’s a lot of money to leave on the proverbial table, so expect 3D production to ramp up over the next few years. Hays said “the floodgates will open” in 2009, when a new release is scheduled roughly every six to eight weeks.
Fotokem started work on Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus on November 1, according to Senior VP of Technology Paul Chapman, with a goal of DCP delivery in January. He stressed a few lessons learned from Fotokem’s experience in those 3D trenches: it’s important to look at all your material for both eyes to see any problems early in the process. 3D convergence – the term generally refers to tweaking the image to move objects forward and backward on the Z axis – needs to be reviewed in the context of the edit to make sure the shot-to-shot flow is pleasing to viewers. It’s important to work live – to be able to see the effect of changes in 3D as you make them. And, if possible, it’s a very good idea to test your DCP in a real venue to avoid unpleasant surprises later.
Much grading work can happen in 2D, but the difference in the image once you put on a pair of active stereo glasses is dramatic. For one thing, the amount of light that you see through the glasses is reduced, meaning that a color-grade that looks overly harsh or washed-out in two dimensions suddenly looks moody and dramatic when you pop on the glasses. It’s easy to imagine colorists making decisions to bring color saturation up or down depending on a particular object’s position in Z-space.
Universal plans digital releases of its entire 2008 theatrical line-up, save In Bruges, Hanniball said.
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