Technicolor's Analog 3D System

Technicolor’s great 3D compromise got a bit of traction this week, when the company signed a deal to install its new analog 3D projection system on 25 screens, including at least one at each of Bow Tie Cinemas’ 18 theater locations in New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia, and Chicago. That means audiences in those markets may soon have the choice of seeing films in IMAX 3D, Digital 3D, or just plain old “3D.”

The deal arrives just in time to help Bow Tie deal with the coming logjam of 3D features. The crunch begins this weekend, as Alice in Wonderland commandeers 3D screens currently occupied by Avatar just in time for the latter film’s expected strong showing at Sunday night’s Oscar ceremony. Bow Tie’s screens won’t be installed in time for Alice‘s debut — and Disney hasn’t announced support for Technicolor’s system anyway — but they should be ready in time for the March 26 release of How to Train Your Dragon (Dreamworks) as well as the April 2 bow of Clash of the Titans (Warner Bros.).

According to the Associated Press, it will cost theaters about $4,000 to $6,000 to install the silver screen required of any 3D projection system, plus Technicolor’s per-feature fees of $2,000 that top out at $12,000 for a year — show six different features in a year, and additional movies are free. A three-year lens lease agreement is required, and according to Technicolor’s published terms, exhibitors agree to play titles in the Technicolor 3D format “when available.”

Using the Technicolor technology, theaters should get decent picture quality. The system requires the installation of a special lens system that reads both left-eye and right-eye images from a single 35mm film print and projects them onto a theater’s silver screen. That will essentially halve the vertical resolution of each film frame, and analog issues like gate weave, dirt, and scratches will once again become a factor, but at least the images should stay in perfect sync throughout projection. To view the movie, audiences wear circular polarized glasses that Technicolor says are “identical” to existing polarized glasses.

Studios have to change their workflow accordingly, adding a post-production process to render the finished left-eye and right-eye images in the “over-under” 3D image format required and apply some other tweaks. The final product is a Technicolor 3D over-under 35mm negative. The cost of release prints will not increase, Technicolor said.

Technicolor says seven studios are supporting the system: Paramount, DreamWorks Animation, Universal, Warner Brothers, Lionsgate, The Weinstein Company, and Overture Films. Conspicuously absent from that list are Fox and Disney.