Contemplating the Future of 3-D

Bill Desowitz provides an overview of this week's 3D Entertainment Summit.

James Cameron says the 3-D business model is working just fine.

Despite some over reach and blowback, the future of 3-D still looks very bright. That was the overriding message that came out of this week's 3D Entertainment Summit at the Hollywood & Highland Center.

Too much bad 3-D (particularly post conversion) and poor projection were brought up in a storytelling panel, in which Victoria Alonso, Marvel's evp, visual effects, pleaded with everyone to pressure exhibitors into increasing screen brightness. Not to worry: laser projection is on the horizon, proclaimed Dolby's Stuart Bowling. And as far as bad 3-D, that will work itself out with more education, some standardization of reference files and floating windows and greater support from directors.

In fact, Alonso said Marvel's mandate is help directors better understand how to take advantage of 3-D, "to add spectacle where there's spectacle" and to be a little bolder in its use of 3-D. Yet Jason Goodman of 21st Century 3D countered that 3-D enhances every kind of genre or mode of storytelling because it's a more subjective experience than 2-D. He recommended embracing more drama and romantic movies to broaden the scope. Don't worry about any Uncanny Valley worries.

Later on, James Cameron and Vince Pace (co-chair in the Cameron|Pace Group) reassured everyone that the 3-D business model is working just fine. The blowback is more of a perception problem as a result of negative media spin. Sure, there's fatigue and a 10-15% slowdown at the box office. But it's merely a part of the growing pains. Better judgment and understanding (conversion at its best is only 2.2D) and improved technology will improve the situation. As long as the studios don't pull back on their commitment to 3-D, Cameron isn't worried. However, what bothers him is the way TV production is clinging to a dying 2-D model and not fully embracing 3-D. Cameron said they need to realize that they don't have to reinvent their jobs to incorporate 3-D into their toolset.

Indeed, Cameron suggested that he's trying to be the 3-D enabler for the industry: helping filmmakers enhance their storytelling: "3-D makes you feel more activated within the otherwise passive moviegoing experience," he told me afterward, "where you can't change the outcome or where you're looking very much… And you can't get that on other platforms -- it's about going to the movie theater."

Avatar revolutionized the 3-D game and now it's headed to Disney World.

On the other hand, Cameron has just made a deal with Disney to turn Avatar into an immersive and interactive experience at Disney World's Animal Kingdom theme park, so he can keep us activated in multiple media. The goal is "to bring Pandora to life in a tactile way, not just visually but experientially. You're there, you feel it, whether it's motion when you're riding, whether you're flying, whether you're moving through the jungle in a way that's [new]."

Meanwhile, Chris McGurk, chairman/CEO of Cinedigm, a leading digital integrator, offered a whole new programming paradigm for alternative content that includes broader-based 3-D: "We're attacking it based on this overwhelming, single fact: less than 5% of the seats are full in theaters Monday through Thursday," he emphasized. "So what if you could pipe in using the digital network other categories of content that could even increase that capacity organization 1 or 2%, you could build quite a business." McGurk sees a rich opening, in particular, for indie films, sports/action, family programming, and wants to include exhibitors on the back end profit participation to get their support and accommodate day-and-date releases with other media.

In terms of home displays, LG impressively offered the latest Cinema 3D series of models, utilizing passive 3-D technology for a brighter and more comfortable experience. For those waiting for the glasses to go away, look for that happen initially with smaller, mobile devices and then migrating to TVs.

But, as Cameron emphasized, it still gets back to storytelling and providing a "unique" and "unbroken" experience.

Bill Desowitz is former senior editor of AWN and editor of VFXWorld. He has a new blog, Immersed in Movies (www.billdesowitz.com), and is currently writing a book about the evolution of James Bond from Connery to Craig, scheduled for publication next year, which is the 50th anniversary of the franchise.