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A New Dimension In Animation

Steve Oedekerk fresh off his experience of making his first IMAX film in 3D like the type of 3D where you need glasses! explains his love of these mediums and the new challenges he found.

Story, animation and technology come together for Steve Oedekerk in Santa vs. the Snowman. All Santa vs. the Snowman images © 2002 O Entertainment. All rights reserved. IMAX® is a registered trademark of IMAX Corporation.

I was always addicted to movies. As early as I can remember it was my favorite form of escape and adventure. At that time in my life I never differentiated between live-action or animation, I simply flocked to the films that made me laugh or swept me away to another time and place.

A cinephile in the making: Oedekerk as a young boy fell in love with all kinds of movies. Photo courtesy of Steve Oedekerk.

The IMAX Experience

Years later, about the age of 17, I went to my first giant screen film. I remember sitting in this bigger than life IMAX theater. A booming voice came up before the movie started and sort of bragged about the size of the screen and the number of speakers, which made me laugh as I had never witnessed a film proceeded by such pomposity. But when the picture rolled, my jaw dropped and I was truly awestruck. It had finally happened. I was in the film. As the camera soared down a stream of rapids, the theater seemed to be moving right along that path. I was along for the ride.

I frequently returned, enjoying the various documentaries that put me on a race track, in the Grand Canyon or viewing the earth from Space. I fully enjoyed the experience, but started wondering, "Why aren't there story-based movies being shown in these amazing theaters?" A seed was planted that now, years later has grown into Santa vs. the Snowman IMAX 3D, an expression of my passion for story, animation and new technologies. Film, animation, the giant screen and 3D all joined together for the sole purpose of family entertainment.

The combination of 3D and IMAX pulls the viewer into the movie.

This new palette for narrative storytelling has exceeded my expectations and I am finding myself passionately committed to this rather challenging format. With the combination of true 3D and the large format IMAX screen, you get a sense that you can reach right into the picture.

Get Your Glasses!

3D has long been utilized and viewed as a simple gimmick. Most of the 3D films of years past were using the experience as an opportunity to throw objects at the audience or as the infamous SCTV sketch so wonderfully displayed, sort of move objects outside the screen in not so subtle or organic ways. In reality, 3D is an unbelievably powerful asset in a story-based theatrical experience. It truly is the next level.

Oedekerk firmly believes the next technological advancement will be viewing 3D without glasses. Photo courtesy of Steve Oedekerk.

When sound was first introduced to feature filmmaking many thought it was a gimmick and a fad that would go away. Ultimately, it became a great stride forward in enhancing the film experience. When color was introduced many complained that it too would pass as color would certainly jeopardize the integrity and artistic nature of film and filmmaking. This kind of thinking would have ultimately diluted the impact of such eye-popping masterpieces as The Wizard of Oz and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

I am totally certain the day that 3D can be filmed and projected without special glasses and screened on standard movie theater screens, there will be no turning back to 2D. 3D brings a new dimension to storytelling that has the power to enhance not only the cinematographer's visual work and style, but also the director's vision. Imagine a new plane of decision making in your shot selections. Do you want your character or object of focus to be ten feet behind the screen? Right at the screen? Twenty feet outside the screen? What placement best services the emotion of the moment? It's a whole new world and Santa vs. the Snowman has only scratched the surface of the possibilities.

Putting It All Together

The process of producing an animated film for the giant screen in true 3D is no small task. From a directorial perspective, the entire screen composition is neither similar to that of television or feature films. In short, imagine having to leave an enormous border around the top and sides of your intended shot. This is critical space, as without it you will be producing only a gigantic image, rather than immersing the audience into the action.

When working in 3D, directors and cinematographers have to make decisions about screen composition and character and object placement that don't come into play with television or 35mm features.

The issues that rise from this framing are as interesting as they are challenging. Suddenly, what feels like a medium shot to the audience is actually a head-to-toe shot of that same character, with a third of the upper screen wide open space and on top of that you now have two characters that have to be included in the shot (and animated) that would normally not be there.

Current films that are being "blown up" to large format, definitely carry a bigger image, but audiences will often have to tilt their heads upward to view the action and may be a bit overwhelmed by a 60 foot face provided by a normally standard close-up, not to mention the slight but visible letterboxing that accompanies most of these films. These elements are a foregone conclusion if a film is not produced and framed specifically for the giant screen.

The technical aspects of the 3D element, although not a complicated process, open up all kinds of new decision making. The Z axis comes into formidable play. A simple element of falling snow becomes a more powerful addition to a scene if the snow is falling all around the audience rather than on a screen thirty feet in front of them.

No matter what the technological advancement, story will always be king. Everything else is just embellishment.

The film is essentially rendered with two "eyes," similar to how we see in real life. As our eyes converge on the object we want to view in perfect focus, the filmmaker chooses the point of this convergence.

Regarding the past, present and future of feature animation, the rule book is pretty simple. Story was king, story is king and story will be king. But like sound and color, 3D used as an enhancement to storytelling, rather than a one note gag, is an exciting new frontier that has just begun to be explored.

Steve Oedekerk, creator and executive producer of Santa vs. The Snowman 3D, has established a multi-faceted career in animation, live-action and stage work that includes producing, directing, writing, acting and stand-up comedy. Oedekerk's animation projects include co-writing the Academy Award® nominated feature Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, and executive producing the Nickelodeon series The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron. In the live-action world, Oedekerk continues his long relationship with Jim Carrey in the upcoming Bruce Almighty. Their previous collaborations include In Living Color, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and its sequel, When Nature Calls.