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3D tests positive for Toronto

Playback Magazine article by: Laura Bracken
August 4, 2008

Digital 3D is on the cusp of a major growth spurt, and Bill White, former president of equipment supplier William F. White International, and Ken MacNeil, president of Creative Post, are helping to make sure Canada is part of it.

"3D is the next major transition. First we had silent films, then talkies, then we transitioned to color," says White.
Recent 3D features such as Journey to the Center of the Earth and the upcoming animated feature Fly Me to the Moon are raising industry confidence and audience interest. There are at least a dozen other 3D releases expected over the next two years, including Final Destination 4 and Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland.

In the domestic market, Cineplex Entertainment recently signed a deal with stereoscopic equipment developer and distributor RealD to install 175 digital 3D systems in its theaters before the end of next year, in addition to the 41 RealD systems Cineplex currently has in place.

To help encourage the growth of 3D production in Canada, MacNeil joined forces with White - who he says has the only viable 3D rig in the country right now - to test the limits of available 3D capture and post technologies.

Creative Post boasts Canada's first stereoscopic 3D post system from Quantel, and MacNeil is in the process of building a 3D editing theater. He says by the end of the year he will have spent $1 million to accommodate 3D.
White and MacNeil recently called on L.A. director of photography Paul Taylor, who has been working in 3D for 25 years, to shoot the tests on 35mm over three days in early June at Toronto Film Studios.

A wide range of other Toronto companies helped provide services and equipment to facilitate the tests, including White's The 3D Camera Company, William F. White, Brainworks Digital, Sim Video, Filmport and The Lab. Fujifilm, Kodak and Dynamix also contributed.

The goal of the tests was to create a kind of a reference book for producers and directors looking to get into 3D, and help to allay reservations about stereoscopic shooting.

The tests involved 20 mannequins dressed in different colors covering a wide variety of depth cues, shapes and shadows projected on a background, along with a model at a table putting on makeup, and 25 feet of track to dolly in on the whole scene using a variety of lenses.

"At each inch along the dolly, you have a different type of 3D," explains MacNeil.

Once the footage has been posted and catalogued at Creative - a process MacNeil says will be completed by mid-August - producers and directors will be able to view it and get a good idea of how best to achieve a certain 3D look. They will have access to a library of examples that demonstrate what is possible in post, depending on how a scene is shot.

"If you think you can just point two cameras at a subject and get 3D, you're wrong," says Taylor. "It's a real craft and a science to get effective 3D that doesn't hurt your eyes."

Taylor, who is one of only a handful of experienced stereographers in the world, says the tests will show filmmakers what works and what doesn't work in 3D.

"The audience is being taken for a roller-coaster ride, and you can only take them so far before they throw up," says White. "That's what's so fun about 3D, it's like a drug... it's better than the [Canadian National] Exhibition."

White stepped down as president of William F. White a couple of years ago to concentrate on 3D. He says he knew 3D was moving from IMAX and other special venue productions into mainstream cinema, but has been surprised by how quickly it's happening.

He and William Reeve started The 3D Camera Company, which develops and rents stereoscopic capture equipment.

"The main reason to shoot 3D is that it creates a whole new economic model that is very lucrative for the producer and cinema owners," says White. "The studios love it because they're going to get people back in the theaters, and 3D cannot be pirated."

Shooting in 3D requires budget increases of roughly 15% to 20%, which for a big-budget feature is manageable if increased returns seem a safe bet.

If you shoot in 3D, you not only open your film up to a growing number of 3D-capable venues, you also automatically have a 2D print by using footage from a single camera.

"3D is here to stay, because really there is no downside," says Taylor. "If you don't want to release it in 3D, fine - you have your 2D version. You have right eye, left eye, even if the other 'eye' sits in the vault."

In an effort to attract 3D production to Canada, White is looking to create partnerships among Toronto businesses, including post shop Theatre D Digital, so that the city can offer producers a complete 3D solution.

In the near future, the focus will be on big-budget shoots, while it is unclear how or when smaller-budget domestic films may fit into the 3D world.

"I think distribution is where the bottleneck is going to be," White says. "If the studios start making a number of 3D films, they will dominate most of the 3D screens and it will be difficult for the smaller-budget films to get their time."

Nonetheless, the 3D movement is providing a major incentive to theater owners to go digital, speeding the transition from traditional projection.

According to White, we're seeing "the next major jump in the digital rollout, and 3D is the catalyst."