Digital 3D – the wave of the future

One of the most talked about topics in the world of digital cinema industry is stereoscopic 3D also known as 3D Digital, the new technology available in 3D format. “The old 3D film was shot in analogue form but in 3D Digital, the film is shot with two cameras simultaneously; each camera imitating the left and right eye. These two images are then projected on screen to create the desired impact,” explains Patrick von Sychowski, chief operating officer, Adlabs Digital Cinema. Shooting the film with a dual-camera setup, however, is not all that is required to translate 3D images in cinema halls. A 2K digital projector, a special 3D filter, a silver screen (which is much brighter than the usual screen) and appropriate glasses for audiences are needed, said von Sychowski. Journey To The Centre Of The Earth is screened in 3D format at select multiplexes around the word equipped with 3D projection. “There’s an additional 25 per cent cost involved. There are not enough 3D films and the technology is not up-to-the-mark.” However, the situation will change the next few years. So far, few films, including the animated Chicken Little, Meet The Robinsons and now Journey…, have been made with the new technology. But by 2009, around 20 Hollywood films are slated to release in the digital format. “Keeping that in mind, one or two screens in every multiplex should be equipped to show these films,” said von Sychowski. Among the big ones expected in 2009 include James Cameron’s big budget Avatar, Horrorween, Final Destination 4 and a retelling of The Stewardesses, which was a money-spinner in the 3D format in 1970. Following the success of its Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour in 3D, Disney is now producing a 3D concert film based on the Jonas Brothers’ Burning Up tour, slated to open next February. The Jonas Brothers project and other upcoming Hollywood productions underscore the prominence of the 3D technology. Disney is particularly bullish about 3D. Starting with the release of CG animated Bolt in November, all CG features from Disney and its Pixar Animation Studios will be released in digital 3D. Future projects include a re-release of Pixar classics Toy Story and Toy Story 2; Pixar’s Up, Newt, Cars 2 and The Bear and the Bow; and Disney’s Rapunzel and King of the Elves. Meanwhile, Dreamworks Animation CEO and 3D champion Jeffrey Katzenberg has committed to expanding Dreamworks’ 3D production infrastructure and releasing its entire computer animated titles in digital 3D, beginning with Monsters Versus Aliens, a March 2009 release. This commitment will include the fourth installment of Dreamworks’ successful Shrek franchise, which is slated for a 2010 release. One of the most anticipated digital 3D releases is James Cameron’s Avatar, which is scheduled to open in late 2009. This ambitious title will combine CG animation and live action. Also where live action is involved, Disney’s upcoming slate includes G-Force – a combo CG/live action film – and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, both of which are scheduled for a digital 3D release. In the live action part of the equation, alternative content such as live sports, operas and concerts might also play a key role in increasing 3D production. Quantel and 3Ality Digital are among those who aim to make 2009 a watershed for stereoscopic 3D. Quantel demonstrated stereo capabilities in tools for production and post – and broadcasting. It is also introduced the first results of its new strategic partnership with 3Ality Digital in Los Angeles. At IBC 2008, Quantel unveiled a technology demonstration of a stereo broadcasting server, based on its sQ broadcast system. The technology is being developed to record stereo, allow users to work in stereo, and send stereo imagery for broadcast, explained Quantel’s Mark Horton. “The pieces of the puzzle are coming together for 3D broadcasting,” he said. Meanwhile, 3Ality Digital introduced its 3Ality-branded SIP2100 stereo image processor, which Quantel will market and distribute. The SIP2100 has multiple functions. “One is for use in production, to set up cameras,” said 3Ality CEO, Steve Schklair. “On the post side, it does colour analysis to make sure the left eye and right eye match. It lets you realign footage and gives you multiple ways to look at 3D in post. Analysis tools identity problems in real time and without rendering.” “In the last 12 months, interest in stereo broadcasting has gone from extremely low to extremely high, and that is worldwide,” Horton observed. “The discussion is about how to do it. People want a practical system.” Schklair added: “3Ality has been doing production while developing technology, and now we are starting to productise technology. Everything that we are showing has been tested.” 3Ality’s 3D camera was exhibited on the Quantel stand, feeding demos of stereo broadcasting and post production applications, including Quantel’s Pablo with 3D capabilities. The post-production focus on techniques necessary for finishing 3D to the exacting standards required for audience satisfaction. One of the issues that impacts on post happens up front with the selection of dry hireable rigs. “3ality rigs sort out the alignment before the images are committed to media,” said Schklair, “but most people correct in post. The wider market will want an affordable rig, and mirror rigs are better for up to 90 per cent of what we are currently doing with 3D.” 3D glasses into focus Dolby 3D reduced the cost of its 3D glasses to US$27.50 per pair. “That is going to make a significant difference to the exhibitor because they are buying in volume,” said Dolby 3D product executive Richard Welsh. “In Europe the idea of re-usable glasses has been popular because of the environmental concern. You can get hundreds of cycles out of each pair.” On the brightness issue, Welsh said: “We have particularly good performance in terms of contrast, which will negate some of the brightness issues. Our image sharpness is also good because the filter wheel is in front of the lamp.” Dolby 3D ties to normal high gain white screens. “This is great because most exhibitors already use what we recommend,” said Welsh. “Most people don’t want a silver screen because of the problem with 2D; you get a hot spot and you don’t get very good off-axis response. Our system does not compromise 2D,” he added. Joshua Greer, the president of RealD, has joined the growing ranks of major 3D players who see broadcast as their vital end market. “The big issue is creating enough content to support that infrastructure,” he said. “The reason we are so excited – even when the major studios are committing to 3D and promising 20-30 titles per year eventually – is that when you talk about the home you need hundreds of new titles,” he said. “Next year we already know 23 major motion pictures are coming out, and the revenue for a 3D screen is 3.5-times that of 2D screens. However, we need to see a whole blossoming of TV capture in order for 3D to take hold in a meaningful way.” Projection brightness is a massive talking point, and Greer was quick to pounce on the issues. “It is the curse of all 3D systems. We lose light in a number of different ways. On one hand the new single projector provides the advantage of being a lone unit offering perfect sync and perfect alignment, but you have to give half the light to each eyeball,” he said. “You get another hit because that light too has to be further filtered. You typically get 14 per cent efficiency from most 3D systems,” he added. “We all have different ways of combating the problem.” RealD recently launched its XL technology, which addresses that polarisation issue. “What is normally lost in polarisation we are able to collect and re-distribute back out through the lens,” said Greer. “It is a very complicated optical system, but the result is we get about twice as much light out of the projector.” Quoting RealD’s technical guru Lenny Lipton he said: “Good 3D is not just about setting a good background. You need to pay good attention to the seven monocular cues – aerial perspective, inter position, light and shade, relative size, texture gradients, perspective and motion parallax. Artists have used the first five of those cues for centuries. “The final stage is depth balancing,” he added. “But once you have done that you may end up with objects breaking the frame.” Along with dozens of others, this problem was resolved, in this case by the use of an opaque mask. Asked what he saw as important, Greer said: “With all the toolsets for post and the new rigs for sale, the cost of entry into 3D has been reduced. At the moment it is a collaborative movement with everyone working together in order to go forward, but it is up to the big post houses now. If they make it expensive or a pain to finish, no-one is going to do it.” 3D at home Several entertainment companies including Disney, Universal, Philips, Samsung, Sony, Thomson and IMAX are already working on ways to get this technology into the living room. DVD sales represent a large portion of revenue, and so it’s important for the studios to recreate the full experience of seeing a film in this medium as it was intended. With an increasing slate of 3D films due to be released in the next few years, that could prove difficult without 3D technology in the home. On the other hand, it could be argued that in a world of US$7-10 movie tickets and huge home theatre screens, it is a unique experience like 3D that will keep patrons coming to movie theatres. In some cases the technology for 3D in the home is already here. With the use the proper 3D glasses, and the right videos discs. consumers could soon watch a 3D movie at home. There are even television sets in the works that don’t require glasses for 3D viewing. Bill Foster, senior technology consultant, Futuresource Consulting, UK said while all the focus has been on the cinema, studios have a need to develop revenues from other sources. “The home video, pay TV and even free-to-air revenue is even greater than that from the box office,” says Foster. “If you take a multimillion dollar film, such as the forthcoming Avatar, if you’re limited to all the 3D costs coming out of the cinema, and with the proportion of 3D even within digital cinema, Hollywood needs the extra revenues.” “We need to have a standardised method of packaging and distributing 3D content,” says Foster. “We need a standardised interface so that if HDMI is going to carry a stereoscopic image we need to know how it will be carried and how an ordinary TV is going to know what to do with it.” Foster says the solution could be to ensure that HDMI has an additional flag to signal the fact it is a stereoscopic image. “If you’ve got one HDMI input on your TV you can put in a Blu-Ray player and it will work. The industry needs a standardised interchange, it doesn’t mean that everybody is going to shoot 3D in the same way and it doesn’t mean everybody is going to display 3D in the same way but the bits in between have got to be standardised.” ASIAIMAGE

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