The Word at 3D Summit: SLOW DOWN!

“’Clash of the Titans’ made the industry realize that you cannot do substandard 3D and charge full pricing”

Last Updated: June 15, 2010 @ 8:52 AM

Hey, 3D enthusiasts, filmmakers and professionals:

Not so fast.

That was one of the main messages that emerged from the 3DNext Summit in Culver City on Monday. Although the all-day gathering of content providers, tech suppliers and the merely curious might be expected to be a non-stop celebration of the possibilities of the medium, in fact much of the conference called for a more measured response.

“Avatar,” for instance, was frequently celebrated as the film that showed what 3D can do – but coming in a close second in mentions was the format’s main cautionary tale, “Clash of the Titans,” which came up again and again as an example of the kind of slipshod 3D that could lead to a backlash and damage the growth of the technology.

Avatar“’Clash of the Titans’ is important here,” said Brian Rogers, the producer of an upcoming 3D version of “Godzilla,” “because it made the industry realize that you cannot do substandard 3D and charge full pricing.”

(On the other hand, pointed out his fellow panelist Bob Johnston from Paradise Effects, “Clash” made enough money – close to $500 million worldwide – that it’ll be getting a sequel, albeit one that’s being shot in 3D rather than converted quickly.)

“Avatar,” insisted IMAX Filmed Entertainment chairman and president Greg Foster, should not be used as an example of what the industry should do with 3D. “It has that secret sauce that only one movie in a generation has,” Foster said. “For most of us in the 3D space, using ‘Avatar’ as any kind of benchmark is really a mistake. It’s such an outlier on so many levels.”

The world of 3D, added Foster, does resemble the wild west, a frequent metaphor – “but to me, it’s more like bedlam.”Clash of the Titans

Foster was part of a panel entitled “Next Steps for 3D Film,” during which most of the panelists advised some caution in taking those next steps. While “stereographer” Keith Collea (“The Mortician”) was the sole panelist to insist that all movies could easily work in the new format, Ben Urquhart, the VP of post-production for Focus Features, said that he couldn’t think of a single title in his studio’s upcoming slate of productions that would be suited to the format.

And Foster advised particular caution in converting movies shot in 2D, which his company had done sparingly for 3D IMAX versions of Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns” and the last two ”Harry Potter” movies.

“You have to be very, very careful of how you do it,” he said. “And 2D-to-3D conversion is really, really, really expensive, especially to do it the right way.”

In a later panel, Rob Hummel, the president of Prime Focus, revealed just how expensive that is – and just how reluctant studios are to spend the money to convert their catalog product for upcoming 3D television broadcasts.

“Conversion on a feature film is generally running $55,000 to $100,000 a minute,” he said. “We recently met with one big studio in the San Fernando Valley who told us, ‘Here’s what we’ll do with our titles: we’ll spend a million dollars per movie to convert to 3D.’ Well, then you’re not going to convert your catalog.”

Prime Focus, incidentally, was the company that converted “Clash of the Titans,” under a breakneck schedule. “We did it in six-and-a-half weeks, and we’ll never do that again,” he said. “We did the opening star field in a day, and then told the client that we needed to fix something in the lower left-hand corner. And the client said, ‘Nobody will notice.’”

His wasn’t the only story of 3D technicians running up against studio problems: TV networks that want their shows converted for less than $5,000 a minute; films in which the “depth cues” were pushed so dramatically as to make some viewers nauseous, only to have a studio chief view footage and say, “It’s too flat.”

Todd Cogan, who worked on 3D footage that was to be incorporated into Michael Jackson’s “This Is It” concerts, said he worked hard to make sure the 3D effects would work for everyone in the huge auditorium – only to be told by Jackson and his people, “Make everything come off the screen, or we’ll find somebody who does.”

Sandy Climan, the CEO of 3ality Digital, summed things up during a mid-afternoon panel.

“The good news for this room,” he said, “is that anyone who works in 3D is going to be working for the rest of their careers. But we need move past a handful of experts who know how to shoot in 3D, mostly for movies, to automated systems that tell you … when you’re going to rip somebody’s eyes out.”

“It’s like Sandy said,” commented John Rubey, the president of AEG Network LIVE, at the same forum. “We all have drunk the Kool-Aid and think that this technology is going to take us through the rest of our careers … But you have to be somewhere between visionary and insane to be out there working this path right now.”