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Beyond Sound and Color

Beyond Sound and Color

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Imagine that it's 1928. You're in a theater about to experience a silent movie. The cartoon preceding the film is about to start, but as you look around, there's no pianist to be found. The cartoon, of course, is "Steamboat Willie," and it, along with "The Jazz Singer" changed the way we saw films. There have been two major technological developments in cinema presentation that have impacted the lives of people the world over - the first was sound, the second was color, with full color being introduced to audiences less than a decade after sound. Now, almost seventy-five years later, we are about to experience the third major revolution - the advent of digital cinema.

The digital cinema revolution begins this weekend at the Digital Cinema Summit in Las Vegas. What makes this summit different from previous ones is that the specs for digital cinema have now been finalized by both SMPTE (The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers) and DCI (the Digital Cinema Initiative, a collaboration of the five major Hollywood studios). This means that standards have been set across the board for delivery and presentation of digital films everywhere.

One of the major announcements expected this weekend is an agreement first reported in The Hollywood Reporter this past Tuesday. Three of the studios - Disney, Warner Brothers, and SONY - have inked a deal with Technicolor Digital for distribution of their films to digital cinemas. Now that this deal has been made, Technicolor is expected to sign the other studios - Fox and Universal - as well. What this means is that with a distributor for the films established, the studios can now complete the financing of the production and installation of the digital projection systems - 3000 within the next couple of years, with the first ones to be installed by the end of this year. I'm not including government sponsored projects, such as the one that will see 250 projectors installed in the UK and another that will see every single screen in Ireland converted to digital.

The big excitement about digital is its 3D element. I won't go into this too much, as Jim has already written about In-Three's conversion process and because my website, World Enteractive has had extensive coverage of the new 3D technology. What I do want to discuss is an event next month that will take 3D features out of the IMAX theaters and into a regular theater near you. A company called Real D is installing a 3D projection system in the VIP Screening Room at Mann's Chinese Theater Complex, right across the street from the El Capitan.

Now, Real D is no stranger to 3D cinema. Its co-founder and CEO is Michael Lewis, whose former company L Squared Entertainment produced the IMAX 3D film "T-Rex," the fourth highest grossing large format film of all time. When Real D's flagship theater opens in Hollywood next month, the public will be able to enjoy digital 3D films for the first time ever on a daily basis. The question arises as to what the first film will be.

There are two possibilities. The first is Robert Rodriguez' "The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3D," which is being distributed by Disney subsidiary Dimension Films. Now, of course, Robert loves 3D, and he enjoys watching it in full digital color, rather than the red and blue anaglyph glasses used on "Spy Kids 3D." And don't forget that Robert was at the ShoWest event where the 3D projection system was demonstrated, telling theater owners they only had two months to get ready.

Interestingly enough, "Shark Boy" will not be playing at Disney's El Capitan. That slot has been given to Studio Ghibli's "Howl's Moving Castle." There is one problem with the "Shark Boy" theory. The film is not scheduled for release until June 10, yet the Real D theater will be going live in May.

On the slight chance that I'm incorrect, I will now say that my theory on what will actually be shown is pure conjecture. I have contacted Real D on this and a number of other matters, and although they have talked about other things, they have not commented on this theory of mine. Doing research, I googled the words "3D" and "DLP" and, to my surprise, came across my JHM article, "Jeffrey Katzenberg and the Future of Digital Cinema."

Therein lay my answer. I quote from Jeffrey:

"And to me one of the things I'm really excited about, because again it's sort of at the essence of what we do, we create our product three-dimensionally. So the richest experience for a moviegoer is actually to see it three-dimensionally. One of the things that will happen I think in reasonably short order of cinema around the world converting from film to digital will be a broadly available exhibition of movies in 3D, not as a gimmick but as an immersive movie-going experience unreplicateable in your home, by the way, which is part of why it's just good business. As the home experience gets better and better and better, if exhibition, if this business is going to stay robust, it must offer a better experience."

So what makes me think that Jeffrey might be up to something? Well, a little computer animation company called Pacific Data Images once applied computer animation to the Simpsons for a "Treehouse of Horror" episode. They then animated a feature film for Dreamworks called "Antz." As if that wasn't enough, they then took the entire Simpsons work, along with a scene from "ANTZ" and converted them into IMAX 3D for the film "Cyberworld." Jeffrey liked their work so much, he purchased the company, and they are now the heart and soul of Dreamworks Animation. You may recall they did a little feature called "Shrek." What you may not know is that they converted the entire film to 3D for IMAX screens. Unfortunately, the deal fell apart and the IMAX version was never screened, although the same software was used to create the animation for "Shrek 4D" at the Universal Studios parks. If you haven't figured out where I'm going with this yet, click here, and you'll see what I believe will be the first digitally projected 3D feature film.

We'll find out for certain this weekend. Real D's presentation will be closing the Digital Cinema Summit, after which the new cinema revolution will have begun.

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