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Beyond Sound and Color Continued

Beyond Sound and Color Continued

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Back in April, I wrote a piece called "Beyond Sound and Color," about recent developments in digital cinema. One lesson I learned was not to always take press releases at face value. For instance, REAL D had a release issued on March 14 which started out:

"Mann Theatres today announced that the company has selected REAL D as the exclusive delivery system for digital 3D entertainment for its theater chain. Mann Theatres' world-famous Grauman's Chinese Complex, located on Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, Calif., will host the REAL D flagship theater, which will open to the public in May 2005."

As a result, I began speculating what the first publicly exhibited digital 3D film would be - would it be "The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl" or would it be "Madagascar"? The answer is neither - sort of. The REAL D system at the Chinese is currently being used for showcasing the system to studio executives, filmmakers, and exhibitors in a true theatrical environment. No date or film has been announced at this time for public showings. However, on Sunday, June 5, "Shark Boy" premiered at the IMAX Theater in Austin, Texas. For this event, Texas Instruments brought in two DLP Cinema projectors and the audience was able to enjoy the film in full color through polarized glasses.

For the first wide scale release on the REAL D system, Dolby Digital Cinema announced on Monday, June 27, that they will be introducing Disney Digital 3-D this November with a special presentation of "Chicken Little" in 100 theaters across the country. The film will be converted into 3D by Industrial Light & Magic at George Lucas' new Letterman Digital Arts Center in San Francisco. The center features a data network with more than 300 10-gigabyte ports. With more than 600 miles of fiber-optic cable connected to every artist's desktop, each computer is capable of high-speed, high-resolution imaging on an unparalleled scale.

REAL D's system is certainly nothing short of incredible. 3D expert Ray Zone and I visited both REAL D and In-Three, the company that is converting (or, as they like to say, dimensionalizing?) all six of the Star Wars films into 3D. You can read our accounts of the trip at www.worldenteractive.com/realdinthree.htm and www.worldenteractive.com/threshold.htm In-Three will probably have a converted live action film ready for digital 3D projection by the end of this year. (I say probably because I've learned my lesson on speculating. Every time I mention my theory of what In-Three's first film will be to its CEO Michael Kaye, he responds simply with two words: "That's interesting.") Throughout the next few years, there will be a number of regular films converted by a number of companies to 3D for exhibition in both digital cinemas and IMAX theaters. These include both live action and computer animated films.

If you love 3D and live close to an IMAX theater, you can enjoy two great productions at the end of this year. First, Tom Hanks completes his trinity of productions that began with "Apollo 13" and the HBO series "From the Earth to the Moon" with the original IMAX production "Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon." I've seen some footage from the film and it looks spectacular. If you get a chance to see "Batman Begins" or "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" in IMAX, you'll be able to catch the trailer for this magnificent documentary. Also returning this winter is "Polar Express," exclusive in its 3D version to IMAX theaters.

If you're not near an IMAX and you have the 3D bug - hope is on the way. In the past few weeks, four announcements have been made which will see at least 3500 digital projectors installed in the US and Canada in the next couple of years. First, Access Integrated Technologies announced a deal with digital projector manufacturer Christie that includes the financing for 2500 digital cinema systems in the next two years, with the first 200 being installed by the end of this year. The two companies have struck an agreement with the five studio alliance that originally began with Disney, SONY, and Warner Brothers, and which has grown to include Universal and Fox as well, for providing digital content for their systems. Following that, Kodak and Barco, another digital projector company, announced an alliance that would provide a complete digital package for exhibitors. On the exhibition side, Canada's two largest cinema chains - Famous Players and Cineplex Galaxy - announced they would merge, and in the US, AMC and Loews, the number two and number three players respectively, announced a merger. This means that the two newly formed companies can take advantage of economies of scale. The more screens they have, the more digital systems they can purchase at a lower per-screen cost. Every one of these systems is 3D capable. The only thing an exhibitor would need to add would be In-Three's shutterglass system or a REAL D system.

2007 really will be the banner year for digital 3D cinema. "Star Wars: Episode I" will be released, dimensionalized? by In-Three, along with James Cameron's first feature film since "Titanic," which will be shot in 3D. And, with 3D conversion technology a reality, expect not only new films to be released day-and-date in 3D along with their regular 2D counterparts, but classic films to return in a way you've never thought possible. We have indeed moved beyond sound and color.

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