Archive for April, 2013

I’ll give you a choice.  You can head over to to read my exciting piece on high frame rates.  Or you can read on to discover an extended version of “What We Know About Shanghai Disney” that was edited down for the 2012 International Issue of InPark Magazine.  It’s posted here courtesy of Martin Palicki and Dame Judy Rubin.  Bless them both.  If you’re feeling feisty today, read both!

As of April 30, 2012, only one attraction has been announced for Shanghai Disney.  The Enchanted Storybook Castle, where all the Disney Princesses will reside, will also house makeover boutiques for children, retail and dining locations, and a boat ride traveling beneath the castle.

The following is also known:

  • The area of the theme park is 1.16 sq. km; of the entire resort 3.9 sq. km.
  • 7.3 million visitors are expected the first year.
  • Key construction on the resort began on April 26, 2012.
  • The Resort has begun the hiring process for lead technical and creative positions.
  • The entrance to the park will be on the shores of a large artificial lake, much like Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.
  • Technology from other Disney parks, resorts, and ships, such as RF tags, biometric scanners, virtual and augmented reality, interactive queues and games, and “living” characters will be integrated into the resort as part of the initial infrastructure.
  • There will be an 11 acre (46,000 m2) green space at the center of the theme park that will both celebrate nature and be the home of cultural festivities and activities.
  • The Walt Disney Company’s partner on the project is Shanghai Shendi Group, a 100% state owned entity which owns 53% of Shanghai Disney Resort and 30% of the management company. On April 10, 2012, Shanghai Shendi took out a US$2 billion bank loan for the property after failing to secure the US$3.3 billion slated for the project’s first phase.
  • According to Tom Staggs, Chairman of Disney Parks and Resorts, “…our new resort in Shanghai will include things that you know and love about a Disney theme park such as Disney characters, attractions and storytelling… but it will also feature all-new experiences and stories that were inspired by and created for the people of China. The best way to describe this new resort is authentically Disney, yet distinctly Chinese.”

This strategy catering to Chinese culture and mythos is integral to Disney’s success in China.

The Walt Disney Company is comprised of five segments – media networks, parks and resorts, the studios, interactive media, and consumer products. Each division is designed to work synergistically with the others.  The Shanghai resort is a key player in Disney’s cross-segment strategy in China, where socio-economic conditions and a large market in counterfit goods have left the vast majority of citizens either unaware of or misunderstanding Disney’s franchises and characters.

This concept of using the familiar to teach Chinese about Disney characters is nothing new.  But instead of Chinese stories, Disney has been using language education as the enticement.

In 2008, Disney Consumer Products established the first Disney English school in Shanghai. Now housed at thirty-five locations in nine metropolitan areas, Disney Learning has a simple mission: teach English to Chinese schoolchildren. Teach it with Disney characters. They begin to love learning English and they begin to love the characters.

On March 12, 2012, Disney English announced the “Disney English Learn and Read App” for the iPad. As stated in their publicity material, this “represents a new innovation in education and a whole new way to learn English by gradually transforming from a story in Chinese to a story you can understand in English.”

Much like Shanghai Disney Resort.


PGAV Destination's Al Cross consoling Adam Bezark, who seems to be upset at Dave Cobb at last year's TEA Summit/Thea Awards. Photo from TEA's facebook page, used here blogger style.

PGAV Destination’s Al Cross consoling Adam Bezark, who seems to be upset at Dave Cobb at last year’s TEA Summit/Thea Awards. Photo from TEA’s facebook page, used here blogger style.

January 1, 2012 arrived.  And Terminator 2 3D at Universal Studios Hollywood never opened its doors.  It’s closed, kaput, gone forever.  Tears were shed.  Never mind the attraction still operates in Florida and Japan, it is the Hollywood version that will be missed the most.  For the attraction is truly a product of LA’s filmmakers and themed entertainment designers working in tandem.

I thought of writing an homage to T23D, but those can be found all over the net.  Besides, those with the proper laserdisc or DVD set can read Cinefex’s rather thorough 1997 article on the making of the attraction.  I thought of writing about its sequel, Aliens 3D, which was to appear in a South Korean theme park, but you’ll find the script and conceptual artwork for that one on the Alien Anthology blu-ray set.  And if you’re cool, you have that set.  Then I thought about the unofficial sequels – the Star Trek attractions in Bremen and Las Vegas.  But those are now closed and thinking of them made me sad as I recalled many an afternoon at Quark’s bar.  I thought of the less successful Terminator 2 corporate-presentation-in-an-auditorium-gone-wrong clone, Disney’s Honey, I Shrunk the Audience, as well as some strange European and Asian concoctions, before finally settling on writing about, of all things, museums that, because of the approach of two designers that worked on the LA version of T23D, carry forth ideals of the now closed attraction.

There’s a film coming later this year by Guillermo del Toro called Pacific Rim.  In this film, according to the official synopsis, giant robots “are controlled simultaneously by two pilots whose minds are locked in a neural bridge.”  If this were real life, those pilots would be named Dave Cobb and Adam Bezark.  I quote Adam here: “Dave Cobb is one of my best friends in the industry, and one of my favorite creative talents. Our creative interests and career paths seem to be inextricably linked; so much so that we often refer to each other as ‘twin brothers from different mothers.'”  When I told Judy Rubin of my idea, her reply, and I am quoting directly, was:  “I want to combine Cobb and Bezark into something like ‘Brangelina:’ Bobzark…Cobzark…Bocezark…Zarkobb”  Judy Rubin.  The TEA pays her to write professionally.


Dave Cobb was 26 and just starting out as a themed entertainment designer when he left his indelible mark on the LA version of T23D.  He wrote the queue video.  But years of working with the creative leads behind the attraction, Gary Goddard and Adam Bezark, as well as countless others, would prepare Cobb for one of his first major roles – as the Creative Director for Men in Black: Alien Attack.

What made T23D unique in the pantheon of theme park attractions was that it took different genres of theater presentation and, instead of placing one in a supporting role to another, made them all compliment each other on an equal footing.  Traditionally, in-theater effects had been used to extend the illusion of 3D film farther into the audience (Captain EO); actors had appeared in front of the screen during 3D films for the same reason (Muppetvision); and film had been used as a backdrop (American Adventure) or as an interstitial (EFX) to live and animatronic action.  In T23D, the auditorium takes on three roles.  It starts as a live stage show with animatronic supporting cast, morphs into a 3D cinema, and ends in a live-action battle with a filmed animation on three contiguous screens.  Because the show starts off by collapsing the fourth wall, the audience is deceived into believing they are part of the story, so much so that when the show switches to being a third-person 3D film, the audience is still invested on a personal level.

Men In Black takes the same psychological approach.  Starting with a small preshow area, guests are rushed down to MIB headquarters, where the queue takes them through familiar locales from the film.  But rather than being visitors, they become recruits.  A shooting range leads to actual street combat and, in a surprise maneuver, sets one car of riders in direct combat with another on a parallel track.  I’ll lay it down right here.  Men in Black: Alien Attack is my favorite theme park attraction of all time.  The reasoning is simple.  It takes three distinct elements – a walkthrough, a dark ride, and a shooting gallery – and combines them seamlessly and symbiotically together.  You can take any of those elements by themselves and you’d have a pretty great attraction.  Combine all three and you have a blockbuster.  Now try riding Buzz Lightyear’s Astroblasters without guns.  Just try it.  It becomes nothing more than a toy themed version of the old Superstar Limo.  Because of the attention to detail and the variability of the arcade element, Men in Black has one of the highest levels of repeatability in the market.  I even rode it three times in a row with the Creative Development and Marketing executives from Busch Entertainment back in 2001 when they were scouting out Universal’s Hollywood Horror Nights.  But that’s a story for another day.

So what lessons have we learned so far?

  1. Speaking directly to the visitor creates a feeling of personal investment.
  2. Combining disparate formats into a single attraction leads to a stronger overall impact.
  3. Interactivity takes the personal investment from one being perceived to one being tangible, and creates variability and repeatability.

In 2002, Dave became a Creative Consultant for Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, where he took on the roles of Creative Director, Show Producer & Writer for this:

So what does the Toymaker 3000 have to do with T23D, other than robots?  Let’s look back at the three precepts I discussed earlier:

  1. The automated toy line is just one part of this exhibit.  The overall theme at stations throughout the hall is to compare human abilities to the computational capacity, speed, and agility of robots.  Even if one is viewing, rather than participating, in the various activities, he or she still takes a vested personal interest as a member of the species.  More importantly, visitors are given a role in the exhibit – CEO for the day of Ball Enterprises.
  2. The exhibit combines fun interactives with displays on the use of robots in various facets of manufacturing.  Showing the agility of the robots in an entertaining manner creates a deeper appreciation for their jobs in an industrial environment.  The exhibit also goes beyond being simply about the mechanics of robotics as it combines various disciplines.  A climbing wall helps guests consider various business decisions that must be made before automating a plant.
  3. In addition to the various interactive stations, guests have the opportunity to purchase a top from the assembly line.  Although an upcharge, this option changes what would be a passive experience of watching an assembly line in action into one in which the guest has a vested interest, culminating in a physical and tangible souvenir linking the guest personally to the activity, even after its culmination.

These days, Dave’s a Senior Creative Director for Thinkwell Group, whose Jurassic Dream indoor theme park in Daqing, China is one of the most anticipated themed experiences of 2013.

Read Dave Cobb’s story on “gamification” over at InPark Magazine, where Judy’s the editor.  Yes, that Judy.  And make sure to visit the fine folks at Thinkwell.  They’ve done everything from the award-winning Harry Potter tour in the UK to the Pussycat Dolls Lounge in Vegas.  It’s my new Quark’s.


The concept of the triptych dates back to the earliest days of Christianity, where they were often used as altar paintings.   The concept itself is quite simple, a painting is derived of three portions hinged together.  They can be folded together, or extended to make a wider work of art.  In cinema, one of the earliest uses of triptych was with the Polyvision method developed for French film director Abel Gance’s 1927 silent film Napoleon.  As demonstrated last year during an exhibition of the restored print in Oakland, CA (overseen by Chris Reyna), an additional screen was added to each side of the main screen for the final act, converting a flat image into scope.  A later example would be the 1952 film This is Cinerama, where as Lowell Thomas concludes his on-screen discussion on the history of film, the curtain opens wider revealing a full three-strip Cinerama image.

Adam Bezark is what I like to call the “Master of the Triptych.”  As one of the project leaders on T23D, he was responsible for much of the finished product.  At a certain point in the show, the side walls of the stage open up, transitioning from a 3D theater environment (and the corporate auditorium of the first act) to the futuristic environment of Skynet, the show’s third act.  Three 3D screens in synch create an expanded environment, with film creating the set piece.

More than a decade later, he was involved in another film project, one that would take the idea of 3D and create it without stereoscopic projection. Adam was responsible for the concept presentation that solidified the award-winning Beyond all Boundaries as the flagship attraction of the National WWII Museum in New Orleans.  Beyond all Boundaries was unique in that it utilized scrims and multiple projected images, along with physical props, to create an immersive 3D (or as some call it, 4D) environment.  The film’s producer Doug Yellin, who had previously worked with Adam on a 4D attraction for the LEGOLAND parks, hired him to direct the film for his next museum project – Northern Light at Ft. Edmonton Park in Canada.

Fort Edmonton is a historic outdoor museum park in Edmonton, Alberta, that tells the story of the city from First Nation settlements to the 1930’s.  The times are interpreted through historic buildings, costumed docents, and appropriate vehicles.  As part of a multi-million dollar reinterpretation of the property, Ft. Edmonton built the Capitol Theatre, a smaller version of the historic auditorium that hosted downtown crowds for decades.  In addition to hosting live stage shows and historic films, the Capitol is also home to Northern Light, a short production telling the history of Edmonton.  What starts as a newsreel immerses the audience as side panels open to reveal a triptych screen configuration.  Scrims, props, lighting, sound, and in-theater effects all combine to create a 4D experience surrounding the film directed by Adam and lensed by Reed Smoot, whose credits also include Bob Rogers’ Rainbow War from Expo 86 and numerous giant screen films.

These days, Adam’s busy bringing Disneyland to mainland China.  Visit his company at to learn more about his various projects and go in-depth into the creation of the Capitol Theatre and Northern Light at InPark Magazine.

The concepts behind Terminator 2 3D can be found in the darndest places, from a robotic assembly line in Chicago to a multi-screen production in Edmonton.  The most important thing to remember is that Dave and Adam didn’t create these productions on all their own.  They’re team efforts, including hundreds of people directly and indirectly involved in the creative and assembly processes.

Just take a look:


1173850220_fullres (1)The big New Years rumor passing around the Interweb is that negotiations are underway to bring The Lord of the Rings franchise to a Universal theme park, possibly an entirely new park itself.  This rumor has hit the oft reputable site MiceAge, where Eric Davis writes:

We have recently learned that after a very long and protracted negotiation, Universal is  very close to acquiring the rights to develop and produce attractions based on the successful Lord of the Rings franchise of films.

Unfortunately, Davis doesn’t give his source.  However, another author, Andrew Sims, writes on hypable:

If rumors are to be believed, this is all happening thanks to the success of The Wizarding World. A reputable user in Orlando United’s forum, where mind-numbing talk of theme parks runs rampant, says Universal asked Warner Bros. to approach the Tolkien’s first. The park asked the studio to make first contact because of the existing relationship Tolkien and WB have built to create The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film trilogies.

Warner Bros. told the Tolkien’s about the success of The Wizarding World theme park and how the final product was loyal to J.K. Rowling’s story and very well received by fans. Reportedly, the Tolkien’s even spoke to Rowling herself. It was only after all this that Universal and the Tolkien’s began developing ideas.

At this point, I have to take all this talk as simply rumor.  Unlike with Universal’s Transformers or Harry Potter extension, there is no tangible evidence to lead me in any other direction.  Rumors surrounding theme parks and entertainment companies have been around for years.  They’re often started by avid fans and their wishful thinking or investors wanting to raise a stock’s value.  I’ve heard every single year since 1999 that the Walt Disney Company was planning to purchase IMAX.  A number of these rumors were published in or on  reputable publications and websites, citing unnamed sources with intimate knowledge of the deal.

My favorite rumor to hit the net was the one that started up in the 90’s, when Disney’s America and DisneySea (the Long Beach, CA version) were announced.  Someone started a rumor that Disney was in talks to build another park near Beaumont, TX, about ninety minutes from Houston.  The rumor went away and then came back in force in 2006, and still wanders around the net, resurfacing every once in a while.  The great thing about this rumor is where the park was to be located – just south of Beaumont in Orange County.  That’s right – Disney would have Magic Kingdoms in Orange County, CA, Orange County, FL, and Orange County, TX.

What spurred the 2006 resurgence of the rumor (although in some tellings, the location had moved closer to Houston and in others to Dallas), was the Southern Baptist Convention’s decision in 2005 to end an eight year ban on church members patronizing anything Disney.  And the Southern Baptist Convention is huge in Texas.  But alas, year after year, the rumors remain unfruitful.  And that’s the problem with the internet.  With blogs (like this one).  Anyone can write anything and it can be accepted by the masses as gospel.  “We have recently learned,” “a reputable user,” “unnamed sources,” “intimate knowledge.”  Who’s to say?

Now, I’m not debunking that all this might be happening.  When Universal was owned by General Electric, the Harry Potter deal was kept at upmost secrecy.  Comes from being a subsidiary of a Defense Department contractor, I guess.  Under Comcast, developments such as Transformers and the Harry Potter expansion in Orlando have been more difficult to hide.  A programming error on a facebook clock counting down the days to a special announcement listed it as a “Transformers clock” when one looked at code.  After the announcement, Universal Orlando’s PR department turned around and announced that this “error” had been intentional all along.  It was a “clue.”

Regardless of whether or not a deal is happening, it will not be happening anytime soon.  Everything’s tied up in a lawsuit over casino and online gambling.  I know such things because in addition to rumors, I also follow legitimate news.  As News Editor for InPark Magazine, my editors Martin Palicki and Judy Rubin once a day go into the basement and unchain me, allow me to mope in my dank corner and explore the world on a rusty laptop.  That’s how I know that in November of last year, the Tolkien family, trust, and Tolkien’s publisher sued Warner Bros. over downloadable games, casino slots, and online gambling, all themed to Lord of the Rings.  The plaintiffs assert that in addition to films, Warner Bros. only received license to market “tangible goods.”  That means physical goods.  Like toys and lunch pails.  Video games count, but Warner Bros. opted to include downloadable games to phones, tablets, and computers, something the Tolkins do not believe is “tangible.”  And then there are online and physical casino games, which the plaintiffs believe not only to violate their copyright, but to violate the spirit of Tolkien himself.

So what does this have to do with Universal?  Part of the lawsuit is over trademarks applied for by Warner Bros. and the previous licensee  the Saul Zaentz Company (the production company behind the 1978 Ralph Bakshi animated version of The Lord of the Rings).  According to the plaintiffs, these lawsuits cover areas not considered “tangible goods” under the original agreement.  According to court documents filed by the plaintiffs, the “defendants have taken the position that their merchandising and trademark rights extend to intangible items such as downloadable games and to services licensing such as travel agencies, hotels, restaurants, theme parks, housing developments and casino gambling.”

Yes, theme parks.  So there you go, until a judge decides what Warner Bros. can license or until a settlement is reached.  Then there’s the other option.  In 2002, Vivendi/Universal licensed the Tolkien books for video games.  Not the movies, but the books.  So there could always be a deal between Universal and the Tolkien heirs that sees a theme park development based on the Middle Earth books that only has a faint resemblance to the films.  Kind of like North Carolina’s Land of Oz.  That was a good ten year run.

Read about the short lived OZ theme parks in this great article by Rebecca Bengal




nra-logo (1)Today’s speech by Wayne LaPierre, President of the National Rifle Association, about the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, proved to be so unintentionally satirical that for a moment I thought I was watching a skit on Saturday Night Live.  LaPierre started by blaming politicians and the media for the problem, then came up with a solution – armed guards in every school in America.  ThemedReality was able to obtain an earlier draft of the speech that contained other suggestions which, for one reason or another,   were nixed by the NRA.  I share those with you here:

  1. Send all schizophrenics to Alaska.  Turn the state into one giant gulag for those with this mental illness, preventing suspected schizophrenics like Jared Lee Loughner and James Holmes from committing atrocities like they did at the “Congress on Your Corner” session in Tucson, AZ and the Batman screening in Aurora, Colorado.  If they escape, they’ll be Canada’s problem.
  2. All depressed looking individuals in public spaces are to be jailed.  Some study somewhere shows that depressed people commit public shootings.  Look depressed in a public space and you’ll be jailed for the day.  No smile at the gates to the Magic Kingdom, then “It’s a Small Cell After All” for the duration of your visit.
  3. Instill herds of deer on every public school campus.  When armed gunmen visit schools, they want to shoot something.  Hunting animals reduces the desire to hunt people.  Some study somewhere shows this.
  4. Mandatory home schooling for everyone.   With no schools, there will be no school shootings.  Problem solved.
  5. Work with the media instead of blaming them, lobby Congress to enact stronger gun controls that still protect the Second Amendment rights of responsible Americans, and establish a stronger, more meaningful, and more comprehensive mental health program in this country.  


So, I’m a bit torn.  I want to say my favorite Rogers film from a World’s Fair is Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: An Interplanetary Battle with the Tiger Men of Mars, which was shown at the 1933-1934 Chicago World’s Fair.

But then there’s Bob Rogers.  Bob, whose career in themed entertainment started at Disneyland’s Magic Shop in 1968 (falsely alluded to in Disneyland’s 50th Anniversary film shown at the park as the same location Steve Martin worked at the same time), and his firm BRC Imagination Arts have a longstanding history of creating unique attractions and films for World’s Fairs (and Epcot Center).

Then there’s his work for NASA’s visitor centers – like the amazing Apollo/Saturn V Visitor Center that influenced me to work on an IMAX film about the rocket (still seeking funding…inquire within) and other attractions at the Kennedy Space Center.  When I was living in the Houston area, I attended the opening day of the BRC-designed Space Center Houston, primarily because it was Bob’s team that had designed it.  While Buck Rogers was my grandfather’s hero in high school, Bob Rogers was one of mine.  So the question remains: what is my favorite Rogers film from a World’s Fair?

In all actuality, its Bob Rogers’ film from EXPO 86 in Vancouver, Rainbow War, that takes the prize. And when it comes to who to ask about it, Bob’s a great guy.  He’s actually a pretty great guy overall.

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I mean, as you can see in the above photo, when I was unable to attend IAAPA this year, Bob took my place and manned the InPark Magazine booth.  Thanks Bob!

So when my colleague, 70mm historian Michael Coate, asked me what I knew about Rainbow War and in what formats it was released, I had to go directly to the man behind it all – Bob.  Bob’s response:

Thank you for asking.

By mid-week you will have more information than you ever needed or wanted.

And since the answer ended up being much more than I ever needed or wanted, I share it here with you dear reader, so as to blow your mind as well.

Dear Joseph:

Here’s the scoop on Rainbow War and Ballet Robotique.


As was true for many 70mm films shot in the 1980s, Rainbow War was originally filmed in Cinemascope.  Cinemascope has a total negative area and an aspect ratio very compatible with 5-perf 70mm.  We knew from the beginning that the film would be viewed in 70mm.  To assure that Rainbow War would look great in 70mm, we hired Reed Smoot,, as director of photography.  As you probably know, Reed has become the definitive master of IMAX.  At the time, he was a personal friend and just starting on what became a brilliant career filming in IMAX.  His approach was to use the perrfect combination of film stock, processing, exposure and lighting that caused all parts of the picture to be in sharp focus with almost no grain.  We also filmed exclusively with prime lenses (no zoom lenses) for an added touch of sharpness.

The film included a handful of visual effects created via effects animation.  These were filmed in 8-perf Vistavision.

The enlargement to 70mm was supervised by Rick Gordon, who, as you know, has become one of the world’s experts in the printing and handling of IMAX films.

The result was a film that looks every bit as good as, or BETTER, than films shot in the 65mm format.

As you know, the film was nominated for an Academy Award in the Live Action Short category, one of only three or four Expo films to ever receive an Oscar nomination.  It received about 50 other international awards.

Following Expo, the film was converted to many different formats and distributed around the world.  The formats included 15/70 (for convenience for use by theaters equipped with IMAX projectors), 5/70, 35mm Cinemascope, 35mm 1.85 letter box, 35mm 1.33 and even 16mm 1.33.  The video conversions broke my heart but, at that time, absolutely no consumer wanted a letter box video version showing the full 70mm wide screen, so a “pan-and-scan” was created by Rick Gordon which vertically filled a standard television screen, but cut off all kinds of wonderful detail and action taking place on the deleted sides of the screen.

Rainbow War played all over the world including appearances in IMAX and Omnimax theaters.  It was the only film invited to the 1988 Olympics in Korea as part of their Olympic arts festival.

In 2010 and 2011 for its 25th anniversary, the film was painstakingly, digitally restored and is now available for the first time in Blu-ray.  The Blu-ray restored the sides of the picture which had not been seen in a couple of decades.

One of the original difficulties in shooting the film had been the poor job that Kodak does with color control.  For this film, red had to always be red, never orange.  Yellow always had to be yellow, never greenish.  And, of course, Kodak never did know how to make real purple.  Twenty-five years after its original production,Rick Gordon’s 2011 digital restoration finally solved those problems.  The color and image quality in the Blu-ray is, in the opinion of the director and the producer (both are me), superior to anything we ever saw in 35mm or 70mm.


Ballet Robotique was shot about 2 ½ years before Rainbow War.  All the same players participated: Reed Smoot as cinematographer, Rick Gordon supervising post production lab work, Marshall Harvey editing and me, producing and directing.

Ballet Robotique was shot in 35mm 1.85 flat to be used as part of a background projection appearing behind the “Bird and the Robot” show at the General Motors Pavilion in EPCOT.  Our contract with GM allowed us to use the out-takes for other non-competitive purposes.  So Ballet Robotique was actually made from the “trash” from another project.

As you know, Ballet Robotique was an Oscar nominee in the Live Action Short category, in addition to about 75 other awards.  It’s one of the few (perhaps the only!) “industrial” films to ever receive an Oscar nomination in a creative category.

Ballet Robotique was distributed all over the world in many formats.  Like Rainbow War, it was digitally restored in 2010 and 2011 and is now available in beautiful 1080 Blu-ray.


For most of my career, the pundits were predicting that video formats would replace film.  About 1998, that finally started becoming a practical reality.  So as part of our 2010/11 digital restoration, it was our sad task to sort through our film vaults and triage/destroy most of our inventory of 35mm and 70mm release prints of Rainbow War and Ballet Robotique.  And, of course, we destroyed ALL 16mm copies – 16mm is absolutely dead.  Unfortunately, now that we have Blu-ray, nobody wants celluloid.  But the good news is the image quality and color of the Blu-ray is a significant improvement over the celluloid prints.  But, of course, we saved the original negatives so that when Blu-ray is replaced by 4K (or whatever), we will do our digital restoration all over again.


Bob Rogers

Learn more about Bob Rogers and his company, BRC Imagination Arts, at


elmoKevin Clash, the performer behind the ubiquitous Sesame Street muppet Elmo, has resigned after a second allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor was filed in federal court.  It will be interesting to see how Sesame Workshop and its licensees deal with the issue over the coming months.  In addition to consumer products, Elmo has also been licensed to museums, live tours, and theme parks around the world, including  an upcoming land at Universal Studios Singapore.

Disney has had a very direct approach to such issues, subtly removing immediate connections between the company and stars caught in scandals.  In 1991, Paul Reubens was arrested in a Florida adult theater for lewd acts. Disney immediately removed a video on the Disney/MGM Studios tour where, as his character Pee-wee Herman, he explained how voice over tracks were accomplished.  But, at the same time, they allowed his voice over as Rex, the wayward robotic pilot on Star Tours, to remain.  The majority of guests were unaware it was his voice.  More recently, the company has silently removed ties with High School Musical star Vanessa Hudgens and Cantopop group Twins over nude photos hitting the net.

Others have a wait and see attitude.  In the UK, the country is being rocked by a sex scandal involving deceased BBC star Jimmy Savile.  Alleged to have inappropriate relations with over 300 minors, the former Top of the Pops host was given accolades around the country for years and even keys to childrens wings at NHS hospitals that he had generously contributed to.  Allegations began to arise as early as 1990 as to his conduct, but it was not until the airing of an ITV documentary in October 2012, a year after his death, that the extent of his conduct became public.

Shortly after the ITV broadcast and the opening of police inquiries, the National Media Museum in Bradford, the city where Savile is buried, removed a “Jim’ll Fix It” medal from public display.  The medals were handed out by Savile on a BBC show that ran from 1975 to 1994.  On it, children wrote to Savile with their wishes, which he then “fixed.”

Upon removing the medal, the Museum released the following statement:

“In light of the recent allegations relating to Sir Jimmy Savile, the vandalism of another object on public display elsewhere, and his family’s decision to remove the headstone from his grave, we will be removing the Jim’ll Fix It badge from display in the museum.

“We will make a decision on the future arrangement for this item in due course.”

Now imagine if Bob Keeshan or Fred Rogers been implicated in a scandal.  The results would have been disastrous.  The real lives of performers like these are too intertwined with their fictional personas.  But there is a distinct difference between Kevin Clash the man (who did perform for Keeshan on Captain Kangaroo) and Elmo the character.  Clash was not the first to perform as Elmo and he will certainly not be the last.  The character has become such an important and endearing part of the Sesame Street lexicon that to remove it would be detrimental to the franchise.

In light of Clash’s resignation, Sesame Workshop released the following statement:

“Sesame Workshop’s mission is to harness the educational power of media to help all children the world over reach their highest potential.  Kevin Clash has helped us achieve that mission for 28 years, and none of us, especially Kevin, want anything to divert our attention from our focus on serving as a leading educational organization.  Unfortunately, the controversy surrounding Kevin’s personal life has become a distraction that none of us wants, and he has concluded that he can no longer be effective in his job and has resigned from Sesame Street.  This is a sad day for Sesame Street.”

As for Elmo’s future – as Elmo once said on Sesame Street: “Elmo is Elmo!”


(L-R) myself, Perry Hoberman (USC), Ray Zone, Lenny Lipton at SDA 2006

(L-R) myself, Perry Hoberman (USC), Ray Zone, Lenny Lipton at SDA 2006

It was with deep sadness that I learned about the passing this week of my good friend and colleague Ray Zone. In the world of the stereoscopic sciences and arts, there are those who have an understanding of the science and nature of the medium and those who exhibit a pure passion for it. Ray was, if nothing else full of passion. Not only was he a practitioner of stereo photography and 3d conversion, he was also a zealot for 3d comics and cinema, a historian, an author, an advocate, and a teacher.

I met Ray over 15 years ago through the Large Format Cinema Association. Our paths would cross many times, whether at an ETC or SMPTE sponsored event or the annual Stereoscopic Displays and Applications conference. In 2006, I invited Ray to join me on a visit to In-Three and REALD at a time when both companies were just starting to come into the public light. Ray’s input was indispensable and the trip resulted in two articles, one by myself, and the other Ray’s “Threshold of the Future.”

On the ride to Agoura Hills to visit In-Three, Ray related to me how prior to venturing into stereoscopics full time, he had worked in the steel industry. He related what was going on with the cinema industry’s transition to digital the same way he saw American steel – that if elements within the industry did not position themselves for change, they would eventually cease to exist.

Ray also loved cinema in general, especially large format cinema. He taught me that the motion picture, by its very nature, is composed of 3D images simply projected on a 2D screen. In 2003, he conducted a one-on-one interview with cinematographer Rodney Taylor as part of the ceremony surrounding Taylor’s being awarded the Kodak Vision Award. Ray showed that, although on the exterior he appeared a stalwart of 3D cinema, he truly understood the impact of the visual image in all its forms and how the filmmaker and audience perceives it.

For me, it is best to remember Ray in his own words. Below are three of his written works:

  • “Thinking Big: The Large Format Cinematography of Rodney Taylor” was written for the 2003 Kodak Vision Award Ceremony and was handed to attendees as part of the program during the ceremony at the LFCA’s annual conference at the Universal Studios IMAX Theater in Los Angeles.
  • In 2003, I invited Ray to write about the history of IMAX 3D for the SFC Review, a publication I was editing at the time. What I received was one of the most definitive histories of film-based attractions I’ve ever seen, “Motion in Space: 4-D and the Ridefilm.”
  • “Threshold of the Future: 3-D Cinema Comes of Age” appeared on Ray’s website, and features Ray’s thoughts on stereographic digital cinema.


by Ray Zone

Large format filmmaking presents unique challenges to the cinematographer. The size of the
camera and film as well as the scale of the image projected on the giant screen present at once
glorious possibility or daunting pitfall to the large format filmmaker. Innovation in large format is
a bold affair fraught with risk. Cinematographer Rodney Taylor has dared to expand the visual
vocabulary of a rigorous cinematic language. And he has succeeded. His images speak with a
dynamism, movement and emotion that is new to the large format film.

Originally a TV cameraman for ESPN, ABC and TBS shooting sports events around the world,
Rodney honed a split-second sense of timing through these experiences. After working as a first
camera assistant on large format films such as Ring of Fire, In Search of the Great Sharks and
Africa: The Serengeti, Rodney was director of photography on Alaska: Spirit of the Wild and
Amazing Journeys, working with director George Casey at Graphic Films. In filming polar bears,
butterflies, zebras, lions and migrating crabs, Taylor was able to bring his acute sense of timing to
the large format phgtography on these projects. From previous Kodak Vision Award recipient
David Douglas, Taylor says that he “learned to let the camera run out” to capture the actions of
nature and wild animals. That requires intuition and daring. The images in Taylor’s wildlife films
are also reverential or humorous, suffused with an uncommon light that is inherently emotional in

These same skills were necessary with the remarkable sports action that Rodney photographed for
Olympic Glory, Michael Jordan to the Max and Ultimate X: The Movie. The street luge sequences
that Rodney photographed for Ultimate X bring a breathtaking close-up intensity to the giant
screen. Via Rodney’s large format camera placement the audience twists and turns, hurtling
rapidly down a rain-wet street just inches from its surface.

With all of his large format films, Rodney refuses to work with the limited tools that are so often
the lot of the large format cinematographer. Having considerable experience in narrative 35mm
working as director of photography on features such as Sparkler, Morning and Riders, Taylor has
brought the aesthetics of independent filmmaking into the vocabulary of large format. He insists
on moving the camera or lighting the scene with the same tools, cranes, steadicams, full lighting
packages, that are used in narrative filmmaking.

The fruit of Rodney’s uncompromising position is evident in films like Wildfire and The Legend of
Loch Lomond where camera movement drives the narrative. In Wildfire a bravura camera move
introduces the audience to Horse Mountain Lookout by opening with a low-angle view of the
station, rising smoothly up to show it and turning to the right and gradually moving forward to a
panoramic view of the forest in which a fire has been started by lightning. The camera itself
advances the story.

In All Access: Front Row, Backstage, Live! and Our Country, Rodney has transformed the material
into a visual construct that transcends mere music documentary. By lighting and filming Sheryl
Crowe singing “If It Makes You Happy” in close-up, Taylor brings a fresh intimacy to the large
format screen. “People clearly felt that you couldn’t do close-ups in large format,” says All Access
producer Jon Shapiro. “Rodney proved everyone wrong.”

Our Country features several innovations that bear Rodney’s unique signature as a lighting
cameraman who is also a storyteller. The 90-second steadicam sequence featuring Martina
McBride singing “Walking at Midnight” as she works her way through numerous dressing rooms,
past various performers and on to the stage of the Grand Ole Opry is a narrative tour-de-force,
dense with innovation. The sequence required surgical precision with timing and intricate
choreography. It is unprecedented in large format and, as a steadicam sequence, is on a par with
Haskell Wexler’s famous shot of the “Okie” camp in Bound for Glory. Rodney was
uncompromising and insisted on having Larry McConkey, a top steadicam operator, of this
sequence of Our Country.

Another of Rodney’s inventions for Our Country was to use “skip bleach” during processing of the
original negative for certain sequences. Some cinematographers might have wanted to play it
safe and skip bleach the interpositive or internegative. Not Rodney. He wanted to achieve a look
that was only possible by skip bleaching the original negative.

As the recipient of the 2003 Kodak Vision Award, Rodney Taylor joins a short but distinguished list
of large format cinematographers that includes Noel Archambault, Sean Phillips, Reed Smoot, and David Douglas. His contributions to large format filmmaking are unique. He has raised the visual bar for the large format film to put it on an emotional par with the 35mm feature and expanded the giant screen cinematographer’s toolbox with narrative images that will endure.


by Ray Zone

3-D attraction films are opening big the summer of 2003. Shrek 4-D, a digitally projected
stereoscopic show, elaborating the narrative of the feature-length movie, is playing to audiences
in kinetic seats at the Universal Studios theme park in Hollywood. R.L. Stine’s Haunted Lighthouse
is a 3-D filmed attraction (replacing Pirates in 4-D) at Sea World in San Diego and Animalvision 3-
D, a segment from nWave’s 15/70 version of SOS Planet, is being projected digitally at the
Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California.

Other stereoscopic delights are being served up with James Cameron’s Ghosts of the Abyss
finishing it’s run at large format (LF) theatres and Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids 3 in 3-D, with
anaglyphic sequences, opening on 3500 screens on July 25. It feels like cinema itself is being
reinvented all over again.

Underlying the attraction for all of these stereoscopic shows is an elementary and great principal,
that of motion through space, the fundamental dynamic of the movies. Film, with intermittent
motion, moves through the camera. Objects in front of the lens move towards or away from the
camera. The camera itself moves through space, which makes the third dimension of the visual
field apparent, even in 2-D films. And, perhaps most importantly, the human gaze moves
through visual space. In a stereoscopic film, the two eyes move through a surreal replication of
real visual space which is itself generally in motion.

The primal appeal of motion in space, delivered by film projection, launched cinema. On
December 28, 1895 the presence of the Lumiere cinematographe converted the Grand Cafe in
Paris into a special venue for motion pictures. The 50-second film L’Arrivee du Train astonished
audiences with its moving image of a locomotive heading straight toward them. It’s not surprising
that the Lumiere brothers reshot their train film for anaglyphic 3-D projection in 1935.

The ultra realism of the ride film, playing at special venues, is as old as cinema itself. At the Paris
Exposition of 1900 audiences stood on top of a raised circular platform to view Raoul Grimoin-
Sanson’s Cineorama, a 360 degree movie projected on a circular screen 330 feet in
circumference, 30 feet high. The hand-tinted 70mm films had been shot from a hot-air balloon as
it was borne aloft. At the same Exposition the Lumiere brothers exhibited a film attraction,
Mareorama, simulating the view from the bridge of a ship sailing the ocean.

Around 1901 the “Phantom Ride” films had become enormously popular. “These were panoramic
pictures taken from the front of a railway engine traveling at speed,” wrote British film pioneer
Cecil Hepworth. “I think it was the American Biograph Company, during their long run at the
Palace Theatre, London, who started this fashion of phantom rides, but it was rather strange that
the public should have liked it for so long. Before the craze finished, however, it was given a new
lease of life by the introduction of an ingenious scheme called Hale’s Tours.”

It’s likely that Kansas City fire chief George Halewas inspired by the Paris Exposition of 1900 and the phantom ride films to create Hale’s Tours, a popular attraction of 1904 at the St. Louis Exposition in which audiences boarded a rail car to view movies that had been shot from the rear of a train. Underneath the car, lugs on a belt with rollers created the clickety-clack sound of a train in motion as the audience watched the rear projected movies. Mechanically produced rushes of air were blown in at the audience as the car was swayed side to side during the program. Hale’s Tours was a big success and by 1907 had opened up at as many as 500 locations.

Adolph Zukor had opened Hale’s Tours in New York, Pittsburgh and Coney Island. “When first
viewing Cinerama many decades later, I mystified my companions by laughing,” wrote Zukor in his
autobiography. “It was necessary to explain that I was back in Hale’s Tours.” Fred Waller’s 3-
projector Cinerama process debuted on September 30, 1952 with This Is Cinerama, a travelogue
of the world that set box office records for the year. The aerial footage shot from the nose of a B-
52 in This Is Cinerama is stunning. But it is very likely the roller coaster sequence which is bestremembered.

Filmed from the front of the “Atom Smasher” roller coaster at Rockaway’s Playland, the panoramic plunging motion captured over a 140 degree angle of view had audiences responding viscerally to the wide images by leaning in their seats. This kind of response reflects the interactive nature of viewing motion in space on the Cinerama screen, the 15/70 IMAX screen and any stereoscopic film. When an audience member moves to avoid objects hurling off the screen in stereoscopic space, the interactive nature of 3-D is plainly shown. The promotional copy for 3-D films in the 1950s hinted at their interactive nature. “A Lion in Your Lap, A Lover in Your Arms,” read the posters for Arch Oboler’s 3-D film Bwana Devil, shot in the dual camera Natural Vision process and which launched the stereo movie boom on November 26, 1952.

The 3-D image is also interactive by its very nature. Because the stereoscopic picture is actually
formed in the brain as the “cyclopean” image synthesized from separate left and right-eye
information, the mind itself creates 3-D. The same thing is true for persistence of vision, the
perceptual basis for the movies, when a visual impression remains briefly in the brain after it has
been withdrawn.

In 1952, cinema was reinventing itself in reaction to the “small” screen viewing space of television
which was eroding cinema’s appeal. Making the projected image bigger, deeper and wider elicited
audience interaction once again and renewed the theatrical viewing experience as a special
occasion in a special place, which TV could not replicate. The motion picture theatre itself became
a special venue, as it had been at the very beginning.

In 1955 Walt Disney created a space-age ride film for his special “Tomorrowland” venue in
Disneyland with the Trip to the Moon attraction which proved popular for many years. The
astronaut/audience entered a rocket ship replete with blinking lights and incandescent dials to
view a film rear projected onto circular screens above and below them. As the seats vibrated and
rocket engines rumbled, the audience viewed footage which realistically depicted the earth
receding into space and the moon approaching. With the invention of the 15/70 IMAX motion
picture format by Roman Kroitor, Graeme Ferguson, William Shaw and William Kerr in
1967, one of the most immersive of all film formats was created. “From the beginning,” remarked
Colin Low, “I always felt that IMAX should be in 3-D.” Low had apprenticed with Norman
McLaren at the National Film Board of Canada in 1950 and 1951 when McLaren produced two
brilliant 3-D films, Now is the Time and Around is Around.

For the 1986 Vancouver Expo, Low produced Transitions, the first IMAX 3D film. Transitions, as a
film about transportation which shows continuously moving imagery, is a perfect marriage of
subject matter and format. “Everything that comes after Transitions has to be viewed in a
different light,” says LF director of photography Sean Phillips, “because it really marked the
dividing point between traditional 3-D, and what I call immersive 3D.”

With IMAX 3D nearly all of the onscreen imagery floats in the audience space. “Because the
screen is so large, you no longer really care about what is happening at the edge of the frame,”
says Phillips. “It allows you to view space continuously from infinity all the way to right in front of
your nose.” Phillips was the DP on the 1997 nWave 15/70 2-D production Thrill Ride, directed by
Ben Stassen. Thrill Ride, exploring cinema history and large format onscreen motion, seems like
a 2-D trial run for Stassen’s later LF 3-D films like Encounter in the Third Dimension (1999), Alien
Adventure (2000) and Haunted Castle 3-D (2001).

Stassen cleverly builds 3-D ride film modules into his LF features. These free-standing film ride
modules are given new titles such as Arctic Adventure, Magic Carpet and Kid Coaster and released
separately to a variety of special venues. As the most prolific maker of LF 3-D films, Stassen
recently grappled in print with film critic Roger Ebert who remains “unconvinced that 3-D is
necessary in cinematic storytelling.”

Characterizing IMAX 3-D as “a totally new language of cinema,” Stassen writes that the LF
filmmaker “tries to create a filmic space and then transport that audience into that filmic space
and let it decide where to look.” This freedom of visual choice for audience members in watching
an LF film, looking freely around the giant screen, is itself a new aesthetic.

Audiences watching Spy Kids 3 with anaglyph glasses will have the option of watching even the 2-
D segments of the film with the glasses, not that this is entirely new. The first public presentation
of a 3-D film in America, on June 10, 1915 at the Astor Theater in New York, Edwin S. Porter’s
black and white film, Jim the Penman, featured anaglyphic segments. In 1922 Harry K. Fairall
released an anaglyphic feature film called The Power of Love at the Ambassador Hotel in Los
Angeles which gave the audience the option of watching the tragic ending of the film through the
blue lens or the happy ending through the red. In the 1963 production, The Mask, the black and
white film was interrupted with three anaglyphic segments providing the audience a 3-D look into
the subconscious minds of characters in the film.

So, just what is 4-D? It has to be the motion of the seats or the watery mist that settles onto the
viewing audience during Shrek 4-D, all of the extra-filmic elements present in the experience.
These are interactive ploys that have been used previously with Muppetvision 3-D (1989) in
Disneyland or T2 3-D (2000) at Universal Studios. They are amusing additions to the sensory
experience. But actually, however, the fourth dimension is probably time itself, which is inherent
in the motion picture.

The irony is that, despite the best efforts of companies like Iwerks, which has produced many
simulation ride films, and numerous inventors who have attempted to add the experience of smell
(odorama) to cinematic presentation, that the visual sense alone creates the greater part of a
feeling of interactivity and motion. Compare the actual experience of going down a roller coaster
at the Magic Mountain or Six Flags theme parks with the experience of watching Stassen’s Alien
Adventure in 3-D on the giant IMAX screen. The 3-D film gives you just as visceral a sensation,
with vertigo, breathlessness, twists and turns, as the actual experience of a roller coaster.


by Ray Zone

When all film is stereoscopic, and we have forgotten that we ever accepted the convention of the flat-image as real, it seems unlikely that we shall remark on the stereoscopic film appearance of reality, any more than at present we remark on the conventional flatness of the two-dimensional film.
— Ivor Montagu

A Future in the Past

In a visionary 1950 essay titled The Third Dimension: Film of the Future? cinema historian Ivor Montagu wrote about 3-D movies after visiting the Stereokino in Moscow and viewing an 80 minute program that consisted of three motion pictures. The 3-D movies, consisting of a travelogue of the Crimea titled Sunny Region, an instructional film called Crystals and a comedy, Caran de Ache on the Ice,were all autostereoscopic, meaning that no 3-D glasses were required to see the third dimension in the films. Are you surprised?

Sounds a lot like the 3-D future to me and yet it happened over half a century ago. These 3-D movies used interlocked rear projection of dual left and right eye 70mm film prints on to glass with vertically etched lines. A printed notice on the ticket to the films pointed out a limitation of the autostereoscopic process. Leaning to one side loses the stereoscopic effect, which can be recovered by a movement of from 4 to 8 inches.

For our immediate future, however, as digital cinema begins to proliferate (as of May 2005 there were about 75 theatres in North America equipped with digital projectors), audiences viewing 3-D movies will be using the glasses. And, for the time being, they will be using either Liquid Crystal Shutter (LCS) glasses with left and right eye lenses alternating at 48 frames a second (96 hertz) or disposable glasses with circular polarizing filters in them.

But the strength of either process is that they each will work with only one digital projector. The projector of choice for digital cinema appears to be the Christie CP2000 with 2k of resolution. A lower end model also projects 1.2K of resolution but both models are in use with the exhibitors who have installed digital projection in their theaters.

A Clarion Call for 3-D Cinema

The signal event, the clarion call announcing digital 3-D cinema, took place early in 2005 with the Texas Instruments DLP 3-D cinema presentation March 17 at the ShoWest trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada. For that presentation digital 3-D was projected using the page-flipping function of the DLP projector, retrofitted for stereo projection, and the audience viewed the stereoscopic clips on a matte white screen using the Nu-Vision LCS glasses running at 48 frames a second. With high-powered filmmakers George Lucas, James Cameron, Robert Zemeckis, Robert Rodriguez and Randall Kleiser showing stereoscopic clips of their films and espousing the virtues of digital 3-D cinema, it was a 3-D wake-up call for motion picture producers and exhibitors.

Cameron and Rodriguez have been doing original dual-HD (high definition) photography for their stereoscopic efforts using the Reality Camera System (RCS) developed by Cameron and Vince Pace. Their 3-D films include the Cameron Ghosts of the Abyss and, in 2005, Aliens of the Deep and Rodriguez’s Spy Kids 3-D, and (opening June 10) Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D. Both of the Rodriguez films are projected in a theatrical wide release with existing film and digital projectors as red/blue anaglyph, a process which Cameron characterizes as horrendous in image quality, and which, in his opinion, has contributed to the ghetto-ization of 3-D.

At the March 17 ShoWest event, the Rodriguez stereoscopic movies were projected in full color using the DLP alternating field platform. George Lucas presented 3-D clips from Star Wars with startling 3-D that had been produced as stereo conversions from the original 2-D versions by the In-Three company of Agoura Hills, California. He also announced that the entire series of Star Wars films would be repurposed to 3-D by In-Three with the first in the series to be released stereoscopically in 2007.

Stereo Repurposing of the Past

If the entire library of cinema history is thought of as the past, then that history can now potentially be seen in 3-D, after first being processed to a digital intermediate (DI) of course, and converted to stereo by a company such as In-Three. Think of it, The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind or Casablanca in 3-D. Would there be a new market for these films, despite total saturation on TV and DVDs? Or will more recent films such as Star Wars and The Matrixproduce big box office returns in a 3-D re-release?

Joe Kleiman (of the website) and I visited In-Three CEO Michael Kaye and VP Neil Feldman, who projected some stereo conversions in their screening room for us on a 15 foot matte white screen using a 1.2k projector running at 48 frames a second. We put on the Nu-Vision alternating field glasses and looked at stereoscopic clips of Star Wars(the first ten-minutes of the original film in the series), the bullet time sequence from The Matrix,John Travolta hoofing it in Grease, and Tom Cruise racing in Top Gun. The closing sequence of the Sam Raimi Spiderman, despite fast cutting and rapid camera moves, proved very well suited for 3-D.

In each instance, the stereoscopic effects were easy to view and yet very dramatic. I detected no pseudoscopic anomalies, spurious edges or aliasing in the 3-D. Individual scenes each had a different 3-D arrangement and the placement of the stereo window, where the left eye and right eye images coincide, was handled with great sensitivity.

Now, the only questions are, how long does it take to convert a feature film to 3-D and how much does it cost? It depends on the visual complexity of the movie, of course, but a general estimate right now for a feature film is about $5 million, a drop in the bucket by most Hollywood standards.

Interestingly, there are artistic advantages for stereo conversion over live-action and original stereoscopic photography. It is the same advantage that a stereoscopic filmmaker working with computer generated imagery (CGI) also has. Because the 3-D image is digital, a measure of control over the picture is provided to the stereoscopic filmmaker that is absent with original 3-D photography. Different elements in a scene, for example, can be rendered separately in one visual space. One stereo conversion at the In-Three demo, a scene from Tuck Everlasting, showcased this digital flexibility. The background, middleground and extreme foreground elements were each given a different 3-D treatment that produced powerful three dimension effects which would have been impossible with original 3-D photography of the same scene.

The Two Digital 3-D Cinema Platforms

In an illuminating question-and-answer session at ShoWest, James Cameron discussed the two digital 3-D platforms available now. Very little change to the DCI (Digital Cinema Initiative) specification is required to achieve viable digital 3-D projection using the existing technology for the digital cinema rollout, said Cameron. Each digital projection screen will have a DLP Cinema projector and a server. For 3-D, that server will need to be upgraded to a dual channel server. In addition, that theater will need either a silver screen and LCD fitter for the projector, or a set of reusable LCD glasses. This overall upgrade should cost between 10 and 15 thousand dollars over the base cost of the digital projection unit. Upgrade cost for both digital 3-D cinema platforms are about the same.

The Real D company based in Beverly Hills has been perfecting a digital 3-D cinema platform that uses disposable glasses with circular polarizer filters. The conventional polarizing 3-D glasses used to date have linear transmission of light through the lenses so that if an audience member tilts their head left or right, ghosting or breakdown of the stereoscopic image starts to occur as the left eye begins to see a remnant of the right eye image and vice versa. This drawback is eliminated with circular polarizing filters which are more expensive but in quantity can be manufactured at minimal cost. And an additional advantage to the exhibitor is that there is no necessity to collect the circular polarizing, passive, glasses back from the audience and clean them before each reuse as with LCS glasses.

With the Real D platform, the left and right eye frames are alternating out of the 2k digital projector 72 times a second (144 hertz) and projected through the polarizers. This makes a silver screen necessary to prevent depolarizing and ghosting of left and right eye images. Real D has developed a combination silver/matte white screen with high gain reflectivity and a wide viewing angle so that the screen is compatible for both 2-D and 3-D projection.

Joe and I viewed some stereoscopic footage of The Polar Express along with the Real D demo reel that includes clips from the Cobalt Entertainment NFL footage, the Cameron Ghost of the Abyss and some custom CGI 3-D clips demonstrating the potential for digital 3-D cinema exhibition with applications such as 3-D pay-per-view or local stereoscopic advertising. The three dimension effects with the Real D platform are striking and the images very bright on a twenty foot screen.

On March 14 during ShoWest, Mann Theatres announced that they had selected REAL D as the exclusive delivery system for digital 3-D entertainment for its theater chain. The Chinese theater located in Hollywood will host the first REAL D flagship 3-D cinema. Mann Theatres is the first theater chain to embrace the exhibition of digital 3-D cinema and the REAL D flagship theater at the Chinese will mark the second time the 78-year-old theater has been equipped to show 3-D movies (the first was in 1973 with a screening of House of Wax in StereoVision side-by-side anamorphic 70mm). Real D hopes to have 1000 digital 3-D cinemas in operation by the end of 2005 and three times that in 2007.

Alternating Eyes for New Cinema Grammar

With both the Real D and Nu-Vision LCS digital 3-D cinema platforms, the left and right eye images alternate sequentially at a high rate during projection. It is this technology that allows stereoscopic movies, running in dual streams simultaneously with separate left and right eye information, to play on one projector through a single lens.

On March 4, 2005, Real D acquired the Stereographics Corporation based in San Rafael and founded in 1980 by Lenny Lipton, an author and 3-D cinema historian. Lipton holds 20 patents for field sequential stereoscopic displays and with a September 2001article in the SMPTE Journal titled The Stereoscopic Cinema: From Film to Digital Projection wrote that The deterrents to the widespread acceptance of the stereoscopic theatrical medium have, in principle, been solved by digital projection. The same projector can be used for showing planar content as well as stereo content with the flip of the switch.

Neil Feldman at In-Three pointed out that a single digital cinema server can deliver a 2-D and 3-D version of a movie to two different auditoriums simultaneously. That raises an important question which has both economic and artistic ramifications. Should movies be released simultaneously in flat and stereoscopic versions? This was the case with The Polar Express which played in a wide release (3000 screens) flat in 35mm and a handful of Large Format theaters (about 70) exclusively in 15/70mm 3-D. Despite the huge difference in numbers the 3-D version, playing in 2 percent of the theaters, pulled in 30 percent of the box-office.

Artistically, however, stereoscopic motion pictures might necessitate a new grammar for cinematic storytelling. 3-D movies like Spy Kids 3-D incorporating z-axis information within and in front of the screen can only work artistically in stereo. With the reality that any existing film can be converted to stereo, this aesthetic issue for stereoscopic cinema will acquire importance.

Now that the technology for production and exhibition of 3-D movies has, at last, become transparent, we can ask some pertinent questions. What new kind of story can be told using the motion picture screen as a stereoscopic window on another world? How can 3-D be used as an inherent element of the narrative? What can 3-D filmmakers do to incorporate audience space into their storytelling?

In his prescient essay from 1950, Ivor Montagu asked similar questions. The apparent pictorial reality of 3-D film was only the most obvious aspect of this new cinema language. But, in respect to compositions and movements in the third dimension itself, that is, towards and away from the spectator, he observed, we have here a gigantic, a tremendous, an immeasurable new power.

This artistic power can also generate a monetary engine. As with 3-D movies in Hollywood in 1952, the power of stereoscopic digital cinema can be an effective form of differentiation for exhibitors to lure people out of their homes, away from their increasingly sophisticated home theater systems, and back into motion picture theaters.

Montagu acknowledged that the Stereokino films were limited in their achievements. However, one¹s fingers itch to mould and sculpt in this new medium, he added. What a fascinating task it must be to explore its ranges. All that has been contrived in it so far is no more than lisping baby-language, compared to the roaring eloquence or pregnant whisper it may one day add to our vocabulary.

With digital 3-D cinema a reality, we will listen and watch with both eyes open.


Lipton, Lenny. The Stereoscopic Cinema: From Film to Digital Projection, SMPTE Journal, September 2001, p. 586-593.

Montagu, Ivor. The Third Dimension: Film of the Future? The Cinema 1950, ed. Roger Manvell, A Pelican Book (Great Britain: 1950), p. 132-139.