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Author Topic: "Chicken Little" Going Deep for Digital NYT article
John Pytlak
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 - posted 09-27-2005 10:20 AM      Profile for John Pytlak   Author's Homepage   Email John Pytlak   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Article in yesterday's New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/26/business/media/26digital.html

quote:
September 26, 2005
Going Deep for Digital
By DAVID M. HALBFINGER
LOS ANGELES, Sept. 25 - Last March, executives from the Walt Disney Studios approached the visual-effects wizards at George Lucas's company, Industrial Light & Magic, with an audacious request. Could they convert the forthcoming Disney animated film "Chicken Little" into 3-D?

In less than four months?

"We gave it serious consideration, and we decided they were out of their minds," said Colum Slevin, senior director of computer graphics at Industrial Light. "'Fourteen hundred shots in 14 weeks? You're dreaming.'"

But Disney persisted. And Mr. Slevin's team of techies came through, as audiences will be able to see for themselves beginning Nov. 4, when "Chicken Little" opens across the country - and in at least 85 movie theaters equipped with costly state-of-the-art 3-D projection equipment, silver screens and the latest in goofy-looking 3-D eyewear.

The 3-D technology is more advanced than anything audiences will remember from the 1950's or even from recent hits like "Spy Kids": no red-and-cyan lenses, no eyestrain, no headaches. And no bulky electronic glasses like at Imax theaters. "You've not seen anything quite like this," Richard Cook, Disney's studio chairman, assured hundreds of exhibitors and others before showing them a sample on Thursday.

All but lost in their excitement over the technology is a huge milestone for Hollywood: the 3-D release of "Chicken Little" first requires the conversion of those 85 theaters to digital projection technology.

For years, the movie industry has been struggling to replace its expensive film distribution system with digital technology. For the studios, the change promised huge savings: about $1 billion a year is spent making film prints and shipping them to thousands of theaters.

For theater owners, it meant smaller savings, but improved quality. A movie could run for weeks - or indefinitely - without the scratches and other defects that become noticeable after as few as 10 screenings of a celluloid print.

Last month, the Hollywood studios finally settled on a set of technical standards for the digital cinema introduction. Also recently, the studios, theater owners and equipment vendors have reached consensus on the basic framework to pay for the change to digital, which costs about $85,000 an auditorium.

All that was missing was a catalyst for making the investment. Proponents of digital cinema are hoping it will be provided by 3-D movies like Disney's "Chicken Little" and next summer's "Monster House," from Columbia Pictures and the director Robert Zemeckis. Given that Mr. Zemeckis's "Polar Express," from Warner Brothers, earned roughly 10 times as much in Imax 3-D as it did in 2-D, that is a big catalyst, executives say.

"3-D, at the moment, is driving the bus on this digital rollout," said Michael V. Lewis, chairman of Real D, a Beverly Hills optics company that developed the equipment and eyewear to bring "Chicken Little" to theaters in 3-D.

But there is also a fairly sizable school of thought among studio executives - and influential filmmakers like James Cameron, who has said he will shoot only in 3-D from now on - that 3-D, despite its history as a fad, could this time have a momentous effect on cinema, the way silent movies gave way to talkies and black-and-white to color.

"I honestly don't think it's a novelty," said Charles Viane, president of distribution for Disney, which may release all its future animated movies in 3-D should "Chicken Little" meet expectations at the box office. "I think you'll miss the dimensionalization in movies that don't have it."

"Chicken Little" would not be coming to market in 3-D had Disney not been impatient to break the stalemate between studios and theaters over digital conversion. But it also required significant leaps forward in technology, which the four-year-old Real D and the 25-year-old optics company it acquired in February, StereoGraphics, had been pursuing for some time.

Unlike some old-fashioned 3-D movies, the Real D process uses a single projector, but it merges two data streams, one for each eye. Because the projector is digital, it can project images far faster than 24 frames per second, the film standard. So "Chicken Little" will be shown at 144 frames per second, alternating left- and right-eye images faster than the eye can detect.

The hard part of 3-D is to make sure the left eye sees only the left image, and vice versa. Real D, executives say, does so with an adapter mounted on the projector that polarizes each alternating image so that it can be seen only through the appropriate lens on Real D's cheap disposable glasses.

The system is hardly perfect. It requires installing a special silver screen, which is a disadvantage for showing standard movies; the rapid frame rate slightly diminishes the resolution of the image, from 2,048 pixels to roughly 1,700; and even Real D executives acknowledge the system would be impractical for theaters with more than 300 seats because of screen size constraints.

But executives from some of the 22 theater chains that have signed up so far - among them AMC, Loews and Regal - say they prefer it to a competing system, from In-Three and NuVision, that would use standard screens but require costly electronic eyeglasses, forcing theaters to spend money sanitizing, maintaining and securing them.

The main disadvantage of the Real D system is cost: the company charges at least $50,000 upfront for each theater, and $25,000 a year.

Tom Stephenson, president and chief executive of Dallas-based Rave Motion Pictures, said he had signed up to convert 9 of his 300 screens to Real D and was exploring whether to charge a dollar or two more for tickets, or whether increased ticket sales and concession receipts would ultimately cover his costs.

Real D guarantees at least two 3-D movies will play in those theaters each year, Mr. Stephenson said. "Is that enough? No, but if it turns out people are really drawn to this technology, you'll get more than that."

Among prominent filmmakers, who are eyeing dwindling box-office figures just as uneasily as theater owners, several have seized on 3-D as almost a panacea.

"As the public's home television and sound systems get better and better, what is the reason they have to go to the movies?" said Jon Landau, a partner in Mr. Cameron's company, Lightstorm Entertainment, which is making the action fantasy "Battle Angel" in 3-D. "We believe 3-D is one of those things that people will come out of their homes in droves to see. From the big-scale movies to the small dramas - if you have somebody on their deathbed, and an intimate moment, you are much better off dropping the barrier of the screen, putting the audience in that moment, and putting it in 3-D."

Whether the next "Terms of Endearment," let alone the next "Terminator," will be seen by millions in 3-D is anybody's guess, of course. But the digital introduction, on which 3-D technology will piggyback, is picking up speed. After months of wrangling between the studios and several vendors, the first deals are being signed that could lead theater owners to buy and install digital projectors.

The structure of the deals follows a pattern. Theater owners pay roughly $10,000 toward the $85,000 cost of converting each auditorium. The balance is recovered, typically over 10 years, from the movie studios, which pay "virtual print fees."

These fees, which start at around $1,000 for each copy of a movie delivered to a theater, are intended to approximate the studios' financial savings on film prints and shipping. They have agreed to steer that money to the suppliers of digital cinema equipment.

Under the first major deal announced so far, Disney said on Sept. 15 that it would pay virtual print fees toward the installation of projectors from Christie Digital Systems USA, under a nonexclusive deal financed by Access Integrated Technologies, a start-up that is hoping to carve out a slice of the expected market for digital distribution to theaters.

The gamble for Access, of Morristown, N.J., is that studios will release enough digital movies, and agree to pay the virtual print fees, to cover the cost of the equipment and installations - and to lower the cost of capital for a company with just $12 million in trailing 12-month revenue.

"Somebody's got to be willing to put up what somebody has called brave equity to get something like this going," said A. Dale Mayo, a former theater owner who is chairman and chief executive of Access.

Lurking around the corner, however, are film industry heavyweights like Technicolor, a unit of the Paris-based media services company Thomson, along with its rival Deluxe and the sound company Dolby Laboratories. Dolby has financed the purchase of digital systems for those theaters converting soon, for "Chicken Little" for example, hoping to gain exposure for its own servers and cinema management software.

So goes the competition on the digital frontier. "It's street-fighting right now," said Jack Kline, president and chief operating officer of Christie Digital.

"In order for the market to have confidence in the digital experience, we need real experience," said Michael Karagosian, digital cinema consultant to the National Association of Theater Owners. "We need at least 1,000 systems, with all the vendors delivering content to theaters in a flawless way, so the movie arrives, it's shown, the audience is entertained with the same reliability as today with film."

That's a tall order, he cautioned. "We now have a 99.98 percent availability rate" for film projection, he said, referring to the incidence of equipment malfunction. "That means that 2 out of 10,000 shows fail, where you have to get a voucher. We don't expect to hear, 'The server didn't work.' But there are plenty of stories already about expired encryption keys, the date set wrong, somebody didn't push the right button."

He added, "We're talking about putting desktop technology in the theater. Do you trust your boot-up every time?"



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Mike Blakesley
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quote:
"I think you'll miss the dimensionalization in movies that don't have it."
Boy, I can't tell you the number of times I've said "That movie would be great, if it only had more dimensionalization."

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Joseph L. Kleiman
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 - posted 09-27-2005 12:45 PM      Profile for Joseph L. Kleiman   Email Joseph L. Kleiman   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Dimensionalization is a registered trademark of In-Three that refers to their proprietary stereoscopic conversion process. Chicken Little is not being converted by In-Three nor with their process, so the statement is oddly out of place.

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Mitchell Dvoskin
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 - posted 09-27-2005 01:18 PM      Profile for Mitchell Dvoskin   Email Mitchell Dvoskin   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
The 3-D technology is more advanced than anything audiences will remember from the 1950's

Eh? In the 1950's, two separate rolls of high resolution 35mm film were projected in sync with each other thu polarizing filters, so that each eye would see it's image at the exact same moment, as they would in real life.

While I don't doubt this video gimmick will work, and that it will certainly look better than Anaglyph 3D, this is really an overly complicated and inferior way of projecting 3D.

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Heath Dutton
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quote:
and we decided they were out of their minds,"
This article makes me laugh!

State of the art? I bet they are going linear-polorization instead of circular... No eye-strain my foot.

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Joseph L. Kleiman
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The REAL D system uses passive polarizers (circular) and there was no eyestrain evident during the twenty minutes of material I saw.

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Larry Zuverink
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Were getting one of these. No idea as of yet which projector we are getting but we are suppose to be the first in the country to have a digital only house(so they say). I heard the 3D is fantastic but I'll have to let you know.

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Joseph L. Kleiman
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If you're installing the REAL D system for Chicken Little, then you'll be using a Christie CP2000 projector with two Dolby servers (Dolby has not yet released a dual-stream server).

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Mike Blakesley
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I haven't seen this system of course, but I saw the highly-touted 3D demonstration at Great States (same as what was shown at ShoWest, supposedly) featuring footage from Star Wars Episode IV. The 3D looked ... nice, but it was still like watching a movie with sunglasses on. I doubt this thing will be much of an improvement.

And, any time you have to wear cheapo cardboard 3D glasses, you are GOING to be uncomfortable, eyestrain or no eyestrain, because the crappy cheap cardboard frames ARE UNCOMFORTABLE. There is a reason people pay hundreds of dollars for glasses frames....partly for looks, of course, but comfort has its price too.

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Mark Gulbrandsen
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quote: Joseph L. Kleiman
If you're installing the REAL D system for Chicken Little, then you'll be using a Christie CP2000 projector with two Dolby servers (Dolby has not yet released a dual-stream server).

Joe,

I've heard from a fairly reliable source that all these installations will only be left in for several years at best and then pulled out. Do you have any dope on this?

Mark

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Matt Fields
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Crap movies in 3-D are still crap. People will not leave there homes for crap. Period.

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Mark Lensenmayer
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THEY STILL DON'T GET IT!

It is STORY and CHARACTER that bring people to the movies, not gimmicks. They may check out this new 3-D thing, but if the story isn't there, they won't go back.

After a few minutes, you forget about the 3-D. You remember the story.

SUPER SPEEDWAY is a much better film than NASCAR 3-D. Why, because it tells a story about a man and his cars. NASCAR 3-D shows cars turning left.

Why is Pixar the only studio that understands this? STORY, STORY, STORY...THAT is what makes great movies...not 3-D.

Would SUNSET BOULEVARD, KING KONG, or CASABLANCA be one bit better in 3-D? How about SOME LIKE IT HOT?

Of all the 3-D features from the fifties and eighties, only a few are memorable. DIAL M FOR MURDER has a terrific impact on the audience in 3-D because Hitchcock used the technique sparingly and most effectively.

Paddle-Balls are great, but they don't make good pictures.

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Paul Linfesty
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quote:
Real D executives acknowledge the system would be impractical for theaters with more than 300 seats because of screen size constraints.

Interesting. The El Capitan in Hollywood has around 1100 seats, and they will be showing it in "Disney Digital 3-D." Although actually their screen isn't all that huge.

quote: Matt Fields
Crap movies in 3-D are still crap.
Yes, but this movie might not be crap. The Disney El Capitan mailer (which also promises "take home collectible 3-D glasses" quotes Richard Corliss of Time Magazine as saying "Disney surely has a winner in...Chicken Little. It's one of the funniest, most charming and most exhilarating movie in years. It's a genuine Disney cartoon, with a storytelling sense and graphic precision worthy of the old animation masters...The animation is gorgeous, but it's the feeling that you'll take home - warm, smart and happy."

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Mark J. Marshall
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quote: Heath Dutton
I bet they are going linear-polorization instead of circular... No eye-strain my foot.
No eye strain with linear polarization for me if done right. This coming from sitting through 35 polaroid 3D movies in ten days. No problem-o.

Also, why do they need ILM to 3D-ize anything? Just move the camera two and a half inches to the left, re-render all the scenes - and then you'll have the other eye... and it will REALLY be 3D, not 3D-ized 2D.

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Joseph L. Kleiman
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The installs will be permanent and will be used for non-Disney presentations, such as SONY's Monster House next year. They will eventually be taking out the projectors and the servers, but only when technology allows for a dual-stream bandwith on a 4K image. They are also wanting to project at higher than 96fps, although that is currently not within the DCI specs. So, taking out the equipment would be solely for purposes of replacing it when the technology has advanced.

As for the El Capitan, I've heard there were issues with placing the new silver/white matte screen in the theater, but that has now been resolved. The team working on the digital 3D release of Chicken Little for Disney includes many of the same distribution and marketing people who were involved in the IMAX version of Fantasia 2000, so expect a blockbuster campaign behind this.

Finally, I have a three-part interview with Josh Greer and Michael Lewis of REAL D from when we went for a demonstration screening this past May. Hopefully, it can answer any questions you might have. I'll also be attending a digital 3D cinema event on Thursday in LA, so if there's anything anyone wants to know about the new system, shoot me an email before I fly down Thursday afternoon and I'll see if I can get an answer for you.

INTERVIEW PART 1

INTERVIEW PART 2

INTERVIEW PART 3

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