March 26, 2009

Movie Promises Another Dimension

What promises to be a multidimensional film will blockbuster its way to theaters on Friday.

The new "Monsters vs. Aliens" movie is built around new technology which means the film will bring depth to an epic outer space battle.

"We can dial in the (3-D) to a degree that was unthinkable even 10 years ago," said the stereoscopic supervisor at DreamWorks, who legally changed his name 12 years ago to Phil Captain 3D McNally.

"What I'm hoping people will see in 'Monsters vs. Aliens' for the first time is stereoscopic filmmaking that feels completely integrated into the flow of the story."

The film was created beginning to end in entirely three dimensions, which differs from the old approach of most 3-D movies, which are conceived and shot in two dimensions and later rendered.

Producer Lisa Stewart described the story as "an homage to the 1950s and '60s monster horror movies where 3-D really first came into the fore."

Stewart said the characters, concepts, and landscapes lent themselves to three-dimensional exploration, but was worried about the outcome.

"There was an initial fear that it was going to be a gimmick like it was in the '50s, where we're suddenly going to be asked to throw a bunch of stuff out through the screen," Stewart said. "But that was not at all what he wanted to do. ... It was about how can we use this (technology) to tell the story that we're already telling, how can we use it to our advantage."

She said the on screen magic and problems popped up when they started shooting.

"There was a lot of trial and error at first," Stewart said. "And there were a lot of preconceived rules of what you could and could not do in 3-D."

For example, some worried quick edits and cuts during action scenes would cause eye strain.

"In real life, there's no such thing as a cut," noted Captain 3D.

Instead, his team created a tool that digitally blends depth, so "you get the feeling of a fast cut with the comfort of a slow dissolve," he said.

The team also created virtual cameras which created realistic action shots that make scenes feel like a real camera, not a computer.

McNally said movie goers were interested in 3-D pictures since the '50s but the technology couldn't keep up the format.

He said older 3-D films relied on two projectors playing at the same time. One showed a left-eye image and the other a right-eye image, mimicking the brain's perception of depth through the merging of these separate images.

The problems arose if the timing or alignment of either projector was off.

Moviegoers would often end up with a blurry picture, eye strain, and headaches.

Digital projectors fixed that by projecting sequential images for the right eye and left eye so fast that they appear to be simultaneous.

"It literally projects left eye and right eye three times per movie frame," McNally said, adding that the projectors also allow for "perfect synchronization and perfect alignment" - no more shaky pictures.

Studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg is promising that all future DreamWorks Animation releases would be in 3-D, beginning with "Monsters vs. Aliens."

Ticket sales for 3-D movies typically cost a few dollars more, but could end up boosting box-office profits.


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