At a two day summit devoted to all things 3D, conference founder Robert Dowling sat down with director James Cameron and 3D cinematographer Vincent Pace to talk about their perspectives on the stereoscopic movie-making.
“If I could have shot Titanic in 3D I would have,” declared Cameron. “Any spectacle would benefit from it.”
Pace, who supplies 3D camera systems and post production, noted that there’s a knee-jerk reaction that only big players in Hollywood will attempt 3D movie-making. “The proof of concept and visionary aspect happened eight years ago with the documentary on the Titanic,” he said, “Not big budget films but people committed to changing entertainment. There’s nothing in the entertainment palette that can’t be considered in 3D, whether it’s nature, documentaries, sports…it’s been proofed out and we’ve seen successes across the board.”
Camera systems are now mature, said Cameron and Pace. Cameron mentioned that the first day of shooting Avatar, Hannah Montana was also shooting, on a different continent. “The question came up, were there enough cameras and crews?” he says. “We put a stake in the heart of that argument. Anyone contemplating a feature shouldn’t be concerned about availability of cameras or crews. They’re all operational at this point.”
With regard to how creativity is impacted by working stereoscopically, Cameron emphasized that “you have to make a good movie first.” Stereo is tertiary, he says, behind story, cast, design. “It has to be value added so the 2D experience is a good movie and the 3D movie is its own experience for those who want to seek it out.”
Dowling pointed out that many viewers are leery of 3D, remembering the red/green glasses of the 1950s. “There’s still misconceptions in peoples’ minds,” he says. But Cameron’s rejoinder was that 3D is “more mature by miles from the 1950s.” And he scolded 3D producers who might create a production that reinforces the negative experiences of yesteryear. “All it takes is one bad experience and people are turned off by 3D,” he said. “Anyone contemplating a long-term strategy has to think about any dumb short-term experience. Anyone using anaglyph glasses is not going to have a good time unless they’re a 5 year old on Ritalin. You’re creating a marketing challenge you have to dig yourself out of. We have to hunt those people down and take them out back because they’re hurting it for the rest of us.”
Dowling asked if exhibitors are excited about 3D movies. Pace replied that they can’t ignore the numbers for some of the recent 3D movies. “People are beginning to embrace it,” he said. “But exhibitors have to see really good 3D movies out there. Cameron’s point of view is that, since the “stereo renaissance,” all the films from Chicken Little onward have looked great, even when they were converted from 2D.
With Avatar gaining in buzz as it nears its release date (Dec. 18, 2009), Dowling asked Cameron, does he feel “an added sense of pressure”? “Yes, it can’t possibly meet expectations,” said Cameron. “I went out, got drunk and got over that. But it’s what we set out to do with Avatar that’s exciting. Look, here’s a big studio picture being shot in 3D. We’re taking the gamble.”
“It’s groundbreaking even without the 3D, he continued. “We’ve got digital performances in realtime. The movie might suck. I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid and I think it runs pretty well. As with any 3D film, there’s no stinkin’ screen. For the audience, it becomes a window into a reality, unfettered by what the director wants to put into that window. The stereoscopic illusion fires more neurons in the brain. Peoples’ brains are more active and it becomes a visceral experience.”
Cameron noted that he’s challenging Fox to be creative about how they market Avatar. Trailers will play at IMAX 3D shows, he added, saying that “the studio marketing machine will kick into gear and figure out how to make it work.” But he also noted that, although people will seek out the 3D experience, Avatar will be sold in every other manner. “It has to live and die on its merits,” he said.
For filmmakers contemplating making a 3D film, Cameron urged that they first talk with Pace. “Do your homework if you want to shoot in 3D,” he cautioned. “It’s not daunting. You can be demystified quickly. But there’s a lot of conflicting information out there.” Pace agreed, adding that a filmmaker contemplating 3D should ask all the questions and evaluate the answers. “We have real world examples whether it’s a feature film, sports or a concert to give him or her the confidence level needed to move forward.”
As to how much 3D would add to a film budget, Cameron noted that “as a producer you have to deal with everything and 99 percent of them don’t have to do with 3D. The 3D is a small specialized area.”The bigger the movie, the more the 3D’s incremental costs hide in the budget, says Cameron. Except when visual effects are involved. “They get more expensive in 3D,” he said. But it isn’t double the work: after roto, paint and whatever else is done to one eye, the changes are applied to the second eye and rendered. “If you want to number-crunch, y9ou can show that the additional cost is always off-set by the additional revenue, which has been the case for the last three years,” he said. “And I think it’ll get even better. It’ll get to the point where 3D is just another line item.”
Last word…”If you’re serious about exploring the idea of making your movie in 3D, get the camera for a day and play around. Every director will treat stereoscopy slightly differently. Develop your aesthetic with it.”