Modern 3D Formats – What’s the Difference?

January 20, 2010 at 1:00 am | Posted in Movies, Photography, Theater/Theatre | 1 Comment
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Let’s get one thing straight right from the start. I’m talking about modern 3d Cinema here, not the old-school stuff with the different colored lenses, nor some DVD you are trying to watch on your home television.

Modern 3d, a la Avatar, is done with a little more finesse nowadays. 3D nowadays is usually done with polarized lenses, not colored jobbies. Yes, polarized, like a camera filter or those cool fishing glasses that let you see into the water. Same idea. Every company has a slightly different take on it…this is how patent lawyers stay in business.

The differences are in the details.

Real-D uses a circular polarization. That gives the benefit of being able to maintain the third-dimension illusion if you tilt your head. It’s digital. It uses one projector.  Movies can be transmitted to the theater, or sent on esy to transport and store materials. That means its relatively cheap to upgrade a theater to incorporate. It also means that a theater must use a silver screen (as opposed to current tradition of white) for the best effect, otherwise too much light gets lost and the movie gets dark. The big advantage to us is: it’s sharp. No dust bunnies on the film, as there is no film. The disadvantage is, its just a bit higher resolution than your HDTV and its way bigger.

Traditional IMAX…uses really big film. 70mm film, but it is shown sideways as opposed to vertical, so it has a massive area. It is 15 perforations wide, as opposed to the 5-wide it would be if it was vertical. See…BIG. That means BIG Screens (5 or more stories high and 7 or more stories wide). That also means big equipment like forklifts and specially trained personnel to work all the fancy gizmos in the projection booth. Of course, that means big overhead expenses – hence big ticket prices. Disadvantages to the audience, besides high prices,  are: you can’t tilt your head and maintain the illusion. If your theater uses fancy electronic shutter glasses (not sure any still do) they are bulky (although cool from a techie standpoint). Seating is different than what you are used to. Your ankle will be at the level of the head in front of you…steep seating angles, a disadvantage if you are in a wheelchair or are mobility impaired. The advantage of IMAX? It’s BIG. It has totally awesome uncompressed audio tracks pumped thru massive multi-channel surround systems. Totally immersive.  It’s on film. Resolution is NOT a problem.

Multiplex IMAX (referred to by some as minimax or LieMax) is a  new creation. Some are digital, some are true IMAX film. The system is designed to retrofit multiplex and mall theatres.  The screens are NOT massive like traditional IMAX. The seating is somewhere between your normal theater and the highly-raked traditional IMAX. The price is probably more than a competing 3D format across the hall, maybe as much as a traditional IMAX. If its a digital IMAX, it will use 2 projectors, rather than one. This may be brighter than the competitors in theory, but has some drawbacks in actual practice if things aren’t “just so”. Still can’t tilt your head, due to the linear polarized glasses IMAX likes so much.

Dolby 3D: Similar in concept to REAL-D, with some minor technical differences…you can look up more details yourself if you really care to. Keep this in mind…Dolby likes to patent processes. They have a certain way of doing things. Those things have a way of sticking for the long haul. Tape recorders ended up with Dolby C and/or B, your A/V receivers at home have Dolby Pro Logic or Dolby Digital, or those plus Dolby-“whatever”. They become the standard in a lot of media applications! James Cameron used this 3D format at the Avatar world premier (although tweaked a bit from what you might find at your local multiplex). ‘Nuff said.

Xpand 3D: Don’t know what to say here. Haven’t seen it. The Hollywood Arclight Dome (a favorite amongst movie buffs) is using it for Avatar with mixed reviews. Not sure how astute or trustworthy those reviewers are. Word has it that Disney, PIXAR and ILM have this sytem in their screening rooms. I wouldn’t count these guys out just yet. I’m sure Lucas is working on a way to try to one-up Cameron…so…keep your eyes on these guys. Keep in mind that REAL-D has an immense foothold on the majority of current theatres…but that’s not to say that this one won’t sneak into some “premier” locations…heck its going thru a trial by fire at the Dome as we speak.

Digital 3d: Anybody’s guess as to what’s driving this generic stuff. One local theatre chain here is using all-digital Barco projection equipment that is getting rave reviews and the theatre tells me the 3D system there is made by Imagemaster. Seems to be a REAL-D-like system made by a small upstart company and is cheaper than any of the “big names”.

So, now that you have a primer…go see Avatar, again. See it differently than you saw it last time. Back in the day Lucas marketed THX with “The Audience Is Listening”…well…when it comes to 3D formats nowadays, the Difference is in the Details. The levels of brightness and immersiveness are something you have to experience for yourself. I personally love traditional IMAX with its ultra big, ultra bright film, ultra-enveloping-sound but I really enjoyed the way REAL-D drew me into the film, rather than thrust it out at me.

Avatar – This Changes Everything

December 21, 2009 at 11:57 pm | Posted in Movies, Review | Leave a comment
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Consumers, film buffs, home theatre aficionados; take note. You can bet Hollywood has. James Cameron has produced a “game-changer”. Yes, he also wrote it and directed it – but all in all its more of a production.

What’s a game-changer? Star Wars IV A New Hope (the first, original one was). Jurassic Park was. The Abyss (also a Cameron film) was to a limited extent – the extent that there was a lot of cool stuff filmed underwater. Star wars changed the game with never-before-seen visual FX (light sabers and blasters come to mind) and created a standard for audio presentation (now known as THX) unlike anything the world had heard before. Jurassic Park did it with lifelike dinosaurs that scared the **** outta you and ushered in a new audio era (known as DTS) among other things.

Avatar does it with…3D. Not your normal 3D. Revolutionary 3D. Game changing 3D. Believable 3D. Real-D, IMAX 3D, Dolby 3D…it’s available worldwide in a number of 3D formats…take your pick. Each has ins and outs…but behind them all lies a revolutionary camera system developed by Sony at the request of Cameron. Its not a film camera – but an HD video camera on steroids. It can use video standards, or film standards for how many frames per second it can capture. It’s light and mobile and can be mounted just about anywhere. It fits on a Steadicam mount. It has two lenses that can move independently like human eyes. It films in 3D. I don’t know all the specs but suffice it to say after seeing Avatar tonight (in Real D)…IT KICKS ASS.

There’s other ultra-cool tech that Cameron developed/employed here like real-time viewing of green screen stuff, where the actors are being filmed with green screens and he can see them in the virtual world onscreen as he films it. There is the cool underwater photography he is so good at. There are CGI worlds created that only he could visualize (or artists could draw because they have seen his underwater documentaries) containing amazing bioluminescent flora and fauna.

Apparently, James also knows when to say when. After all, he’s writing, directing, and producing – all while revolutionizing…sometimes you gotta delegate. Need a creature designed to meet your vision? Call Stan Winston Studios. Need excellent audio? Skywalker Sound is the place, they can master in Dolby and/or DTS. Need visual FX that are game-changing? Yep. Industrial Light & Magic. Got a few other things like makeup, design, models, weapons and such that need some awesome creation and detailing? WETA.  Wanna show your 3D creation to as many people as possible?, Turn to RealD. Need to show it to cinephiles REALLY REALLY BIG…let IMAX handle that. No stone is left unturned. All the bases are covered.

Look for my reviews on the optical tech behind this shortly. Then we will cover audio stuff, if anyone cares. I’m sorry to say I didn’t catch who was behind craft services during this…you’ll have to look elsewhere.

In the meantime – just remember – all the 3D formats are propietary – so don’t bother to bring along the glasses from the last film to your next viewing…I know Avatar has a “green message” behind it all – but it apparently does not trickle down to eyewear.

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