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Movies in 3D: Into the next dimension...

  • Story Highlights
  • CGI and digital technology is helping the 3D movie make a comeback
  • 3D fans include Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and Robert Zemeckis
  • 3D movies project two filmstrips side by side; special glasses are still needed
  • DreamWorks says all its future animated movies will be shot for 3D
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By Laura Hodgson
For CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- They've been around for years -- but are 3D movies set to make a comeback? Although basic 3D technology has been around since the 1890s, the availability of 3D screens and 3D movies has been relatively limited. But now, companies such as IMAX (Canada), Dolby and REAL D (United States) are promising a renaissance of 3D films by creating viewing systems which provide flawless performances at the cinema.

Myleene Klass in 3D glasses eating popcorn

The Screening Room's Myleene Klass goes into the third dimension

Visionary directors including James Cameron, Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis are embracing the new technology and in Cameron's case, actively developing it.

"The Polar Express 3D" has become a perennial favorite at Imax cinemas, Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas" has been remade in 3D, most recently "Beowulf" was released in 3D on 1200 screens worldwide and rock fans are looking forward to "U2 3D" in the New Year.

How does it work?

In truth, all the 3D happens in our head - it just needs to be sent the right information for it to work. For filming live action, two cameras are used side by side, filming one perspective for the right eye and another for the left. The difference between each film creates the same effect as when we process information in our brain sent from our eyes.

Computer generated imagery (CGI) is another technique used to create 3D. CGI allows perspectives to be manipulated in post production. This system is most commonly used for animations. A 2D film can also be transformed into 3D using this process. To deliver 3D experience in cinema, these images are synchronized, projected and, wearing the right glasses, you can see 3D film in the movie theater!

IMAX and 3D

For many, when it comes to 3D, biggest is best, and it doesn't come any bigger than IMAX 3D. With screens towering 20 meters above the audience, the 3D action can be breathtaking. IMAX now has 280 screens in over 30 countries. Chief projectionist at the London BFI IMAX Dennis Laws told the Screening Room about the painstaking process needed to prepare for a 3D screening -- one which he believes is fully rewarded by the result.

"For 3D, you have two films running through," he explained. "We see life in three dimensions because we have two eyes looking at it from different perspectives. We create that here. We've got left-eye here and right-eye there, they run through together. You do wear glasses, and no, they're not red and green! It's a polarized system and it really makes it believable. And I guarantee that if you come and see a 3D film here you will put your hands up to touch the objects or you will duck."

"The new IMAX DMR film, "Beowulf," which has just arrived in the cinema, arrived in 36 reels of film for each eye," he continued. "It took us approximately about 20 hours to put this together. The first run-through is always exciting, always a little nerve-racking: to make sure that we have actually joined it all correctly and we've got nothing upside down or backwards."

But Laws is not convinced that 3D will replace 2D movies entirely.

"3D takes you much closer into the action and is a very enveloping experience," he told CNN, "But it's a different one to watching a film in 2D. I would certainly not think that all films in the future will be shown in 3D. But the ones that are will be chosen very carefully and will have a different view.

"'Beowulf' in 3D is absolutely spectacular."

DreamWorks and 3D

Jeffery Katzenberg, head of DreamWorks Animation is committed and passionate about 3D. He told the Screening Room that all the company's future animations will be made in 3D. For the past 18 months, DreamWorks have been working on CGI film "Monsters vs. Aliens," set to be released spring 2009 and the production company's first film to be authored and conceived in 3D from the outset.

Katzenberg told CNN that the release of "Monsters vs. Aliens" is going to "re-invent what the movie experience can be." Other 3D DreamWorks projects in the making include "How to Train your Dragon" (2009) and "Shrek Goes Fourth" (2010).

Katzenberg decided to put his faith in 3D when he first saw Robert Zemeckis's "Polar Express" (2004). DreamWorks has also been inspired by the work of "Titanic" director James Cameron, who has invested in and developed the technology and innovation of 3D and is set to release "Avatar" in 2009.

Katzenberg says that, unusually, there has been tremendous support between filmmakers. "We actually talk to one another and share tools," he said. In January 2008, Katzenberg, Spielberg and Cameron will hold a forum for other filmmakers about the potential of 3D and the opportunities for the industry. He said, "We are only on the first baby step of this."

Katzenberg also highlighted another positive side effect of 3D.

"25% of our revenue is lost to piracy around the world today," he said. "90% of that is due to someone taking a camera into a movie theatre.

"You can't camcorder 3D. So the bi-product of this is that it will have some serious implications about that," he explained.

The step from 2D to 3D has been likened to that from silent film to sound and from black and white to color, but it's too early to tell whether the 3D revolution is finally here. As IMAX projectionist Dennis Laws told CNN, "Is 3D here to stay? We've had several stop starts over the history of film. I think the answer to that question is wait and see." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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