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3D Production Comes of Age

Technica 3D's Quasar rig turns two lightweight Red Digital Cinema Red One cameras into a relatively easy-to-maneuver 3D system.

Technica 3D's Quasar rig turns two lightweight Red Digital Cinema Red One cameras into a relatively easy-to-maneuver 3D system.

No one involved in production can miss the excitement generated over the release of James Cameron's Avatar this past week. If the director of the most profitable film of all time, Titanic, can release the most anticipated 3D film of all time, it looks like an exhibition format once relegated to gimmick B-movie releases has finally come of age.

Theater owners are happy about the trend, since they have been able to charge on average about $3 more than the regular ticket price for 3D hits, including Up, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.

Even if the production didn't originate in 3D, technology is now making 2D to 3D conversions practical. In October, 3D producer PassmoreLab debuted Night of the Living Dead 3D, a reworked version of George Romero's 1968 cult classic. While purists may squirm, the San Diego-based company used its proprietary stereosynthesis technology, which keeps objects in correct perspective including curvature and transparency, to change the black-and-white original to a colorized version. (Since the film is in the public domain, prohibitive licensing costs weren't a problem.)

Another sure sign of 3D's increased viability: Standards are falling into place. In December, the Blu-ray Disc Association—which includes major manufacturers such as Sony, Panasonic, Philips, LG, and Samsung—announced basic technical specifications for a standardized 3D Blu-ray format file, including HD (1080p) resolution for each eye and backward compatibility with standard Blu-ray Discs. Expect to see a number of product previews for 3D video and games in January at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Improved Blu-ray postproduction gear is coming to market, too. In October, Pioneer started shipping its BDR-205, an internal 5.25in. Blu-ray burner that's the first to market with a claimed 12X write speed, which makes it more useful for post applications compared to pokey first-generation devices. With its $239 price tag, it's also priced competitively compared to earlier models.

New gear for production is coming to market, too. That's important since most of the available rigs have been heavy, complicated, high-end systems that added too much to a regular production's budget. In September, Los Angeles-based Technica 3D released a new 3D camera rig, Quasar, which it claims will make production simpler because it has an extremely light aluminum frame and doesn't need tools for camera alignment or mounting. Technica 3D says this reduces setup time to around 15 minutes instead of the usual hour for traditional 3D rigs.

The company also has developed add-in modules to automate stereo calculation. This is said to allow for a more intuitive approach, enabling the director or DP to control how much or how little the subject comes off of the screen, without requiring complex IO and CONV calculation techniques as in previous systems.

If rental houses can offer it, you know 3D is becoming more practical to produce too. New York-based Offhollywood, which rents Red Digital Cinema Red One camera systems and offers postproduction services, now stocks the Technica 3D rig, which is actually a product of equipment designer Element Technica. Offhollywood co-founder and owner Mark Pederson says that he went with the company's technology because it had already gained a good reputation for making top-quality accessories for Red One cameras.

Pederson, who says he is committing his company to becoming a leader in providing 3D camera systems, support, and post services, says, "The demand and interest in 3D is massive."

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