Issue: December 1, 2009


Studios that have ventured into the 3D stereoscopic business see a lot of potential. More and more newly-produced content is seeing 3D release, including animated features, which has become somewhat of a standard for stereo. Concert films are also a big attraction, and audiences don't seem to mind paying a premium for an experience that can't be duplicated at home... yet. 3D TV sets are coming, and content owners are going to need their archives updated for future revenue streams.

Rob Hummel

CEO of Post Production 

North America 

Prime Focus

Los Angeles


Prime Focus is a large post company in India, with 12 different locations. Two years ago, they acquired facilities in the UK, US and Canada. The studio recently introduced View-D, its proprietary process for converting 2D content into 3D.

STRENGTHS: "Prime Focus [is] really blessed with a bright guy in the form of Chris Bond, one of the founders of Prime Focus Visual Effects. Chris had an epiphany a few months ago: a way of converting 2D movies to 3D that is exponentially faster than any other process, and also yields a much better 3D version. This 'View-D' process creates objects that appear to have volume. We're optimizing it to get a pipeline where we can do three, four, five feature films at the same time. Suddenly it's not a frightening expense. It's something you can get your arms around."

WEAKNESSES: "The only weaknesses I see is if people exhibit 3D in substandard fashion. I believe 3D is currently enjoying its success because of digital projection. And I am afraid, if they go the film route and see problems that are filmic related, they are going to think it's a 3D problem. I worry about souring audiences on 3D because we are low-balling the approach to stereoscopic projection."

OPPORTUNITIES: "We offer a cost effective alternative to studios that want to migrate their 2D libraries and make 3D content available for these television sets that will all be available by Christmas of 2010. I am hearing that certain manufacturers want to bundle certain titles with their TV sets. So the studios see this as an opportunity. They feel that three-dimensional versions of classic film titles might help their sales. The general stumbling block has been that  it's just as expensive to convert a library title for home video as it is to convert a brand-new movie for theatrical release."

THREATS: "Problems with film prints. The need for silver screens for polarized projection."

OUTLOOK FOR 2010: "The box office this year is higher than it was last year. When the economy goes down, motion picture entertainment does well. I think with the 3D movies, the data suggests that they get higher box office. I don't think Schindler's List needs to be converted to 3D, but Polar Express should be; its 3D IMAX run was exponentially higher than the standard 2D release."

John Nicolard

Head of Digital Production

FotoKem Digital Film Services



FotoKem is a full-service facility providing post for feature film, television, advertising, restoration and special venue projects. To date, Fotokem has worked on a number of 3D features, including Hannah Montana and Jonas Brothers 3D concert films from Disney, New Line's Final Destination 4, Bold Films' The Hole, and Michael Jackson's This Is It.

STRENGTHS: "3D offers an additional significant creative tool to aid the storytelling process. In addition, 3D offers a unique theatrical viewing experience that cannot be achieved at that quality level in a home viewing environment"

WEAKNESSES: "There is currently a limited amount of exhibition venues, and ticket prices are increased for 3D movies. 

"There is also a shortage of rigs and trained crews to accommodate widespread production. And there are additional costs associated with 3D production and post production when compared to 2D. 

"The hardware/software for the home market will require additional consumer investment."

OPPORTUNITIES: "3D can change the basic existing viewing paradigm both theatrically and at home. The field is wide open for new business ventures or for existing companies to participate throughout the entire scope of required services.

"The glasses alone offer a huge marketing opportunity. The work we are seeing is for new productions — new movies, promotional material — there are all sorts of opportunities. The gaming world also is going to dive head first into 3D as well."

THREATS: "3D cannot make a bad movie successful. We need to make good movies and entertainment that is coincidentally in 3D. 3D content must be properly produced and posted. If it hurts to watch, then it's wrong. Anaglyphic product for the home is a sub-par viewing experience and widespread distribution risks offering the wrong impression of 3D's possibilities."

OUTLOOK FOR 2010: "We're very optimistic. There are a lot of projects that are gravitating toward 3D. I'm doing several bids a week and doing lots of tours and demos, so there's a lot of people interested. The more we do, the better pricing we can offer. I think that volume is going to be a great thing for 3D in general. More people will get trained. More equipment will be available. It will just get better and better. Our experience has been there are a lot of people who are looking to produce content, both in 2D and 3D. I think it's going to turn around and be a good year."

James Lawler


James Lawler Productions

New York


James Lawler is an independent filmmaker who recently produced Archangel, a seven-minute 3D short that will be used to attract financing for a feature-length 3D release.

STRENGTHS: "In terms of the business of filmmaking, studios have been able to command a premium for the 3D experience. Right now, audiences have been responding in such a way that studios can charge more for a 3D feature than they can for a 2D feature. People, so far, have given it a pretty strong vote of confidence in the market. The experience is worth more for certain types of films, than the 2D experience.

"From the creative standpoint, 3D done really well is beautiful. It heightens the feeling of actually being in the world being portrayed. And, when you are thinking about composing each shot, you are really thinking in terms of 3D. How are things going to work in three dimensions as opposed to two? And that's a very exciting process for filmmakers: to be able to operate in that space and think about the story in that way."

WEAKNESSES: "It's very easy to do 3D badly. It's fairly hard to get it right and unobtrusive. There's real artistry that's required. We've learned a huge amount in making Archangel as far as what shots are better to make than others. It's much more difficult for the eye and brain to process moving 3D images where there is a lot coming out at you. During the first 3D explosion in the '50s and '60s, all of these [films] were about things jumping out at you, and were slightly difficult to watch. With the 3D films that have been released recently, there's a lot less of that.

"Coraline, for instance... I think the 3D was really well done. It was all for specific narrative effect. It was not gratuitous. I think it's important for 3D filmmakers not to use 3D gratuitously, but to use it in a way for storytelling."

OPPORTUNITIES: "A lot of people are thinking of it as the next big revenue stream. There are home theater systems that are coming out that will allow 3D films to be seen in the home. There will be additional revenue from DVDs or Blu-rays that are marketed to those home theater systems.

"Kids are getting used to 3D. All of the animated kids' movies are in 3D. One interesting question will be: 'Will younger audiences expect the rest of the movies that they see to be in 3D going forward?' It's become a standard, and I think that's an interesting question that will be answered in time."

THREATS: "A big question is: 'Will audiences continue to support the additional cost of the 3D experience?' And not just the monetary cost. If you go to a theater, you have to put on glasses and sustain some level of discomfort. With 3D now, it's minimal. Your eyes adjust very well, but there is an inescapable [discomfort]. And that will always be true, no matter how good 3D gets. So much has to do with the way 3D is delivered to you. It's the system, and the systems are getting better and better. When you talk about 'threats,' I think that is going to diminish over time."

OUTLOOK FOR 2010: "Most people feel 3D is here to stay and is going to become more popular. I am optimistic. I definitely believe in the theatrical experience of seeing a movie in theaters. Even [though] it's easier and easier to get films online, global box office is really strong. I think people continue to validate the theatrical experience. 3D is another level to that. A 3D experience in a theater, on a big screen, is an experience that you really can't replicate to the same effect on a smaller screen. It's not the same. 3D, I think, will heighten the allure."

Leslie Ekker

Creative Director

Zoic Studios

Culver City, CA


Zoic Studios has facilities in Los Angeles and Vancouver, and offers editorial, design, film, TV and game services. The studio has contributed visual effects to V and District 9, as well as to commercials for Mountain Dew and Nissin Noodle.

STRENGTHS: "3D or stereoscopic imaging, as a form of visual communication, brings more than another dimension to our work. It opens the possibility for deeper emotional impact from close-ups and live performance footage. It creates stronger physical responses to action scenes that affect the viewer viscerally because [with high- quality material] the subconscious knowledge that, 'I'm just watching a movie' fades away.

"Exhibitors are finding that people are willing to pay higher ticket prices for 3D presentations, at least for the time being, until the novelty wears off. That novelty will remain for some years as creative artists and technicians learn to explore the vast potential of this added dimension. Taste, art and psychology will inform 

the best work, while the rest will fall into the seductive old trap of the gimmick.

"Advertisers are just beginning to jump onto this speeding train. The earliest stereo ads will begin to appear in theatrical venues and as promotional television/Web pieces in anaglyph [that unfortunate red/cyan color system]. The impact of 3D motion pictures on audiences is clear. Advertisers are just beginning to understand the marketing potential of that impact."

WEAKNESSES: "It will not be the first time 3D arrives as 'The Next Big Thing!' It has returned every generation to entertain us, with predictable results. 'Too expensive,' 'hard to watch', 'not good enough' and 'a gimmick' are all things we've heard, from the street and the office, every time it has returned. This time it will be different. The difference is technology.

"Some aspects of stereo presentation cannot change. The right eye still needs an image that differs from the left in precise and important ways. The images still need to be projected, transmitted, viewed on surfaces [for now] of many types. These are the baseline requirements. The variables are where technology is making a lasting difference. Innovation is affecting every step along the production path. Advances in camera technology are making it easier to build and shoot with twin-camera rigs, and eventually single cameras with adjustable stereo lens systems will become available. New technologies, improved post production pipelines and wider distribution networks are all opening the path to wider production.

"One of the biggest impediments to broad adoption of this new dimension is the presentation of 3D material. The vast majority of 3D presentation media still require the viewer to wear glasses of some kind. For many this is a problem. Eyeglass wearers, children, seniors and others with vision problems all chafe at the need for eyewear. Some systems, often used in post production, require expensive shutter glasses to sync with the video screen, while others use polarized glasses that cut the brightness of projected images by a significant degree. Several manufacturers are developing 'Free-View 3D' monitors that do not require the viewer to wear glasses, and some of these are remarkably effective for medium range viewing.  

"These sets will be coming onto the market soon, but their widespread adoption in homes is a question due to cost, and the dearth of material to watch on them! Digital cable systems, especially those fed by local area fiber, will begin offering 3D fare eventually, but demand — and homes with 3D screens — will have to be in place before they do. 3D-capable movie houses are multiplying fast.

"In January of this year, about 900 stereo [silver] screens were lit in the US. By the end of this year it will be 3,500. Many more are on the way around the world. Many foreign markets seem even more excited about 3D, perhaps because they missed the disappointment of previous iterations."

OPPORTUNITIES: "Many opportunities are created from new technologies. 3D gives much more visual information to the viewer, and that information will prove to be of great value to marketers, visual artists, musicians, sculptors, dancers, security personnel and, of course, pornographers.

"As we bring Free-View 3D screens into our homes and workplaces the opportunities will multiply. News broadcasts with background screens and foreground banners will expand into the room and behind our walls, allowing the skilled viewer — we will need to re-learn how to watch — to visually select information. Some systems may be able to detect where the viewer's eyes are focusing and deliver viewer-specific information to that set of eyes identified by image recognition software. 

"Entertainment will become more immersive and involving, eliciting a visceral response that will create memorable impressions. Travel and home decorating shows, action movies, personal dramas, live performances and others will be capable of creating compelling experiences for their viewers."

THREATS: "Stereo imaging will slowly spread into most image presentation media. Computers, cameras, phones, televisions, movie theaters, billboards, picture frames, digital 'books,' watches, point-of-purchase displays and devices we can't imagine will be hungry for content, and depend on innovation. It won't happen overnight. There will be an increasingly uneven balance between the 2D and the 3D.  

"Economic disparity may be the first manifestation of imbalance, with marketers and entertainers focusing on more affluent markets first, as they adopt earliest. Stereo material can generally be viewed on 2D screens without issue, and with only small losses of functionality in the near term. 2D sets however, cannot display 3D material. This transition period will last years, and may be an Achilles' Heel of sorts for television unless providers learn to retrofit older technology for the future. 

"Ultimately the biggest threat created by this new dimension and its technologies is to the old ways of creating content, and to the old content itself. Converting 2D into 3D is currently expensive, slow and sometimes impossible with today's pipelines. New techniques will have to be created — and are being developed — to make this process more viable.

"Taste judgments will become highly controversial, and purists will ensure the survival of traditional media in spite of the 'new and improved' formats. Recalling the arguments around colorization, this may be war!

OUTLOOK FOR 2010: "Studios are hoping 3D will be the attraction they need to lure viewers out of their living rooms and back into theaters. In those living rooms lies another reason to be cautious. Many households have recently spent thousands to upgrade from old-school TVs to larger high definition flat screen sets, with multichannel sound systems and plenty of content to watch on them. Persuading those consumers to shell out more cash for a new 3D-capable set will take years."