E-Cinema, Part 3: Adding a New Dimension
A filmmaker doesn't necessarily have to shoot in 3-D in order to show a movie in 3-D. Techniques exist for turning 2-D movies into 3-D features. A handful of Hollywood films have already re-released "Dimensionalized" content, and some big-name directors are considering the process for some of their past hits.
Dec 31, 2008 4:00 AM PT
Part 1 of this three-part series looks at the growth of 3-D movies and electronic distribution. Part 2 focuses on the technology found in the projection booth of a high-end 3-D movie theater. Part 3 explores the technology involved in adding a third dimension to regular 2-D films.
Despite all the attention being paid to the creation of 3-D films, the immense catalog of existing 2-D movies ready for 3-D conversion provides a massive market ripe for exploitation.
Techniques to convert existing 2-D images for 3-D presentation have existed throughout the entire history of 3-D, but few have been effective or even survived. However, today's combination of readily available digital and digitized source material along with relatively cost effective digital post-processing techniques has spawned a new wave of conversion products.
So far, though, the only legacy 2-D film that has been converted and re-released in digital 3-D is "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas," which Disney put out in October of 2006 in 168 theaters, grossing US$8.7 million. Disney reissued the film last October and plans to do so again in 2009.
In June 2006, IMAX and Warner Brothers released "Superman Returns," which included 20 minutes of 3-D images converted from the 2-D original digital footage. George Lucas has announced that he may re-release his "Star Wars" films in 3-D based on a conversion process from In-Three, a 2-D-to-3-D conversion company based in Westlake Village, Calif.
Organized in 1999 to pioneer research and development in stereoscopic reconstruction of two-dimensional images, In-Three developed and patented a process called "Dimensionalization" along with a suite of software called "IN3D" -- the "In-Three Depth builder" -- that make it practical to convert 2-D films into high quality, artifact-free 3-D films.
In-Three's innovative breakthroughs caught the attention of producer/director James Cameron's Earthship Productions, which called upon In-Three to Dimensionalize clips that appeared in Cameron's 2005 underwater IMAX 3-D documentary "Aliens of the Deep."
At the time, Cameron had this to say about the conversion process: "Though I still love 3-D original photography, the technical solution provided by In-Three was a welcome addition to our palette of stereo film-making tools."
Speaking at the 3-D Entertainment Summit held in Los Angeles earlier this month, Cameron modified his earlier assessment of the process, remarking to the audience that "I don't get it" in reference to post-production 2-D-to-3-D conversion.
David Seigle, In-Three president and CEO, said that he understood Cameron's attitude.
"Jim has had years of experience understanding how to use the complex geometry, optics and mechanics of dual cameras so he can operate within shooting's constraints to get good results," Seigle told TechNewsWorld. "Other directors and producers we talk to haven't had this learning curve and don't want to work within the dual camera constraints. As a result, our approach is a welcome addition to the palette of options they have. That's why our 'Multiple Method Approach' to 3-D content creation is so appreciated."
In-Three will Dimensionalize George A. Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" to stereoscopic 3-D for a planned theatrical release. The project to convert the 1978 indie horror flick into 3-D is expected to be completed within a year. In-Three Dimensionalized the "Star Wars" 3-D demo clip that first screened at ShoWest in 2005.
Conversion of legacy material using the process starts at about $50,000 per minute and can reach more than $100,000, depending on the complexity of the imagery in terms of visual effects and other elements.
"We are seeing interest now that people realize there will be sufficient screens to justify the cost," In-Three senior account manager Damian Wader told TechNewsWorld.
Developing Dimensionalization and IN3D
The painstaking development of In-Three's core technologies unfolded only gradually over time, according to Seigle. The company began as a small, several-person R&D group and worked for several years implementing and testing its ideas and then patenting the proven results. After this period, it took a five-man team a full year to re-architect and re-implement the original code to incorporate all that the company learned into a productive environment.
"Early on we knew generally how to implement Dimensionalization to be able to convert material from 2-D to 3-D," Seigle explained. "However, it took a many months and many sessions working with studio personnel to understand how to produce 'studio quality' 3-D. The results of this interaction have been very gratifying, because we can compete with stereo shooting and be competitive in both quality and cost. Until we worked closely with prospects and customers, we really didn't know all that we had to do in order to get the job done right."
In-Three software, according to Seigle, totals less than 250,000 lines of code.
In-Three operates in a Windows environment using C++ and Open GL (Open Graphics Library), a 3-D graphics language developed by Silicon Graphics
C++, an object-oriented version of C that has been widely used to develop enterprise and commercial applications, is one of the most popular programming languages for graphical applications and is widely used or creating large-scale applications.
OpenGL is the computer industry's standard application program interface (API) for defining 2-D and 3-D graphic images. Along with Direct3D (Microsoft's DirectX), OpenGL is the major 3-D graphics language in use today and is the popular standard for rendering 3-D images. All high-end 3-D display adapters include OpenGL drivers.
IN3D brings several resources to the creation of live action 3-D content. Fast modeling software allows programmers to efficiently create shaping and depth in a movie clip. It also provides the means of storing all the depth and shape data as metadata (data about data that documents data about data elements or attributes).
"This allows us to change a scene's depth in real time and under the direction of a director or stereographer to ensure that depth proportions are correct and to maintain proper depth proportions shot to shot," said Seigle. "We do this without creating any discomforting disparities that you see in most shot material. That is why many people who see our work tell me that after watching it they forgot it was 3-D and just enjoyed the story."
Seigle said that In-Three software is unique in that the company's approach is to deal with each object in a scene from the perspective of what developers want viewers to see if they happen to look at an object.
"Therefore, an audience can savor the experience of 'being there' when shown our work," he said.
In contrast, some programs use a dual-camera paradigm to render left/right eye views, which forces certain constraints. One is that getting the depth correct for one object may involve not getting it correct for another object. CG stereographers using "perfect" dual virtual cameras correct for this by using several virtual dual camera rigs and compositing the scene fragments together afterward.
"And there are other companies that tend to focus on other niches," Seigle said, referencing DDD Group in Santa Monica, Calif., which has a patented "Dynamic Depth Cueing" (DDC) technology that enables conversion of existing film images for display in stereo 3-D.
"DDD, for example, produces software that can be embedded in chips and used to convert some implicit depth cues to depth. This gives a semblance of 3-D and can be effective sometimes on handheld devices," Seigle explained. "I know of no company, however, that has created a factory for taking 2-D in one side and sending 3-D out the other. That's what we do."