Archive for the ‘3D Projection’ Category

A modest proposal for 3-D projection

September 2, 2011

The efficacy of the stereoscopic cinema has been repeatedly questioned in the press in recent months. Those who follow the industry perceive that there has been a falloff in the stereoscopic portion of the revenue generating capability of recent feature films in North America. Various reasons have been given for this phenomenon, including poor quality conversion from 2-D to 3-D, poor quality films, and dim projection. I’m going to address the current projection situation with ideas for improvements. One thing to keep in mind is that most movies that get released don’t pay back their return on investment so why should 3-D movies be any different?

Questioning conversion quality is legitimate and there are both good and bad examples of the art. Similarly live-action 3-D cinematography quality is variable. The highest 3-D image quality is associated with CG animation.

It is generally accepted, by the press and by people in the industry, that stereoscopic projection is dim. I have several suggestions for how to go about improving projection brightness. Some of these suggestions will be perceived to be impractical. None of them would break the bank for exhibitors with existing installations. If only some of the suggestions are implemented alone or in combination we could more than double  the brightness of projected 3-D images.

It is a hellish tradeoff to ask people to accept a dim image that’s in 3-D over a bright image in 2-D. Few in their right mind would pick the 3-D image given this choice but that’s what theater-goers are being asked to accept.

The SMPTE standard for 2-D projection is 14 fL. (A special photometer aimed at the center of the screen when projecting clear leader for 35mm or a white field for digital should read 14 fL. to meet spec. ) The reason that we are accepting less brightness for 3-D projection is because it’s not easy to accomplish. But it’s not impossible. If 3-D movies were projected at 14 fL they would look great. I should point out that most of the time 2-D movies are probably not projected at the 14 fL standard but I surmise that it is pretty rare for the image to be in the realm of 3-D stygian gloom. The informal 4.5 fL goal for 3-D projection is a sad comment on the state of the art. If exhibitors want to give people a special experience that justifies the up-charge they need to have bright 3-D projection. Here are my suggestions for accomplishing that:

Screen size
Screen size has greatly increased over the years. I can’t prove it but I think it has doubled in the past half century. This is not the place to discuss the historical factors for this but is not uncommon for the front wall of theaters in a multiplex to be mostly screen even in a relatively small house. But a screen that is only slightly smaller can result in a great increase in brightness. Changing from a 40 foot wide screen to a 30 foot wide screen or from a 55 foot wide screen to a 40 foot wide screen will double brightness — all things being equal. Brightness is a function of area and a relatively small reduction in width can result in a large increase in brightness. The simplest and least expensive way for exhibitors to increase the brightness of stereoscopic movies is to reduce the size of the screen. This will seem like heresy to some of those who operate theaters but it’s a smart way to solve the problem. The audience will notice that the image is brighter but I think they won’t care that the image is a bit smaller.

Stop the detestable practice of running the lamp past its rated life. It still gives off light but its output falls of drastically with time of operation.

High gain screens
Exhibitors who’ve purchased Dolby or XPand systems, which don’t depend on polarization conserving screen which are also high gain screens, should not elect to stay with matt screens. They also need a high gain screen. They don’t need a silver screen but there are nonmetallic high gain screens that can increase the brightness by a significant factor compared to matt, something like 1.8 times. Even small theaters will greatly profit from such screens.

Projector choice
I’m now going to make myself an enemy of cost-conscious exhibitors all over the world. If you’re equipping a new theater for projecting stereoscopic movies get the brightest projector even for a small screen. I don’t mean the brightest projector for your screen size; I mean the brightest projector – which is also the costliest. I’ve been to too many theaters and screening rooms with small screens that are projecting dark 3-D images. You can’t spec the projector for 2-D and expect it to work for 3-D.

Scope projection
For 35mm scope is projected using an anamorphic lens. But scope in most digital cinemas is accomplished by means of cropping to get the wider aspect ratio. Cropping results in less utilization of the image engine and less brightness. My suggestion is that when projecting 3-D in scope exhibitors should use and an anamorphic lens to get the brightest image. This will be true for both top masking and side masking theaters.

To recap
I’ve given a number of suggestions for how the industry can improve the brightness of stereoscopic projection.
For a theater running Dolby or XPand products reducing the screen size and using a high gain screen could increase screen brightness by a factor of four. Polarization image selection systems like those offered by the MasterImage or the potentially very bright RealD XL system could also increase their brightness by the means described here. The RealD XL system can be very bright but practically it won’t be if it’s used in conjunction with a projector that is underpowered for that room, or with a screen that is too big, or with lamps that are run past their rated life.

Except for my suggestion for new theaters that they buy the brightest most costly projectors, every other suggestion could be accomplished for a relatively minimum outlay. The single most effective thing that an exhibitor can do is to project on a smaller screen and that would involve getting masking for the existing screen and possibly a new longer-throw lens. This could immediately double the brightness of projection. The other suggestions, such as getting a high gain screen won’t break the bank either. If only some of these suggestions are adopted by theater operators then in a matter of days we progress  from having a bleak stereoscopic cinema to one that is bright enough to justify calling 3-D movies a special event.

Transformed Cinema

June 22, 2011

Michael Bay is attempting to induce cinema operators to meet spec with 3D projection — like using lamps that aren’t spent.  I saw Bay and Cameron at Paramount on May 18 discussing 3D cinema projection and cinematography after showing clips of the new Transformers.  We are talking about the big theater on the Paramount lot and it was the best 3D projection I have seen in months and Bay’s 3D work looked great.

The system there is the XPand shuttering eyewear system on a big screen but what was used was not a true product and serves only to highlight the problems of stereoscopic projection.  In order to get decent brightness Paramount used two projectors and such a remedy is out of the question for neighborhood theaters. The eyewear dug into my nose — I was aware of them — but the ANSI image contrast is great and cross-talk is zilch.

I am bemused to recount that I was the leader of the design team that invented and manufactured the first IR linked shuttering eyewear, CrystalEyes.  The XPand eyewear are a direct descendant of CE I, the original model with non-folding temples.  They even use optically compensated pi-cells, which I also invented.  The StereoGraphics product was $1,000 and although heavier and a bigger than the XPand eyewear they were more comfortable.

Paramount should put in a silver screen and use the RealD XL projection system.  (I also helped to develop that but I have no interest in RealD.)  That would be brighter than the XPand double projector contraption and use but one projector.  Not sure the contrast would be as good, nor am I sure the cross-talk reduction would be as good, but on balance it would be a better experience with relatively unobtrusive eyewear.  Paramount, I think, wants to keep on with a matte screen because of color balance issues and also because side-seats will suffer in image quality.

The Green Lantern

June 20, 2011

I’ve just witnessed the implementation of a different theory of stereoscopic projection geometry — the Green Lateran Method. No floating windows but very large positive values of parallax. That gives more stereoscopic resolution in terms of pixel count, or as Buzz Lightyear would say: to infinity and beyond.  But the average value of positive parallax is in the “normal” range since lots of shots are flat as the proverbial board — or nearly so.  And curious that the villain in the film is named Parallax.  Or were they thinking more deeply about the subject than I can imagine?

It’s true that it’s a job of conversion and that process is much maligned.  However I do know of a successful example.  My sister-in-law Sara converted to Judaism.

Remembering Chris Condon

January 3, 2011

I was manning the Super 8 Sound booth at a tradeshow (the name of which escapes me) in the mid-70s in Los Angeles. Set up in one corner of the booth were two Super 8 projectors mechanically interlocked showing 3-D movies on a small screen.  As people came by they put on cardboard glasses to have a look. The movies had been shot with a Super 8 rig of my devising. (more…)

The Decline of the Stereoscopic Cinema

August 9, 2010

The Decline of the Stereoscopic Cinema

My concern in these columns has been the stereoscopic cinema, and secondarily stereoscopic television.  (By “television,” I mean that device that sits in your home that plays Internet protocol TV, cable channels with video on demand, discs, and home movies and —oh yes! terrestrial broadcasting.)  I’m looking at the August 4th Display Daily, which is sent to professionals in the display industry.  It’s published by Insight Media, and this latest column called “Pushing Back Toward the Ditch” was written by the boss of Insight Media, Chris Chinnock, a paragon of conventional wisdom.  In the past month there has been a significant pushback in the press with regard to the stereoscopic medium, and I have to hand it to Chris for summarizing the current print media climate and for bringing me out of hibernation, since this is the first blog (gotta love a word that rhymes with smog and hog) I’ve written in a month.  (more…)


June 19, 2010

The popular myth of the coming of the sound cinema is that The Jazz Singer was the decisive film.  It may have been an important moment, but if you read The Speed of Sound by Scott Eyman you will see that the story is more nuanced.  Today we have a candidate for the 3-D Jazz SingerAvatar.  (more…)


June 19, 2010

In 1980 or thereabouts, a change occurred to computer graphics technology.  It was an important one for me personally and for my company StereoGraphics because it allowed us to create stereoscopic displays based on raster graphics so useful for industry and science. Prior to that time high-end applications for computers outputted images that looked like wire frames or line drawings.  These were variously known as calligraphic, stroke or vector displays.  I remember playing an arcade game in 1981.  It was called “Tank Command,” and cast and crew on the set of Rottweiler Dogs of Hell at EO Studios in Shelby South Carolina got quite involved with it.  Between takes we played “Tank Command,” with its eerie green lines against a stygian background.  The farther away the object was, the dimmer were the lines – that was how depth was conveyed – that and perspective and relative size.   These displays had an electron beam that was steered to write lines on the inside of a green phosphored cathode ray tube and it built up an image that perceptually added up to one that didn’t flicker and appeared to be integral even though portions of it were written at different times.   (more…)


May 12, 2010

The future of the motion picture industry will be determined by the popularity of stereoscopic films.  This monstrous Caliban, ridiculed for decades, has been rehabilitated and taken to the bosom of the industry for the best of reasons; in the last few years a giant share of profit from motion pictures released in theaters has come from 3-D movies.  Although revenue is rising attendance is flat, and the additional revenue is attributable to stereoscopic movies.  This is good news for the studios, because DVD sales are plummeting and this makes up for that loss of revenue.  And it may well be that sales of 3-D Blu-ray disks are going to be a source of additional revenue.  So hooray for 3-D. (more…)


April 27, 2010

Five years ago when Disney decided to release Chicken Little in 3-D, they had to be thinking about a couple of things:  One, as a tactic, taking a movie like Chicken Little and releasing it in 3-D might be a good marketing approach.  It gave the studio something to talk about, and 3-D might create buzz.  Two, strategically, it was a way for the studio to further the cause of digital projection.  The studio hoped to accomplish two things:  Anti-piracy might be better enabled with digital; and digital distribution could reduce print cost.   (more…)


April 14, 2010

A third of theatrical release revenues since the opening of Avatar in December have come from a handful of 3-D films and when you consider that 125 features have been released in the same timeframe I’d say it’s all over but the shouting for 2-D. Call me bullish but the same pattern emerged when sound was introduced. Given that as background let us consider that the biggest source of revenue comes from the largest theaters with the biggest screens. So let’s consider the subject of the biggest 3-D screens.  (more…)