Archive for the ‘Stereoscopic’ Category

The Velvet Curtain

September 19, 2011

One summer day in 1982 in a giant harshly lit too air-conditioned hall Lhary Meyer and I stood in front of a dark blue velvet curtain adorned with a large sign reading StereoGraphics Corp.  We stood behind a similar dark blue velvet cloth draped over a tabletop covered with our demonstration gear featuring a 19-inch CRT monitor that was big and murderously heavy to pack and unpack and to schlep especially in its godzillan case. We had the smallest booth money could buy and no seniority so we got stranded in a corner away from the main Siggraph action. We didn’t know it but we were showing flickerless 3-D images and the antecedent of CrystalEyes, the foundations of the electronic stereoscopic industry.  We were demonstrating tethered visors with electro-optical shutters through which one could see a stereoscopic image on that big monitor with a small screen.  Getting decent quality demo images was not easy because we did not have customers so we had to scrounge for stereopairs from contacts all over the country; we had stereoscopic weather maps and a random assortment of still images.

Lhary, our vice president of technology, was the first employee of StereoGraphics; there were only five or six of us then. Lhary (his spelling) was a good electronics designer who was self-taught without having gone to college.  He had been the youngest engineer to work at the ABC radio network responsible for the cross country feed. Lhary had a calm disposition and sonorous voice and he wore thick tortoiseshell glasses; although I do not think Lhary and I looked alike people would often mistake us for brothers.  The glasses and the beards were enough; just a couple of hippie anarchists spreading the gospel of 3-D.

We were alone in the hall; that is to say there were no other stereoscopic displays. Lhary and I waited for people to stop by and tell us what they thought of our wares.  Not all of them were polite; a number of people would say things like 3-D! ha! ha! pretty good for pornography or maybe you should have a giant gorilla sticking its hand out of the screen.

No matter what kind of crap was on display in the hall I cannot believe that it was greeted with outright disdain, disbelief, incredulity, and hostility; those reactions went on for years.  But after Silicon Graphics and Evans and Sutherland adopted our products we eventually had a large booth and because of the years of standing behind little tabletops we had seniority so our booth was adjacent to the likes of Silicon Graphics and Sun Microsystems. The mockery ceased. At one time I counted 40 booths in the hall at Siggraph featuring our products.

We looked like one of the big player, and in fact we had enabled a significant industry whose revenue could be reckoned at a few hundred million but we were only a $5 million company.  That was because many people were selling hardware and software-based on our products but we were considered to be a computer peripheral and we could not figure out how to properly monetize the value of our technology.

Lhary died a few years later but he did live long enough to see us gain acceptance.  I did scores of tradeshows after Lhary was gone but persistent into the beyond he stood next to me and calmly answered questions. Now the technology we developed is in use not only for cinemas but also in the home.  A couple of years ago I thought acceptance had come.  The stereoscopic medium was saving the film industry!  There were going to be 3-D TVs in every home! But now I am having bummer flashbacks behind the velvet (probably velour) tabletop once again flinching because of the barrage of articles in the press decrying the stereoscopic medium. It’s a seemingly unending stream of complaints about 3-D movies and television. The movies are dark, conversion is no good, the movies aren’t making money, 3-D TV is DOA because of the need for glasses and no content.

Today when I read what the skeptics have to say, so outspoken in their loathing of the technology, I have visions of the brothers Lhary and Lenny, standing in front of the velvet curtain, taking it on the chin for 3-D.

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.

Lamps
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…)

Dark Country — An Interview with Thomas Jane

August 28, 2010

This unedited interview was recorded a couple of years ago at the Shanghai Grill in Beverly Hills.

LL:  What gave you the idea of shooting a 3-D, I’ll call it a horror movie?

TJ:  Let’s call it a thriller.

LL:  It’s a thriller.  Because “horror movie” is wrong.  Today it means gore.

TJ:  Yeah, this is much more…  a psychological thriller.  And the idea of exploring some psychological issues in the vein of film noir, where the heroes are typically conflicted psychologically and are working out some deep personal issues… For me, shooting the film stereoscopically was an allusion…  The depth in the picture gave me a chance to explore depth in filmmaking.  In other words, I felt like I could heighten the symbolism that’s inherent in the dreamlike narrative of film noir, with a heightened sense of depth and using the visuals in a way that would cast them in relief, bring some of the visuals to the foreground, and allow me to explore psychological issues in a visual way.  (more…)

THE FILM FROM HELL

August 25, 2010

The first money my new company StereoGraphics made in 1981 was from my consulting fees working on a 3-D movie called Rottweiler: Dogs from Hell.  Chris Condon, the president of StereoVision International (which was a Burbank-based supplier of stereoscopic optics for the motion picture film industry), and StereoGraphics formed a venture called Future Dimensions, in which I would help market his line of lenses and provide consulting expertise.  (more…)

The Dreams of Childhood

August 15, 2010

I saw the first CinemaScope movie The Robe, which was billed as “3-D without glasses” at the Loew’s Pitkin.  It was three-dimensional in the sense that it had the usual monocular depth cues, but it wasn’t stereoscopic.  At that time the public, the press, and the marketing people used the term “3-D” to denote stereoscopic movies.  CinemaScope had a wider picture that could involve peripheral vision and for sure required a different kind of composition.  It was a simplified version of Cinerama which required three projectors which were out of the question for normal cinemas.  I was dumbstruck by the panorama and splendor of  The Robe; I loved seeing Richard Burton and Jean Simmons striding off through the clouds to the Christian heaven created by Jewish business men.  I haven’t seen the movie in years, but I know it has a plodding pace and shots whose long duration is exacerbated by their proscenium arch composition.  At that time the industry believed that rapid cutting or close ups in the Scope format just could not work and would be disorienting.  It’s the kind of caution advocated today for 3-D cinematography and post.  Long or medium shots and little or no panning were the order of the day, but forward camera motion was acceptable since it mimicked the roller coaster section of This is of Cinerama. (more…)

AT THE MOVIES I

August 11, 2010

The first clear recollection I have of going to the movies was with my mother going to the Ambassador Theatre on Saratoga Avenue in Brooklyn.  I was three or four years old when I went to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. (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…)