Getting Up To Speed On 3D

LOS ANGELES - As the old saying goes, "What's past is prologue" - and there's nothing that quite fits that bill technologically better than stereography, or as it's more commonly known, 3D.

3D enjoyed its first heyday back in the 1950s, and though its best-remembered examples are from the science-fiction genre - Creature From the Black Lagoon, The Mad Magician, House of Wax - its impact on mainstream cinema was great as well. Many '50s classics such as The French Line (starring Jane Russell), Miss Sadie Thompson (starring Rita Hayworth), Gun Fury (starring Rock Hudson), Money From Home (starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis) and Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M For Murder (starring Grace Kelly) were first shown to movie audiences in three dimensions.

But because of the need for specialized equipment - synchronized 35mm projectors and polarized glasses - and the difficulty of getting directors and camera operators up to speed on the process, 3D soon "burned out" and by 1955, polarized 3D productions were virtually gone.

The two main methods of presenting 3D on film are the polarization method, which projects two views of the same scene through polarizing filters, with the image "decoded" into realistic three dimensions by polarized glasses worn by the audience, and the more familiar "anaglyph" method, which tints each view of the scene with either a red or green (or blue) filter and superimposes both views onto one film strip, which is "decoded" by the red/green or red/blue glasses worn by the audience. In either case, the effect is as if one is looking at the scene through a window, rather than at a flat projection on a screen.

The video revolution also brought another form of 3D viewing: Field-sequential video, where the left and right frames of the stereo image are recorded in rapid succession on a single videotape (or, now, DVD) and "decoded" through the use of liquid-crystal "shutter glasses," which alternately darken one lens, then the other, in time with the left and right frames presented on the video, using a control box attached to the video or DVD player.

For adult, perhaps the best-known anaglyph 3D movie was The Stewardesses, released this week (see review elsewhere on this site), but there have been many more, including The Playmates, Love in 3D and Prison Girls - not to mention the nearly two-dozen field-sequential videos produced by the Vidmax Company. However, because the Vidmax movies required the "shutter glasses" viewing system, the concept never gained wide acceptance.

After 1955, virtually all 3D cinematic attempts including Jaws 3D, Amityville 3D and Friday the 13th Part 3D - are we seeing a pattern here? - used the inferior anaglyph method, which gave many viewers headaches, until with the advent of IMAX theaters, polarized 3D saw a resurgence, beginning in 1986 with the 20-minute featurette Transitions. IMAX also often uses the field-sequential shutter-glasses system.

Recently, 3D archivists have attempted to collect a full list of 3D movies produced since the first attempt, a 1915 short titled Jim the Penman.

Fast-forward to December 2008, when a group of independent production companies brought the two-day 3D Entertainment Summit to the Hyatt Century Plaza in Century City, CA, showcasing "a comprehensive understanding of the benefits, application and future of 3D to all forms of entertainment." Perhaps better still, Burbank-based 3ality Digital LLC brought the first live NFL 3D broadcast, the Oakland Raiders versus the San Diego Chargers, to movie theaters in Boston, New York and Los Angeles, and on Jan. 8, Fox Sports and 3ality Digital brought the BCS (Bowl Championship Series) college football championship game played in Miami, Fla. to 3D-HD-equipped projection screens at Paris Hotel theater during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, as well as selected theaters around the country.

Sadly, the first half of that game was marred, according to a report on Broadcasting & Cable's Website , with "static, fade-outs and loud popping noises," although the problems were attributed to satellite downlink equipment problems. However, no such problems were experienced at the 82 other theaters that carried the telecast.

According to one fan writing on the NCAA Football website , "pregame footage of Tim Tebow walking into the stadium was so lifelike I thought the big guy was coming to convert me personally... [T]he live action coverage needs some ironing out -- the cameras had trouble keeping up with the speed of the game, and the broadcast featured a lot of low-angled shots, meaning that while it felt like you were really on the field, you got the bad end of that too by missing a good view of plays on the near sideline ... But that replay. Wow. I'll forgive every minor transgression about last night's broadcast for those replays. Set from the point of view of the offensive and defensive backfields, the replays gave you a true sense of how plays develop. With the way the bodies were stacked and layered, you could see blocking assignments clear, zone defenses form, and routes develop. We've all heard the broadcasting cliche about a running back 'getting to the second level.' Well, with this technology, that second level is real, and you're on it."

At the AEE, just two companies specializing in 3D exhibited. Texas-based Glacier Media Systems is a new entrant to the market, using computer algorithms to create depth to flat video and still images using the shutter-glasses system - and while such conversions don't provide quite the life-like effects that genuine 3D source material can, its display still was impressive. The company doesn't plan to get into video production itself, but it can provide the post-production interlacing of left and right original video sources to created DVDs playable with the shutter-glasses system, as well as the hardware and wireless glasses necessary to see the 3D effect.

And of course, any producer who does decide to venture into the 3D realm will need 3D package art and point-of-purchase displays - and that's where BadBoy3D comes in. Trading on more than 10 years of doing 3D work for mainstream companies, CEO Bradley creates lenticular images - 3D you can see without the need for glasses - of nearly any size, from a DVD package insert up to the 5' x 4' dinosaur poster on display at the BadBoy3D booth. He's even created multi-panel lenticulars measuring 100' by 20', and could go even bigger - but for the moment, he'd settle for providing 3D package art and point-of-purchase displays.

Also announced at the AEE was Tommy Gunn's Cummin' At You Interactive 3D . Described as "the first in a series of new sterescopic 3D productions from PurePlay Media," the POV feature allows "complete freedom to view from either the male or female POV as you make choices for each phase of your adventure" - or viewers can let the built-in "adventure randomizer" choose which view will be displayed. And believe us, you haven't lived until you've seen Sindee Jennings squirt her juice right through the screen and into your face! (To do so, check out the movie's 3D website.) The disk includes an anaglyph version, which will be offered in a choice of two packages: A "basic package" including two pairs of cardboard red/blue glasses, and a "premium package" that will include professional grade glasses with plastic frames and superior plastic lenses - and also a field-sequential version for use with those who already have the shutter glasses or "glasses-free autostereoscopic displays." The movie will be released in early March.

One company that didn't exhibit this year was Real Interactive, whose owner, Robert Rudy, has spent the last year trying to interest both adult and mainstream production companies in what he believes is the future of the industry: 3D.

"I'm working with the movie companies, and they're doing 3D and they're hemming and hawing about putting up for putting 3D monitors as kiosks right in the movie theater," Rudy complained. "These guys are putting out 3D movies, and we're having to wrestle with them about spending more money, even though movies tend to be a little recession-proof."

And Rudy's definitely got the goods, including his own 3D video camera rig, though his newest "gadget" is a lenticular overlay on a 19 inch high resolution screen, which he demonstrated at the Venus show in Berlin, that will allow viewers to see 3D action on the tube without the necessity of 3D glasses.

"It was a seven-camera shot; it was killer," Rudy said of a 3D videogame demonstration that was the hit of Venus. "I had desks and chairs and everything flying through the air. It was awesome."

But when it comes to creating new 3D movies like his Reach Out And Touch Me series for WildLife Productions, the reactions Rudy's been getting from the other adult companies he's approached have been less than enthusiastic, since Rudy's lenticular-screened monitor is a bit pricey.

"[One producer's] take on that was, 'I can't even get them to buy an $18 movie. I'm not going to get them to buy a $600 monitor'," Rudy recounted. "I said, 'Look, I might be ahead of my time, but the guy that has the content, when the time comes, is going to control the content'."

So Rudy has decided to try a different tack: Convincing production companies to invest in 3D monitors for theater lobbies, but even there, he's meeting resistance. Still, he sees 3D as the future of both the mainstream and adult movie industries.

"The two main things they've accomplished with 3D are, they've gotten people back into the theater, and two, they've stopped bootlegging, because you can't boot it," Rudy summarized.

Yet several of the lenticular-faced monitors Rudy referred to were on display at the CES, and once the economy turns around, it's likely that more consumers will find a place for them in the home. And as more 3D video displays find their ways into department stores and other mall outlets, consumers will become more familiar with the idea of viewing content as if looking through a window rather than as two-dimensional images moving left and right on a flat screen.

Already, the television industry is rolling out demonstrations of what it can do, and in what's likely to be this weekend's most-watched TV show: The Super Bowl. Kiosks across the country are already giving out anaglyph glasses, though this time using a new system, ColorCode, which uses yellow and blue lenses, so millions of viewers can watch 3D commercials for PepsiCo's SoBe Lifewater and the DreamWorks Animation SKG movie Monsters vs. Aliens, which will be in theaters March 27.

Other upcoming 3D movies include Piranha 3-D, releasing July 24, and Final Destination 4: Death Trip 3D, releasing Aug. 21. Pixar Animation Studios' Up will show up on May 29; Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs 3D stomps onto screens July 1; Walt Disney Pictures' G-Force has trained secret agent guinea pigs on a mission to save the world beginning July 24; Astro Boy 3D will rocket to theaters in October; and both Toy Story films will see 3D versions in theaters over the coming months. Also announced in 3D are Christmas Carol, Planet 51 and James Cameron's sci-fi effort Avatar

That's a lot of 3D, and Hollywood is betting the public is ready for it - and considering the 3D systems on display at CES, they're also planning to deliver affordable home systems so viewers who liked the theater version can carry that enjoyment into their living rooms. That bodes very well for the adult industry getting down with 3D productions of its own - and who knows; Hollywood may discreetly lend some assistance to adult producers who are willing to make the 3D leap, since more 3D porn can only be beneficial to both sides of the hill.

Adult industry members who wish to learn more about 3D can subscribe to the Yahoo 3D discussion group at [email protected] . There are also several websites devoted to 3D, many of which can be accessed from the website of the National Steroscopic Association . Most major cities also have stereo (3D) clubs with knowledgeable members. The Stereo Club of Southern California meets monthly in the mid-Wilshire district, and the quarterly meeting of the club's 3-D Movie/Video Division will be getting together at 6 p.m. Saturday night at the Longley Way School, 2601 Longley Way, Arcadia, CA 91006. Admission is $5. (If you wish to attend, please RSVP to [email protected] .) Those who have more questions can email them to [email protected] . (Please include "3D" in the subject line.)