FLASHBACK: DLP Cinema introduces 3D

In light of the recent official announcement from Lucasfilm that all six Star Wars films will be released in 3D starting in 2012, we’ve decided to take a look back at an event at ShoWest on March 17, 2005, where George Lucas first announced toying with the idea.  This piece first appeared on the World Enteractive website April 3, 2005.

This event, featuring Texas Instruments DLP Cinema’s Doug Darrow, along with filmmakers George Lucas, Robert Zemeckis, Randall Kleiser, Robert Rodriguez, and James Cameron  was recorded by Joseph L. Kleiman and transcribed by Jennifer Rajchel.  Certain portions of the transcript have been edited for content and continuity.  This transcript is strictly of the press event, and due to restrictions on recording, does not cover the actual presentation preceding the press event.  Special thanks to Molly Mulloy and Doug Darrow of Texas Instruments DLP Cinema.  Transcript © 2005 Joseph L. Kleiman

DARROW: Thanks everyone for joining, we’ll take open questions from the audience

Hi there, is In-Three, is that the company’s name?


Is that the company that’s basically going to be doing most of the conversions or are there a lot of companies that have this technology?

LUCAS: Well right now I think that’s the only company that has this technology, cause a we’ve been working with them on Star Wars.  I know they’ll be the ones doing Star Wars.  IMAX has their own process that they’ve been working on for a few years, and then there’s also the CGI movies that are a obviously like a Bob’s where it’s a record in 3-D; then there’s Jim’s where it’s shot in 3-d so you have a variety of ways to get to 3-D content .

CAMERON: Bob was saying he decided  8 months before the release to do 3-D.

ZEMECKIS: We didn’t know a when we er  when we decided to do it in 3-D. We didn’t plan on beginning to do it in 3-D- which is the beauty of doing the movie virtually, because a my intention was to do a 2-D movie and going out and process everything is 3-D; so it really was very simple ultimately to make it 3-D. Um so yeah that’s why. And the thing about polar express is it’s a it’s a great 3-D experience and a great 2-D experience.

We’ve a been using the number for retro fitting theatres, about a $100,000 -120,000 per theatre to go digital, I don’t know what is it to start out fresh um but a what… In terms of conversion from 2-d to 3-d,  what kind of economic model are you looking at? How much how expensive is it to convert a 2-D movie?

CAMERON: Um I think there’s no simple answer to that. It could it could be zero if you’re a theater owner, depending on the business models that are used. But maybe a 3-D service provider comes in, and does the retrofit for you against the first dollar off a release you know as a premium ticket price or a commission; but um in terms of hard cost you’ve got …let’s say, we’re putting in a screen the size of a silver screen- remember this is not a silver screen size – but if you chose to use disposable glasses and you went with a silver screen the glasses would cost one thing, the screen would cost you know 6-7,000 dollars; then you got some server costs um the server has to be a two channel server to support the stereo, and it’s not clear right now if it’s going to be the board or upgrade a server that’s already sitting in a digital mod, or whether it’s going to be a different server that swaps out with that server- which you still got the residual value of the server that you bought or such upgrade costs. That might be you know what that might be what  $5-10,000 you know something like that. So these are not trivial numbers, but they’re not crazy numbers either. So a for let’s say 15 thousand dollars, you can probably convert a theatre- maybe it’s a little higher, maybe it’s a little lower, but I think that’s a good working number for right now.


From a filmmaker’s point of view, if you were going to convert an existing 2-D movie to 3-D, what are you looking at what are you looking at in terms of…

CAMERON: For a filmmaker to make a movie into 3-D?


CAMERON: Depends if you shoot it with the intention of making it 3-D- like we shot movies that way so you can show 2-D or 3-D, or you can do it in post or with props just like in 3-D. Those props will just keep going down, and it kinda depends on the movie and the complexity of the movie. Um the advantage to doing a  movie like Star Wars is, you already know it’s going to do well, so whatever it’s going to cost is nothing to what you’re going to make back. It’s a real no-brainer to make some of these big event movies 3-D.

LUCAS: It’s in the low millions, I mean ya know five or less. Also, what you were saying about digital cinema the current business plan in digital cinema now is the cost of the theatres aren’t much more than the cost they are already paying to put in digital advertising; it’s very very level to equip a digital theater with a digital projector and what not.


Hi George, I’ve a two part question- actually.. 


(Microphone is grabbed by another Journalist)

For Mr. Cameron, Did In-Three do the conversion we just saw from Titanic?

CAMERON: I think you’re asking about the scenes from Titanic that were in the film? Those are not the scenes from Titanic. Those are the scenes from Ghosts of the Abyss, and what we’re doing there for that film is, we’re reenacting in 3-D some of the historic moments from the sinking of Titanic. In some cases, we use um a plate shots that were done before the movie for the deep background, and shot 3-D foregrounds of the plaza; so there what you’re seeing is hd 3-d foreground and a 2-d film background with the lighting matching. I think it worked fine.  (pause)  You know, if we  were going to do Titanic as a 3-D title with the conversion process, we would do it that way – with guys sitting at work stations.


Hi George. This is a two part question- what is the big difference or what is the process between taking an older 35 mm film and putting it into this realm, as opposed into a new digital- something that’s completely digital?

LUCAS:  If you saw what we did, we had one from Attack of the Clones -which is the first you saw- that is completely digital filmed with digital effects, and then the other original Star Wars -which was completely on film, no digital whatsoever- and the process itself in terms of costs and time is about the same.

But do you scan the negatives?

LUCAS: You have to scan it frame by frame, and they have to work on it in the workstations frame by frame.


I know this is something I shouldn’t be asking- I know you want people to into theaters, but do you think that somewhere down the line, even if it’s years down the line, this might make it’s way into people’s homes?

LUCAS: Sure. I mean it’s inevitable. It will probably make into the homes for video games before anything else.

Is Revenge of the Sith going to be available in 3-D format when it comes out on some screens?

LUCAS: We tried, and we’re working on it. But it’s still a little early in the process for us to meet all our dates and still do that.

Okay, thanks.


I have question for George Lucas- What exactly is the qualitative difference between the IMAX projection, and the projection we saw here today? And if so, what the qualitative difference might be? And then Mr. Cameron, I was wondering if you could give us a little more detail about your next film?


LUCAS: Well, the difference is, that the IMAX screen is gigantic; it’s just a huge beautiful image. And listen, you know, I love IMAX, and it’s absolutely absolutely fantastic. Um the difference is in the screen size- the amount of digital detail that it can see in this image as opposed to as apposed to film or even the IMAX film

ZEMECKIS: My opinion, in my information, is they’re a pretty much the same. We projected in a quite a few premières of Polar Express, the movie in 2-D digitally, and this is actually, in my opinion, a lot more dynamic and a lot sharper. But that’s great image to begin with, and so this just comes out at you. I mean that’s what happens um you get to see a lot more detail.


CAMERON: I think its equivalent so that’s me.  I think the difference is you have 50 IMAX 3-D theatres, and you can have 1,000 of these. The other thing is an IMAX print of a feature-like film costs you 60,000 dollars, and a digital master on this would cost a couple hundred; so the economics of it make an awful lot of sense to be doing this. You’re going spend these millions of dollars: whether it’s the millions additional it costs you to shoot it 3-D, if you’re shooting action photography like we’ve been doing, or if it’s millions of dollars to covert a film and dimentionalize an older film into 3-D, or if it’s the cost to take a CG animated film that you’re making anyway to turn that into a 3-D film. You’re going to spend that money. You’ve gotta have places to play the film. And a far from it being the demise of IMAX 3-D, I think it’s going to be a Renaissance for them, because of they’ve been starved for a product for so long. As of a couple of years ago, maybe even as a last year, there were I think 16 titles in the format by IMAX 3-D.

RODRIGUEZ: 16 titles that’s crazy.

CAMERON: Yeah, there should be thousand.  Well I guess, there must be theatres out there, but if studios get excited about making 3-d products for everyone, then you will have hundreds and eventually thousands, and people will seek out that giant screen, that IMAX experience.  I think it’s terrifically advanced, the same way they sought it out on the Matrix for 2-D, you know they could have seen it in their local multi, but they drove across town- that will still take place. You know the people want this experience. There’s something close, but they just can’t see it in IMAX.You know, first visually, I think it’s equal, but that’s me. As for my next film, Battle Angel, we’re pretty excited; it’s a science fiction film. We’re going to be blending live action, and cg the way that Robert did in Spy Kids– we’re going to shoot actors- although in a sense it’s reversed- we’re going shoot real sets with cg characters, and some some a live action actors with cg sets. It’s going be a real mix and match; we’re going to take you into that world of 3-D-hopefully it will all be terrifically exciting.


LUCAS: One last thing I have to add to that, you know all this discussion about quality. The real issue with quality, with digital and movies is, is it better than film, is not better than film? You know, the 4K vs. the 2K thing. To ask, is it efficient, is it a good enough quality that audiences will notice, and that is, what it comes down to. Right now a with digital- and my new movie is completely digital- is a looks the same as movie looks the same as film. You can’t tell the quality difference, and the audience can’t. In a lot of cases, the story has a lot more to do with it, rather than the actual cinematic quality. A lot of people degrade the image to make it grittier, dirtier, more grainy- to make it the particular way that they want. But when you’re talking about quality of the image, everything we’re talking about, whether so whether it’s 2k or 4k, it’s digital, it’s all sufficient. Whether it’s 3-D IMAX or little screen- it doesn’t matter if the quality is good, and it’s good across the boards. Most people can’t tell the difference.

First off, I’d like to just say when I first saw the image I awestruck on how clear it was, and how it was like seeing Star Wars for the first time. I was lucky enough to watch the presentation twice, and the first time I saw it from the back in the center, and the next time I saw it over here in the corner. The one thing that kind of struck me is you know the initial burst with the Star Wars font that kinda trailed off into the vanishing point? When I was back there, it was here, and now the vanishing point and the letters went off in that direction. Is there anything you can do or a just get to the theater earlier?

LUCAS: Well, this theatre is a wide short theatre, most theatres are long and narrow, but a we haven’t seen a way that we can solve it. More importantly, you see it’s an individual experience. 

RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, um it is really a wide theatre this way, and the screen is bigger than you would have in a regular theatre, so to see this throw is still from single projector to 3-d, and still working and is what’s remarkable about it. Because a regular theatre wouldn’t be this strange size, and you would have an even clearer image.

I just have couple of questions for .. and the … up here um… I think the digital way is the way to go, I mean we had film for a long time- about a 100 years- and it’s time to change. My main question, how are we going to get these digital projectors into these theaters? How we gonna do this?

CAMERON: We’ve been working on this very very hard, and I was making statements a while back that I would release my next movie in a thousand theatres. We didn’t quite make it , but we came very close. January deadline we had to put this thing together, it has boils down to the business model, and getting people to buy into the business model. Technology, everything, is all there now, and the business model is down to where it really doesn’t cost anybody anything to do this. It’s not, I mean in terms of real money, its not $100,000 a theatre. We’re talking now, way low figure, so a you know it’s the damage about the burst. I think that’s what these guys… I mean what everyone realizes is there’s a lot of advantages is that people aren’t seeing- 3-D being one of them.  I think this will be enough, hopefully, to push it through.

LUCAS: One thing I don’t think people are focusing on, is when you have digital projection you don’t have to a source of the spot reflection from two years ago. It could be live, you know, and this 3-D images that you’re seeing up here- except for the visual shots that obviously take a lot of time- but stuff that’s a live shot that could be live. You know, that could be coming from Beijing, or it could be coming from Europe, or it could be coming form the Olympics, or from stage presentation of, you know, a concert; so it offers a lot of ways for cinema owners to advertise the cost of the installation, as well, ways that they can put a film based projector. It turns those theaters into something else a gathering place, especially as time goes on, and we’re gonna fly less and less around the world and become less a of a global village, because of security concerns and that sort of thing. This can be something that will combine us all together, and so this is more than a cinema model- this is live these 3-D images that are live – digital cameras and the projection is digital. So, it’s pretty astounding what’s possible right now.

DARROW: I think it’s important to note that what we’re faced with, is an industry that’s never had to change the technology for showing pictures, and what we can say now is there isn’t quality issue. But there is a standardization issue, because for studios that have agreed on a standard for digital cinema, and there really isn’t a cost issue any more because a the models that are being worked on can be supported by the cost of the equipment that exists as it is today is today, so we really are in the verge of getting there. The gentlemen to my left, are the ones that decide what the quality level is, and I think you’re hearing today, and for the last couple years, that we are there. This is simply about the fundamental economics-  to make the studios and exhibitors work together, and I think we’re close to that.


Robert, I want to say it was a treat to see your film in a format other than anaglyph -it was nice.

RODRIGUEZ: Me too, and like I said earlier, some of the stuff we shot, we just make because we want to, and hope the technology will catch up.

My question is, a few of you out there have been involved in film-based attractions, and we know that right now DLP cinema, I’m sorry DLP products are actually becoming the standard for 3-D based attractions. Are we going to see you go back and, for instance, for Terminator or even Star Wars or Star  Tours, pardon me, go ahead, and change that to a DLP 3-D projection system?

CAMERON: I see the point of torture pretty well for what it is. You know, if we were starting one from scratch today, we’d absolutely do it digitally- there’s no question we’d shoot and project it digitally.

KIESLER: I just filmed Honey, I Shrunk the Audience for Disneyland. It’s projected on a 70mm. but can easily be switched um to DLP.

LUCAS: There’s talk about an upgrade to Star Tours, and if that happens, it will be digital- it won’t be the old system.

I was talking to a lot of theatre owners, and one of their big concern about going digital- this is a kind of general impression kinda question- their sense of the whole industry going digital will speed up all the transmission directly into the home, all the things that go directly into people’s homes, and as home theatres get more sophisticated, that all that will happen with the digital revolution is that they will –it will speed up the moment when they go out of business. I heard that from quite a few people.

LUCAS: Well, umm that’s an issue that isn’t going to make any difference to what they do then. They can be the last ones to have digital, and if everyone else wants it delivered to their home, then that’s their thing. The movie theatre experience is not the experience you have at home; the movie theatre experience is a social experience. Humans are social animals. I don’t think that’s something they should be afraid of at all. Whether or not we’re going to have the same number of theatres…hopefully, we’re going to have hard quality theatres with hard quality presentations. Ah and that’s going to be more and more important. I’ve always been pushing high quality sound, I’ve always been pushing high quality images, and we’ve proven over the years-ever since the first Star Wars -that highest quality theatres are the ones to do the most business- given the same film. But you know, people go and sit out in the freezing cold and snow, and watch the Green Bay Packers. For God sakes, when they could be watching it at home. What is that? You know, they still fill up stadiums. People want that social experience; they want to sit next to a human being they want to cheer all at once, they want to laugh all at once, they want to have their popcorn, they want to be able to talk about the movie when it’s over, and go have dinner. It’s like the opera. Opera didn’t go away, ballet didn’t go away. Ballet was designed primarily for a social experience. Nobody ever watched the dancers. They just looked at each other, and talked about each other. Now, ballet is elevated to an art form, but basically it was just a social gathering. In the end, that’s what movies are, and that’s never gonna go away- never ever. People are not going to vote to sit and watch something at home, when they could go a group of people. I mean some people will ,but I think that eventually films will be day and date- they will be released on the internet the same day they are released in movie theatres. But, the movie theatres will still be full. But I think people will still want to go and enjoy their experience on the giant screen with a lot of other people.

CAMERON: How about I add to that.I think George is right, but I think it’s also important for theatre owners to think about ways that they can be shoulder- ways that they can attract people to the cinema when they do have competition from HG large screens at home. Early access is about the only advantage that they have ever had, but the stereo experience that you saw here today, is something that will not be in homes initially.  That’s something you got to go to the theatre to see. You know, I think this is going be as profound a change in the cinema in the actual cinema watching experience, as color was in 1929 -1931 and was a sound -when sound first came along- 38 36? So we haven’t had  a major revolution in a long time, and Doug [Darrow] said that theatre owners hadn’t had to think about technology in a long time – I think they do need to think about it. I think they are under attack for rapid access- they’re under an attack for piracy. You know the ticket dollar is going to get eroded, if they don’t do something think of a damn good way to do something about it. Not only because you can make the experience of theatre so much better, but because of the other ways you can monetize the investment of that technology.

LUCAS: One thing that when were selling THX sound systems we were trying to convince the theatre owners, that this is very important, that you really have to upgrade the quality of the sound –which  had been developed when sound came out in same speakers same technology.  They haven’t changed, and we said this is the out of date. You can go to anybody’s home, and turn on their stereo and you can go to anybody’s car, and turn on their stereo, and you can get better sound than you’re getting in a movie theatre. We said you’ve got to make it better than  at home or when you’re in the car. And some people got it, and other people didn’t. People can be at home and watch it on the big screen with fabulous sound, and you say we’re not going to compete with that; we’re going to have lousy, sound lousy, picture lousy scratches. You know we’re going to compete with them- that way that doesn’t make sense .

RODRIGUEZ: It really is hard for me to go to movie theatres now. I’m so used to such clear picture at home with clear DVDs, then you go for the actual experience, and the film comes up, and you think you’re watching Nickelodeon – with things scratching and jumping around. You’re like what?! What is this I paid ten bucks for this? This thing just got here, it’s opening day, and it’ll be in the theatre for ten weeks. So I think people are really seeing the difference between their home experience and theatre. It’s gotta be better, otherwise why are they hauling their butts out there?

LUCAS: We’re rooting for the theatres. We want the theatres to win. That’s why we’re here.

I have a question for the film makers here. As soon as 3-d picture does come in do you know that the pictures are going to be changed. Is There is going to be more CG, more technology do you see a change in that?

CAMERON: I think the studios are running scared from 3-d filmmaking. But yeah, I think that if we prove a market for it, if we can really demonstrate consistency. The audiences are going to seek out that experience, to pay for it, and then 3-D movies are making more than 2-D movies- then yeah.  I think there’s gonna be a start to trend in that direction. You know, there are a lot of market forces where I see a lot things happening. There will be more 3-D theatres put in, more filmmakers will say “Yeah I want to learn that too. I want to play, I want to learn that- that way of making films, then come up with my own aspect.” That’s the thing, I mean what I do is it different from the way George is doing it, and the way Bob Z’s doing is different. Sorry, Randall, I haven’t seen yours, but I’m assuming it’s different, because everybody comes up with their own way of doing it; that stuff is fun. It’s fun to discover what you can do with a whole new dimension in filmmaking, and I think there are aesthetic changes- it’s not going to be sleeping you know, all changes are going to look different. Filmmakers are going to discover new things with this technology,  just the way they always do . They way they did with CG, when it first came along.

LUCAS: All art is constantly transforming, do to the pushing of the artist, and the pushing of technology. But again, you’re talking about the general film- this is a wild group to talk to, because we’re the ones that don’t listen to people who tell us what to do. Once we get 3-D, we’re the ones that will go back to silent movies.

Once the 3-D places, a lot of classic movies are going to be released?

KLEISER:Uh I saw it in IN-THREE’s reel. They had Casablanca,  and they also had a clip from  my film, Grease, so I think people will comeback to see all those old films again.


Do find you’ll be able to shed the glasses?

LUCAS: I think that in the foreseeable future large projection will always require glasses. In the home at the consumer products level, it’s able to see small screens without glasses right now. The technology exists for laptop- size screens right now, and it’s maybe even  the size of a forty inch living room  for a small screen to see it without glasses. But the consumer electronic companies are going to have to see that there’s a market for this stuff ,before they’re going to make these devices for us. So that’s gonna lag behind, but that’s okay, I don’t mind the lag behind. We want to give you something special in the theatres to  begin, and make it’s way back to home.


Which 3-D DVD movie can you sell first?

Can you recall, each one of you?


DARROW: I think mine was Jaws 3-D.

CAMERON: Andy Worhol’s Flesh for Frankenstein.

With all this talk bout the demographics of the audience for the IMAX 3-D, now in the Los Angeles area- where there are about a half a dozen IMAX 3-D theatres- are these mainly young kids, around the age of 2, going  to see the released films when they come out in IMAX? How does it work? Are there older people who find the experience too intense? Llet’s talk about that a little, is some of the audience ready to symphonize with what you’ve said here?

ZEMECKIS: Well, specifically, on Polar Express, um Polar Express on IMAX had what the industry calls, a four quadrant  audience, meaning it laid across all demographic quadrants. Interestingly enough, in the 2-D cinemas, the teen quadrant wasn’t going, but they were going to the 3-D experience. But everyone else who was going to the 2-D, were also going.  So the idea of the experience was very cool, for the younger teen audience, to see a movie which they perceived as very, very soft and very young, but the idea of getting to see it presented in this way, brought them to the IMAX theatres.

CAMERON: I think you brought up an interesting point; though just like 3-D isn’t right for every movie, it’s not right for every movie -goer necessarily. It’s a very small percentage of people that qualify, that can’t even see 3-D, their brains don’t register it. But we’re not forcing anyone to see our movie in 3-D . I’m going to release my movie in 3-D, as well as 2-D, so everyone has that choice. I mean we’re all experienced consumers, we can decide what experience we want, we can select the things we want. I can imagine Battle Angel or Star Wars, playing the same multi in both 2- D and 3-D, and you make your choice.  You’ll always have that choice.

May I ask what the time for the Star Wars six-olgoy 3-D is, and I was wondering if you’ve thought back to all of your films, what are you especially looking forward to the 3-D and a specific scene?

LUCAS: For Star Wars, we haven’t set out an actual plan yet.  We’re looking for something that will be around the 30th Anniversary, which will be 2007, and what we would probably do is, do one a year, for six years. 

RODRIGUEZ: I’d like to redo From Dusk to Dawn in 3-D. Originally, I conceived that to be 3-D at the time. Originally, I looked into the second half, when they get to the bar and the vampires to be 3-D. To have the old cameras and I’d get to more then around. As soon as I look at that, and that ain’t possible, I’ll go to Jim and shoot The Terminator right, and use a big 65 mm camera.  But yeah, I would love to go back and dimensionalize that second half-everything is always flying at the camera, it was designed to be a 3-D movies that was never shot in 3-D

What about Sin City?

RODRIGUEZ: Sin city would be great in 3-D. Yeah, definitely.

Would you like to predict which one of you will be the first to convert one of your older titles to 3-D?


George. He’s already doing it- you saw the first reel today.  

George is always first.


What is the progress on Indiana Jones?  I’m sure you’re tired of hearing this.

LUCAS: We’re working on the script. Ah I’m hoping to get the next draft in a month or so. That will determine what we do, but a can’t go without a script.

Will it be in 3-D?

LUCAS: Ah that is going be tough. I’m going to try to get Steven to do it digitally- which is going to be a huge  challenge, but he’s, ya know… I think I may make that happen. When he does it, and he can do a little 3-D experimenting with that I think it’ll win him over. I’d especially like to see Raiders done in 3-D.

When Episode 3 is released, are you planning to release all six films together?

LUCAS: Not right now, I think festivals and certain things are gonna try to show all six of them at the same time. You know, it is kind of insane, ultimately, to release all six of them in a DVD set. Trying to do it in theatres has been very difficult. The closest is probably to do it in 3-D, and then release them once a year. We’ve learned that releasing the special editions too close doesn’t work very well.

DARROW: I want to thank the press, and thank everyone for your time.

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