FLASHBACK: The REAL D Interview Part II

Part II of “Not the 3D We Grew Up With” originally appeared on the World Enteractive website on August 18, 2005.  Part 3 of the interview will run tomorrow.

In the Clarity Screening Room in Beverly Hills, 3D expert Ray Zone and I had just finished watching the first portion of REAL D’s demonstration, which utilized their proprietary digital 3D projection technology. 

We continued our conversation with REAL D co-founders Michael Lewis and Joshua Greer.

JOSEPH KLEIMAN: During the demonstration, I walked to the side of the room and the image was in perfect frame.

MICHAEL LEWIS: We don’t have distortion at all.

JK: No, you don’t.  I was really amazed.  There wasn’t any stretching or compression.

ML: You can walk all the way around the room and it’s pretty much the same.

JOSHUA GREER: We wake up every morning asking, “How do we make this the best experience?”  It was all the pieces.  Off-axis viewing –  we wanted to make sure every seat in the house was a great one, given.  We spent a lot of time on the compression.  We took a very early stance – there’s still a lot of people trying to push mpeg as an industry standard.  We said no way.  We’re exceeding anything that mpeg can do now or in the future.  As the pieces came together, it just kept getting better and better until we hit that plateau where we went, Wow!  I don’t know how much more I can do to it at this point.

JK: I’ve spent almost a decade in large format and I’m a stickler for ghosting.  That was one of the things I noticed with the IMAX 3D version of “Polar Express” with polarized lenses.

JG: Yeah, part of that was the quality of the polarizers.  And, also, it was IMAX’s approach.  They like to do everything from the screen.  So you have massive values of paralax, a lot of high contrast, you know, it’s all of the 3D no-no’s.  I watched a lot of IMAX movies and I’ve been a bit frustrated with the ghosting.  But when we brought them in here – this is definitely the way it should be seen.

JK: This was certainly impressive.  I’m trying to think back to compare your demonstration to the ShoWest presentation.

JG: I think one thing you’ll certainly feel the more you watch is that with shutterglasses, after a long period of time, people kind of take them off and say, “Yeah that was a neat presentation.”  They look like they’re just trying to pull a nail out of their forehead.  Actually, due to the fact of what we’re trying to do with film, because it’s 24 frames per second, we’re double flashing it to 96 frames a second.   96 isn’t quite fast enough.

JK: You’re not using 48?

JG: No, no.

JK: That’s what they did at ShoWest, they used 48.

JG: What they did was they had a left eye 24 frames a second, right eye 24 frames a second, interweaved into a 48 frame per second stream.  That goes into the projector. . . actually takes that left and right eye and double flashes it, left, right, left, right.

RAY ZONE: There’s no visible flickering.

JG: Well, I think there is visible flickering even at 96.

RZ: The brain senses it even if they eye can’t see it.

JG: There’s a point that your brain kind of gives up, which is around 100-110 frames per second.  Most of the shutterglasses were originally designed for CRT monitors running at 30, which would be doubled to 120.  When I say doubled, I mean two 30s and double it then from that point.  We do all of our content triple flash, so we’re actually running the projector at 144 frames per second.  And what we found was that step-over again was one more piece of the puzzle that your brain kind of goes, “Oh, ok, yeah,” and it can kind of accept it because the temporal discrepancies are so smoothed over that your brain doesn’t have to work as hard.  So, again, we think it’s going to be a lot more comfortable for people.  Plus, again with shutters, you’re shuttering the entire room.  Every exit sign, you’re going to see a strobe on, every exit light.  This [the REAL D system] is just a more natural way to look at it.

ML: Our whole process was about the premium experience, the most life-like experience.  We don’t care.  If they want shutter, we’ll give them shutter.  We invented it. 

JG: We’ve sold hundreds of thousands of pairs of those.

ML: That’s a very big business for us.  But when we went to the exhibitors, and we’ve spent a lot of time with them over the past two years, they said, no way.  They don’t want to deal with it.  So, we knew they were already leaning towards this solution.  Now we had to qualitatively deal with the content producers and the studios.  You know, there’s some ground to make up there.  Then we spent the time to work on this.  And we actually did a showdown not too long ago between our shutterglasses, polarized, and 35mm film for a number of the studios, and this was the clear winner qualitatively.

JG: And that was it.  Everybody had a lot of debate, but it was very easy.  Like I said, we want to support everything here.  We wanted to be agnostic.  But, frankly, at the end of the day, our core rule is that this has to be the best experience.  This has to be the experience that gets people out of their homes, away from their hi-def plasma and LCD televisions and back into the theaters.  We’ve got to create a unique and new event.  And even though 3D isn’t actually new, we are kind of reintroducing this to the public – and they really haven’t ever seen 3D like this before.  It really is a whole new level that we’re bringing.

ML: So we’re trying to get off the 3D thing a little bit.  There’s been some bad press over the past fifty years.  It’s a great medium.  But if we can take it to the next node – it’s not the 3D we grew up with.  This is the way we see.  We see with depth.

JK: When I interviewed Doug Darrow of Texas Instruments DLP Cinema at ShoWest, I asked him if this new digital 3D was a gimmick. 

JG: I really don’t see it that way anymore.  You can see that you can take an animated film like this and create incredible stereo offset that’s comfortable and actually draws you into the story more.  And then imagine that there are five major animated films a year that can be made this way.  And then again, you look at what Jim Cameron’s doing, you look at what Robert Rodriguez is doing, and what George Lucas is wanting to do.  I mean, it’s a pretty amazing thing that’s about to happen in this space.  From the gimmick standpoint, I think one of the reasons this has historically failed is due to the quality of the presentations.  You can go in and set up a really good two-projector presentation and after about three days, it’s out of alignment.  Film breaks and if you miss a splice or cut a frame out, you’re out of synch and the thing could be a disaster.  Nobody, including my company when we first put out Ghosts of the Abyss in 35mm over/under on fifty screens, could consistently keep performance up. 

So the idea that if you’ve got the content creators telling great stories in this medium using this as another storytelling device, and you have a perfect pristine delivery system, it doesn’t have to be a gimmick.

We’re going to show you another piece real quick which is our demo that we’ve been primarily using with the exhibitors.  It’s about a year old, and frankly we’re a little sick of it, but it’ll get the point across.  It’s really designed to show the breadth of content that we can bring to theaters.  The temples are always going to be the filmmakers who tell the great stories.  But we know that exhibitors use these theaters for a lot of other reasons now.  So what we wanted to do with the 3D was provide all the tools they’re already getting used to in the 2D world and show how much better they could be in 3D. So we created a pre-show engine that would allow exhibitors to publish 3D pre-show templates – a birthday greeting for someone in the audience, or if they want to tie into local sports scores, or if they want to bring in local advertising, they can very quickly, for hundreds of dollars, publish a very dynamic 3D ad.  We’re also enabling this to be able to broadcast live sports in 3D.  There’s still a lot of work to be done on the capture side, but again you have some very powerful filmmakers who are focused on this.  We wanted to show what it would be like to do sports, so we’ll show some examples of that plus some more animation and feature films.  Again, it’s really just an amalgamation of the experience and it’s been pretty effective. 


IN PART 3: Content, applications, and the future of 3D cinema.

© 2005 Joseph L. Kleiman


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