FLASHBACK: The REAL D Interview Part III

Part III of “Not the 3D We Grew Up With” originally appeared on the World Enteractive website on August 25, 2005.

In the Clarity Screening Room in downtown Beverly Hills, 3D expert Ray Zone and I had just watched REAL D’s year-old 3D demonstration reel which included examples of live 3D sports, pre-show entertainment and advertising.  We continued our discussion with REAL D co-founders Michael Lewis and Joshua Greer.

MICHAEL LEWIS: The way the glasses will work is that you should have a ziplock bag with advertising on one side, and you hand it out with a ticket.  They’re injection molded, so they’re not the old paper kind.  They’re comfortable and nice, so you can throw them away, or recycle them, or take them home.

RAY ZONE: Are they designed so that people who wear regular glasses can wear them?

ML: Yeah, they’ll fit right over the top.  And we’ll have different sizes based on kids and adults.  We also see, as this gets more mature, the opportunity to do glasses that the kids buy that they’ll bring into the theater, we’ll have some tie-ins that way.  So you bring your own shades in and look cooler than the guy sitting next to you using disposable glasses. 

JOSEPH KLEIMAN: I noticed during your demonstration that in addition to your own large format films, you also had some of Ben Stassen’s films, and a clip from “Hershey’s Big Show” that I’ve actually seen in Hershey, PA.

ML: That’s right.  You’re very good.  You’re the only person in the last 2000 screenings who actually knew where that came from.  The point of this demo was to show that the capture medium really doesn’t matter.  You probably noticed some graininess in the skateboarding and the surfing – that was shot with 35mm film.  So if it’s 35mm film up to 70mm, it really doesn’t matter.  We can ingest that and show it on our 50-foot wide screen with a digital projector.

JK: With regards to 3D attractions, it’s lately become vogue to use DLP projection instead of 35mm or 70mm projection.  These have usually been 2 interlocked projectors, or, in the case of “Shrek 4-D,” four interlocked projectors.  Are you looking for potential attraction applications for this system, or is it primarily cinema?

ML: We’re focusing strictly on cinema.

RZ: You guys are strictly the bijou, right?

ML: That’s right.

JOSHUA GREER: You know, it’s funny you say that.  We’re actually getting approached by a number of venues asking about the technologies.  So, would it be possible that we might create a licensing strategy to help out that?  Possibly.  We don’t want to do $120 million one-off theme park rides.  We want Bob Zemeckis and Jim Cameron and Robert Rodriguez, the next “Lord of the Rings,” the next big movie, and that’s where we need to focus our guns right now.

JK: There’s another company out there, In-Three, that’s kind of pushing its own system.  They’re working with McNaughton on the shutterglasses.  Are you considering, or have you spoken with In-Three, about possibly supplying content for your system?

ML: There are a number of companies out there that are doing what we call the post – from 2D to 3D.  In-Three is one of the ones that’s out there doing it right now.  We view that as a good thing.  Like Josh said earlier, you have a couple of ways that you can get 3D right now.  You can shoot stereoscopically – that’s the purest view.  You can take animation – obviously that’s the low hanging fruit because you’re already creating it in 3D space.  The third way is to do conversions.  We’re about the premium experience.  A few months ago, we would have said, frankly it doesn’t quite hit the bar on the conversions that we’ve seen.  There are some other companies we’re working with out there that we think have solved that issue.  In terms of the conversion, it’s very, very good.  We’re very excited about it.  But the more content we can have that’s great quality, that helps us, because we’re strictly on the delivery side.  We think we have the simplest, most cost effective way to deliver great 3D to the theater.

JG: We’ll let the customer, the exhibitor and the studios decide what they want to show.

JK: With regards to ticket pricing, what kind of upcharge would there be?  Would it be $5.00, comparable to a feature length IMAX? 

ML: Our model is a licensing of the technology to the exhibitors.  That’s really their determination.  They could probably do a 40 – 50% upcharge on a REAL D presentation, which is consistent with what they got previously on “Polar” and some of the other movies.  

RZ: That model, I predict, will quickly exhaust itself and 3D will need to be on a parity with other exhibition. 

ML: You’re probably right.  It’s kind of like when we went from black and white to color. The point is that color is the standard now and we really don’t go back to black and white.  I think 3D may get to that point as well.

JG: It’s evolved.  Our model’s evolved as well.  Several years ago, when we were first putting this together, we assumed it would be and we’d be directly involved in the premium ticket pricing.  As we brought it to the studios’ attention, we got a little bit of push back on that.  They’re not thrilled about having other groups interloping, especially since it’s already blown up in the face of 2D digital cinema.  So we said, you know what, we can make this much simpler now.  Theaters are a lot healthier.  They’ve all kind of gone through an evolution out of bankruptcy and they all have good balance sheets now.  Our system is so affordable and, comparatively, there’s nothing even close that can get you this kind of experience.  Again, in our conversations with them, they have an appetite for it and they, along with the studios, can ultimately decide how much they want to charge for it.  

JK: Will you be handling the distribution of programming, or will the studios be handling their own distribution of programming formatted for your system?

JG: It will be a combination of both initially.  You know, we don’t know who at the end of the day is going to be handling the transport of all this digital content, 2D or 3D.  We’ve designed this to be as flexible as possible, so, at the end of the day, if a Technicolor, or a Deluxe, or some other group, then, hey, we don’t have that extra headache in our lives.  At the same time, we’ve built the infrastructure; we’ve tried to put everything in place so that if there isn’t that infrastructure ready to go, we can hit the ground running very quickly.  And eventually, one of those big boys is going to grab that piece. 

JK: What do you think about the 2K vs. 4K issue?

ML: For us, the minimum standard has to be 2K.  As I said earlier, if it goes to 4 or 8K, that just helps us.  But right now, 2K is the only real system that’s being deployed in the market. 

JG: We’ve seen the SONY and we’re encouraged.  But if you hold a gun to my head and say “Josh, you have to employ x number of systems, what are you going to do to make sure this works?”  We know this works in 2K.

JK: So if the issues with 4K, such as with the projectors and bandwith, are solved, you’d look at working in 4K?

ML: Yeah, our system runs on top of that.  If it goes up in the quality level, then yeah, we’re delighted if it enhances our system.

JG: That’s the thing with us too.  Even though we’re putting a fixed system into a theater, it’s really not fixed – it’s an upgrade.  We see ourselves continuing to evolve this technology.  We’ve made unbelievable progress in the last couple of years.  Nobody believed that we could do what we do at the quality level we can do two years ago.  There are other things I believe we can do to continue to improve this experience.

RZ: Digital is an evolving platform. 

JG: Absolutely, and we’re working on it.  Resolution is one thing, frame rates are another issue.  We’ll get to more sophisticated material, we’ll get to other types of unique 3D experiences. 

JK: So the preshow that you demonstrated can be done in real time?

JG: Well, it’s a template system.  So if you wanted to change the Happy Birthday greeting, you’d type it on a web page.  Generally, the turnaround time over lines and everything is going to be an overnight process from the time you say go until the time it’s sitting on your server.  You can publish a full ad in 3D on your screen within 24 hours.  Still, that’s not a bad start. 

ML: Advertising’s the thing that nobody really wants to talk about because a lot of people say that shouldn’t even be in the cinema.  I think the fact of life is that it’s done in Europe, it’s accepted here.  There’s been resistance here in the U.S., but there’ll probably be certain chains that say, “We’re not about advertising. That’s why you should come here.”  And other guys will say, “You know what, we should have that revenue stream.”  But maybe the way to solve some of the push back from the audience is to give them something that’s really cool, and more of a journey or a ride than straight advertising.  You know, what’s driving this whole thing is that the theater experience is becoming more and more marginalized.  The feedback we get back from exhibitors shows that they’re very concerned with home cinema.  When you have studio executives saying that your premiere is going to be in Wal-Mart, as opposed to the cinema, that’s another matter of concern.  And that window has been getting shorter and shorter.  And just recently, you’ve got the Soderbergh/Cuban announcement.  Well, you’ve got to figure out something that’ll differentiate your product.  And we think this is why we’ve had such great reception with what we’ve been doing. This is something very different that you can’t get elsewhere right now.  And that brings the cinema experience back to what it used to be, which is something very unique you can’t get anywhere else. 

RZ: How do you see Joseph [Peixoto] working with content producers in facilitating the stereoscopic productions?

ML: It’s kind of like we’re working both sides of the track because you need the footprint in order for the content guys to say, “It’s worth it for me to spend 18 months of my life learning how to do this.  You know, it’s a new medium.  There are rules to 3D that don’t apply to 2D and vice versa.  So if you give them the footprint, then they say, “OK, it makes sense.”  What’s happening is that we’re trying to meet both sides in the middle.  That’s where Joe’s responsible for it.  Content producers are really excited.  You saw part of that at ShoWest.  They got up and said, “Gee, I want to play in this, but I don’t have a card to play it right.”  We’re trying to build that for them. 

JG: Joe’s working that from the top dealing with the exhibitor’s side.  We’re also working on this directly with all the technical folks in terms of we’ll start putting these systems online at the studios over the summer.  So, every studio will have one, or in some cases, multiple REAL D systems as part of their post facilities.  We want this to be a ubiquitous tool for those communities and post production houses.  Everyone’s buying 2K’s now, anyway.  They’ve already made that first steep investment.  What we do is relatively minor by comparison.

© 2005 Joseph L. Kleiman


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