T-REX: Back to the Cretaceous. This is the film that is the basis of the modern 3D renaissance. It was certainly not the first film to be produced and released in the IMAX 3D format. Nor was it the first in that format to feature stereoscopic computer animation. What made it unique was its place as the first IMAX 3D film to feature realistic computer animated characters designed to be viewed on the giant IMAX screen.
It was this challenge of accomplishing the visual goals of T-REX that led Hugh Murray down the line of experimentation that would eventually result in The Polar Express, a 3D experience unique to IMAX theaters. Polar Express proved to be a phenomenal success and IMAX hoped to parlay the box office numbers into sales of additional IMAX systems.
Polar Express was released in November 2004. At the time, IMAX was still selling and leasing their MPX film projectors, designed to fit a 1570 projection system into an existing 35mm auditorium while maintaining the existing theater dimensions. IMAX would not have a digital projector system in place until 2008, even though the digital deployment into mainstream cinema had begun in 2005. The success of Polar Express would spur a mass deployment of digital 3D systems, which in turn could find their roots in the IMAX 3D film T-REX.
A former film financier, Michael C Lewis partnered with director Brett Leonard in the 1990’s to form L-Squared Entertainment. The company produced Leonard’s Virtuosity, starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. L-Squared then produced Leonard’s two forays into IMAX 3D, Siegfried and Roy: The Magic Box and T-REX (which was actually released first). But Lewis knew that there had to be a better economic model for producing and distributing 3D than the costly IMAX film method. There had to be a better way.
Lewis teamed up with Josh Greer, who in 1994 had founded the internet design company Digital Planet, which specialized in extremely immersive movie and theme park attraction websites (including that for the IMAX-based Back to the Future attraction at Universal Studios). By 2000, Greer had joined Walden Media, where he worked on James Cameron’s Ghosts of the Abyss and Aliens of the Deep. As a life-long fan of 3D, this was a dream come true. It not only put him out in the field spreading the 3D gospel among theaters, so to speak, but it helped solidify a relationship between Cameron and Greer – one which would become instrumental in the future.
Everybody knows about the IMAX 3D release of Ghosts of the Abyss. Not many know that of the 97 theaters the film opened in, around half were 35mm theaters using an over-under 3D system Greer helped develop and install. After working on this 35mm project and working with Cameron, observing how digital stereoscopic filming gave greater flexibility to the filmmaker, Greer was ready to bring forth the next big thing. Together with Lewis, they formed a new company to be at the forefront of the digital 3D revolution – REALD.
In the next installment, the tale of the three dragons.