In 2005, I began a two year investigation into a lawsuit between IMAX Corporation and a stereoscopic conversion firm called In-Three. Over 20 people with various companies and studios were interviewed for the pieces that appeared on the World Enteractive website.
IMAX had been having difficulty converting live action portions of its giant screen documentary Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon and called in In-Three for assistance. The two companies signed an agreement allowing IMAX to explore In-Three’s technology.
Now, 2005 was a year of transition for digital cinema and the introduction of digital 3D. That year, a company with the know-how to compete against IMAX announced its first deployment – RealD. Its CEO had produced films for IMAX, its President had worked on IMAX 3D productions with James Cameron, and the man leadiing its worldwide deployment had been head of one of IMAX’s largest North American cinema customers.
While RealD was preparing their rollout, Texas Instruments’ DLP Cinema division introduced a single projector digital solution for 3D. And In-Three was hard at work on what was then scheduled to be the first film completely converted into 3D – Peter Jackson’s King Kong.
Just days before ShoWest, the big cinema industry event where George Lucas was scheduled to present a series of film clips converted by In-Three into 3D, including the entire first reel of Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope), IMAX announced that it had licensed a 3D conversion patent from a New York computer graphics artist and patent agent named David Geshwind and they promptly sued In-Three for patent infringement.
The case would carry on for years, with IMAX and In-Three settling out of court. But, as of IMAX’s last financial reporting, it was still being held up in arbitration between IMAX and Geshwind.
So what does that have to do with Star Wars?
Lucasfilm had agreed to allow Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones to be shown in IMAX theaters. They were not too happy with the fact that they had to cut 22 minutes off the film due to system limitations, especially when they found out that IMAX had fixed this issue by the time of the next film to be released by IMAX: The Matrix Reloaded, some seven months later.
When Episode III was in production, IMAX again approached Lucasfilm with the idea of releasing the film in IMAX and the last 20 or 30 minutes in 3D. (a strategy that would be used on Superman Returns and a couple of Harry Potter films, allegedly with the Geshwind patent working hard behind the scenes). Lucasfilm wanted all or nothing in 3D and told IMAX to use In-Three, who had been conducting tests with Lucasfilm’s ILM visual effects unit for quite some time.
IMAX in turn told Lucasfilm that they had successfully developed their own live action 3D conversion technology. Lucasfilm gave them a short clip of Episode III to convert, but IMAX missed the deadline and never showed the clip converted into 3D to Lucasfilm executives.
Instead they showed the converted clip to executives at Universal in an effort to get King Kong. Without permission of the copyright holder.
And that, dear friends, is why instead of seeing the incredibly sexy Natalie Portman in IMAX 3D tomorrow, you’ll be seeing the incredibly sexy Luis Guzman.
As a footnote, In-Three was aquired last year by visual effects house Digital Domain, while IMAX finally completed its first full 3D conversion of a Hollywood film – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 – which was shown around the world in RealD.
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