Talking Up Primetime 3D

James Cameron and Vince Pace look beyond the hype 4/25/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern

The huge success of James
Cameron’s Avatar played a major
role in turning 3D into the tech
phenomena of early 2010, when it was
hard to find a tech vendor that wasn’t announcing
some new 3D product.

Since then, while 3D movies have remained
a rapidly growing, highly pro! table
piece of the box office, the technology has
struggled to gain a foothold in television.

Cameron and his longtime partner in
3D production technology, Vince Pace,
want to change that. During this month’s
National Association of Broadcasters convention,
they launched Cameron-Pace
Group, dedicated to developing technologies
and services to eliminate the barriers
that are holding back 3D production,
which they believe will account for most
movie and TV output within five years.

Cameron—who last week spoke out
against premium VOD delivery of movies
to households prior to DVD distribution—
and his partner recently spoke
with B&C Contributing Editor George
Winslow about the challenges and prospects
of primetime 3D production. An
edited transcript follows.

3D production has become well-established
in the movie industry, and
there is some work being done in
sports, where you are working with
ESPN. But most other types of TV
production have not moved to 3D
production, and that doesn’t seem
to be changing very quickly. What’s
been holding it back?

James Cameron: It is the revenue model
and the number of sets in the market. I
think it is the same kind of chicken-andegg
problem we experienced in the movie
world five years ago. No one wanted to
spend the extra money for 3D productions
because there weren’t enough screens, and
no one wanted to put in the screens because
there weren’t enough movies.

But we got through that because the
audience spoke, and that is what is happening
right now. We are getting resoundingly
positive feedback from those early
adopters. So it is really a question of the
short-term revenue model. How do you
monetize this to offset the additional cost?

So how do you get those costs down?

Vince Pace: Right now everyone is looking
at 3D as its own separate entity. But
that is not where it will be three years
down the line. For this to work, it has to
be one production.

In sports, we are working to determine
which sports, like boxing, can be broadcast
with a single crew, where you can
extract the 2D production from one eye
of the 3D feed so it is all one crew.

On the other hand, there are sports
where we are not going to see that turnover
happen as quickly. In those cases,
we are trying to design technology that
integrates the 3D with the 2D.

Cameron: When we start to go to 3D for
one-hour dramas and sitcoms and maybe
unscripted hours, you won’t be doing two
productions. For a three-camera show,
you will have three 3D cameras. The 2D
will be just a separate feed and probably
a feed out of the same cut. It will be the
same show offered in 2D and 3D.

When you start doing one production
for 2D and 3D theatrical films, what
are some challenges that producers
should think about when they consider
doing primetime TV series in 3D?

There was an interim period,
sometime around 2003, when I was in
love with 3D and I thought it had enormous
potential, but I wasn’t 100% satisfied that a movie made in 3D wouldn’t
be compromised somehow in 2D because
the editing style was different or the camera
style was different or the cinematography
was different.

So we did an enormous amount of testing,
and I assured myself that there was
no compromise whatsoever. I could do
every kind of shot that I would normally
want to do. I would not have to change
my aesthetics to shoot 3D.

I’ve been doing 3D for 16 years, so I’ve
kind of grown up with it. But when people
come to 3D not having grown up in
it, they mistake the shock of the new with
what is different about shooting 3D. It is
not all that different. About 90% or 95%
of the problems are the same. But because
they are afraid of the change or because
they become entranced by the change, it
all seems bigger than it really is.

So you’re arguing that if there was a
revenue model for doing 3D primetime
productions, it wouldn’t be that
diffi cult to do, at least from a production

Cameron: Yeah. Right now what people
are struggling to do is figuring out how to
pay for the delta, [the extra cost of] 3D production
over 2D. But that wedge will sunset
two or three years from now. Production is
basically expensive anyway, and the additional
cost of 3D is already relatively small.

The other thing is that costs are going
to come down. We are not at scale.
Right now we are able to field around 100
camera systems. Try making a 100 of anything.
Try making 100 cell phones and tell
me how much the cell phones will cost.

Do you see glasses-free 3D displays
affecting the technology you are

Cameron: Not really. I think the nature
of the display technology has been uncoupled
from the way you make the 3D.

I think it will affect us in the sense that
we are already running " at out to keep up
with all the new 3D production today. But
we are also anticipating a point two, three
years down the line when [glasses-free
screens] go into the market and the rate of
adoption in the home goes ballistic, which
will drive the rate of transformation in the
overall broadcast industry to 3D.

So we are anticipating that. If we don’t
build the foundation, the R&D infrastructure,
ahead of demand, we are going
to get killed.

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