Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Stereopticon Disney

Today, instead of going to the same cubicles and offices on the same floors of Feature Animation's Hat Building I usually visit, I wandered into some new nooks and crannies... And I visited part of the first floor where CG technicians are turning 2-D CGI images (that would be like, "Finding Nemo" in two dimensions) into 3-D CGI images. (that would be the little clown fish swimming through a kelp forest that you could reach out and touch.) "Finding Nemo", of course, was made in the old, single camera dimension (the "left eye" view) resulting in the usual flat film presentation. (You're in the theater seat, and the film image is up on the screen, not in your lap.) The first 3-D CGI film Disney released was "Chicken Little" last Fall. As a supervisor upstairs told me, "We did about 70 of 'Little's' 3-D shots here. The rest were done up at ILM. The decision to make it 3-D was mostly an economic one." The returns from 3-D versions of 3-D animated films have made believers of execs all over town. A 3-D version of "Polar Express" collected a sizable chunk of its total gross on IMAX 3-D screens. ("Polar Express was more than halfway done when the decision was made to backtrack and make a 3-D version. "Wasn't great," a tech-head told me, "But it got people into theatre seats.") Word is circulating around the Mouse House that all of its future CGI animated film will be in three dimensions, but Lasseter and Catmull want future 3-D films to have artistic decisions behind them, not just commercial motivations. Which means 3-D shots are going to have to be motivated by story, character and character arcs. Down on the first floor, I got into a discussion with one Disney staffer about all the 3-D films made in the fifties: "Bwana Devil," "The Wax Museum" and John Wayne's "Hondo." We talked about recent attempts to "retrofit" 3-D images onto one-lens movies like "Superman Returns," and how some of the processed shots looked great and other looked far less than great. Several employees told me that John Lasseter wanted to get Alfred Hitchcock's "Dial M For Murder" into the studio for a 3-D screening, but so far it hadn't happened. "A good print came in, but the lens to show it had such a long throw that the image was tiny, even in the studio theatre. So we still haven't seen the film." Unlike "Chicken Little" the 3-D work on "Meet the Robinsons" is being done in-house at Disney. Staffers told me that the 3-D (left eye and right eye images and architecture) is much better integrated into the film than it was on "Chicken Little." "The things we're doing are going to amaze a lot of people," one techy told me. # # # # # # # # # # Addendum: "Meet the Robinsons" is trucking right along. A layout artist informed me they are "over the hump" in terms of getting layouts completed (they did 900 feet last week.) So, the schedule has been demanding, but not impossible.


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