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Talking Up Primetime 3D

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 standpoint?

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 developing?

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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