Category Archives: Digital 3D

Why RealD is For Sale and Who Would Want to Buy It

RealD Founders Michael Lewis and Josh Greer

RealD founders Michael Lewis, left, and Josh Greer wear 3-D glasses inside their theater at their Beverly Hills headquarters. (Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times)

Following a disappointing Q3 RealD has revealed that it has appointed investment banker Moelis & Co. to “explore a full range of strategic alternatives available to the Company”, which as Bloomberg notes is “language that typically means a company is seeking a buyer.” So why is RealD for sale (or is it really?), who would want to buy it and what would be the reason for wanting to acquire it?

The ‘For Sale’ sign was so prominent in the earnings conference call (transcript by Seeking Alpha) that it was effectively posted before the figures for the quarter were even mentioned:

We will be looking at the full spectrum of options available to us, including but not limited to mergers, divestitures, return of capital alternatives and a potential sale of the Company. Our previously announced review of R&D initiatives will be a part of this broader strategic review.

Cynics would say that RealD had every reason to draw attention away from the poor figures of the most recent quarter.

Revenue in Q3 dropped to USD $32.6 million compared to USD $55.4 million for the same period a year before, a decline of almost 41%. At the same time losses increased to USD $11.3 million compared to a loss of just USD $271,000 for Q3 a year earlier. Despite this the share price jumped over 10% and one analyst upgraded the stock to “Outperform”.

In the previous quarterly earnings call (transcript by Seeking Alpha), CEO Michael Lewis had already outlined previous steps to “enhance shareholder value”:

Moving beyond our quarterly performance. Over the past year, we have evaluated all aspects of our business and are taking additional steps designed to enhance shareholder value. In consultation with our outside advisors, we’re actively evaluating alternatives for restructuring our R&D efforts, Consumer; Laser; Screen and TrueImage. In doing so we have three primary goals, to minimize future capital outlays and expenses associated with our R&D efforts with an expectation of significantly reducing OpEx and CapEx in fiscal year ‘16; to partner with outside third parties to speed the path to commercialization; and to maximize our future economic participation.

It seems that these efforts of “streamlining” the company and finding “additional efficiencies” have not succeeded or been enough. So what is behind the drop and what would be the rational for a sale?

Part of the decrease is purely film-slate related. The same quarter in 2013 was strong with “Frozen”, “Gravity” and “Thor 2″, while this year’s “Hobbit 3″ was not strong enough and “Interstellar” was only released in 2D. But there were deeper underlying problems, as hinted at by CFO Drew Skarupe:

Product and other revenues decreased 41% from the prior-year quarter and represented approximately 36% of total revenues. The decrease was primarily related to decreased purchases from international exhibitors and the overall decrease in our box office performance over the prior-year period. Domestic product revenues represented 55% of total product revenues, and international product revenues represented 45% of total product revenues. Licensing gross profit was $9.5 million or 45% gross margin versus 68% gross margin reported in the prior-year quarter.

So is RealD merely ‘pulling a Regal’? Last year Regal stated that it was looking at possible buyers, after two quarters of disappointing figures. In the end the largest exhibitor in the US decided that it was not for sale and took themselves off the market. But whether it was serious or not in the first place, the company’s announcement gave several media outlets (us included) something other to talk about than the soft box office.

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CJ@IBC ‘Laser Projection part 1 – Seeing is Believing’


Peter  Lude’ (now with Real D) dives straight into the deep end of the many questions buzzing about laser ILLUMINATED (his emphasis) projecton, ranging from safety to speckling. He even provides a quick Cliff Notes answers to those questions (see above). He then outlines the afternoon (in two parts)

Lude’ starts by explaining the different laser projector types, starting with spot scanners (rarely used, only for pico projectors in low energy), then line scanner (GLV projectors – currently not available), then LIPs (laser illuminated projectors – which is what we have been seeing here at IBC). This last category is one where the Xenon lamp-based optical architecture is replaced with a full laser based optical architecture, or a laser/phosphor based optical architecture which typically only uses one colour (blue) that gets changed into white light.

Lude’outlines that lasers have the potential of:
- Dramatically improved image quality;
- Substantially lower power consumption (20-30% less than comparable Xenon)
- Lower operating cost  (everything from A/C to lamp replacement);
- Reduced environmental impact;
- Flexible design / boothless theatre.

There are over a dozen laser illuminated projectors that you can buy today, most of them small projectors for conference rooms. There are about 90,000 units sold per year and 1st LIP was launched in 1Q13. Around 10,000 units sold per year would requie FDA variance. Currently all devices that contain lasers are regulated, whether or not they actually emit a laser (like BluRay players). The goal is a new laser notice by January 2015 in terms of regulations to reflect the new IEC Edition 3.

Jan Daem (Barco) comes up to stage to talk about bringing regulaion up to date with technology, but from a European perspective. Begins by talking in technical detail about what a saler is. “Thermal induced retinal damage” measurement makes it sounds scary. Talks about national and Eurpean regulation and legislation. Final situation will be Class1RGX. (This presentation has a feel of engineer white paper. Not much that I can usefully summarise.)

Matt Cowan (ETC) whose title is ‘What do we do with all that Color?’ Will deploying different laser primary selection have an impact on color grading, does BT.2020 reqiure narrow band primaries. He then does “100 years of color science in 1 slide” looking at ‘what we see, what we measure.’ He observes that color spaces changes throughout the workflow. “There’s no colors that cant be defined with X’Y”, even colors that we cannot see,” Cowan affirms. He explains to the audince how we can get any colour by mixing red, green and blue light. “Mathematics provides exact conversions among different color representations.” How does projector handle XYZ color? Through projector calibration, Cowan explains. He then did a primary color comparison, highlighting the differences between Rec.709 and BT.2020. For speckling, multiple wavlengths get close to 2020.

Don Shaw (Christie) starts off by discussing why Christie is building laser projectors. “Not because it is cool or because Barco is doing, it is because that’s where cinemas are going.” Highlights Premium Large format (PLF) that offers customers a differentiated experience (and a significant increase in box office proceeds). 3D movies allow a >30% upcharge. But 3D atttendance is declining in (US) domestic market. Novelty has worn off. “This will happen in international markets unless we fix the problem.” LIPs are that fix, apparently.

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CJ@IBC ‘Doug Trumbull Keynote – An Odessey of Cinematic Innovation’


“There is no more appropriate visionar than Doug Trumbull to have as our keynote,” Julian Pinn says as he opens the IBC Big Screen Keynote session, listing Trumbull’s many cinematic achievements, ranging from being responsible for the groundbreaing visual effects for ’2001 a Space Odessey’ and ‘Star Trek the Motion Picture’  to writing and directing ‘Silent Running’ and ‘Back to the Future: the Ride’.

Trumbull begins by thanking the team behind the scenes. (I know that this presentation was particularly bleading edge and that the last 48 hours had been frantic in getting it all together.) He talks about his life-long fascination with science-fiction and how he liked panoramic paintings, but got frustrated that they didn’t move – hence he got into film.

From the beginning it was always the largest of screns that held the greatest fascination for him. “I was disapointed when the giant screen experience went away and they got chopped into multiplexes. 70mm production largely ended,” and this was tough for him, Trumbull admitted. Anyone who has seen a 70mm presentation of ’2001′ can probably understand his sentiment. He then switched his focus to World Fairs and Expos as a substitute for he big screen experience.

The Life and Times of a VFX Wizard

By way of introduction to his body of work and cinematic vision he then screens a short film and history which charts his journey from ’2001′ all the way to his Magi process and Trumbull Studios, with cameos by the likes of Roger Ebert, Steven Spielberg, Richard Donner extolling his virtues. He then switches back to explaning how he arrived at the 70mm Showscan process in the late 70s/early80s, which he had wanted to use for his film ‘Brainstorm’, and how this in turn then led him to Magi in the present day.

“We lost track of something a long time ago when we transitioned from silent films with hand cranked cameras – we called them ‘the flicks’ for the flickering – to 24fps to accomodate the optical soundtracks. We have never insreased it since then,” Trumbul bemoans, even as color and other innovations were added. “Unfortunatelly people are now migrating away from the cinema experience, because the convenience of tablets outweighs the inconvenience of going out to the movies.”

He says that the Hollywood studios think they have the tiger by the tail… so they prefer a commonality of formats that works for cinema and television. But Trumbull sees this as a false economy if it dilutes the cinematic experience. Studios also don’t invest in R&D, prefering to leave that to manufacturers, he observes. This left him in a quandry.

Trumbull Studios

“My wife and I decided we have to do it ourselves, so we had to build the stage, bum every camera and light we could get our hands on and put together this UFOTOG film as cheaply as possibly,” Trumbull explains, bringing us into the present with his latest work. “Instead of the two cameras shooting in sync, they shoot sequentially, [and thus] they achieve 120fps for the same price as 60fps.” It is the same (Threality) rig that Jim Cameron and Peter Jackson use, with Cannon cameras. “This captures 100% of the action that goes on in ront of the camera and 120 frames of unique fields of action,”Trumbull explains.

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CJ@IBC ‘Life of Pi’ in Christie 6P laser 14 ftL 3D with Dolby Atmos


The IBC movie night screenings have always been an opportunity to showcase the latest advances in big screen technology, while also giving IBC attendees a bit of blockbuster fun. This year was a technology world first that made a big impression on everyone attending.

Thanks to tremendous support from IBC’s technology, integration and content partners, we were treated to a 3D presentation of an unsurprassed quality. Thanks to the use of Christie’s new 6P laser-illuminated projector, over 40 speakers from QSC, Dolby Atmos immersive audio and a DCP of 20th Century Fox’s multi-Oscar winning ‘Life of Pi’ graded especially for 14 footlamberts (ftL) 3D brightness, projected onto a 1.0 gain matt screen, it showcased something that no public audience had yet seen before, as IBC Big Screen Experience producer Julian Pinn explained on stage.

Two years ago Christie first showa ased its laser projectors at IBC with a secial screening of ‘Hugo’, but that was off a silver screen with an 1.8 gain. Back then there was no immersive audio (either Atmos or Auro), so this presentation raised the bar in several regards. While not new, the film was an excellent choice, not least given that it had won Academy Awards for best Cinematography, Visual Effects and Music.

Watching it I was not so much immediately struck by the brightness but by the colours, details and clarity. It is a cliche to talk about ‘looking through a window’ but that is what it felt like as the camera panned through the Pondicherry zoo over the opening credits. Yes, it was bright as you would expect a sunny day in southern India to be, but the brightness felt natural. But brightness is only something that you consciously appreciate when it is not there – as will be the case with future 3D films I watch in regular cinemas.

The audio was equally impressive, not least because of a terrific mix that was as nuanced in the stormy sea scenes with the ship sinking as the quieter moments that picked out individual sounds of animals. The combines effect was such that almost nobody in the audience (who filled the big RAI Auditorium) got up to leave once the film had started. For a Saturday night in Amsterdam, that is truly impressive.

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BREAKING NEWS: Wanda Breaks Embargo on Deal For 780 New RealD 3D Installations

Wanda breaks RealD embargo

CELLULOID JUNKIE EXCLUSIVE: It seems that China’s Wanda – the world’s biggest cinema operator and owner of American multiplex chain AMC – has broken its own embargo on an announcement for an expanded deal with 3D vendor RealD.

It looks like this deal was set to be announced on Monday next week (24th of March), which is the international day of CinemaCon and the day these type of deals typically get announced.

The statement (translated by Google) reads:

March 24, Wanda Cinema 3D images with the world-renowned technology provider RealD jointly announced that the two sides will continue cooperation agreement, Wanda Cinema will install 780 sets of RealD 3D equipment in the next three years, placed in Wanda Cinema The 3D movie hall. Plus 800 sets of equipment currently installed Wanda Cinema, RealD equipment Wanda total installed throughout China will be more than 1500 sets.

RealD is currently the world’s most widely used 3D cinema projection technology. As of March 4, 2014, there are 74 countries worldwide, more than 25,049 screens in 1,000 theaters install RealD 3D projection equipment. Brightness RealD 3D theater system is twice that of other 3D technologies, and have screened the film features a high frame rate.

The fact that the story (press release?) is dated March 24th means that it was most likely to be on hold until that date, but somehow the Chinese version was posted on Wanda’s website too early.

If this is the case, this is a serious slip-up as RealD is a publicly listed company and a big deal like this could give its share price a bounce. Wanda had a previous deal in place with RealD from 2010 for 500 screens.

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No Speak English? Cinema Show Noah In 3D Just For You.

Are you familiar with the Ramayana? Have you ever read Journey To The West? If not, then chances are that you will be watching the story of Noah in 2D at your local multiplex.

The Hollywood Reporter yesterday had an exclusive on Paramount’s decision to release Darron Aronofsky’s Old Testament epic in 3D only in select overseas territories. However, the article doesn’t seem to want to go too deeply into the reasons for this decision. Instead it notes that the 3D version will be released in “65 foreign countries, including Russia, all of South America and most of continental Europe,” of which 32 territories will also see it in IMAX. Meanwhile the film “will be released exclusively in 2D in the U.S, the U.K., Australia and France”, and while not mentioned by name, we assume that Canada is included in the US release territory, rather than getting to see the flood in 3D. The same might go for New Zealand with Australia and Ireland with the UK. So with the exception of France, the film is being released in 2D in all major English-speaking territories and – with the exception of France, for reasons we will get to – in 3D in all other languages.

It should be remembered that Noah was filmed in 2D and was intended to be released that way, until Paramount decided to spend $10m to post-convert the film from 2D to 3D. [Paramount isn't telling who did the conversion, but it is likely to be Legend3D, who did the work on Paramount's Top Gun, or Prime Focus, which recently won an award for its conversion work on Gravity.] Aronofsky is not opposed to 3D per-se, as he told MTV in this interview, back when he was scheduled to film the RoboCop re-boot, that “With the right project, I’m totally into 3D,. Scorsese’s working in 3-D [on Hugo]. I am very curious what that’s going to be. Like everyone, I thought Avatar was an incredible experience.” Though there were alleged struggles with the studio, according to CinemaBlend, over the final cut of the film, there is no word about Aronofsky’s feelings about the 3D conversion. While the film was conceived in 2D, the art of converting to 3D has come a long way since Clash of the Titans, though like that film’s director Aronofsky might feel free to vent his true feelings in a few years time. Leterrier last year came clean and called the Clash 3D conversion “a gimmick to steal money from audiences.

It is also no secret that Paramount is hoping for Noah to be a cross-over hit with Christian and Jewish audiences in North America. While The Passion of the Christ is often cited, a more recent indicator of the strength of the religious audience is not found in the cinema but on television. The Bible miniseries produced by Mark Burnett, better known as the men behind The Voice and Celebrity Apprentice, “brought 100 million viewers to the History Channel earlier this year. Shortly after, it became the top-selling DVD miniseries ever when 525,000 copies were sold in its first week of release,” (link). These were numbers that Hollywood could not fail to sit up and take notice off. The sequel from the New Testament, called Son of God, is slated for cinema release, according to Deadline, with “20th Century Fox picked up feature film rights to the theatrical version of History’s miniseries last month, and the movie now set for a February 28, 2014.”

So with Noah originally set for North America release on 8 March, it meant two biblical epics just one week apart! Son of God would have still been in cinemas when the old testament floods the multiplexes (if you pardon the pun) in a battle between not Old and New Testament, but Paramount Pictures against 20th Century Fox. (And if that wasn’t enough, there is also Heaven Is For Real on 16 April.) Paramount thus shifted the release date to 4 April (though IMDB lists it as 28 March and Google 8 March) in order to avoid the obvious clash. It would also be unseemly to emphasize the 3D spectacle aspect of the Noah film in a country in which three out of ten believe people in the bible literally and only 17 per cent consider it a book of fables and legends.

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Cinemeccanica Brings Laser Projection to Europe

Italian projector manufacturer Cinemeccanica has announced a test bed installation of its Cinecloud™ Lux laser driven projector in Venezia Mestre, Italy. Calling it “Immersive Cinema” the manufacturer does not go easy on the hyperbole for the installation with IMG Cinema Multiplex:

The Multiplex, besides  modern and futuristic design, will be endowed of the most advanced digital technologies for film screening and sound reproduction, it will become the first cinema in the world where people, seeing a movie, will make a unique emotional experience never made before.

There is no word on what film allowed audiences to make this ‘unique emotional experience never made before’, but the opening date of 12 December suggest that it may have been The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. This is also likely because the auditorium has at the same time been fitted with Dolby’s Atmos immersive audio.

Quoted in the press release, “Pier Carlo Ottoni, Sales & Marketing Director of Cinemeccanica says: “ To be the firsts to start the Immersive Cinema age, introducing laser driven projection and multidimensional sound in a unique auditorium, make us proud for the constant capacity to innovate and also because the first cinema of this type will be exactly in Italy”.”

Cinemeccanica is affiliated with Barco’s digital cinema projectors, though Cinemeccanica’s Sales and Marketing Director Pier Carlo Ottoni claimed that, “Our laser source could be installed in any DCI projector. For this first installation in Europe, we inserted the laser into a Cinemeccanica-Barco DPC4K-80. At the moment Cinecloud Lux reaches 50.000 ANSI lumens.”

Given the high cost of laser projector for the foreseeable future, it makes sense that this will initially be paired with immersive audio (though interestingly Cinemeccanica did NOT opt for its Barco partner’s Auro system) in premium venues where bright 3D is required for a large screen – such as Christie’s laser projector installation in Seattle’s Cinerama Theatre. Typically today this high-brightness is achieved by pairing two projectors, which when coupled with lamp and maintenance costs, start to make laser seem more affordable. But for now these will be high end one-off showcase test beds.

RealD Gets Bigger In Russia With Two New Deals

RealD In Russia

With more than 23,000 movie screens using its 3D cinema technology in 74 countries around the globe, there is little debate over RealD’s market penetration. Yet it seems there are still territories where the company can grow its market share, especially in China and Russia.

That said, Russian exhibitors gave RealD a lot to crow about last week. The company announced that Cinema Park, which operates 281 screens across 18 cities in Russia, will install RealD 3D technology on 200 screens. Though RealD has already been placed in some of the circuit’s auditoriums, it will take five years to complete the rollout.

Cinema Park says 226 of its current screens are already 3D capable, leading one to believe the exhibitor is transitioning from whatever existing 3D systems they are using to RealD.

Possibly more important to RealD is that Cinema Park plans on installing the company’s premium large format (PLF) offering in their Grand Canyon theatre in St. Petersburg. As we explained back in June, the new program has been dubbed “Luxe: A RealD Experience”. Here is how the company describes what it refers to as an initiative:

“LUXE: A RealD Experience” is the Premium Large Format (PLF) initiative introduced by RealD at CineEurope 2013 with the aim of unifying the exhibition community under a single brand with a goal of becoming synonymous with the ultimate out of home entertainment experience. Minimum standards will assure all “LUXE: A RealD Experience” auditoriums feature massive screens, ultra bright 2D and 3D, enveloping audio and luxury seating for a premium movie-going experience. “LUXE: A RealD Experience” auditoriums will provide full flexibility with content, allowing exhibitors to show any movie at any time for optimized profitability.

This seems like less of a product and more of a quality assurance certification program not unlike what THX has offered in the past. RealD details the program’s requirements as follows:

All “LUXE: A RealD Experience” auditoriums will meet minimum technology specifications to assure a premium cinema experience, such as: usage of RealD 3D, the industry’s brightest 3D projection technology; wall-to-wall / floor-to-ceiling screens of at least 16 meters in width; 3D sound; auditorium rakes to optimize patron’s views and more.

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Can RealD Rival IMAX In The Premium Large Format (PLF) Market?

With Cinema Europe currently underway in Barcelona, two trends for premium cinema experiences that pull in opposite direction are hot topics for exhibitors gathering in Spain. The first is towards smaller, intimate venues that typically serve fine food and wine, as exemplified by The Electric in London or the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas. But it is the super-sizing of cinemas in a bid to compete with IMAX and its ability to charge premium ticket prices that is attracting the most attention right now. And RealD wants to be the centre of that action.

With cinema admissions in most of Europe static or even down and 3D seeing its lowest admission figures yet in the US this week, the hunt is on for how to squeeze more out of the people that still go to the cinema. This is where the success of IMAX comes into play, with exhibitors either partnering the large format (LF) player or launching their own premium experience auditoriums, to be able to charge a premium above that of 3D. The track record of exhibitors that have launched their own IMAX-like screens has been mixed, with social media in particular abuzz with patrons venting their unhappiness about large screen up-charges. This blog called AMC’s ETX ‘an Excuse To charge Extra’ and is no less kind about Regal’s RPX.

With Digital 3D being a key part of the PLF experience, RealD has spotten and opportunity to try to create a branding on behalf of exhibitors. From their press release:

At a special presentation to European cinema exhibitors at CineEurope, RealD Inc. (NYSE: RLD) today introduced “LUXE: A RealD Experience,” a premium large format (PLF) initiative aimed at unifying the exhibition community under a single brand with a goal of becoming synonymous with the ultimate out of home entertainment experience. Minimum standards will assure all “LUXE: A RealD Experience” auditoriums feature massive screens, ultra bright 2D and 3D, enveloping audio and luxury seating for a premium movie-going experience. “LUXE: A RealD Experience” auditoriums will provide full flexibility with content, allowing exhibitors to show any movie at any time for optimized profitability.

The code words are clearly audible dog whistles for cinema owners. The first sentence effectively says, “you have largely failed with your efforts of creating in-house PLF brands that can take on IMAX.” The second sentence says, “too many of the PLF auditoriums have been poor IMAX-lite causing consumer backlash.” The third sentence is the most critical, because it tells cinemas not to tie themselves in with IMAX’s restrictive licence terms – “you will have to pay a licence fee to RealD, but it will be less than what you would pay IMAX and we also won’t tell you which films to play and for how long.” Not surprisingly the effort has won the backing of the studios, who are keen on premium ticket pricing, but not on IMAX dominating the market. [NB: The first point was made even more strongly in the ScreenDaily interview, where Mayson is quoted as saying, “There are more than 50 PLF brands worldwide. We’re trying to unify those brands on the grounds that it’s easier to create awareness around one experience.”]

Bob Mayson is quoted in the Hollywood Reporter on the technical specifics:

“LUXE comes in response to our exhibitor customers, who are seeing increasing demand for premium cinema offerings but really want a single identifiable brand that will be a guarantee of quality to their customers,“ Robert Mayson, Managing Director of RealD Europe told The Hollywood Reporter. According to Mayson, the technical standards, which include wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling screens of at least 16 meters (52.5 feet) in width; 3D sound; auditorium rakes and a screen brightness for 3D projections about twice the current norm, means LUXE will be an elite standard. “We are talking about the top five percent of cinemas, there will be many theaters that won’t have the capacity or the physical dimensions to qualify,” he said.

Note in particular the mention of ’3D audio’. RealD is careful not to pick a winner in the fight between Dolby’s Atmos and Barco’s Auro and would most likely prefer to see an open standard, as called for by NATO and UNIC [pdf]. With Regal recently having announced that it is installing Dolby’s Artmos in its RPX screens, 3D audio will together with a big screen and bright projection be a cornerstone of the PLF experience. Though for exhibitors not willing to install two projectors, whether Sony or DLP, the equation will not truly be completed until the arrival of laser projection.

The next thing to note is the territories where this system will launch. THR identifies this as, “RealD plans to roll out the new LUXE initiative in Europe, Russia, the Middle East and Africa. Europe in particular has seen strong growth in the premium segment of the cinema market.” Screen meanwhile lists, “Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, South Africa, Bulgaria, Romania and the Balkans.” The thing to note is that it is the emerging markets that are of particular focus, which is why we get a quote from “Paul Heth, CEO of Karo Film, a leading cinema chain in Russia.” These are the markets that have not attempted a PLF brand on their own and that will build new multiplexes, so that the system does not have to be retrofitted into existing multiplexes. RealD is thus unlikely to try to persuade existing cinema clients in North America and Western Europe to ditch their own in-house PLF brand in favour of LUXE.

While IMAX is built on great technology and offers (depending on the site) a terrific viewer experience, there is nothing about it that cannot be replicated with todays digital technology – unlike the analogue 70mm systems of olden days. What sets it apart from in-house PLF screens is thus one thing: branding. IMAX has done a terrific job of re-positioning its brand from 60 minute documentaries for school groups that put bums on seats Monday through Friday 9am until 5pm, to one where people book tickets weeks in advance to catch the latest Hollywood blockbuster on the opening weekend. This despite the backlash of the ‘IMAX-lite’ entry into the multiplex market a few years back. Vue Xtreme and Regal RPX have simply not been able to match the branding power of IMAX. RealD too has some cleaver technology, including launching the brighter screen this week, but there is nothing inherently unique about circular polarization 3D at the heart of their solution. The truth is that RealD too is about branding. Just like IMAX it charges a licence fee. Just not as much or with terms perceived as equally restrictive. If RealD succeeds with LUXE – and it stands a better chance than in-house PLFs – it is because the company understands IMAX and what makes it a success all too well.

Dassault demonstrates VR Paris in 3D for cinemas

In the car from Paris’ Gare de Nord station to Dassault Systèmes’ campus at the outskirts of town I got chatting to a British journalist for an education supplement. He confessed that he had never been to Paris before, but that he recognised the streets we were driving down from a video racing game. This got us talking about how you can do a tourist-like exploration of Venice and Florence playing ‘Assassin’s Creed II‘ and was an appropriate intro to the demonstration we were about to experience of Paris 3D. While a niche application for cinemas currently, it points to interesting potential future uses.

Dassault Systèmes, the sister company of aerospace major Dassault Aviation, specialises in simulation and CAD software with a particular focus on 3D solutions for 11 different industry sectors, ranging from automotive to architecture for projects such as the Guggenheim Bilbao. The company has recently begun focusing on 3D applications for culture, education and research, which is what lead it to cinema. As Mehdi Tayoubi, VP Digital & Experiential Strategy, stated at the start of the presentation, “3D is about how we can revolutionise science, culture and society. We are doing 3D to anticipate the real world.”

The first major fruit of this new focus was a two-year project with Harvard University and a staff of 10 from Dassault to create ‘Giza 3D‘, dubbed “reverse engineering archeology.” This allowed researchers and students to explore the Giza pyramid complex and figure out how it is possible to go about building these pyramids, which far from just stacking stones blocks, required complex engineering for the tunnels and chambers. The project was selected to be showcased at the South by SoutWest Interactive (SXSW) and the app is freely available here.

Next, the learnings from this project were poured into what Tayoubi dubbed a “real transmedia project”, the Paris 3D Saga. Remember the scene in “Inception” where Ellen Page’s character shows Leonado DiCaprio how she can manipulate the city and create new buildings? That’s what the team of engineers at Dassault have been doing, “using virtual reality as a key engine for different media” according to Tayoubi, only here in aid of research and education rather than popcorn. The result can be appreciated on the website, through an iPad app, on a Blu-ray/DVD, but is most impressive when seen on the big screen in full stereoscopic 3D.

The project does not simply capture contemporary Paris but allows for the exploration of the city over the past 2,000 years, going back to the early Roman settlements. This has meant re-constructing ancient buildings that no longer exist, such as Coliseums, but also more recent ones, like the Bastille that required extensive work with architects and historians. Interesting historical nuggets were unearthed, like the fact that the Notre Dame was not built from the ground up, as you might expect, but from left to right, in order to replace an existing church. Another is that the Bastille was far from the imposing building that history teaches us, as revealed in this article from the New York Times:

In a 1789 painting of the Bastille, the French artist Hubert Robert portrayed that Paris fortress as a huge, seemingly impregnable structure and the Parisian revolutionaries who razed it as small, vulnerable human beings. More than two centuries later, thanks to 3-D modeling software, a different picture of the Bastille emerges. In its recreated setting it is the Bastille that seems small, even vulnerable.

The dimensions of the Bastille are still known, but even one expert on the city’s history was taken in by Robert’s hyperbole — until he saw the 3-D simulation, which shows the Bastille nestled among surrounding buildings rather than towering over them. Now he sees the fortress, and the painting, in a different light.

“It was pure propaganda,” said Jean-Marc Léri, director of the Carnavalet Museum, which is devoted to the history of Paris.

The scale of the Bastille is one of many revelations that emerge from “Paris 3D,” an ambitious project by Dassault Systèmes, a French software company, in partnership with the Carnavalet, that has created an interactive 3-D, virtual-reality representation of Paris through the ages.

The project is on-going, so there are constantly more buildings, layers and information added. As Tayoubi stated, “we want this to be the on-line reference for Paris.” See the iPad preview below:

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What is particularly impressive is the ability for a guide or controller to move freely around and zoom in on particular buildings or places, allowing the viewer to travel down the streets of historical Paris as if walking there, while the guide explains what we are seeing. The audience can thus ask questions or suggest places in real time and get a close up and explanation. This has interesting potentials for cinema, as will be explored at the end of this piece, but also inherent limitations. The easiest way to demonstrate this is to record a tour, machinema-style, with a narration which is what has been done. Screen Daily describes it in this good write-up:

The documentary, called “Paris: The Great Saga”, was a coproduction with Planète+ and ran this autumn on French TV. Directed by Xavier Lefebvre, the film was produced in two versions – a 90 minute feature and a 4 x 52 minute series. The film tells its story of Paris though a family’s tour over Paris in a hot air balloon that begins in 3000 BC. It’s a story device perfectly aligned to take advantage of the aerial flights of fancy that Dassault’s 3D virtual camera allows.

The directors could use the virtual Paris to create any kind of shot they wanted, on the fly, some of which were plates for additional action to be added later. The sophistication of the 3D model meant that a shot could start from high above the city and end on a tiny detail of Notre Dame Cathedral all with a high degree of resolution. Dassault’s Paris model also features a population of “extras”, virtual citizens of each period, dressed in appropriate costumes, filling the streets and buildings.

This project has also found a home in the cinema for the past three years, more specifically Paris’ IMAX at La Geode and in collaboration with French director Luc Basson, whose The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec feature extensive recreations of Belle Epoque Paris (and Egypt).

The interesting thing is how this could be now be taken further in cinemas, as opposed to film-making or other than to just screen the linear documentary. The limiting factor is the need for a guide (and narrator) at the controls of the computer connected to the projector, which makes each installation site-specific. Even so it opens interesting potentials for education and VR tourism, with groups of students or tourists being given a virtual guided tour of Paris – or any other city that develops a similar project. These events could be sponsored by a company with particular ties to the city. Given a high-profile speaker, it can even be used to resurrect the largely gone tradition of travelogues, where knowledgable and/or famous historians and explorers take their audience through exotic locations. Rather than just slides from an expedition to Borneo, this would showcase remote and historic cities, or even show people in the cities themselves perspectives that would otherwise not be available (such as climbing up the Eiffel Tower).

Dassault is not resting on its Paris laurels, but is already working on its next city, which is Brazil’s Rio. The company also demonstrated a fascinating 3D ‘cave’ solution, where deep sea divers were trained to walk around a sunken wreck in preparation for the real dive. There are also further augmented reality (AR) work with Nestle and Kung-Fu Panda 2, creating AR on cereal boxes. However, Tayoubi is also clear that there is a limit to what the company will do. “Our work is not to be a Pixar or DreamWorks [Animation] of tomorrow; we are not going to make CGI movies.” In a way, the VR 3D Paris points to a more interesting direction and potential for the cinema – as anyone who has played Assassins’ Creed II will testify.

Disclosure: the Paris trip to Dassault Systèmes was paid for by the company. They also handed out a Blu-ray to all journalists and served rather lovely coffee.