Jeffrey Katzenberg from DreamWorks Animation Discusses the 3D Landscape at NAB
One of the highlights during NAB last week in Las Vegas was when DreamWorks Animation CEO, Jeffrey Katzenberg shared the stage with moderator, David Wertheimer, CEO and Executive Director of the Entertainment Technology Center @USC for a candid conversation about 3D. It turns out that the first movie to catch Katzenberg’s attention using the new technology was “Polar Express”, which was made by Robert Zemekis over four years ago. Jeffrey recalled viewing the film in the 15th row at the Bridge Theater in Los Angeles. He found the experience exhilarating and unlike anything he’d experienced before and called his team afterwards and said that they had to see it. He told them, ” I think this is going to be a huge opportunity for us.” What Katzenberg really finds interesting is that the film was a 2D authored movie designed to be post produced and converted to 3D. He believes that there is a fair amount of confusion regarding the differences between authoring in 3D and shooting a film in 2D that is designed to be post produced in 3D. He explained, “Directing is sort of the essential element that exists in high end premium experiences, so there’s directing movies that are designed and shot in 3D and for sure they are going to deliver the super, premium experience and people have now seen several examples of that and there’s no question it’s pretty exhilarating.” He also added that it’s expensive and requires a lot of creative and technical resources to accomplish this.
Katzenberg is very enthusiastic about the technology, which he believes is going to allow filmmakers to tell their stories by immersing the audience into them, evoking their emotions and helping them to become more invested in the characters. “It actually takes those feelings and by using the dimensionality of that world and the ability of the filmmaker to put you into that position, it makes these things more better. It’s an artistic tool dependent on technology and some great innovation that has occurred,” he continued. When placed in the hands of great storytellers like James Cameron, who have access to unlimited resources, Katzenberg believes “it’s the most thrilling experience we’ve all had in a movie theater in a very, very long period of time.”
The conversation also turned to the prospect of 3D spreading from the movie theaters into the home. Dreamworks has been partnering with Samsung in this area for the past year and Katzenberg is inspired by the results. He said, they are very excited by what they are able to deliver today in the 3D TV sets on the market now and the ones that will be debuting in the fourth quarter later this year. “Sports is going to be THE biggest driver into the home. That and gaming,” he commented. Additionally, he feels it’s an advantage that consumers at home will have the ability to turn the technology on and off. “You don’t have that option when you’ve gone into the movie theater. It’s a different set of issues in the home versus the movie theater,” he said.
Katzenberg went on to explain that when his company made the commitment two years ago to develop projects in 3D, the home market wasn’t a consideration. “The decision for us to make that capital investment and increase the cost of our films to deliver was made 100% on the value that we thought we could get from the movie theater experience and plus we could deliver a standard 2D version of the film for the home market for at least another 5 or 6 or 7 years,” he explained. “What it’s done, is it actually revealed to us what we think are going to be a number of opportunities in terms of the home market and I think that value is going to end up being more than anybody’s anticipating in terms of libraries,” he added.
A big part of the driving force behind the growth of 3D are the filmmakers themselves, who are working with highly skilled technical teams to ensure that their movies deliver a quality experience. Katzenberg is very optimistic with regards to the rate of innovation that is occurring and the tools that have been developed for 3D filmmaking within the past 24 months. He’s impressed with the progress that’s been made from the time “Monsters vs Aliens” debuted to the recently released “How to Train Your Dragon” and expects the high quality to continue with the latest “Shrek” offering and next summer’s “Kung Fu Panda”, although he feels that the tools available to filmmakers are still in the rudimentary stage.
As for the prospect of converting previous 2D hits like “Titanic” and the “Star Wars” Films into 3D, Katzenbeg had this to say, “Just to make it clear Jim Cameron and George Lucas both have done tests, one of which I’ve seen. They’re not going to do anything to demean those films, to diminish the importance of those films. As I’ve said, I’ve seen the tests on one of them and it’s spectacular” The picture he referred to is “Titanic” and he added that Cameron is a perfectionist. “Just ask the guys at Fox. They’ll tell you, “ he joked with a smile. Another consideration about this process is that it costs about 20 million dollars and it takes about a year and a half to complete.
One point Katzenberg kept returning to was the necessity of providing a quality experience for consumers, regardless of which platform is being used. “Whatever you’re going to deliver you’re going to ask people to pay a premium for it, so you had better deliver them a premium experience,” he said. Continuing to discuss the development of 3D he stated, “I think it has united the imagination of moviegoers in a way that they have not been in a very long time, literally decades. It’s the first time in which admissions are actually on the rise.” He believes that during the past several years technological advances in the home overshadowed the theaters, which had “flatlined” for a couple of decades. He feels that 3D is changing all of that, but said that they will continue to deliver films in 2D as well for those who can’t afford the higher ticket prices or fall into the 3-10% of the population with medical impairments preventing them from enjoying the new technology. “They were better films in 2D for having been offered in 3D. They’re more visual,” he continued. Interestingly enough, Jeffrey is one of the people who has proven to be sensitive to viewing some forms of 3D. He explained with a laugh that at his studio, “I’m what they call the hurlmeter.”
Comparing 3D to color, Katzenberg stated, “It has more dimension to it. We see in color. We see in dimension. It is literally observing what we do. Dimensionality is here. It is no longer a gimmick. It is a powerful, powerful conveyer of intonation and emotions and it’s actually going to be a very, very important part of how we, as human beings, consume all kinds of information and data. The tools for authoring that are actually going to go through an equally exciting rate of change. I think right now they, audiences are excited about experiencing all forms of 3D and I think they’re checking everything out and I think that in the early days there are opportunities to sample all the different ways in which 3D can be made.”
Another plus for making films in 3D is the fact that 90% of piracy is committed by shooting in a movie theater with a camcorder. So when viewing super high end 3D authored movies, it would be necessary for someone to lift up their glasses in order to film the movie and the result would look terrible. “That’s actually kind of a silver lining inside of a silver chalice, so that’s kind of nice news on that front,” he explained.
In conclusion, it would appear that Katzenberg believes we are in the beginning stages of the 3D experience, where the tools are still rudimentary and the best is yet to come in both the theatrical and home viewing markets. Hopefully, we’ll be hearing from him at next year’s NAB with a progress report.