Posted on July 31, 2010

3-D films in GTA

Toronto firms hope technology offers competitive edge to offset higher Canadian dollar

Toronto Star, Sat Jul 31 2010, By line: Dana Flavelle

Bill White forgot that he meant to take Wednesday off.

The co-founder of the (») 3D Camera Company has worked straight through the weekend.

He’s just back from New York where his cameras were used to shoot a concert by the U.K. punk rock Jim Jones Revue Band in 3-D.

Then it was off to participate at a 3-D Media Workshop in Rockport, Me.

Now, the pioneering Toronto film industry entrepreneur is double-booked and running at least half an hour late.

White shrugs off what he calls a lifelong habit of “controlled chaos.”

Personal idiosyncrasies aside, his cluttered calendar may reflect the fact his company is one of several Toronto firms chasing the 3-D dream. The long list of well-known local players includes Don Carmody Productions, Cinespace Film Studios and Creative Post Inc.

Several have worked on some of Hollywood’s biggest 3-D productions this year, including Saw VII, the latest instalment in one of the most successful horror series in movie history, and Resident Evil: AfterLife.

“Within two years, pretty much every feature film will be made in 3-D because it makes so much sense when you will have 50 million TV sets in North American that are 3-D capable and 30,000 to 50,000 theatres around the world that are 3-D capable in the next three to five years,” White predicts.

And there’s not enough 3-D content to fill them.

With the Canadian dollar at par eroding Toronto’s competitive advantage as a place to shoot, many in the industry are banking on 3-D technology to restore its edge.

Spending by U.S. film and TV production companies on locations in Toronto fell 25 per cent over a five-year period ending in 2008 to $79.4 million as the dollar soared to 94 cents U.S from 71 cents U.S., according to the (») Film &Television Office. Total spending was down 23 per cent year over year to $610 million, the Toronto office also reports.

That trend reversed in Ontario last year after the government announced more generous tax credits. Total spending by the film and television industry jumped 41 per cent to $946.5 million, according to the Ontario Media Development Corp.

But tax credits are only part of the story, says Karen Thorne-Stone, president and chief executive officer of OMDC.

“The industry here is changing. It’s almost 70 per cent domestic now,” she says. “Eight or 10 years ago, we were seen as a discount location compared to the U.S. Now, I think companies are looking to come here and short-listing Ontario because of the quality of what we have to offer.”

Whether it’s special effects, post-production facilities, or now 3-D technology and expertise, the industry is competing on its own terms.

“One of our major (film location) competitors is Detroit because they have massive tax credits there. But they haven’t done a 3-D movie,” says Don Carmody, head of his own production house whose credits include Resident Evil: AfterLife.

That means Toronto can offer something Detroit can’t, including trained crew, sets, cameras, lighting and other 3-D equipment.

Outside the industry, skepticism about 3-D technology remains high. Some people report feeling dizzy or nauseated when they watch 3-D movies.

Viewers still require special glasses to create the illusion of a third dimension. And previous 3-D fads have been just that: fleeting curiosities.

Not all of it is being done well, particularly the “conversions” that take existing 2-D images and make them 3-D. Industry insiders acknowledge the hasty conversion of Clash of the Titans was a disaster.

But this time is different, insiders insist.The advent of digital photography has made capturing and viewing 3-D images simpler and more cost-effective than in previous generations.

“The old way of displaying 3-D in cinemas was you had to have two projectors lock-synched side-by-side running left and right eye images running perfectly in synch, aligned perfectly on the parallax. So it required a lot of skill to operate,” says White.

“With digital you can project left and right eye images through a single digital projector and lens. Mass audiences can wear very low-cost circular polarized glasses to see left and right eye images in sequential rate, at 144 flashes per second.

“It’s not only easier to display but it’s much more immersive.”

For TV makers and Hollywood studios, 3-D raises the prospect of being able to sell millions more TV sets and movie tickets at premium prices as audiences trade up to the new format. 3-D images are also much harder to pirate.

Everyone from video game console makers such as Nintendo, to satellite TV services such as Bell TV, is making a bet on 3-D.

“The studios are realizing there’s a golden goose here because you get all these bums in seats that will pay a 30-per-cent premium,” says Ali Kazimi, an independent filmmaker and associate professor in York University’s film department.

One of the catalysts was the success of James Cameron’s blockbuster 3-D movie, Avatar, which, at $2.7 billion U.S., is the highest-grossing Hollywood picture.

Still, the 3-D format has a long way to go, insiders acknowledge.

Ken MacNeil, president of Creative Post, a post-production house in Toronto, says it forms less than 1 per cent of his revenue.And while a major feature film can recoup the added 20 to 30 per cent cost in time and equipment, it’s not that easy for smaller budget documentaries or TV series, he says.

For TV, many producers are hoping conversion software will make it cheaper and easier to shoot in 2-D and then convert to 3-D. But done badly it could end up turning viewers off 3-D altogether.

Several Toronto firms are participating in a provincially funded research project called 3D FLIC. The two-year project combines the talents of visual scientists at York University with filmmakers and their suppliers. One of the driving forces behind the project is Jim Mirkopoulos, vice-president at family-owned Cinespace Film Studios.

“Two years ago we really became interested – before the big wave hit – in how to optimize our space for 3-D so we could help spur Ontario’s transformation into a 3-D centre of excellence,” Mirkopoulos says.

The company partnered with York University and 3D Camera Company, shot a few test projects and then applied to the Ontario Media Development Corp. for a grant. The project received $1.4 million in funding.

“The idea is to build a competency in 3-D that surpasses other jurisdictions in North America,” Mirkopoulos says, and to generate jobs in the new 3-D industry.

Kazimi says a lot of work lies ahead.

“It’s a new medium. … We really don’t know at this stage what are the true possibilities of 3-D storytelling in film language.”

3-D films in GTA

Currently playing in theatres:

Toy Story 3

Despicable Me

Cats &Dogs: The revenge of Kitty Galore

Coming up:

Resident Evil: AfterLife – Sept. 10

Saw VII – Oct. 29, 2010

Avatar – re-release Aug. 27, 2010

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