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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

IMAX and 3D: In Theaters and At Home

While IMAX theaters and 3D effects have lurked for a long time in the background, recently filmmakers have been using them to revolutionize the movie industry. As moviegoers (and library patrons!) become more aware of these innovations, let’s take a look at what IMAX and 3D mean, both for the general public and for you, the media-savvy librarian.

IMAX, 3D, and the future of film

As home theater technology grows more advanced and box office revenue continues to drop, movie theaters are searching for ways to entice viewers with experiences they can’t get anywhere else. Movie studios are helping theaters step up their game by producing an increasing number of films in the IMAX and 3D formats. These viewing technologies provide moviegoers an intense, immersive experience that is (as of now) difficult or impossible to replicate at home.

IMAX is a video technology that allows images to be recorded at a much larger size and higher resolution than traditional filming. A standard IMAX screen is 72’ x 53’; this takes up most of the viewer’s field of vision, placing them “in the movie” in a way that standard theaters simply can’t. Traditionally, IMAX technology has been limited to documentaries and specialty projects, such as planetariums. One of the first uses of IMAX as an entertainment venture was a Rolling Stones concert film in 1991.

As of September 2010, there were more than 445 IMAX theatres in 47 countries. While this is only a fraction of the number of standard theaters, the format is growing in popularity. In 2010, IMAX raked in a record total of $546 million, over 200% more than their 2009 income.¹

Paramount has signed on to produce a number of upcoming films in the IMAX format. Super 8, Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol will be shot for IMAX screening. Transformers and Tintin will be shown in 3D as well.²

Film is generally a two-dimensional experience: height and width. As the name implies, 3D adds a third dimension: depth. Most people are familiar with the goofy red-and-blue-lens glasses generally associated with 3D viewing—necessary to produce the 3D illusion; the picture would be nearly impossible to view without them because of the distortion that produces the effect.

An occasional novelty for so long, 3D gained traction as the technology for creating the effects improved and decreased in cost. It exploded into the mainstream in 2009, though, with such films as Coraline, Up, and, of course, Avatar, which has gone on to become the highest-grossing film of all time with nearly $3 billion in box office receipts worldwide.³ Avatar was actually filmed specifically for 3D with cameras developed especially for the project, rather than having 3D effects added in post-production like previous 3D movies. This only further heightened the legitimacy of this theatrical effect.

Avatar’s creator, movie mogul James Cameron, sees a bright future for 3D. “My guess is that within the next five years we'll be almost completely in 3D in theatres,” he said in a recent interview with the Sydney Morning Herald. He’s currently preparing his epic Titanic for a 3D rerelease in 2012.⁴ Additionally, George Lucas has announced plans to rerelease the entire Star Wars saga in 3D, beginning with Episode I: The Phantom Menace in 2012.⁵

Merging of IMAX and 3D
With the increased revenue seen by IMAX and the success of 3D films like Avatar, it’s obvious that the future of movie theaters lies in these advanced technologies. So why not combine the two? As it turns out, that’s exactly what’s happening. Again, Cameron was on the leading edge with the 3D IMAX documentary Ghosts of the Abyss in 2003. Feature films have followed; in fact, nine out of the thirteen films slated for IMAX release in 2011 will be in 3D.⁶

Home Theater
The goal of all this, as mentioned previously, is to get viewers to visit theaters by offering them a movie-watching experience they can’t create for themselves at home. Televisions and Blu-ray players capable of producing the 3D effect are on the market, but they remain a niche product for now. One recent survey predicts that one-third of American households will have a 3DTV set by 2014, so we’re still a few years away from 3D being a mainstream home technology.⁷ And as for IMAX, forget it. Even the largest HDTVs and 3DTVs can’t come close to duplicating the experience of a giant theater screen.⁸ Still, I’m sure those in the home theater business won’t give up on trying to replicate the moviegoing experience as closely as ever-advancing technology allows.

Effect on Libraries
So, what does all this mean for you, the librarian? With 3DTV in its infancy, demand for 3D Blu-rays is likely to be limited for now. As with any fledgling technology, demand will increase with time, so it’s something to keep an eye on. Have there been any patron requests for 3D Blu-rays at your library? Or have you heard any feedback on why patrons have or have not adopted the technology in their homes?


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