In March of 2009, Jerry Pierce, David Reisner, and Kevin Wines organized an ISDCF demonstration of 3D projection at various light levels, along with 3D content color also timed for various light levels. This is my report on that demonstration.
The ISDCF demonstration was remarkable even though its results were modest. Recollection hints that, due to the constraint of time, not every combination of color timing and screen illumination was demonstrated. But fortunately, those who prepared the content and the demonstration were able to witness a lot more. The surprise was that content color-timed for 14 ft-L looked good at lower light levels, and possibly better than content specifically color-timed for the same low light levels. That result was certainly contrary to conventional wisdom. But it was not possible to act on this information at that time. No one would have thought to color-timing at 14 ft-L, as exhibitors were struggling to display 3D at 4 ft-L. And exhibitors were not keen about any attempt by Hollywood to alter their profitable run with 3D.
Exhibitors have reason to be sensitive to efforts to establish 3D light levels. Many 3D systems, even today, are very inefficient. Even the best 3D system can only be 50% efficient, and the efficiency of real systems are considerably less. Consider that, at best, 50% of the light from the projector can only be seen by one eye in 3D (a left eye image or a right eye image), where the same eye will see 100% of the light from the projector in 2D. Faced with the reality of inefficiency, but wanting to encourage brighter 3D screens, DCI took the path of recommending 7 ft-L for 3D in exhibition. The recommendation didn’t get much attention. RealD, a leader in 3D add-on technology and glasses, advised its customers to target 6 ft-L.
Fast forward to today, and competitive high brightness 3D solutions are available. New cinema installations largely take advantage of this, reporting the achievement of light levels well above 6 ft-L. Christie says its laser projector installations will achieve 14 ft-L 3D, but high brightness 3D is not limited to laser projection. RealD and MasterImage each market efficient 3D systems that work with xenon projectors. There is no disagreement that the best 3D experience for the audience will indeed be at 14 ft-L. But if the 3D produced by distributors is color-timed for 6 ft-L, then it will look washed out at higher light levels, causing the exhibitor to ratchet down the light level of their high brightness system. This is clearly not the behavior that the industry seeks.
Cinematographers have long been clamoring for 14 ft-L 3D. They are closer to getting that today than at any time before. But distributors are reasonably concerned about adding more versions of the movie to their already over-burdened workflow. Understandably, they don’t want to produce movies color-timed for 4 ft-L, 6 ft-L, and 14 ft-L. However, what if they were to only distribute 3D color-timed for 14 ft-L? The immediate thought is that exhibitors with systems capable of 14 ft-L 3D would be the primary beneficiaries. However, the tests conducted back in March 2009 indicate that this may not be so. It may actually be that the 14 ft-L graded version will look better than versions color timed for lesser ft-L 3D presentation. In which case exhibitors will simply be encouraged to light their screens the best they can, and know that the content will look as good as it can. At the very least, exhibitors will be rewarded for their efforts to put more light on their 3D screens, rather than foiled. A critical component of this change would be to refrain from regulation. Until the day arrives when 14 ft-L is easily achievable on a wide scale, exhibitors should simply be encouraged to do the best they can, knowing that 14 ft-L is the goal.
There are other benefits than audience satisfaction that should encourage brighter 3D. Filmmakers need to know that there are good screens for their 3D movies. At the end of January, director Jean-Pierre Jeunet screened his latest 3D work in Los Angeles, The Young And Prodigious T.S. Spivet . All photography was captured with 3D camera, with impressive quality. During the Q&A session that followed, the director indicated that he wasn’t eager to do another. It was evident that it required a lot of work to do such a fine job, but he was clearly disenchanted that a 3D movie only looks good the first weekend, after which it can only be seen on a dark screen. If filmmakers are no longer excited by the format, then 3D will simply wilt away.
Encouragement is needed to install brighter 3D in cinemas. Doing so with efficient distribution would help. But the industry can’t rely on the memory of a test made over 5 years ago. It would be wise to reconstruct the test, to learn if the results can be repeated. If distributors can be guided that it’s only necessary to color-time 3D at 14 ft-L, it would create a win-win situation for all.