Yesterday in Hollywood there was a massive event put together by Paramount Studios with a wide array of agendas: promote Transformers 3D, promote the 3D format, promote a Titanic rerelease, and give James Cameron and Michael Bay a forum for their own gabfest (read: promote James Cameron and Michael Bay). The event gave the attending writers, filmmakers, and students a look at some of the money shots from Transformers: Dark of the Moon, along with a taste of what Bay’s first foray into the format will be bringing to the 3D table.
While it was already announced, it should be mentioned that the Titanic 3D rerelease is a sure thing at this point, Cameron has been personally overseeing a 4K transfer and digital conversion across the past year (which will continue through this year) and it will hit theaters 100 years after the sinking of the Titanic on April 6th, 2012.
Moving on, it seems Michael Bay’s conversion from 3D skeptic to guarded enthusiast was the general focus of the talk, which went so far as to show a 2009 ShoWest clip of him hedging his bets on the success and worth of the process. By all accounts he tread a skeptical line to balance out the outright evangelizing of James Cameron, but as a technologically cutting-edge director coming from a place of doubt and experimentation, his experience working in 3D is worth a lot. So while it’s all by-memory reporting (no one but THR could record, and lo and behold, their coverage seems to be lagging), it’s worth noting a few of the impressions from the different attending sites. They each have their own perspective of the events, descriptions of the tone of the conversation, and impressions of the footage, so be sure to check out their full reports at some point.
It appears that Bay and Cameron definitely had moments of disagreement, as HitFix’s Alex Dorn noticed some seat-shifting from Cameron during Bay’s more exuberant rants about incorporating 3D into his rather unique workflow.
“When you’re on location in Chicago, surrounded by burning cars and there’s a whole team of technicians around your camera with scalpels… and your DP is kicking chairs over, that was 3D.” Cameron would mostly nod or grimace at things like this, but for the most part explained the issues and defended the format…
Technical issues aside, Bay did admit to enjoy working in 3D, “I’ve always liked all my shots to have a foreground, mid and background and this really lets you play with that… I had a wonderful time doing 3D.”
All of the reports I’ve read have taken special note of Bay’s enthusiasm for playing with space and shapes on different planes, and this cuts to the core of why I’m more excited to encourage 3D to develop quickly rather than just incessantly bitch about it going away. It’s clear at this point that it’s not going to disappear (I’ve said my piece on that subject), so I’m much more interested in these filmmakers developing the technology and the techniques at an expedited pace, so that its use can become more artistically focused. In just a few short years we’ve seen visionary filmmakers decide to take the plunge, and we’re right on the cusp of seeing the first fruits of their labors. What I think we’re likely to find is that the Scorcese’s, the Luhrmann’s, and the Bay’s (which all represent very different ends of the “notable filmmakers” triangle) acknowledge the format as a potential tool to be used like any other in the bag.
This is something Bay was definitely keen to focus on, as evidenced by some comments Devin from BAD took note of — specifically that Bay mixed technologies and did what he thought was best for individual shots.
Bay remains a film purist; he says that digital doesn’t look right to him. He shot many of the close-ups and character stuff in Transformers: Dark of the Moon on film, post-converting it; his estimate is that about 20% of the movie is post-converted (20% is completely digital creations and 60% is digital native 3D). Cameron, however, has been all about digital since he finished Titanic (he made the statement that he hadn’t shot on film since 1997, but if you look at his filmography that isn’t the most impressive claim).
While I think it’s a bit off to dismiss Cameron’s statement because his IMDB isn’t filled with theatrically released feature films (between his docs, his side projects, and his extensive tech experiments he’s certainly overseen the capture of more footage and put hands on more cameras than virtually any other working director on the planet), it’s true that he’s not even close to an objective pundit at this point. However, Bay’s use of the format represents the guarded experimenting of a man with a very defined production pace and carefully developed workflow, and his words weigh more than those of some young horror director jumping into the format, or a more artistically-inclined director having a conversion thrust on him by a studio.
I will note that his insistence on film-shot close-ups is certainly an aesthetic choice, as stereoscopic photography actually lends itself to close-ups (where there is discernible depth to capture) as opposed to landscapes that are flattened by our eyes anyway. Close-ups not “looking right” in digital is an issue entirely separated from 3D use, other than the issue of 3D requiring that the cameras be digital. At the end of the day Bay likes grain, not pixels. Regardless, Bay seems to more enjoy the ability to specifically distinguish fore, mid, and background elements with a technique that complements the composition and depth of field* techniques that have traditionally done the job of focusing a viewer’s attention. *(section of the image that’s in focus)
Of course, the Jo’s from JoBlo note that Cameron couldn’t go without making a few grand statements about how quickly 3D delivery technology is advancing. He may be right in a few selects regards, but his proclamation that 3D has something to offer all films is sure to make more than a few of you wince (or roll your eyes while shooting the bird and making a fart sound, like a deer in Louis C.K.’s yard).
“I took the AVATAR crew on for TRANSFORMERS as they’re the best for 3D that there is,” Bay claimed, adding that it was an exciting way to create a new film experience. This was echoed later on during the conversation by Cameron, clearly a pioneer in the advancement of 3D as it moves from theatres into our very own homes. “Within the next two to five being we will have have tablets and laptops which can be viewed 3D without glasses. We will have televisions with multiple viewer angles so we don’t need glasses there. And we will have 3D cameras for entry-level filmmaking.” Cameron even went as far as to say that “all films benefit from 3D.” All films…? Well we all know how much the man loves his technology.
Virtually every report I read also noted Cameron’s acknowledgement that theater brightness is an issue that needs to be conquered, but he continues to insist that it’s a problem that could be solved by theater managers allowing their projectors to run brighter.
After that the spectators saw a batch of footage that included a shot of Bumblebee transforming around Shia LaBeouf in mid-air, a spectacular skyscraper destruction, and some zooming images of a flight-suited dude zipping through Chicago. It sounds visually impressive (as ‘formers footage always does), but whether it’s hung on something less dumb than the previous films remains to be seen. Certainly nobody got that impression from the presentation yesterday, but you can judge for yourself if you watch the 3D trailer attached to Pirates 4 this weekend.
Until then, you can consume this brief clip from the film that showcases no action, but gives you a look at Patrick Dempsey and Fox-replacement Rose Huntington-Whitely in action.
Make sure you check out those full reports, but trot back and let us know what you think of all these shenanigans: interested in seeing Titanic on the big screen again? Want to grumble about 3D some more? Have even the slightest interest in tossing down some dough to see robots clash again? We want to hear it all…
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