3D: Soon Coming at Ya' at Home

This 3D television was a hot ticket at the CES show in Las Vegas, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2010.
From the old red-and-green spectacles of days gone by to the more snazzy frames of today, you need special glasses to watch a movie in 3D (at least for now). 3D technology is already transforming the movies, and you don't need any high-tech glasses to see its impact. Our Cover Story is reported by Bill Whitaker:

It seems some things never change in Hollywood. For 82 years of Academy Awards there's always the flash ... the fashions ... the royalty ... the scene stealers ... the showdown.

This year the buzz is about the nail-biting faceoff between Kathryn Bigelow, director of the indie war movie, "The Hurt Locker" ... and her ex-husband, James Cameron, director of the all-time box office smash, "Avatar."

But what really has Hollywood talking is thatm, win or lose, "Avatar" could change everything, with its breathtaking imagination and out-of-this-world imagery in eye-popping 3D.

It cost $300 million, some say $400 million to get to the screen, where it's raked in a staggering $2.5 billion worldwide.

"There are a number of films that have gone out and proved repeatedly that the market is there," said director Cameron. "I think, you know, the verdict is pretty well in that 3D is here to stay. and that it's a major boost to the, theatrical exhibition business."

Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of Dreamworks Animation, calls the success of Cameron's 3D gamble "thrilling."

"I can't think of a more inspiring event to happen for the movie business in a decade than 'Avatar,'" he said.

"How to Train Your Dragon," Dreamworks Animation's next big release, is in 3D. In fact, all of the studio's releases from now on will be in 3D.

"There was silent-to-sound. There was black and white-to-color. And now, here we are 70 years later, and this is the next great revolution," Katzenberg said. "It amplifies the feelings that a filmmaker wants. It can make it scarier, can make it funnier, can make it more exhilarating, more of a ride. It's a powerful, powerful storytelling tool."

At Universal City Imax in L.A., the verdict on today's 3D is, well, universal:

"Oh my God, it was amazing," said Julia Correa. "It was, like, an attention grabber."

"It's like you're actually watching it in real life. It's cool," said Josh.

"Why would you want to sit and watch a 2-dimensional screen when you can watch a 3-dimensional screen and have those kinds of emotional roller coaster rides?" asked Ross Burkhardt.

Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, the co-directors of "How to Train Your Dragon," were blown away by the 3D images in their own movie.

"You're trying to get the audience to experience what you have in your mind, and 3D actually draws you in that much more," said DeBlois.

Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan says 3D isn't for every movie.

"I'm not sure, you know, 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' is going to be in 3D," he said. "I don't know if people want to see that in 3D."

But, he says, Hollywood is banking 3D is just the ticket to get people off the couch and out to the movies.

"They really have a problem getting people into the theater," Turan said. "And just by looking at the numbers, it's been proven that if something's in 3D, more people will come."

Of the more than 500 movies released last year, only 16 were in 3D - about 3% - yet they accounted for 10% of total box office earnings.

(Twentieth Century Fox)
And two of them, "Avatar" and "Up," are up for Best Picture tonight. "Coraline," another 3D film, is competing against "Up" in the Best Animated Feature category.

"The DVD business is down and, you know, piracy is up," said Katzenberg. "And these are why most people in Holllywood are not sleeping very well these days. The one bright note is 3D in the movie theater. It's the one big, blue sky for us and our business."

This isn't the first time 3D was going to change Hollywood. Everyone of a certain age remembers the goofy glasses, the horror - and not just on the screen. Those flickering images in the 1950s left many moviegoers with horrible headaches, and the novelty soon wore off.

But what's on the screen today isn't your grandfather's 3D.

"This actually has nothing to do with the 3D of old, except for the word '3D,' said Steve Schklair, a founder of 3ality Digital in Burbank, Calif., one of those leading the charge in the 3D revolution.

3ality Digital has designed a camera that mimics the eyes' perception of three dimensions. Two digital lenses capture two distinct images, then the glasses - yes, you still need the glasses - direct one image to the right eye and the other to the left, and your brain sees 3D. "So 3D is really, in essence, an optical trick," Schklair said.

"There are cures for the 3D headache and that's just good quality images," he said. "The speed at which this is now hitting the consumer market is just surprising everybody."

"So you're really seeing it snowballing?" Whitaker asked.

"Avalanching!" Schklair laughed.

There's a blizzard of movies in the pipeline. Out this weekend: "Alice in Wonderland." Three-dimensional video games are in the works. 3D TVs are headed to the market already. Direct-TV, Discovery, ESPN all are launching 3D channels. Sky-TV broadcast a soccer match in Britain experimentally. The results: sky-high enthusiasm.

"It's fantastic. It's fantastic. Superb," said one British football fan.

Sony, with its hands in movies, TV and video games, has made a corporate decision to launch 3D from all its platforms.

"It's conceivable it might stimulate profit, which is not so easy to find in the industry," said Sir Howard Stringer, Sony President & CEO. "It's a pretty sort of effortless daisy chain of excitement, if we get it right."

"You want to get people up off the couch and get them to come into the movie theater . . . but, wait a minute! No, stay at home and watch your new 3D TV!" said Whitaker.

"No, I get them coming and going," Stringer said. "I don't mind. They can leave or stay. It's part or our world. If it's 3D, it'll give us another chance to seduce everybody."

But what about those glasses? Are they going to go away?

"Yeah, they will, they will," said Stringer. "And also. by the way, a lot of us wear glasses. It's not such a strange experience. In some ways it's being talked about as if, 'Oh my God, people have to wear glasses.' You say, Wait a minute! What do you think we're wearing?"

But until there's a 3D flat screen TV or game console in every house, the movies will be where most of us witness this transformation, taking us to new worlds, through a whole new world of 3D.

"What we're seeing now is a cumulative sense of it taking off through the best energies of a number of good films that have been made over the last three years or so," said Cameron.

"And it offers the opportunity to make the movie theater experience really special again," added Katzenberg. "This is not like the hula hoop, you know, some cheap gimmick or trick that's going to come along and go away. It's here to stay."