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Friday, 25 April 2014 03:43 pm

Wellington a proving ground for cinema’s next big thing

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Scene from the landmark Wellington-made 3D film, Avatar. Photo: Fox International

A CINEMATIC revolution is coming and Wellington will be on the frontline, says a leading international exponent of film production art.

That revolution is three-dimensional film-making, says Meetal Gokul, a former Londoner now working at Park Road Post Production.

Mr Gokul, who was head-hunted from British 3D software designer Quantel nine months ago, says Wellington is home to two of the leading 3D film facilities on the planet: Park Road and Weta Digital.

The sister companies are primed for 3D projects and facilities, says Mr Gokul. “We’re pretty much at the forefront.”

Delia Shandly, senior film co-ordinator of Film Wellington, says the capital is an international proving ground for new 3D technology.

“We’re where people come to make their projects happen,” she says.

“Top film-makers in the world come here because we’ve got the talent to explore, build and adapt the technology.”

The market for those skills is booming – this year 49 feature films will be released in 3D and Disney/Pixar has announced it will use the technology for all of its future releases.

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Director James Cameron with 3D camera. Photo: Fox International

The most anticipated of these movies is Fox’s Wellington-made 3D magnum opus Avatar, directed by James Cameron (right).

The studio is adding to the hype with 15-minute sneak-peeks screening all over the world.

Wellington fans can queue up for a chance to see the snippets on Friday when Reading Cinemas on Courtenay Pl offers three screenings.

So why are film-makers turning to 3D? Mr Gokul says it’s just natural progression.

Black-and-white, silent film gave way to sound, then colour. “And what’s the next thing?  It is really 3D.”

And he doesn’t think it will take long before we prefer our entertainment that way.

Over time our brains have become used to understanding flat 2D images but most of us actually see “in stereo”, making 3D the ideal medium for film and television.

The cinema experience needs to stand out from the entertainment pack, says Richard Sinnott, manager of Lower Hutt Sky City Cinema, which has the only other 3D screen in the region.

“[3D] is about bringing the magic back to the movies. There are so many entertainment options out there, we just need a way to differentiate from them,” he says.

What’s in it for the audience is total immersion.

With purpose-built, more versatile technology, modern 3D films have a natural sense of depth, not unlike animated versions of the hyper-real images created by Viewmaster toys.

Film-makers use the new technology to imitate the way the human eye sees the real world.

In the past 3D films have been either a “10 minutes long thrill ride”, relying on novelty and awe, or B-grade horrors with little concern for the story.

With the quality of images possible now, this won’t work for a modern audience, says Mr Gokul. “Your brain and your eyes can’t handle an hour and a half of things coming at you.  It’ll hurt, your brain will melt.”

Film fan Julie Warmington said she found Coraline, a recently released 3D stop-motion film, hard work on the eyes, but was excited about the medium anyway. “It was beautiful, but I’m glad it wasn’t longer.”

New productions are designed to be more comfortable to watch, with moments of excitement limited enough to give the audience’s eyes rest periods.

What’s new about the technology behind leading-edge 3D movies like Coraline and Avatar?

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Wellington's Park Road Post Production. Photo: PRP

Mr Gokul says they are made possible by radical editing software, lightweight HD digital cameras, finer lenses and more versatile “rigs” – tools used to mount the two cameras needed to record “stereo” images.

Unlike traditional film-making, filming in 3D requires two perfectly synched cameras recording the same scene. The two reels are edited and the double image projected onto one screen from two perfectly synched projectors at angles to the screen.

Special glasses block the left stream of film from the right eye and the right stream of film from the left eye, with either colour blocks – the classic red and green glasses of the 1950s and ’80s – or “polarisation”. This creates the illusion of depth, 3D.

In the early days of 3D, getting the cameras and projectors perfectly aligned was almost impossible. The size of the analogue cameras meant the lenses couldn’t be placed close enough to mimic natural vision.

Mirrors and prisms were used to overcome that – with varying degrees of success.

Post production on two separate reels of film was time-consuming and costly, with film-makers unable to predict the results until the process was finished.

New-generation cameras – being tested by Wingnut Films director Peter Jackson and used  in filming Avatar – are smaller.

Mr Gokul says the digital technology allows perfect, computer-directed control of lens alignment.

Powerful software called Pablo and Genetic Engineering make detailed editing possible while allowing multiple editors and artists work on both streams of film at the same time, eliminating match-up guess work.

Mr Gokul is the only stereographic artist working with this technology in Australasia.

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Digital image suite at Park Road Post. Photo: PRP

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is is a Whitireia Journalism student passionate about pop culture, loud music, comic books and the news. She blogs about gender issues, sexual harassment and violence at quidproquonz.wordpress.com but isn't nearly as angry as that might make her seem. She secretly dreams of writing for Fangoria magazine, but would settle for a desk at The New York Times.
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