In an exclusive interview with 3D Focus, Vince Pace – the highly experienced cinematographer who has worked on films such as Titanic, The Abyss and Avatar, also reacts to the recent headlines suggesting that 3D is over.
Earlier this year, Vince Pace merged his existing company PACE (which was founded in 2000) into a new venture with fellow 3D pioneer James Cameron, forming CAMERON | PACE Group or CPG. CPG’s goal is to accelerate worldwide growth of 3D across all entertainment platforms, pioneering a new generation of 3D camera systems, services and a variety of creative tools.
CAMERON | PACE Group (formally PACE) have developed a 3D camera rig system called FUSION 3D of which helped Vince and James convince Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon Director Michael Bay to film the final installment in 3D. CAMERON | PACE Group has also been involved in the making of 27 3D features and over 80 3D live sports events including Shark Night 3D, Final Destination 5, The Three Musketeers and the ESPN Summer X Games. Vince Pace is currently involved with a 3D film production of Cirque du Soleil, Hugo and 47 Ronin (due out 2012).
3D is at the heart of Vince Pace’s new business and he took some time out to tell 3D Focus about the challenges his company is facing.
3D Focus: CEO of conversion company Legend 3D Barry Sandrew, recently told 3D Focus that he thought the problems with 3D have been greatly exaggerated. Would you agree or disagree with that?
Vince Pace: I don't think it has been put into context. I think everybody wants to address this problem. Like we say in Hollywood; "you're only as good as your last project". What we have done to counter some of this is to review some of the projects we have been involved with and what the numbers were about. With FUSION 3D technology, we have been related to about $6.5 billion worth of box office sales that had a 3D component to them. I think that is quite significant.
From our standpoint, 3D is very much a part of the growing entertainment experience. There is no question that we are certainly figuring it out but we have made an impact on the viewers as far as revenue streams are based. So I wouldn't call the claims exaggerated; I would just say they are out of context with what is really going on. We are changing entertainment and we are changing the revenue stream to help elevate it and give more reasons for people to go to the movie theatre because the experience is so unique.
3D Focus: Has the 3D market matured now?
Vince Pace: Yes. I started this 12 years ago and to be honest with you, coming out of the gate there was no expectation that 3D was going to affect 60-80% of ticket sales. The interest was that there was going to be a reasonable amount of people who would want to go and see the 3D version or the version we were trying to promote as an enhanced viewing experience.
It was like when the old 70mm and Cinerama stuff was out. In order for it to really be an experience, it had to dominate 70-80% of the market, which is just not realistic. So I think it is becoming more mature as a medium. If a film does well and the pubic hear a good buzz about the 3D presentation, they should go ahead and opt to see it that way. I think films shouting the word ‘3D’ in the title to entice viewers to go and see it will have to change as well.
"Passive will lead us forward to no glasses"
In order for 3D to be successful we have to dialogue with the people to find out the weaknesses and where it needs to be improved upon. Technology is all about responding to where people want to go. I think it is a healthy conversation to question whether we are doing it right. Are we on the right track? Can we do it better? As opposed to leaving the blinkers on and suggesting people should just accept 3D is the next big wave in entertainment.
3D Focus: If average 3D ticket sales leveled off to around 20 – 30%, would that still be enough to bring in a return on 3D production?
Vince Pace: People looked at the initial impact and how strong it was but the reality is that the cost of doing business is going to be more managed moving forward with projects in 3D. The technology will get better; it is just the nature of the beast. I am feeling I want to be sensitive in the early stages of 3D and say it would be successful in the 20-30% pile but no; we've got to hold the bar higher than that. Because we are selling a medium I could say it one way or another, it doesn't matter to me. We have to sell to the public that this is a different viewing experience that is enhanced compared to the 2D version. So I think it is important to keep the numbers up at this stage.
3D Focus: What do studios, producers and directors have to do to sell the idea to the public that viewing their films in 3D is worth the premium?
Vince Pace: I am jaded here, I really am. People are coming out of the woodwork saying “I do 3D, let me be your stereographer for your film but I don't have a track record…”
We work in an industry that is completely based on your resume. The director you choose, the D O P you choose, the producers ability of handling a film of this nature, whether it be at the low end of the budget and he's very creative at making things work on a low cost or at the high end of the budget where the producer has to be very savvy not to let the costs control the film. But when it comes to 3D it's like; “I've done one film” or “I haven't done a film yet but I did this project 10 years ago”, and all of a sudden that's the criteria for the 3D component and that bothers me a bit.
"3D is very much a part of the growing entertainment experience"
Some of the 3D guys are trying to influence the product greater than is really justified. In the case of Avatar; Jim was just making a good film and I have to say when I met Michael Bay at the beginning he was not the candidate for 3D. Jim and Bay had talked about doing 3D but he was pretty much like “I'm not sure”. When he saw the medium and realised he has control over the medium as an A-list director he embraced it 100%. That's what we need for 3D to be successful. If the director and D O P is disjointed from the process and it gets put in a computer and some artists paint it up and says this is the 3D version then it goes against that grain of filmmaking. So from my perspective we really need to embrace the A-list directors, the studios, the D O P's, and the producers on that entry level. They all have to bite into this and say “let's do it” and that was the case with Transformers : Dark of the Moon. I was there when Michael Bay said “this is cool, how can I help make it better?” That was the right way to come out of the gate for a film.
3D Focus: Did Transformers : Dark of the Moon use FUSION 3D rigs?
Vince Pace: Yes. We are fighting to get the size down and get the cost down. I felt like a phone provider from all those years ago. I came up with this great phone technology and I handed Michael Bay a suitcase like the original cell phones. The good thing is he can make a phone call without needing a phone booth but the bad news is that he is not the type of guy who likes carrying a suitcase around!
3D Focus: Are 3D experts like you trying to reduce the viewing problems inherent with 3D? Director Chris Nolan says that he is not interested in 3D because one of the reasons is that the glasses darken the image. Are you always trying to push the technology to get around these problems with 3D at a presentation level?
Vince Pace: I've got a whole company breaking those barriers and we have a track record of doing that. The illusion of 3D as a medium never met the filmmaker’s standards, untill James Cameron sat there and did Avatar and said this could be a viable medium for the audience to enhance the viewing experience. Until then, everybody viewed it as a separate medium. It always went to horror films or ride films; no one ever looked at it as a filmmaker's tool, and now we have people like Michael Bay and Martin Scorsese coming out of the gate and saying “I'm using it as a filmmaker’s tool, I'm in control of it and I'm enhancing my product that I’m putting out there.”
"There was no expectation that 3D was going to affect 60 – 80% of ticket sales"
My success through working with James Cameron has always been about complementing the 2D presentation – that is the key to success. A lot of people come in and ask what lens they should use for 3D or how they should frame something for 3D. That's the biggest mistake that people make.
What we do is ask what they would have done in 2D. What lens would they have picked for 2D? Because typically that's the best construction for the film based on a) their expertise and b) their knowledge of film and entertainment. What we do with the 3D component is come in and complement that. Sometimes the complement will be a more aggressive form of 3D; sometimes it will be a more conservative style of 3D, but in the end it's an enhancement of the experience. It's not re-doing the experience which is entirely different.
Most people think we've just added another dimension and I caution those people because most film-makers have been dealing with depth and perception all of their career. This is not new for them. They did it through lighting and through camera placement for some time. Now we're trying to enhance that experience by giving you a better representation of it. So the same people that worked so hard on it in the 2D medium are the best candidates for working in this new medium.
"Higher frame rates will be a significant benefit to 3D as will higher light levels"
What Chris Nolan was saying, about the technical challenges – I couldn't agree more. We've got our work cut out for us. The RED EPIC camera is a great introduction for size and compactness. Some of my 3D bodies cost $220,000 a piece but now we are in the $60-80,000 range. All of that stuff is starting to help with those numbers as we approach the business model of 3D.
3D Focus: Do you think the industry has been too short-sighted in charging a premium for 3D so early on? Should 3D have been used as a device for keeping people attending the cinema?
Vince Pace: I think there should have been some up-charge associated with it. I think the rush to what that meant is a little misguided sometimes. I think when you talk about a 2-3 dollar up-charge I think that increment certainly respects the technology you're bringing to the table. Do I believe it should have been zero gain straight out of the gate? No, I believe when done correctly we are delivering a significantly different viewing experience and one that warrants compensation. The judgment of what that compensation should be is certainly under debate.
We came out of the gate with Avatar and everybody's loving it and going to see it. Then it became well what if it's not an Avatar? What if it's just something where the people felt the 3D was a less incremental impact of enhancing the experience? What's that worth? The prices went up and not a lot of Avatars showed up and I think the public has rejected that a little bit.
3D Focus: What technology do you think is going to improve the 3D experience in the near future?
Vince Pace: No glasses…..James Cameron and I are 12 years into this now and we're pretty happy with what we have accomplished. I think in 20 years time you will be watching 3D with no glasses and asking how did you ever watch this as a‘flatty’ before? It's like black and white which is fine in certain niche markets but with a view of general entertainment it does not fit in.
I think our goal on the 3D side is that the higher frame rates will be a significant benefit to 3D as well as the higher light levels. I think Michael Bay did a fantastic job of rallying the theatre owners to turn the lights up for Transformers : Dark of the Moon and I have heard fantastic stuff from the general public about the light levels.
The shuttering glasses thing is terrible. I don't understand how we can go from see a 70 ft screening of Avatar with passive glasses on and then take it down to the size of a postage stamp in your home with some foreign, flickering area between the screen and the person viewing the same film. I don't understand it at all. I'm a big fan of the passive experience moving forward. Passive technology will lead us forward to no glasses.
"The prices went up and not a lot of Avatars showed up and I think the public has rejected that a little bit"
3D Focus: What do you think the prospects are for 3D entertainment in the next couple of years?
Vince Pace: We have got to get the numbers that are more in keeping with the normal spreadsheet that a producer does. We have got to get the confidence of the director where it is 97% of what he normally does and 3% of embracing this medium for its benefits.
I think the biggest bridge is the encouraging the confidence of directors, producers, D O Ps, etc so that they feel they are still doing their normal business and treating 3D as some secondary effort or some white elephant financial undertaking. That is where we are going to be and we need their support moving forward. It's their craft that we are coming to the table to support. We are not creating a whole new one. We've proved the point with someone like Michael Bay who said 3D wasn't for him. All of a sudden he is with us and he wants the technology to be cheaper and smaller. He wants the theatre owners to keep the light level it was designed for. Here is a guy who said he couldn't care less about the 3D effort. Suddenly he is one of our fellow revolutionaries. It's very doable but it needs to be done as a market and a medium, not as a separate group of individuals saying “No, you should do it this way”. That business model with never sell and that's not the intent of it.
3D Focus: The business of CAMERON | PACE Group is about shooting 3D with cameras. How do you feel about 2D to 3D conversion?
Vince Pace: James Cameron is involved with conversion and he just showed some of the 2D – 3D converted footage of Titanic to a group of people which was very well received. That gets back to my point that this is a process done by directors, producers, DoP's, studios etc. When you break that process and do it out of context it affects the product in my opinion. Returning to what Jim's doing with the 2D – 3D conversion of Titanic; he is directly involved in it. He is the person who is there for every frame. He is not letting someone push a button or having 52 artists interpret what the vision was at the time. He is right there processing it with the people that are new to the table and I think that is a critical component. Some of these films that are later converted are shot and handed off as if some visual effect is going to carry that vision forward. The expectations are way too high when it's done that way. You need the time, the talent and the direction to put it all together and that usually happens on set. It is our job is to get the cost down and make it more mobile.
Thank you Vince Pace for talking to the readers of 3D Focus!
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