3D as a whole is still a controversial topic, and is rarely more divisive when considering older films converted to 3D. But with its new, 3D Blu-ray release of 2004 Will Smith sci-fi thriller i, Robot, 20th Century Fox seems committed to winning over naysayers and giving 3D TV owners the best experience possible from a film that, while it wasn’t shot in the format, definitely appears to benefit from it.
Empire was invited to the Fox lot to meet some of the tech team involved in the new conversion and to hear how the process works. We’ll spare you the talk of different layers and avoiding “cardboard issues”, but suffice to say a lot of care and attention has been lavished on this, utilising some hardware that promises to make future releases much more impressive.
And while the intent is naturally to boost the number of 3D Blu-Ray discs on the market to encourage us consumers to buy them, that wasn’t the main focus on this job. “It's not like we took a movie, one that we weren't making any money on, put it in 3D and threw it out there,” says Ian Harvey, the studio’s senior VP of advanced technology. “We took a movie that is made for 3D, if you think about it, that should have been 3D and letting people experience it in a new way.”
The key has been taking more time on this initial film, refining the process and automating other elements, all the while making sure that everything was being monitored along the way. “We had a stereographer, and I obviously looked at it all,” explains Harvey. “What we creatively started out with, from a stereographer’s output, we tweaked as we figured out what the tool was capable of. And I looked at every single frame so I suppose the buck stops with me on this movie.” Another key difference from previous attempts was creating an overall “depth script” to make sure that all the shots looked natural as opposed to things flying from the screen or looking like they’d simply been cut out.
“I think when people see it, they will like it,” says Harvey. “We've tried to keep it in its natural environment, we haven't tried to make it gimmicky. That’s not Fox’s style.” Harvey and his team did add small elements here and there to boost the 3D scenes’ effectiveness. There are shots where we pulled things out and added elements to the shotgun blasts, but very little.
The demonstration included several scenes, not surprisingly bigger action moments such as Sonny the robot’s leap from a high window in the US Robotics building and the climactic finale where rogue machines are clambering around the building, trying to stop Smith’s Detective Spooner and Bridget Moynahan’s Dr Susan Calvin from shutting down the company’s wayward main computer, V.I.K.I.
Harvey cautions that this is not meant to replace the most ideal method of having a movie be 3D – shooting it in the format from the start. I'm not a filmmaker, but my answer would be you should still shoot it in 3D. I can stop on any of these conversions and show you issues with it. There are issues. We've created data, people made it up. We can see stuff we don't like and fix it, but there are always issues. So I'm not going to say it's perfect, it's not like Avatar. That looks fantastic no matter what you do to it, but James Cameron spent a lot of time and energy doing that. But the point we were making is how do you go back to classic movies, ones that were meant for 3D, and take advantage of that to expand how people experience these movies? We think this works.
One person who was not involved with the process was director Alex Proyas – the studio reached out to have him take part, but didn’t hear back. Smith’s people were shown footage and have already begun asking about the possibility of converting other films from his career.
When asked whether this is just the first in a new batch of conversions, the Fox team wouldn’t name specific titles, but did say that several titles are under consideration and some where already in the process. Chances are the sales on i, Robot will help determine what happens next.
And though we doubt those who are firmly in the anti-3D camp will be converted, this may win over anyone who was considering dipping a toe into 3D at home. It certainly offers one of the best examples of real care and attention taken to ensure that when you plunk your heard-earned cash down to buy it, you’re getting the best possible experience. Just don’t be too alarmed if red lights on your Blu-ray player start pulsing…
i,Robot is available on Blu-ray 3D now from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.
BigNickUK Posted on Thursday October 25, 2012, 08:49
I received this yesterday with high expectations Now I am an advocate for 3D and a massive supporter of the format but Fox really need to go back to the drawing board if they are going to start milking the market with post 3D conversions of films that were never intended for 3D. The 3D is very poor and reminds me of the kind of flat conversions already around such as Clash Of The Titans and Conan The Barbarian. It is very odd at times with for example the 3D focussing on the the main character and almost having him appear in an embossed state in front of a flat background image. At other times it is like looking through I can imagine one of the old Disney multiplane cameras, causing it to look like a series of flat layers on top of each other. It is ironic that in one of the opening scenes Will Smith is talking to a hologram of Dr Lanning which looks from the front real but is essentially flat, and as the camera pans round we see how flat the hologram really is. In other scenes where digital effects are in play, such as the robot, 3D opportunities are entirely wasted or absent. Reviews on many industry sites have scored the 3D very low so seem to be echoing my view