3-D gives “Superman” added depth in Imax

Times Staff Writer

Bryan Singer was gushing about some in-your-face Smallville corn. “Look at that! Oh, look at the corn.” The director of “Superman Returns,” wearing plastic 3-D glasses, was sitting in an empty Imax theater at Universal City a few days ago where he saw his own movie in an unexpected way.

“Superman Returns” opens June 28 in standard-screen theaters -- but there’s a version with 20 minutes of 3-D footage that will open in more than 115 Imax theaters, making it by far the widest release in the history of those king-sized screens. It will also become the first Hollywood film to be shown at the Smithsonian Institution’s Imax theater in Washington.

There’s some element of surprise in all of this: Singer and his crew did not film their movie with multiple cameras (the traditional way to attain the 3-D illusion). Instead, Imax Corp. tech teams took Singer’s footage and created an after-the-fact 3-D quality by adding digital “shadows” that mimic planes of depth.

Earlier this year, the Imax people sent Singer a trailer that had been 3-D-ified and he was immediately on board. Last Friday, he got his second taste with the Universal City screening of scenes such as Superman rescuing a crashing, crumbling jetliner and Clark Kent bounding through cornfields on his own Kansas homestead.

How did it look? Singer was thrilled but others attending the screening were put off by a distracting blurring effect that crops up when the action crosses the screen at high speed. Still, some sequences -- such as that plummeting plane -- have an undeniable gee-whiz factor. Hollywood is hoping that in the year to come that sense of wonder will keep people munching popcorn at theaters instead of joining the stay-at-home parade of DVD buyers.


Singer was clearly a fan. After the screening, he was eager to call his director pal, James Cameron, a big proponent of 3-D and Imax, to chat about the new process. Singer also talked about adding some unique footage to the Imax version -- restoring some footage to the early part of the film (it showed Superman on the gutted husk of Krypton) that might be especially dramatic with the visual effect.

And how will viewers know when the 3-D scenes are on? An Imax official said there would be a visual alert flashed on screen (such as a pair of green glasses in the corner) but Singer said there’s a more intuitive cue. “Pretty much when Clark Kent takes his glasses off,” Singer said, “you put yours on.”