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Burbank firms push expansion of 3-D

Two Burbank companies are growing and spreading the 3-D gospel beyond feature films.

Last month, “Avatar” director James Cameron helped relaunch the 3-D production firm Pace with a plan to hire more engineering talent and convince studios and networks that the time is now to film everything, including television episodes, in three dimensions.

Separately 3ality Digital, a 3-D technology and production firm with staff in Burbank and Germany, was acquired by Clearlake Capital Group and received what Clearlake termed a “significant capital infusion” to expand.

The changes come as the pace quickens in the industry, which still is hamstrung by relatively small amounts of content, modest U.S. sales of 3-D television screens and consumer distaste for those special glasses.

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But people on the production side of the business, including the chief executives of Cameron-Pace Group, Vince Pace, and 3ality, Steve Schklair, say it is a matter of time before the market matures and manufacturers develop 3-D screens for home and theatrical use that don’t require glasses.

Pace said he and Cameron plan to “educate” studios, producers and camera crews about the image-capturing technology and demonstrate that barriers are falling.

“Jim and I shook hands 12 years ago and started to go down this path,” Pace said. “Part of that was his desire to craft a film that he felt was complemented with the technology, and he succeeded at that. Part of my goal was not to be servicing a single filmmaker.”

Pace’s 3-D credits, in addition to “Avatar,” include years’ worth of NBA games, concert films and upcoming features, including “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.”

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The Cameron-Pace Group now employs about 60 people, Pace said. With a new focus on technical and creative staff, Pace said he expects to see the company top 100 workers in the near future.

Santa Monica-based Clearlake Capital acquired 3ality in anticipation of 3-D production going mainstream, according to a statement from the company’s board chairman, David Modell.

3ality’s Schklair said that in the next 12 to 18 months, studios will begin to shoot TV episodes in 3-D to “future-proof” their content for syndication and the home market to come.

“Five years from now, I see almost everything shot in 3-D,” Schklair said. “That doesn’t mean everyone has to watch it in 3-D, but you don’t get that choice if the shows don’t originate in 3-D.”

While shooting in 3-D requires more bodies on the camera crew, Schklair said, the key to make it economical is to stay within shooting schedules. He said upcoming films, including “The Amazing Spiderman” and “The Hobbit” — both shot using 3ality equipment — were not slowed by 3-D crews. The company is also focused on further automating its gear.

One of the biggest barriers, Schklair said, is the chicken-and-egg factor: Networks don’t have enough inventory of 3-D shows to drive consumer interest, and the home viewing experience is not yet up to snuff.

“It’s a game of leapfrog at this point,” Schklair said. “As more content gets made, they will start selling more sets. More sets, in turn, will drive more content.”

ESPN was an early adaptor of 3-D technology, creating the ESPN 3D network in 2010 and expanding it to 24/7 programming this year. Chuck Pagano, ESPN’s executive vice president for technology, said shooting sports in 3-D is still a “science experiment,” but the results can be spectacular.

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The common shot from high above a football stadium doesn’t pop in 3-D, Pagano said, but images of golfers at the Masters Tournament — which ESPN has shot in 3-D for two years — are stunning, with viewers seeing the hazards, trees and layout of the course in rich detail.

“It is hard to do 3-D well, and it is easy to do 3-D badly,” Pagano said. “That’s what Vince [Pace] showed us. We are learning more about 3-D every day.”
 
 


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