Breakout Year for 3D Movies In 2009 – Convergence of Physical and Digital World Continues

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3d_movieAfter a long history of false starts, 2009 looks to be the breakout year when 3D movies for the masses finally come of age.  The exciting move to 3D movies is just one example of the life altering convergence we are witnessing between the physical world and the virtual world.  Even as 3D movies seem poised to become ubiquitous, technologies such as sixthsense from MIT, wearable video projection glasses from myvu, and virtual worlds from Second Life are increasingly bringing these two worlds together.

Many will be surprised to learn that the first patents and the first working versions of 3D movies were created more than 100 years ago!  Yet only now, after several false starts, does it appear that the era of 3D movies may finally have arrived.  For futurists and technology enthusiasts, the story of 3D movies is a reminder that exciting technologies that seem just around the corner can actually be a long way off.

This year will see the production of an unprecedented number of high quality, large budget 3D movies from several big name studios.  Most notable is the announcement that Dreamworks, the studio behind Shrek, Madagascar, and the highly anticipated March release of the animated movie “Monsters vs. Aliens”, has pledged to make all of its movies in 3D from now on.

According to Reuters:

Major 3-D releases for 2009 include “Up” on May 29 from Disney-Pixar, “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” on July 1 from News Corp’s 20th Century Fox, and director James Cameron’s “Avatar,” also from Fox and in theatres on December 18.  All told, at least 40 big budget 3D movies are slated for the next 3 years.

Not only are big name studios spending big money to create these 3D movies, but movie theaters are finally making the expensive investments required to upgrade their equipment to show the movies.  Again, from Reuters:

1,700 3-D screens exist, up from less than 1,000 six months ago, said Patrick Corcoran, director of media and research for The National Association of Theatre Owners.  Converting the vast majority of the 38,900 screens in the U.S. will cost $2 billion, he said.

Although there were several moments during the last 100 years when 3D movies seemed just on the horizon, widespread adoption never occurred because the technology was never able to shake off some serious problems.

Most notable is that until recently the technology has been plagued by a terrible user experience.  3D movies have long been criticized for inducing headaches in their viewers.  Furthermore, limitations in the technology meant that the movie was unwatchable when viewed at an angle, such as from the side of a theater or when lying one’s head on the shoulder of a loved one.

User experience aside, the industry has also been unable to overcome the “chicken and egg” problem in regards to investment.  Producers would not invest in 3D movies because there were no theaters to show them in.  Theaters would not invest money to equip themselves for 3D movies because there weren’t many 3D movies to show.

Now after significant improvements to the technology, the user experience has been perfected.  Headaches are no longer a problem and today’s 3D movies can be viewed from practically any angle.  Meanwhile, movie producers and movie theaters seem to have overcome their inability to invest.  The result is an explosion of 3D offerings for 2009 that may reshape the entire movie landscape for the benefit of industry players and for viewers.

If you haven’t seen a 3D movie in theaters lately, chances are that you will soon.

Want to learn more?  Check out these excellent sources that were used for this story:

NPR recently did a segment on 3D movies here

Wikipedia: 3-D Film

Reuters: Recession blurs outlook for 3-D movie expansion

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