Speaking to members of the press at a recent preview of Monsters vs. Aliens at DreamWorks Animation Studios, chief executive, Jeffery Katzenberg; chief technology officer, Ed Leonard; and members of the creative and technical team behind the film, discussed the new technology of stereoscopic 3D filmmaking, the challenges involved in making 3D stereoscopic films, and the innovative storytelling techniques created by DreamWorks specifically for the new film.
The making of Monsters vs. Aliens was no small task. It was created by a virtual army of hundreds of DreamWorks artists and technicians who worked for nearly two years to create the film's 3D stereoscopic imagery using a combination of proprietary software and a variety of "off the shelf," applications.
YES, HOLLYWOOD RENDERS TOO
If you think you're spending way too much time rendering, just wait until you hear some of these mind-blowing statistics from the wizards of technology who created Monsters vs. Aliens 3D. For starters, just imagine, the film's complex 3D stereoscopic animation required more than forty-five million hours of computer time to render. That's some very serious processing going on there. And just imagine, because it's stereoscopic, every scene had to be rendered twice, once for the left eye, and once for the right eye.
Every shot in Monsters vs. Aliens 3D was
created in stereoscopic 3D. The effect is
added onto other films at the very end.
The numbers get crunched in a massive render farm in the 35,000 square foot data center at DreamWorks Animation Studios in Los Angeles, which uses more than 9000 processor cores in hundreds of HP blade computers running under a Unix-based operating system. DreamWorks in-house technology wranglers have calculated that, if rendered on just one computer, Monsters vs. Aliens would have taken approximately 4,071 years to render. In other words, if the render had begun when the Bronze Age began in Europe, we'd have to wait another sixty-two years to see the film.
According to the film's masterminds, Monsters vs. Aliens is the very first animated film created in stereoscopic 3D from the start, rather than adding the 3D stereoscopic effects at the very end of post-production as it's done on most films. DreamWorks refers to this as "authoring in 3D." In the following exclusive COW interview, we go behind the scenes with DreamWorks 3D supervisor, Phil "Captain 3D" McNally, who explains how that impacted every facet of the project.
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Phil "Captain 3D" McNally - 3D Supervisor, Monsters vs. Aliens 3D (click picture above to play)
WE CAN BUILD IT BETTER
DreamWorks releases only two new films a year, but with each new film their goal is to push the limits of the available technology. With Monsters vs. Aliens they have done just that. It has raised the bar, and the new processes they've created are going to change the way future stereoscopic 3D films will be made.
After seeing the film myself, I must say, I'm convinced that "the new 3D" represents a revolution in filmmaking, and I'm ravenous to experience more. I think you will be too.
If you haven't seen a 3D stereoscopic movie lately, go to the best theater in town with 3D projection capability and watch Monsters vs. Aliens. The first thing you'll notice; the cardboard glasses are history. The new glasses use state-of-the-art polarized lenses and you'll quickly forget youre even wearing them. And, the projection, which once required two projectors that were notoriously difficult to synchronize, is now just a single flickerless digital projector, delivering perfectly crisp, bright images with superb stereoscopic depth and dimension.
ODE TO THE GOLDEN ERA
The technology of modern 3D has truly come a long, long way since the 1950's. The masterminds behind Monsters vs. Aliens are taking full advantage, and they take ample opportunity to point out their mastery of the medium by poking fun at the 3D films that came before.
So, right off the bat, Monsters vs. Aliens opens on a character paddling a bright red rubber ball right out into the audience. It's a gimmick right out of House of Wax; one of the best-known 3D films ever, and certainly one of the cheesiest of the 50's era 3D films. The difference between the two is, the makers of Monsters vs. Aliens know it's a gimmick. Furthermore, they do the 3D thing a whole lot better than their predecessors, and they know it. Their primary purpose is to make us giggle. We know right away they know exactly what they're doing, and from that point on, it's clear that you're in very good hands.
To really appreciate the new 3D, let's briefly travel back in time to see the old 3D. Here's the original paddleball scene from House of Wax; if you have a pair of the old lenticular 3D glasses you may want to put 'em on.
3D - THE EARLY DAYS
The current wave of stereoscopic 3D films is by no means the first, historically speaking. 3D fads have come and gone several times since the stereoscopic era of motion pictures began in the late 1890s, when the first 3-D process for movies was patented. Today however, most of us are only aware of those films from the so-called "golden era" of 3-D, from 1952 to 1955.
As an attempt by the ailing movie studios to lure TV viewers back to their theaters, a slew of 3-D films was released and heavily hyped during the 50's. The 3-D hey day began with the 1952 release of Bwana Devil, the first color stereoscopic feature film. Not long after, came House of Wax, the first horror film in 3D, which was also the first of the 3-D feature films with stereophonic sound. Its success ignited a major blitz of cheesy 3-D horror movies.
Before completely canning 3-D production just a few years later, due primarily to the success of less costly movies filmed in new widescreen formats, such as "WarnerScope," Warner Bros. attempted to milk the 3-D cash cow for all it was worth. As you'll see in this trailer for House of Wax, when it came to selling 3-D to the audience, Warner P.R. didn't leave many descriptive words on the cutting room floor.
STORY IS THE STORY
Until you see Monsters vs. Aliens 3D and the other new 3D films that are out there for yourself, there's no way you can imagine just how wonderfully compelling the new state of the art has become. 3D is no longer the cheesy gimmick that we've come to expect. But the real story isn't so much about the new technology, it's how that technology is being put to use by some of the very best storytellers in the business.
3D stereoscopic storytelling is finally coming of age, and instead of being exploited for its gimmickry, it's changing the language of film and being used to tell stories that could never be told before using traditional techniques. In the proper hands it can reveal nuances and relationships between characters and objects and the audience like nothing else can.
It's clear to say that no one, not even the filmmakers on the cutting edge, can predict what the future of 3D stereoscopic holds in store for us. But, that's the beauty of it all, and it's why stereoscopic 3D films like Monsters vs. Aliens are drawing huge audiences of all ages.
HERE'S A SAMPLE
To really get the complete "immersive" experience, you'll need to head to your local theater to see the movie in its full 3D stereoscopic glory. However, to get some idea of the complexities involved in the creation of Monsters vs. Aliens, as well as the humor, just take a look at the trailer below.
A TRUE FIVE-COW EXPERIENCE
Monsters vs. Aliens isn't perfect, but it's wonderfully funny and a terrific parody of earlier 3D horror from the golden age. And, DreamWorks mastery of the technology is just downright stunning. So, Monsters vs. Aliens gets an easy 5-Cow rating.
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