By Kim Tong-hyung
The massive success of James Cameron's computer graphics film, "Avatar", has prompted Korean technology companies to see the future through a pair of three-dimensional (3D) glasses.
However, the Oscar-winning director believes that the fate of 3D entertainment hangs more on content makers, especially television networks, and their ability to provide a wealth of premium and diverse viewing to living rooms.
The cost of ineptitude would strangle the new industry, Cameron said, expressing concerns that the appetite for 3D films and television programs could soon waver. He was particularly critical about the increasing trend of filmmakers and television studios converting films originally shot in 2D into the 3D format in an attempt to shave costs.
"Any armchair geniuses out there who claim to have found a brilliant way to save money ... All they will be bringing will be eye strain and headaches", said Cameron at the Seoul Digital Forum Thursday.
"Creating only good 3D content will be critical to swelling the market as bad experiences will make audiences wary of spending on 3D next time. They are being asked to pay a higher premium for a premium experience, so the quality always needs to be maintained".
Despite the concerns of a television content gap, Cameron believes that stereoscopic 3D is on course to become mainstream entertainment both in theaters and living rooms.
"It took only two years for sound movies to become conventional and replace silent films, but 25 years for color to replace black-and-white films after 'Gone With the Wind' in 1939", Cameron said.
"The 3D transition won't take 25 years ― too many market forces are involved now".
Although Avatar provided the needed jolt for the 3D movement to gain traction, Cameron said he sees a bigger push coming from consumer electronics giants such as Samsung Electronics, Sony and LG Electronics, who are putting in Herculean efforts to motivate consumers to pay for their new 3D-enabled televisions.
There is also increasing collaboration between the technology companies and major Hollywood studios, including Samsung's partnership with DreamWorks Animation.
However, the beautiful and expensive screens will be reduced to odd household ornaments should broadcasters fail to provide sufficient hours of 3D programming. This could be a difficult challenge for the television industry, which is already pressed by the increasing costs in content production and decreasing revenue due to the rise of the Internet.
This has television makers considering more ways to rein in their costs for the 3D transition, and one of the ideas include shooting films in 2D first and using a range of technologies to convert it to 3D.
Cameron apparently condemns this trend with a passion, insisting that filming a movie in 3D not only ensures better quality over subsequent conversion, but also would deliver more bang for the buck.
Cameron is planning to convert his 1997 blockbuster, Titanic, into a 3D release, a project he expects to spend $12 million and two years on. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Star Wars series and Terminator II are among the other titles Cameron believes will benefit from a 3D facelift, but such efforts would require a serious investment of time and money to avoid diminishing the originals, he said.
"Thee is no 'magic box' ― I believe that converting 2D into 3D looks only more economical because of the flawed way people are running the numbers right now. The cost of shooting a film in 2D, then getting a small startup company, which probably never has done a movie, to convert will actually end up costing more than shooting it in 3D from the start", Cameron said.
"Most of all, filmmakers will be robbed of the creative involvement in producing a 3D work ― you don't tell filmmakers to shoot a movie in black-and-white first and tell them it will be turned into color afterwards".
Cameron believes that the arguments over 2D-to-3D conversion will be muted soon, with television studios unwilling to bear the immense amount of content they would have to convert to support their programming hours.
"In films, we are only talking about a few hours of content ― if the industry makes 30 films this year and 10 of them are convertible, that's about 20 hours of content. However, if we are going to have 3D televisions in homes, we will need thousands of hours of sports, comedy, music and drama, as well as the time and money to convert that", Cameron said.
"The 3D content will have to be short-lived and we will have to learn, and eventually, the cost for live shooting will come down".