By Lee Hyo-won
Downloading the latest film online is so last season.
Korean moviegoers are returning to theaters in droves as 3D films are offering a cinematic experience that cannot be reenacted at home.
Cinema constantly evolves ― color films replaced black-and-white ones and the introduction of sound expanded horizons for the medium in the 20th century. More recently the advent of digital technology paved an alternative path for analogue films, and 3D visual effects now provide new options for both filmmakers and consumers.
"Avatar" has proved the box office potential of the 3D film and has marked the first signs of a change in the theatergoing culture worldwide. The popularity of the James Cameron film has been trailed by Dreamworks and Pixar flicks such as "How to Train Your Dragon" and "Toy Story 3", as well as live action projects like the dance film "Step Up 3D". Even some of the South Africa World Cup matches were broadcast live in 3D theaters.
"Before, people came to watch 3D movies because they were curious about the relatively new medium. But now it has become a regular option and moviegoers are re-watching the same movie in 3D after having seen them in 2D. It seems that many people feel comfortable with 3D and choose it out of Personal Preference
", Lee Sang-gyu, head of publicity for CGV, the largest movie theater chain in Korea, told The Korea Times.
"It's something they can only experience in theaters, and this is revamping the role and identity of a movie theater".
In 2008, there were only a couple of 3D films widely available. Last year, the number shot up to about nine but already 10 have hit theaters during the second half of this year alone, and more are awaiting release.
Local theaters are thus catering to the 3D phenomenon, and about 20 percent of screens in movie theaters across Korea are equipped to show them. CGV announced it would double the number of 3D screens to about 150 but there are currently 210, which account for 35 percent of total screens across CGV theaters.
3D filmmaking in Korea
While these fast-selling 3D movies are Hollywood imports, there are five or six local works in either preproduction or production.
Cinema Digital Seoul (CinDi) spotlighted the paradigm shift, most appropriately as Korea's unique digital film festival before coming to a close Tuesday. The 3D Stereoscopic Film Conference took place Monday at CGV Apgujeong, southern Seoul, and invited various experts to discuss the current status and outlook of 3D filmmaking here.
Among the speakers, Lee Kang-kyu, CEO of Pareto Works, shared the preproduction process for his upcoming 3D sci-fi thriller. "11 a.m"., directed by Shin Terra
, is a Singapore co-production about a group of scientists experimenting with a time machine in an isolated lab. A test travel to the future, however, foretells a deadly outcome for the crew. But the more they try to change what is to come the more they fulfill the prophecy.
"The project took over a year in planning. We are still learning as we go and I am here to share the difficulties we faced and the potentials we see, rather than present theories about 3D filmmaking", said Lee.
The $5 million project is unique in that it is not only venturing into the still-infantile local 3D filmmaking industry but also the science fiction genre, which has yet to see a substantial project.
"Our aim is to make a Korean-style sci-fi film and we focused on two things: coming up with a well-developed drama and drawing a reasonable budget", he said. "We thus focused on the particularities of the sci-fi and thriller genres, and 3D effects will be a tool to enhance the psychological drama and fantasy, rather than being the main attraction".
Lee said the filmmakers opted for 3D live action shooting, rather than converting 2D film footage into 3D, considering that this would significantly lower costs. Also, the entire film is being shot in a studio, which allows filmmakers to worry less about the technical aspects of the 3D filmmaking process, which is shaky to begin with.
"Even though Hollywood is ahead of us in terms of producing 3D films, everyone is learning as they are going, and we're making baby steps in Korea", he said. Moreover, Lee stressed that a good movie is first and foremost based on a good script, and 3D effects, no matter how impressive, cannot stand alone.
Meanwhile, Kim Young-hui, a researcher at KAIST
's Visual Media Lab, said scientists are examining the more technical aspects of viewing 3D films. A comprehensive understanding of depth script and depth continuity allows filmmakers to know what kind of 3D visuals is apt for storytelling.
For example, 3D effects that protrude too far toward or away from the audience can give way to visual fatigue and headaches and disrupt the narrative flow. An example of this is "Titans", which was originally rendered in 2D and then converted into 3D, said Kim.
3D films coming to theaters
"Avatar: Special Edition" is hitting theaters Wednesday. The extended version retains the original storyline about a veteran soldier's voyage into the beautiful wilderness of the alien planet Pandora but offers unreleased footage of characters' history and secrets.
"Step Up 3D", is currently making waves in the box office for featuring heightened dance sequences and will be followed by action thrillers like "Piranha 3D". Opening on Thursday, it is about a sunny youth-infested vacation spot being muddled by deadly flesh-eating fish.
"Shrek" and "Toy Story" aren't the only franchises to be retooled into a 3D version, and the horror series "Saw" is offering its fourth edition in "eye-popping 3D". "Saw 3D" hits screens in November.