It’s taken over two weeks to process all of the information presented at the 4th Annual 3D Entertainment Summit held September 20-22 at the Hollywood and Highland Center. We were treated to a big screen presentation of ESPN 3D content, a 15 minute preview of Puss in Boots in 3D, an interview with James Cameron and Vince Pace and enough 3D facts and figures to make your head spin.

Continue reading after the break for our full wrap up of the summit.

The summit kicked off with a presentation from IHS Screen Digest going over the international adoption of 3D. IHS pointed out the global 3D box office reached $6.1 billion. 40% of worldwide cinema screens are now digital and 3D is playing a large roll in helping to push that conversion. China is leading the world with over three thousand 3D screens and the UK and France are producing the most 3D content. Figures from other presenters; US leads global 3D box office at $1.9 billion, Japan 2nd at $471 million, and the UK 3rd at $427 million. The US also leads the global box office in 3D up-charge at 43% or about $3.25 per ticket.

On the television side there are now 31 dedicated 3D stations worldwide and there is hope that the 2012 Olympics will be a “watershed” moment for 3D TV. Bryan Burns, VP Strategic Business Planning and Development at ESPN showed some very impressive 3D sports footage that just about sealed the deal for me that my next TV would be a 3D TV. He said Monday Night Football would be coming to ESPN 3D in 2014, and possibly some NFL would be coming sooner. The 3D football footage in the ESPN reel was just plain cool. It wasn’t about seeing the football fly out of the screen, or a left tackle explode into your living room. What stood out was how you could really tell where the players were on the field. That ability to really “see” the field, really put you in the game. Also on the TV side, John Revie, SVP Home Entertainment at Samsung Electronics gave the opening keynote in which he said active vs passive 3D is not format war, but rather a choice and compared it to LED vs Plasma. Other panelists deplored the inclusion of real-time conversion into 3D TVs, which brings the ability to convert 2D content into 3D in real time. The results are far from ideal and the panelists fear is that this “bad” 3D will turn off consumers and create a negative opinion of 3D TV.

During a panel verbosely titled “Refining The Home Entertainment 3D Ecosystem & Consumer Reaction to 3D Capable Displays” Frank DeMartin of Mitsubishi said that selling 3D TVs at retail is proving difficult. The difficult viewing environment, lack of content, and poorly trained sales staff are some of the reasons. Interestingly it seemed a number of people felt they needed to defend 3D TV against it’s lukewarm reception by consumers and the press. An interesting point brought up was that HD TVs were also slow to be adopted. I have to think though that the bad economy is also having a major effect on TV sales right now. While 3D TV are not selling at huge numbers, they are selling fairly well.

3D mobile devises such as the HTC Evo 3D and LG Optimus 3D that allow glasses free 3D viewing were discussed and In-Stat is estimating that there will be 148 Million 3D mobile devices by 2015. A few people joked that if Apple were to put 3D in a future models of the iPhone or iPad it would be a real game changer for mobile 3D. My opinion, not going to happen. Apple still isn’t putting Blu-Ray drives in their computers, I doubt they’re going to jump into 3D at this stage of the game. Next year’s CES will be closely watched to see if 3D mobile devices start to show up in larger numbers.

One of the most insightful discussions came from Tom Rothman, Chairman and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment, who admitted to being scared shitless about the 3D gamble of Avatar. He said however the biggest gamble with Avatar was actually the original story. I believe he meant original in the sense that it wasn’t an established franchise or sequel. After all, “Dances with Wolfs in Space” is a pretty good way to sum up the movie. When it came to marketing Avatar Mr. Rothman said it was the the most difficult movie to market, but Avatar 2 and 3 will be the easiest. Speaking of other filmmakers shooting in 3D, Mr. Rothman said Ridley Scott’s shooting days on his new film Prometheus are no longer because of 3D. He also said that Ang Lee is using 3D in the same way one would use lens choice to enhance story in Life of Pi. So clearly some film makers are figuring out how to work with the equipment in efficient ways to enhance the story. Mr. Rothman pointed out that when it comes to 3D, if isn’t there to serve the story, the audience knows it and he provided an excellent quote saying, “it’s the movie stupid.”

James Cameron and Vince Pace were the featured Keynote and they had one of the most impressive 3D highlight reels of the summit. But I suppose when you have the number one movie of all time that also launched the current 3D craze, you’re going to aim to impress. Discussing the current state of 3D Mr. Cameron said he would be concerned if studios start to pull back on production of 3D films and that it’s time to double down on 3D roll-out. Mr. Pace said there is a great need to support storytellers with the right 3D technology. Interestingly, Mr. Cameron said that he feels it’s not necessarily the action scenes that benefit the most from 3D, pointing out that good action scenes are already very impressive. On the quality front Mr. Cameron said that while bad 3D will hurt your eyes in seconds, you can watch good 3D for hours and he feels that once there is wide broadcast adoption of 3D, every movie will be in 3D. One of the bombshells of the keynote came when Mr. Cameron basically said people should not be buying 3D camera rigs because the technology is going to keep changing at a rapid pace. I’m sure however he’d very much like you to rent one from his company. Which is apparently doing well since Mr. Pace said 3D is a very healthy and profitable business to be in. Mr. Cameron closed by saying that 3D is a way of making entertainment better. He encouraged filmmakers to figure out how 3D is going to work for them and not to be afraid of it.

One of the points echoed through out the summit is that consumers are increasingly disillusioned by the lack of compelling 3D content. Almost every panel touched on the need to focus on quality 3D content and compelling stories. In fact if I had to pick one word to sum up the summit, it would be “quality.” In his Fireside Chat, Bob Dowling, Chairman and CEO of RealD said that 3D needs to be as easy and cost effective as shooting 2D and echoed again that “we need to focus on quality.” On the technology side, increasing light levels in 3D projection was another point brought up a number of times and new laser based projection technology sounds like it might be a solution. In regards to the art and science of 3D, Victoria Alonso, EVP Visual Effects at Marvel said that Marvel goes for “pleasurable not painful” 3D. Which seems obvious, but it does seem that some 3D content creators could really use a lesson from Mick Hocking, VP, Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios Group who shared the experience of the first year of 3D gaming on PlayStation. He had a fantastic presentation showing some of the common problems in 3D and showed examples of bad 3D that we’re actually uncomfortable to view.

As insightful as the facts, figures, and technology presented at the conference were, there were two highlights that really stood out for me. The first was when Legend 3D showed a 3D conversion they did of Harold Lloyd’s 1923 film “Safety Last.”  I was throughly entertained and it showed that while conversion may never create as good a 3D image as actually shooting in 3D, the results can actually be quite good. The second was the 15 minute preview of Puss in Boots in 3D that had me smiling the entire time. While the 3D was some of the best I have ever seen, it was the storytelling that was truly impeccable. The film is going to be outstanding in 2D because it’s just plain entertaining and it’s going to be a thrill to see in 3D because it’s going to add another dimension to an already compelling story. I left the summit reminded that whether a film is shot in 3D, converted from 2D to 3D, or is only released in 2D, the story is what is really going to entertain the audience.