Page last updated at 07:55 GMT, Friday, 3 April 2009 08:55 UK

Directors discuss 3D

Monsters vs Aliens and Coraline are two of the latest films to embrace 3D technology.

The directors and producers explain why they decided to add another dimension to the pictures - and discuss what the future might hold.

Monsters vs Aliens
Monsters vs Aliens stars Reese Witherspoon as Ginormica

Monsters vs Aliens is a family cartoon, which harks back to 1950s B-movies, where modern 3D technology first came to the fore.

Designed in 3D from the ground up, it follows a rag-tag group of monsters - including Dr Cockroach, the 50,000 Pound Woman and Insectosaurus - who are employed by the US government to protect the earth from alien invaders.

Director Conrad Vernon and producer Lisa Stewart describe the making of the film.

What was it about this project that made it ideal for 3D?
Conrad Vernon: I think there were a lot of different factors that came into play. Jeffrey [Katzenberg, CEO of Dreamworks animation] had been wanting to make a 3D movie for a while. He was just waiting for the right time and right place to strike.

He figured this movie was coming, it was a 1950s homage to old B-horror movies where the first 3D was seen, and it was time for him personally to put something out that would get people back in the theatres.

He needed an experience people couldn't get at home, and 3D was that. The two things came together, and he said "this is going to be the first movie we're doing in 3D."

Lisa Stewart: And also by the nature of the fact we had this big action comedy with enormous sets and characters of different scale, I think it just really lent itself to 3D.

Is that what's driving the current surge in 3D - the fact that it's offering something people can't get at home?
Lisa: Absolutely. The home theatre experience is so evolved at this time, it's hard to get people off their couches. People have huge televisions, hi-def…

Conrad: …5.1 sound, and an entire refrigerator full of food right behind them…

Lisa: It doesn't cost $6.95 for a Coke! It's something they can't get at home, at least not for now - it's an experience they can only have in the theater. A movie like ours is a group experience; it's a fun thing to watch with 300 people.

What makes your 3D different from what we saw in Bolt or Beowulf?
Lisa: What those guys did was a post-process - they made the movie and then sort of dialled in the 3D after it was done. We made the movie in 3D from the very beginning - we knew we were telling our story in 3D, we designed our shots with 3D in mind, the use of our characters in the space… It was throughout the whole process, we were authoring the movie in 3D.

Monsters vs Aliens
Dr Coakroach is played by Hugh Laurie, while Seth Rogen provides the voice for B.O.B.

You mentioned the 50s; back then 3D was very much a gimmick. Has it now become a legitimate film-making tool?
Lisa: I think that if you use it wisely to tell your story it does nothing but enhance your storytelling.

Conrad: Creatively, you want to be able to control it and use it to help tell the story. In the very beginning, we were very nervous and hesitant. We said: "Our story deserves more than just to be overrun by a gimmick, of poking things out of the screen."

So we went in and we learned how to use it the same way a film-maker would use colour to create a mood, or sound to create an emotion up on the screen. We used 3D to do that.

Will we ever reach a point where you can watch a 3D movie without 3D glasses?
Conrad: I think someday you will. This is the first time people have started to realise you can use 3D in an artistic way. The technology is there for you to create a beautiful visual that will actually draw people into the movie. I think it will just continue to go from there, just as Toy Story started computer animation - look how far it's come from there.

With 3D, I can see one day with people either having their own pair [of glasses] that are really really nice that they don't mind wearing…

Lisa: …like sunglasses, with 3D inside.

Conrad: Or some sort of light-tracking device in the back of the theatre that actually has things coming out. A guy drops a bunch of papers and you see them floating right in front of you and then fade away. Who knows what they'll be able to come up with?

So where do we go from here - 4D? 5D? Where does it stop?
Conrad: Just get into the movie yourself! Become an actor. I don't know - I think that it's going to continue to evolve. To get people into those seats in the theatre they're going to have to continue to push forward and make it a better experience for everybody.

Lisa: Smarter people than me have to develop that.

Desperate Housewife Teri Hatcher plays Coraline's mother

Coraline is a sinister fairy tale about a young girl who feels neglected by her stressed-out parents.

She finds a door leading to a happier "mirror world", with a more caring "other mother" - but everything is not as it seems.

The stop-motion animation was directed by Henry Selick, whose previous films include The Nightmare Before Christmas and James And The Giant Peach.

Why did you make Coraline in 3D?
There are several answers that sort of connect. I was exposed to the idea of making 3D stuff 20 years ago when I did a 3D rock video for the Viewmaster corporation - the people who make those little wheels with pictures you give to kids, that are 3D viewers.

The person whose system we used was Lenny Lipton, who turned out to be the godfather of modern 3D cinema - it's his system, the technology he developed that's now in cinemas. He was a brilliant guy, very funny, so I would check in with him every once in a while to see how his technology was developing.

Then, when I was directing Nightmare Before Christmas for Tim Burton, there were a couple of camera people who were 3D hobbyists; they would shoot stills of some of our set-ups and mount the left eye, right eye through a little viewer. So definitely, in seeing the possibilities, it was clear a stop-frame film was really captured best in 3D because it's basically all real stuff. It's not drawings, it's not in the computer

And what finally pushed you over the edge?
It was simply that I'd always thought about having a Wizard of Oz transition in Coraline - not quite so blatant as from colour to black and white - but 3D became the device, the story device.

When she goes there like Alice in Wonderland down the rabbit hole, she goes down a little tunnel through a little door and comes out into this better version of her house. Ultimately the technology and the timing coincidentally came together in serving a storytelling purpose.

How different is it making a 3D film? How does it affect your choices artistically and technically?
As far as using 3D, what I wanted to do was avoid too many of the gag shots, the poke your eye out shots, and use the script and the film story to inform how we used 3D. The main idea was to draw the viewer into the film, as Coraline is drawn into this other world.

Are you a convert? Will you only be making 3D movies now?
The thing I love most to do is stop-frame animation. Capturing it in 3D really shows off its strengths; it can't do all of the things CG can do, it's limited in many ways, but it is remarkably real.

Shooting in 3D is a wise way to go. You don't necessarily have to release it - you can go, "well, we'll just show the left eye." But shooting it that way gives you the option. Any stop-frame work I do I will definitely capture in 3D.

Director Henry Selick says he tried to avoid 'poke your eye out shots'

Will people seeing the 2D version get a lesser experience?
Well, there's no denying we designed the film so that the best way to see it is in 3D. But there are trade-offs, even with the new system that creates digital projection.

It's very dark; they can't get the projectors nearly as bright as non-3D projectors, whether it's film or digital. The people who get to see it in 2D see a much brighter picture, a little better-looking I'd say. But ultimately you'd want people to see it as it was planned to be seen.

Are there any advantages to you as a film-maker?
What we found here is that these movies can play for a very long time. You don't have to have a lot of screens, you can just have a few and it can live there for a long time. It's not going to be bumped off by Jeffrey Katzenberg's new movie!

How do you feel about bringing your film out in a marketplace awash with 3D?
I don't have a problem with that - 3D screens wouldn't have been set up if there wasn't a sense that a lot of films are coming. They wouldn't have converted just for our film, to put it that way! So it's fine; I think as far as the 3D experience goes our film can absolutely stand with the best of them as one of the best.

The film-makers were speaking to BBC News entertainment reporter Neil Smith. Monster vs Aliens is out in the UK on 3 April. Coraline is released on 8 May.

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