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3D Technology Proves Cinematic Essential, but 4D Remains a Gimmick

3D Technology is an essential part of the Hollywood blockbuster process, with China tipped to spawn its own global hit.

Photo: 3D Titanic: Unsinkable at the box office. (Xinhua News Agency)
3D Titanic: Unsinkable at the box office.
Photo: 3D Titanic: Unsinkable at the box office. (Xinhua News Agency)
3D Titanic: Unsinkable at the box office.

For many, the history of the movie industry can be divided into three distinct phases. The transition from silent movies to those with a soundtrack was the first phase, followed by the upgrade from black and white to colour. A third revolution – the widespread adoption of 3D technology – is now, of course, well underway.

Speaking at the recent Beijing International Motion Picture & TV Production Forum, Jim Chabin, President of the International 3D & Advanced Imaging Society, said 3D was now one of the most sought-after technologies in the motion picture and TV industry. With many of the highest-grossing movies of 2014 produced in 3D, he belives it is no longer possible to ignore the impact of this new technology. With China's 3D movie capability also progressing, it is seen as only a matter of time before the country produces its own 3D global box office hit.

According to Chabin, it is now standard practice to produce a 3D version of any movie likely to have a box office take above US$150 million, a move that generally extends a film's release window. As a result, over the next two years, Hollywood is planning to produce an ever increasing number of films in the 3D format.

Jeffrey Katzenberg, DreamWorks Animation Chief Executive Officer, has lauded 3D movie technology as the greatest innovation in the 130-year history of the industry. Many have dated the modern era of 3D's popularity to the 2009 release of James Cameron's Avatar, which took an astonishing US$2.8 billion around the world.

In the light of this success, Titanic, a 1997 box office success for Cameron, was also given a 3D makeover and globally re-released in 2012. The movie went on to gross US$944million in global box office takings. In China alone, the film took US$145 milion.

As a follow-up to the immense popularity of 3D movies, a number of cinemas are now trialling a 4D concept – a system that sees audiences treated to a number of added realism elements, including vibrating seats, smells and even water sprays. On 4 April last year, the first 4DX theatre opened at the UME Cineplex in Beijing, attracting a huge audience. Despite this, many industry players remain sceptical over the potential for 4D.

Chen Shaofeng, Vice-Dean of the Institute for Cultural Industries of Peking University, believes that 4D is just a novelty that offers a limited range of movie-related entertainment experiences. He doesn't see it in anyway as a serious challenger to 3D, believing the future belongs to the less gimmicky technology.

Qiu Mingchun, the President of the Shengzhan film company, also sees 4D as a short-lived phenomenon. He believes that most moviegoers have a 15-minute (or so) tolerance to being exposed to water sprays and vibrating chairs, making such systems only suitable for short, novel movies, possibly in theme parks or science museums.

Guan Shan Shan, Beijing Office

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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