Thursday, February 11, 2010

Where Avatar Leads Us

Well you know it's going to happen, and some of you are probably already working on it right now. After sniffing around for the past 10 years or so, the renaissance in 3D cinema finally seems to have come of age, and we all know that our corporate clients will be jumping at the chance to be one of the first to make their 'next bid presentation' in 3D. Won't head office be impressed!

Don't get me wrong, I embrace new technology. But we all know that the recent 3D blockbusters are produced on new technology virtually built from the ground up, much like George Lucas did when first devising Star Wars effects for the big screen.

I can't wait to forward my first 3D corporate proposal. I believe the CEO will be very excited, until we start talking logistics and cost. "I thought you just run it through some software or something". Yeah well maybe James Cameron might eventually run his old flicks "through some type of software or something" sometime in the future for his 'special edition' release, but that ain't today.

I know that by the time this blog entry is trawled by Google, some propellerhead will be compiling epic code to create a simpler method of converting our flat 2D media into the new expected stereoscopic norm (and some of you perhaps already know something of that today). Remember how Fox converted all the old black and white films to colour? Don't be surprised to the see the ‘restored’ 3D version of Gone with the Wind coming soon.

So now we look towards double headed or twin chip single lens projectors, and mandatory synchronous dual digital video feeds as the 3D vision we run to the big 3D screen has to be encoded differently to the same 3D vision we run to the 3D LCD (or rather LE3D) because the technologies are incompatible. "Oh, we do have converters, but that adds at least another frame delay" And as for IMAG, imagine the processing power required to achieve relatively realistic 3D in real time. "And for those of you who missed the presentation, the 3D render will be available for viewing in the foyer after lunch."

But I jest. When I first saw an early new-era 3D representation in 2001 that didn't require glasses, I was mesmerised to the point of undergoing a spiritual experience (it was in Las Vegas, so other factors may have been at work). And while glasses are fine for home and the cinema, the real breakthrough will come when regular folk walking in the shopping mall view 3D as easily as they ignore regular digital signage today. We might not even call the display device a screen. It might be called “Special Projected Animated Message” (SPAM) or “Character Replicated Automated Projection” (CRAP). Either way, it will probably be more than 3D. It will simply be 'real'.

This development could be the start of the next major change in sociology. If our displays generate 'real' imagery, powered by a back-end PC equipped with artificial intelligence and data feeds via what we now call wi-fi, our whole social structure could change. History shows that entertainment systems like home cinema and gaming consoles put an end to regular social events at the local dance venue, fellowship meetings at the Masonic Hall and first dates at the rollerskating rink.

In the same way, the first vestiges of modern 3D herald another shift in what people expect and how they might interact with the rest of the world. No longer will we merely click on an icon to order a pizza or pay a bill. With 3D screens and technology, we might 'reach-in' to select our choice of toppings, or hand over 'cash' to the merchant virtually standing in our living room. And as for 'adult entertainment', those opportunities are inappropriate to discuss here, although that industry will probably lead the technology charge, as it often does.

Depending on how it's developed, these 3D representations could ultimately be projected to act as virtual fascias overlaid on our real world. The cost and effort put into shop fitting, theatrical designs and architecture could all come to a grinding halt. The environment we live in could become nothing but mammoth 3D displays through which we spend our regular lives. Staging and lighting for our clients’ next event could be 'constructed' entirely on a laptop at the office, and then merely 'applied' to the venue's '3D environment display system'. Much of this we already do today, but only ultimately in a 2D environment. Add technology that simulates the sensation of touch when stimulated by virtual 3D ‘textures’ and we’re well on the way to transforming our world. It would spell the end of many auxiliary construction industries. The new world millionaires will the "3D habitat designers".

And it all started with 3D movies. Viva la revolution!

(A version of this article originally appeared in AV Magazine)