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DreamWorks' Katzenberg explores third dimension with 3-D 'Monsters vs. Aliens'

January 13, 2009 |  4:04 pm
Monsters vs. Aliens

Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief executive of DreamWorks Animation SKG, believes movies are on the cusp of a "3-D revolution," a technological leap on the same level of importance as sound and color.

"To me, this is a chance to reinvent and reinvigorate the theater experience," he said this morning at a screening of scenes from "Monsters vs. Aliens," a DreamWorks title set for release in late March. "It's actually a chance to bring people back to the theaters who have stopped coming."

Katzenberg is putting his money where his mouth is. His studio, which created "Shrek" and "Madagascar," has invested $30 million a year for the last several years and hired 150 people to create 3-D movies. Katzenberg estimated that making "Monsters vs. Aliens" in 3-D added $15 million in cost, or 10% of the $150-million production budget.

Will he make back that money? With the credit markets frozen, many theaters may find their upgrade to digital 3-D projectors delayed, according to the New York Times. That, in turn, affects the studio's revenue projections because tickets to see movies in 3-D cost more.

Katzenberg projected optimism, saying he expected 2,150 or more screens to have 3-D capability by the time "Monsters vs. Aliens" comes out, compared with just 1,300 when Disney's "Bolt" came out in 3-D in November. "We're anticipating ...

Monsters vs. Aliens ... a $5 ticket premium, and with less than 10% of admissions to come from 3-D, we will recoup our costs," he said.

When DreamWorks releases "Shrek 4" in the fall of 2010, Katzenberg expects 7,500 theater screens to show the movie in 3-D, generating 80% of the movie's admissions. "That's a game changer for our industry," he said. "It's becoming an important and meaningful source of incremental revenue for the industry. We have got to offer people a reason to come back to the theater."

Wouldn't that advantage be erased when home televisions integrate 3-D, as we noted in a story last week about 3-D technologies on display at the Consumer Electronics Show?

At CES, Jon Landau, the producer of "Titanic" and the upcoming "Avatar," touted 3-D television as a significant advance in a moviemaker's ability to tell stories. "For us, 3-D is the future," Landau said. Quoting James Cameron, the director of both movies, he added, "It's like dreaming with your eyes open."

But Katzenberg said TVs wouldn't be able to hold a candle to theaters when it comes to 3-D. "First of all, you have to sit very close to get the full viewing experience," he said. "So for a 50-inch set, you need to be able to sit 50 inches or less away from the screen." Secondly, he said, ambient light detracts from the 3-D effect. "Any light source can diminish the experience. And none of us live in a place with a blacked-out room."

"Will 3-D come to the home? Absolutely," he said. "Will it compete with the theater? I don't think so."

-- Alex Pham

Images from "Monsters vs. Aliens." Credit: DreamWorks Animation SKG