The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Jeffrey Katzenberg and the Future of Animation

Written by: Melissa Muenz, Special to CC2K

Is 3D the next major leap forward for movies, and is Dreamworks leading the way into this great new frontier? The answer to both questions, it seems, is yes and no.

ImageWhen it comes to the decent movies and good film makers, pretty much anything can be a tool or device. For instance, in something like Clerks or Schindler’s List, color, or lack thereof, was used to evoke moods or feelings. Any movie with a cheesy montage sequence is using editing and music to represent the passage of time. And for someone like Quentin Tarantino, anything from gratuitous violence to Uma Thurman’s feet can help create the atmosphere.

Much like sound and color were in the 1920s and 30s, Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation and former studio chairman at the Walt Disney Company, believes that 3D is the next great development in film. In a recent presentation on the future of 3D animation in Washington, DC, Katzenberg spoke about the next great revolution being here with us today, and then proceeded to show clips from DreamWorks’ March 2009 release, Monsters vs. Aliens.


But Katzenberg was very clear on two points. First – this isn’t your father’s 3D animation. Katzenberg displayed the somewhat goofy, red and cyan anaglyph glasses of old, admitting that the 3D that folks are traditionally familiar with wasn’t all that it could be. “I think we can all agree it was really pretty terrible,” he said, pointing out that business where you make your customers throw up is not the best model for success.

Today’s 3D is more advanced: The glasses are plastic rather than paper, for instance, and look more like tacky sunglasses than the red and blue-lensed flimsy frames from the past.

“It all comes back to a word, which is digital,” Katzenberg said. With a single projector and perfect synchronicity between the right and left eye, audiences don’t have to worry about nausea – just slightly adjusting to their new 3D vision and getting immersed in the experience.

And while this immersion is the point for Katzenberg, he stresses a second point: creating a 3D film is still about storytelling more than anything else.

“With all of the wonderful things 3D can do, it will not make a bad movie good,” he said. With this in mind, Katzenberg seems to think 3D can be seen more as an enhancement – but an important one that will bring viewers back to the theaters. Katzenberg said that 3D film captures the essence of being in the moment, and creates an effect that cannot be captured in the home (this, however, will not prevent DreamWorks from making their movies available for purchase in 3D).

Katzenberg’s belief in 3D’s future has led DreamWorks to create all of their forthcoming movies in a technology called In Tru 3D. While most 3D movies today have this extra element added in post-production, In Tru 3D films are created with their 3D-ness in mind, creating a more natural, all-encompassing 3D experience.

DreamWorks’ major step in this direction – creating all of their films with this technology – is a testament to Katzenberg’s great faith in the future of 3D. He name-dropped a couple of director friends, including Steven Spielberg, who are currently authoring 3D projects, to indicate the legitimacy of 3D’s relevance. “They all sort of see this as the next great frontier,” Katzenberg said.

Saying things like “revolution” and “next great frontier” with regard to 3D animation seems a little bit extreme. Thus far, the only recent 3D output not intended for kids was Beowulf, and well, that was frankly a little bit silly. And so far as the clips of Monsters vs. Aliens that Katzenberg screened for us, it seems like a pretty standard DreamWorks flick: comedic actors who are famous with adults (Seth Rogen, Will Arnett, Stephen Colbert) voice fun kids characters in a movie with poorly veiled political jokes. The fact that the viewing was in 3D made it somewhat enhanced, but it certainly wasn’t revolutionary.

Katzenberg is right – 3D can bring a better experience to us, the audience. And just maybe, someday, some very adept director – perhaps Steven Spielberg – could find a great, artistic way to use this technology as a tool, and do something fascinating with it. But that revolution won’t be coming with Monsters vs. Aliens. It probably won’t be coming with DreamWorks Animation at all.

For now, at its best, 3-D technology probably will not sit in cinema history with the emergence of sound and color. Rather, it will probably sit with IMAX – it’s an effect that will enhance the viewing experience, and if people decide that it’s worth it, they’ll pay a couple of extra dollars for it. So the revolution may be coming, but no matter what Katzenberg claims, it’s still a ways off.