Paul Sakuma / AP file
Click for video: Some of the monsters from the film "Monsters
vs. Aliens" are seen through 3-D glasses during a demonstration at the
Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Click on the image to watch a
report from KNTV's Scott Budman about DreamWorks' 3-D ambitions.
The big game itself will still be in ho-hum 2-D, but the commercial break at the end of the Super Bowl's second quarter will show off some new technologies for 3-D moviegoing and TV watching. The biggest challenge just might be keeping all the different goggles straight.
Movies have been going 3-D, off and on, for 50 years: The standard technique was to film the scenes using a stereo camera. On the screen, both versions, for the left eye and the right eye, were displayed simultaneously in different polarized views or different colors (most typically emphasizing red and blue).
When viewers watched the movie through polarized or red-blue glasses, that induced a 3-D effect. (Here's a hilarious online demonstration of the technique from a red-blue version of the 1953 film "House of Wax 3D," one of the top-grossing 3-D films in Hollywood history).
Unfortunately, watching a whole movie in the theater, on your living-room TV or on your computer monitor could induce motion sickness if the technique wasn't done exactly right. Over the past few years, Hollywood has rolled out a succession of technologies aimed at making 3-D more foolproof. "Titanic" director James Cameron was an early adopter of 21st-century 3-D moviemaking, and now whole constellations of companies are vying to get you wearing those 3-D goggles (or eventually go 3-D without them).
You almost need a program to keep all the players behind Sunday's Super Bowl 3-D commercial extravaganza straight: DreamWorks Animation and Intel teamed up on a venture called InTru 3D, an upgraded platform for 3-D animation and rendering that was used for the upcoming film "Monsters vs. Aliens." The movie's 3-D look has been translated into a 90-second trailer for the small screen.
Animated 3-D lizards will appear right afterward, in a 60-second spot to tout Pepsi's SoBe mineral water. And NBC, which is airing the commercials, will give a plug to a 3-D episode of "Chuck" that was shot using 3ality's 3-D production system. (NBC Universal is one of the partners in the msnbc.com joint venture.)
You won't want to put on the traditional red-blue glasses to see these 3-D clips: Instead, the commercials are being broadcast using ColorCode 3-D's amber-violet encoding system. That means you'll have to go out to a retail outlet near you and look for the bin of free ColorCode 3-D glasses, probably stuck somewhere near the Pepsi/SoBe display. (As explained in this news release, you can have the glasses sent to you if you call 1-800-646-2904 by Thursday.)
ColorCode's system works much like the old-style, red-blue anaglyphs, in that different colors are slightly offset in a stereo pair of images to produce the 3-D effect. (Here are some red-blue examples from the Red Planet.) However, ColorCode's color scheme is selected in such a way that the pictures still look OK in 2-D when you're not wearing the glasses. ColorCode's Web site offers these samples of 3-D stills and videos, so you can see for yourself before Sunday.
Do you have your 3-D glasses for the Super Bowl commercial
yet? Try them out on this bird's-eye view of a computer-
generated skyline. Click on the image for a larger version.
"This process much improves the viewing experience if you don't have glasses to watch it," Jamie French, director of NBC Entertainment Publicity, told me today.
The 3-D "Chuck" episode is due to air on the night after the Super Bowl, with viewers getting an hourlong dose of ColorCode video (that is, if you don't include the 2-D commercials).
"The show is best viewed when lights are turned down low in the room in which the show is being watched," French advised. "Total darkness would actually be best. Due to the fact that the audience will be using the less expensive paper glasses being distributed throughout America, the lens structure is more susceptible to ambient light affecting the viewing experience. People should watch in the dark."
Yet another type of technology will come into play when "Monsters vs. Aliens" hits the theaters on March 27: Some theaters will show the movie using a RealD projection system, which allows both sides of the stereo view to run through one projector. That system is far more financially feasible for wide release than the traditional dual-projection system used for 3-D movies.
Like other movie projection schemes, RealD relies on 3-D goggles that have polarized lenses rather than different-colored lenses. That means the glasses you picked up for the Super Bowl commercial will be no good in the theater. RealD claims that its circular-polarization system makes for more comfortable viewing than the standard linear-polarization system, but you'll have to judge for yourself.
It's likely you'll have plenty of chances to judge: DreamWorks says all its animated features will be rendered in 3-D from now on. DreamWorks thus joins Fox and Disney on the 3-D bandwagon. Sports teams are testing the waters as well: Over the past couple of months, RealD and 3ality have teamed up to assess the feasibility of showing 3-D football games in movie theaters (including the BCS college football championship and an NFL game).
After watching the Chargers trounce the Raiders in theatrical 3-D, NBC Sports' Alan Abrahamson gave the show (if not the Raiders) a big thumbs-up: "I saw the NFL's future Thursday," he wrote. "Its name is 3-D."
So if you're a real 3-D fan (or a real football fan), you might be heading to the theater for next year's Super Bowl ... and not just for the commercials.
Correction for 1:45 p.m. ET Jan. 27: In the comments section below, Phil Gray and Rich Emery correct the impression I originally left that the early 3-D movies were shown in the theaters using the red-blue view. Actually, the theaters generally showed the polarized version of the movie, as they explain in their comments. The red-blue version was more commonly aired on TV (or YouTube), where it's well nigh impossible to do the polarization trick. I've rewritten this item to fix that misimpression.
On another question, it's not necessary to have one of those newfangled 3-D HD TVs to see the Super Bowl commercial. In fact, those won't do you any good for this particular kind of 3-D effect. Based on the reviews, it sounds as if the new-generation 3-D TVs aren't quite ready for prime time.