RealD Europe’s Robert Mayson On Gravity, 3D cinema & The Future Of Technology

With Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity enjoying huge success at the BAFTAs and Oscars last month, it’s certainly been viewed by many as the best use of 3D in a movie in cinema history. While Avatar may have got people through the door due to natural curiosity at the new technology, Gravity takes that one step further and immerses the viewer in a way never seen before.

There’s something about the setting of outer-space that makes the 3D work so much better than anything before, and this is a true step forward for 3D, something that’s often been seen as gimmicky in the past. The bar has been raised and we are in a very interesting time in cinema history, and we cannot wait to see what is delivered in future.

Flicks And The City had the chance to catch up with Robert Mayson, Managing Director of RealD Europe Ltd, the company behind 3D exhibition, to get his thoughts on why Gravity has been so successful, and what he sees as the future of the technology.

CaptureHow much has technology changed between you joining RealD in 2008 and where we are today?

In a word: significantly.

There are many entertainment options today that didn’t compete with the cinema industry in years past. Because of this competition, the industry needs to continuously innovate and use new technology to deliver a truly differentiated experience. This innovation-first approach falls directly into RealD’s sweet spot and our mission to perfect the visual image. While RealD is best known for 3D, we are focused on any technology that can help deliver the best visual experience possible, whether 2D or 3D.

Since 2008, RealD has introduced many new technologies, including our XL Cinema System, which is twice as bright as other 3D cinema technologies. We also recently introduced a new cinema screen technology, the Precision White Screen, that makes the image on screen brighter still as well as more crisp and clear. And just a few weeks back we introduced RealD TrueImage 2D and 3D image enhancement technology. RealD TrueImage debuted on the recent Hobbit film and got rave reviews by Peter Jackson.

And we believe the rate of innovation will only accelerate as the industry turns increasingly to technology to help filmmakers tell their stories in compelling and awe-inspiring ways.

Some are calling Gravity the best use of 3D in a movie yet. What do you think makes it work so well?

Alfonso experimented a lot with the issue of weightlessness and where to place the actors. All 3D releases are ground-breaking in their own way, but it is the distinct aspect of weightlessness that sets Gravity apart. Crucially Cuarón took a holistic approach to 3D, in that he considered it fitting right from the very start of the project, when he was still working out how to shoot the film. This approach kicks things off in the right direction, and meant that everyone was conscious of the 3D and mindful to factor it into every filmmaking decision.

Do you think audiences are ready to accept 3D as a long-term investment now, and not just a niche like it has been many times in the past?

The days of 3D as a gimmick are long over. What was once used for nothing more than objects flying off the screen is now used by the world’s best filmmakers to heighten the sense of realism in a movie and to transport an audience to a new place for an increased sensory experience. Good 3D is seamless, a natural enhancement to the story, and a powerful tool that can become a meaningful part of a story’s narrative. As directing greats continue to experiment with 3D and push the envelope, and as the technology continues to advance, 3D will continue to improve. Moviegoers who embrace 3D will be the ultimate beneficiaries. The medium’s certainly here to stay.

How do you feel about studios choosing between filming in 3D versus post-conversion? Do you see a large difference in the way a movie looks when you screen it?

Today it’s less about filming in 3D versus converting to 3D. There are great recent examples of both, including Gravity, which was shot in 2D and converted to 3D along with heavy visual effects, and The Great Gatsby, which was primarily shot in 3D. The true differentiation comes from planning the film in 3D from the start. Whether shooting in 2D or 3D, visualizing a scene in 3D as the audience will see it makes for a markedly better product in the end.

Great filmmakers move the medium forward. Previously, 3D had been typically used across three genres: action blockbusters, horror flicks and animated family films — as a way to create immediate impact and excite audiences.

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How important is it to have filmmakers who are enthusiastic and invested in the technology?

Over the last 18 months we’ve seen films by a number of passionate A-list 3D auteurs, namely Ang Lee, Baz Luhrmann, Peter Jackson and most recently Alfonso Cuarón integrating the technology into their films as a story-making tool, using it as they would sound and colour to add an extra dimension to the movie experience. Be it dramas or documentaries every genre can benefit and has benefitted.

The success of these films is redefining 3D, revealing the format’s true potential to filmmakers and audiences alike. As a result, perceptions of 3D are irrevocably changing and the minds of passionate filmmakers are more open than ever to the myriad of opportunities available to them.

There has been a large push in home 3D media over the past year. Is that a harder sell than the cinema experience?

We believe there is a bright future for 3D consumer electronics – it will just take some time and additional technology breakthroughs. To start, there needs to be a healthy mix of content available for viewers in the home. This hasn’t fully materialized to date. Also, while the home 3D viewing experience today can be phenomenal, it is a different type of environment than in theatres. In a theatre, a viewer is solely focused on what they are watching. In the home, people tend to multi-task and have conversations about what they are watching. In this more mixed environment, 3D glasses can act to separate a viewer from their more social viewing. We believe that continued technology advancements toward glasses-free 3D consumer electronics will help the growth of the space, as will a growing library of 3D content that will be available for viewing on displays like tablets, smartphones, computers and eventually TVs.

What do you see as the next natural step in film exhibition in the future?

Our focus is always directed towards technology improvements that make for a better visual experience. Whether 3D projection, brighter and more efficient cinema screens, 2D and 3D image enhancement, or eventually, laser projection, RealD will keep innovating so technology can be a corner stone of differentiation that drives moviegoers to the theatre. Ultimately, we look forward to seeing 3D projected as bright as 2D and brightness across the board elevated by laser or other technologies in the work that will make the cinema more compelling than ever.

Gravity is out now on DVD & Blu-ray.