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Researchers expanding GTA's capacity for 3D film production

Researchers expanding GTA's capacity for 3D film production

$1.4 million interdisciplinary project includes filmmakers, vision scientists, psychologists and industry partners

Filmmakers, vision scientists and psychologists at York University have secured over $1.4 million to fund the 3D Film Innovation Consortium (3D FLIC), a two-year academic-industry partnership that will expand capacity for 3-D film production in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and Ontario.

"The recent success of films like Avatar has changed the perception of 3-D film with the public and the major studios," says Nell Tenhaaf (right), professor and associate dean of research in the Faculty of Fine Arts and the project lead. "As more live-action films, dramas and documentaries get developed in 3-D over the next few years, the GTA must aggressively build its capacity for 3-D film production. 3D FLIC envisions the GTA as a hub for the best quality and most original stereoscopic film production."

3D FLIC brings a uniquely interdisciplinary team to tackle the challenges involved in improving 3-D entertainment technology. Teams of filmmakers at York, led by Professor Ali Kazimi (right) in the Department of Film, Faculty of Fine Arts, will work with an array of film industry partners and the Canadian Film Centre to develop 3-D scenes and films. Vision researchers and psychologists in York's internationally-recognized Centre for Vision Research, led by Professors Rob Allison  in the Faculty of Science & Engineering's Department of Computer Science & Engineering and Laurie Wilcox in the Faculty of Health's Department of Psychology, will then use this material to conduct tests exploring how humans perceive and process the images, which the filmmaking teams will use to refine their films.

This interdisciplinary cycle of research promises to develop practical solutions that will create better post-production technologies and processes for 3-D film production, which will benefit the film industry as a whole.

Left: Rob Allison

Researchers plan to address the question of how best to control viewers' attention when viewing 3D imagery and the role this technique could play in the 3D-film narrative.

"Vergence is a basic mechanism of binocular vision," says Wilcox. "Normally, simultaneously moving both eyes maintains single vision: we cross our eyes to look at near objects (convergence) and move them apart to look at far objects (divergence). This process doesn't happen when viewing conventional 2-D film because both eyes see exactly the same image. But in 3-D film, the illusion of depth allows a viewer to look into the scene and converge their eyes on objects at different depths.

Left: Laurie Wilcox

"We want to know if we can control a viewer's attention by changing how the 3-D images are aligned. Are there techniques that will reduce the discomfort that viewing 3-D images prompts in some individuals? How should 3-D images be constructed to scale differently for display on screens ranging from an IMAX to a television set to a hand-held device?" says Wilcox. "These are some of the questions 3D FLIC will explore."

Collaboration between industry and academia is crucial to the project's success. "Ontario has film crews, technicians and camera operators with decades of experience, and we need to support and hasten their transition to 3-D film to remain competitive," says Jim Mirkopoulos, vice-president of operations at Cinespace Studios. Cinespace is a longstanding supporter of the Faculty of Fine Arts and one of 3D FLIC's partner organizations; their standing White House sets in Kleinburg, Ont., will be used as a 3-D research studio.

The 3D FLIC team includes:

“This initiative brings York’s outstanding researchers in digital media, 3D film, and vision science together in a most innovative way,” says Stan Shapson, vice-president research & innovation. “Building on this unique internal capacity, CONCERT, the York-led Consortium on New Media, Creative and Entertainment Research & Development, has helped to establish our reputation among the GTA’s digital media industry and allowed for successful and sustainable research partnerships between our researchers and local companies. 3D FLIC is one of several exciting media projects we’re launching this year. Of course, research informs our teaching programs; our 3D FLIC members are already discussing new innovations in our curriculum to benefit our students — stay tuned for more to come.”

3D FLIC has a unique funding arrangement with Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC) and Ontario Centres of Excellence. OMDC has contributed over $436,000 to help recognize 3D film as a new production paradigm through the project’s innovative partnerships; OCE has allocated over $287,000 to support the project’s scientific and technology development aspects of stereoscopy research. Seven industry partners will provide over $450,000 through in-kind support, with additional institutional support from York University.

OMDC’s portion of this funding is part of a $2.9 million investment made on Feb. 10, 2010 through its Entertainment and Creative Cluster Partnerships Fund to leverage an additional $7.1 million from 94 partners to support a total of 17 projects.

Designed to help Ontario’s entertainment and creative industries invest in smart ways to grow their competitive advantage in the global marketplace, the partnership fund supports projects involving book and magazine publishing, music, film, television, interactive digital media, and commercial theatre. This industrial cluster experienced growth in 2009 and produces $15 billion in revenue and over 200,000 jobs, contributing $12.7 billion to the province’s GDP. In the last four years, the partnerships fund has provided $9.7 million to support 60 projects involving 379 partners and leveraging a total of $23 million in industry matching funds.

“The entertainment and creative cluster is one of the fastest-growing sectors in Ontario’s economy,” said Michael Chan, minister of tourism and culture. “Our government is proud of the investments we have made in the culture sector, which are driving economic growth and contributing to a great quality of life for Ontarians.”

For a complete list of all 17 projects, visit the OMDC’s Web site.

Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC) is an agency of the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Culture that facilitates economic development opportunities for Ontario’s cultural media industries including book publishing, film and television, interactive digital media, magazine publishing, and music industries.

Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) Inc. drives the commercialization of cutting-edge research across key market sectors to build the economy of tomorrow and secure Ontario’s global competitiveness. In doing this, OCE fosters the training and development of the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs and is a key partner with Ontario's industry, universities, colleges, research hospitals, investors and governments. OCE’s Centres work in communications and information technology, earth and environmental technologies, energy, materials and manufacturing and photonics. OCE is funded by the government of Ontario and is a key partner in delivering Ontario’s Innovation Agenda. OCE through its Centre for Commercialization of Research (CCR), an initiative supported by the federal government, also acts as a catalyst which allows innovative businesses to grow and achieve sustainable, commercial success and global competitiveness.

By Elizabeth Monier-Williams, research communications officer; photos courtesy of YFile – York University’s daily e-bulletin.