I remember watching the psychedelic computer graphics in "Tron" (okay, so I'm dating myself) and thinking, "Wow, this is pretty cool". These days you get better graphics on a Gameboy at 1/100000th the cost. Many years later I was stunned by the cutting edge morphing technology in "Terminator 2". Now you can do the same thing to your travel video on your PC. Last night I saw the new wave of computer graphics - 3D animation. In 1998, IMAX producers Steve Hoban and Hugh Murray put out a call to computer animators around the world for submissions that would be adapted to the IMAX 3D format. They narrowed the 250 + submissions down to eight selections based on several criteria: how they looked, whether they could be readily adapted for the 3D process and suitability for the intended audience (several vivid lead-in video game segments were excluded because of their extremely violent material). The finalists range from the familiar - the 3D sequence from "The Simpsons" - to the obscure - "Monkey Brain Sushi".
In order to give the film continuity, and tie the different elements together they created Phig (voiced by Jenna Elfman) the sassy, irreverent animated host of Cyberworld. She takes the viewers on a tour of the facility and provides some comic relief. There is also a subplot involving some buggy software in the program - caused by a trio of troublesome code munching Cyber Critters - and Phig's efforts to stop them before they crash the system, but more on that later.
The animation would be amazing in its own right, but when transformed into 3D it is spectacular. While all the segments are exceptional, I did have several favorites: "The Krakken" plunges the viewer into a stunningly detailed and rendered aquatic environment, that reminded me of my trip to the Barrier reef (minus the monsters with the big, sharp, pointy teeth.). The Pet Shop Boys' "Liberation" meanwhile, could not be more different - a surreal piece, it is a cross between a Dada exhibit, an escher diagram, and one of those strange dreams you have after guzzling a twelve pack of "Jolt" and studying for 36 hours straight. Being a Simpsons fanatic I also enjoyed the "Homer3" sequence, which takes on a new dimension (no pun intended) on the big screen. The movie is also beautifully scored, taking full advantage of the IMAX 3D surround sound system. Now that I've told you a little about "the what" I will now try to explain a bit of "the how".
After reading through the fifty pages of production notes for the fourth time, I realized that any in-depth discussion of the technology would put anyone but computer science grads to sleep (and even they'd need a cup of coffee). The basic animation sequences are standard computer graphics that have been translated for stereoscopic viewing - two images projected simultaneously to mimic human vision. The Cyber Critters, however were created with SANDDE, a revolutionary new technology (created by Intel and IMAX), whereby animators don 3D goggles and draw the characters by free hand. They can immediate view the results in real time virtual space. The end-result is characters that resemble traditional cell-style animation, except they also happen to be three-dimensional.
I especially appreciated the fact that although the film is fast paced, I did not get the same queasy feeling I did at "Alien Adventure" and "Encounters in the Third Dimension", two other 3D IMAX films.
I'm not generally given to hyperbole, but Cyberworld 3D's immersive experience is hands down the best 3D movie I have ever seen (until next year of course.). Even better, it is suitable for everyone.
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