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Animation Goes High Tech With 3-D
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Animation Goes High Tech With 3-D

Movies

IRA FLATOW, host:

You're listening to Science Friday from NPR News. I'm Ira Flatow. Time to get out your popcorn and your Jujubes, and don't forget to silence your cell phones - oh yeah, get ready to don your 3-D glasses, because for the rest of the hour, we're going to the movies. And not just any picture show, but the new slew of 3-D movies. Chances are that if you seen an animated film this year or the next year, you'll have the option of seeing it in 3-D. That is, if you can find a 3-D theater. DreamWorks and Disney Pixar will be producing all of their animated features in 3-D.

But in case you were thinking of going into the drawer and pulling out those, you know, those red-blue glasses because, well, it's 3-D, think again, because 3-D experts are telling us that they're not going to be using those glasses anymore. Here to talk about how the technology has changed from those good old days of "Thirteen Ghosts," "Dial M for Murder" - yeah, it was in 3-D. I saw it in 3-D. It was a great movie in 3-D. Here to talk about it - where it headed, that's what we're going to be talking about for the rest of the hour - 3-D movies. How do filmmakers translate their technology into art?

Well, the director of the new film "Coraline" is here to talk about that and about the back-to-the-future way he used 3-D to make his animations jump off the screen. This is really interesting - the way the animations in "Coraline," which I have seen, are made and not the way you think they are. And DreamWorks! DreamWorks is here to talk about what they have up their 3-D sleeves. Also, one of the pioneers in 3-D technology is here. So, it's an interesting hour.

Our number is 1-800-989-8255 - talking about 3-D. Also, you can Twitter us, @scifri, and in Second Life. We're around there, sitting around those benches and chairs, taking your Twitters and your tweets and your questions from Science Friday. Here to talk about it is Henry Selick, the director of "Coraline" and the supervising director of LAIKA. He is joining us from Palatine Recordings in Portland, Oregon. Welcome to Science Friday.

Mr. HENRY SELICK (Director, "Coraline"; Supervising Director, LAIKA): Good to be here, Ira.

FLATOW: Thank you. With over 30 patents in stereoscopic display, my next guest, Lenny Lipton, is credited with inventing modern 3-D display. He's also the chief technology officer of RealD. He joins us by phone from Los Angeles, California. Hi. Welcome to Science Friday.

Mr. LENNY LIPTON (Inventor, Stereoscopic Vision System): How are you, Ira? It's a pleasure to be on your show, but I am no longer with RealD. My tenure there is up. I'm on my own.

FLATOW: You're on - you're a freelancer?

Mr. LIPTON: Yeah, absolutely.

FLATOW: (Laughing) Is it true that you wrote the words to "Puff the Magic Dragon"?

Mr. LIPTON: Yes, I'm guilty as charged.

FLATOW: (Laughing) Great song. Jim Mainard is the head of the production development for DreamWorks Animation in Glendale, California. Welcome to Science Friday.

Mr. JIM MAINARD (Head, Production Development, DreamWorks Animation): It's a pleasure to be on the show, Ira. I've enjoyed your show.

FLATOW: Thank you very much. Let me begin with you, Jim. It seems like 3-D is going through a renaissance. I mean, it was big in the '50s to fight off television. Now, it's big again in this century. Why is that?

Mr. MAINARD: Well, you know, I think a few reasons here. I guess the first and the most significant, Lenny actually had a lot to do with - the projector technology and the invention of a technology called the ZScreen. The way that 3-D works, Ira, is that the left eye and the right eye have to see a different image. And in the past, that was done by having two separate projectors to send those images to the screen.

And when those images weren't aligned properly - and as you can imagine, those days it was film, the film gate - the film would wobble and so forth, there's a lot of instability in the images that you're looking at, and your brain has to fuse all that information. And so, that - mostly what we did for people back in that era was likely - and particularly in the '70s, which I do remember pretty well - was you'd get headache, nausea, eye strain - all those sorts of things that, you know, don't exactly evoke a premium experience.

FLATOW: Mm hmm. Lenny, tell us about the basic science of how 3-D - Jim started talking about it. You have two separate images for the eyes. What is different now? Why do we not need those colored glasses? What kind of glasses do we wear now?

Mr. LIPTON: Well, the glasses are based on the principle of circular polarization, which is superior in many ways to the usual polarization that's used in theme parks and in iMax theaters, because with circular polarizations, you can tip your head. So, you have freedom of head movement before the image becomes a double image, which means you can look at a feature film and rest your head on your sweetheart's shoulder. And you'll still see a 3-D picture.

FLATOW: Mm hmm. And are the projectors different now, Lenny?

Mr. LIPTON: It depends. The present stereoscopic cinema is a marriage between electronic or digital projection and the stereoscopic medium. The digital projectors allow but a single machine to work. In the past, as Jim alluded to, you had a complicated setup with two projectors. But by using one projector to project the left and right images in rapid alternation, you can ensure that both images are treated optically identically by the projector. So, alignment is guaranteed.

FLATOW: Wow. It's really interesting. I've seen a lot of the 3-D films that are out - the animations that are out this summer, and they are markedly different and better than the old 3-D. Let me ask you, Henry Selick, as director of "Coraline" - I was sure when I was watching "Coraline" that I was watching a computer-generated image until the very, very end. And I have to tell my listeners, you have to stay all the way to the end of the credits. You'll see something special (Laughing) at the end of the film, which sort of tells me that I was wrong. You actually do not use computer-generated characters, do you?

Mr. SELICK: Yeah, we - in "Coraline" and some of the other films I've directed - "Nightmare Before Christmas," "James and the Giant Peach" - we use a very old fashioned method - stop motion - which was used in the very first "King Kong." You're using real puppets that are posable up to 24 times a second on real sets with real props and so forth. So, 90 percent of what you see in "Coraline" really exists and existed in miniature. Everything's sort of small-scale.

FLATOW: So, how do you get it to - so you can - because it begins as a 3-D object. Does that make it better resulting as a 3-D object?

Mr. SELICK: Well.

FLATOW: Or is it just a technique that you like to do?

Mr. SELICK: You know, it's a very old fashioned technique but married with capturing the images digitally and then stereoscope - I can't say it. Lenny says it; I just say 3-D.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SELICK: Shooting - you know, shooting 3-D...

FLATOW: Right.

Mr. SELICK: It does show off one of the inherent strengths. You know, computers can do so much more, so many things better, but because it's real, it does - shooting 3-D captures all real textures. And it's not some virtual world. It's an actual world we're capturing and then using 3-D as a storytelling device to sort of enhance story, not just show off, you know, a medium.

FLATOW: Yeah. Jim Mainard at DreamWorks, you're still using - you are using a different technique, the computer generated.

Mr. MAINARD: Absolutely. And Ira, I think as you start by saying why now? I guess, for 3-D, and there's another aspect to this, which is - we've been talking about the display systems getting better, which obviously is a key element to this. But another part of this is, as Henry is alluding to, you know, there's a creative element to this. I think the directors that are coming to the table today are looking at 3-D as a mature medium to work with. And to that end, you know, when DreamWorks - when Jeffrey Katzenberg decided to take us into the 3-D realm, you know, we began investing quite some time ago in training and in tools to actually help us to author the films in 3-D. And the way I like to describe authoring is, as opposed to a conversion method, is that from the outset, we conceive of the movie in 3-D.

And as an example, imagine if we said you're going to shoot an entire film, and you have exactly one lens to use. You'd shoot that film in a very particular way. And then, all of the sudden, if you had the opportunity to now, you know, convert that movie using various lenses, you'd say, oh, I want to shoot with a different lens here, and I might change the location, and I might move the camera differently.

But in a conversion process, you wouldn't have that opportunity. You'd leave creative opportunity on the table. And so, by creating these authoring tools whereby our artists - we have some 300 artists that work on a movie for upwards of three years or more - you know, they can see the 3-D film construction from the very beginning. And I think - so what you get is a mature product that doesn't look like the kinds of things that you may have seen, you know, in decades past.

FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255 is our number. Let me go to the phones, to Trish in Gilbert, Arizona. Hi, Trish.

TRISH (Caller): Hi.

FLATOW: Hi there.

TRISH: My question is, I was wondering if it will someday be possible to see 3-D movies or television without glasses.

FLATOW: Yeah. What - let's go to the short question. First, Lenny, can we - first, we'll be able to see these on our home screens with the glasses on our regular TV sets and then maybe not even need the glasses?

Mr. LIPTON: I don't think it's if, it's when. For the stereoscopic cinema, it will take a considerable development effort, so I think it's very hard to make predictions about technology development, especially in the short term. But it's a difficult problem. You can see stereoscopic television now without eyewear, and Philips has a system they're showing, which is pretty good, but they would admit it's not ready for primetime. It's a very, very hard problem, because a stereoscopic image that you can view without glasses, which is called an auto-stereoscopic image, requires a large multiplicity of images, and there are many, many technical complications.

FLATOW: And what about, in more immediate terms of, you know, just showing - why not just show it on television and we all wear the glasses?

Mr. LIPTON: Well, the technique that's been used - for example, for the Super Bowl - using anaglyph glasses is probably - it's not acceptable. Certainly, it's not acceptable for a feature. There are stereoscopic television sets - or stereo-ready televisions - that are appearing in the marketplace, but the big win for stereoscopic television will involve making liquid crystal televisions work stereoscopically. Those are the dominant displays in the marketplace, so solutions for that kind of television set need to be found.

And they have been found. They need to be essentially productized, introduced into the market. But you're not simply talking about a display device. You're talking about an entire infrastructure. You have to be able to deliver stereoscopic content - and there has to be content - you know, the chicken and the egg.

FLATOW: Jim Mainard, you did that stereo commercial - the 3-D commercial for the Super Bowl, did you not?

Mr. MAINARD: Yes, we did.

FLATOW: How did that work out?

Mr. MAINARD: You know, as Lenny says, we understood that we would not be able to reach the audiences with the same experience they'd have in the theater - you know, the kind of experience you talked about with "Coraline" or what you'll see with "Monsters versus Aliens" here in March. What we were trying to do there is really just raise awareness about 3-D, and so we did the best we could in using anaglyph glasses to try to represent on any TV.

You have to remember, you know, the plethora of types of televisions out there and the various resolutions and color gamuts and all those sorts of things that play into this. We had to pick something that would play across most of that. And so, as Lenny said, you know, there's certainly - it wasn't the same experience as they'll get in a theater or on these new digital televisions he's talking about that can display 3-D. But we did see a great uptick in awareness about our movie and in general, an awareness about 3-D theaters.

FLATOW: Yeah.

Mr. MAINARD: So, it was effective.

FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255 is our number, talking about future of 3-D on Science Friday from NPR News. Let's go to some questions here. Here's a question coming in from Second Life. For live action 3-D, will two cameras shooting in stereo still be required, Lenny?

Mr. LIPTON: Well, the darndest thing is I am now - I'll tell my colleagues. They probably don't know. I've become the stereoscopic supervisor for the Weinstein Company on "Piranha 2," and there's a very good chance that is going to be done through synthesis for various production reasons. So, the answer's no. You don't necessarily have to have a two-headed stereoscopic camera on the set. You can shoot, with a proper preparation, with a single camera.

FLATOW: Henry, let's talk about your technique that you used in making "Coraline." It was stop motion. You say it was very much like "King Kong," which the animation - you know, you reposition "King Kong" in different positions. That's basically what you did. How long does it take to make a minute of stop motion?

Mr. SELICK: On our very best week near the end of production, which was about 18 to 19 months of shooting for a 95-minute film, we could hit two minutes a week of finished footage, which doesn't include lots and lots of tests and, you know, and so forth. Yeah, it's slow, but all good animation's slow. You'll hear the same from Jim Mainard.

Mr. MAINARD: Yes.

Mr. SELICK: The computers don't really make it go faster. It's still a very artist-interactive medium, no matter what you're using - drawing, computers, puppets. It's - good stuff takes time.

FLATOW: What's - and what's the hardest part about that? Is it - you know, I always think the face is going to move if (Laughing) it's not bolted down if you're doing that.

Mr. SELICK: The hardest - well, (Laughing) it's all incredibly hard, but it's what we do. Our animators - unlike the other forms of animation - our animators ultimately give a performance. They don't just do key poses, and then an assistant or a computer fills them in. We plan the shot, we know what the facial expressions will need to be to have them grimace or talk, but it's like crossing a chasm on a tightrope. Once they start, they have to get to the other side. There'll be mistakes made they have to cover for. And so, there's sort of this energy and vitality to stop motion that is there through this performance. And shooting 3-D just captures that a little better.

FLATOW: And how long does it take to - computer-wise, computing power-wise - to transfer this into a digital? You're starting in analog, now how do you make it into digital?

Mr. SELICK: This is the first film for me that we shot in digital. We didn't start with film. We shot digital - because everything's miniature, we couldn't find cameras small enough or a mirror system to get our lenses as far - the intraocular distance between lenses is what, you know, approximates human eye distance. But our puppets are seven to 15 inches tall. So ultimately, we would shoot - we'd pose the puppet and we would shoot the left eye, then the camera itself - the lens - would shift to the right and shoot the right eye. So, it was going in digitally right from the start, which, you know, allowed us to clean up rigs, seams and composite backgrounds and so forth. So, the transfer process was happening as we were shooting. We were already going in digitally.

FLATOW: Right. And the rendering that we talk about in video, did that take a while?

Mr. SELICK: That's a question for Jim because...

FLATOW: Jim?

Mr. SELICK: We don't have the same issues.

Mr. MAINARD: Right. A movie like "Monsters Versus Aliens" would have a ridiculous amount of rendering - on the order of say, 35 to 40 million hours of rendering.

FLATOW: Thirty-five to 40 million hours?

Mr. MAINARD: Yeah. So, the way to think about that is - I don't know, you've probably got a quad-core processor on your computer that's sitting in front of you, Ira.

FLATOW: Yeah.

Mr. MAINARD: Imagine...

FLATOW: I'm on Final Cut Pro here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MAINARD: There you go. You're cutting a movie.

FLATOW: (Laughing) Right.

Mr. MAINARD: So, think of that computer running for - if it would - run for 35 million hours, and of course, we do that with thousands of computers to make sure that, you know, we can get it done in the three to four years that we make these movies. But it's a crazy amount of computing. It's - we essentially run a supercomputing facility here.

FLATOW: Wow. We're going to take a break and come back and get more of your questions about making 3-D movies with my guests Henry Selick, who's director of "Coraline," and also with us is Lenny Lipton and Jim Mainard, who is head of production development for Dreamworks Animation. And your questions - 1-800-989-8255, also taking your tweets on Twitter - that's @scifri - and in Second Life. We'll be right back after this break. Stay with us. We're going to take a short break and come right back to you now. And we'll be doing that in just about three, two, one. I'm Ira Flatow on Science Friday from NPR News.

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FLATOW: You're listening to Talk of the Nation, Science Friday. I'm Ira Flatow. We're talking about the history of 3-D and the future of 3-D and some of the great 3-D animations that are coming out this year and next year. Brief program note - on Monday, on Talk of the Nation - almost anything goes on the Web, but now there are calls to reign in free speech online. Join guest host Joe Palca for a look at efforts to muzzle the Net. That's Monday. Tune in with Joe on Talk of the Nation.

As I say, we're talking this hour about the future, present, past of 3-D with my guests, Henry Selick, the director of "Coraline" and the supervising director of LAIKA, Lenny Lipton, who is a 3-D inventor, and Jim Mainard is the head of production development for DreamWorks. Our number - 1-800-989-8255. Let's - lot of folks want to call in. Cole in Plainfield, New Jersey. Hi, Cole.

COLE (Caller): Good afternoon.

FLATOW: Hi there.

COLE: I had a comment about the 3-D experience my family and I had last weekend, but before I do, I want to share a tip of the hat with Henry, I trust, for Henry Harryhausen, who did great stop motion in the 1970s with "Sinbad" and some other stuff - not 3-D, but it was very good.

FLATOW: It goes way back - (Laughing) stop-motion animation.

COLE: Well, so do I. So, there it is.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: Sometimes I feel like I am...

COLE: I took all four sons to a 3-D movie this past weekend on, of all things, the IMAX, and it was amazing. It was, you know, the large glasses, not the red and the blue - or the red and the blue.

FLATOW: What did you see?

COLE: Well, I think the title was "Under the Sea." It was a great piece of footage about sea beds and the animals and the flora and fauna of them and looked at cuttlefish and other interesting things. The fascinating thing - we chose it because it's only 45 minutes, so we wanted to see if it was an effective way to present a movie. We decided it was, so much so that my two year old on my lap, when he saw the cuttlefish zap a fish, immediately threw the glasses off.

But the thing that threw me was, when we sat and the movie began and there's bubbles and so fort and fish, I looked across and hundreds of hands, big and small, were reaching out to the screen, which, of course, you don't see in the theater. And I've got to say, I was impressed. The footage was fantastic, the presentation was clean.

On occasion, you'd take the glasses off to see what the image looked like, but the way that the glasses bring them together in a much clearer way than we've seen before was really compelling, so much so of course, that we're waiting for March for the movie "Monsters and Aliens," and we're going to try and get the older ones down to "Coraline."

FLATOW: All right.

COLE: Thank you guys for such great work, as somebody goes back to dust off (unintelligible) as well.

FLATOW: All right, thanks for calling. His phone - his cell phone was degrading there a little bit. Is this the future of movies now? Are we going to see not just animation but real people doing 3-D, if it's so popular and people like this?

Mr. SELICK: Oh, Ira, I think it's an - a surety that we will. As part of our efforts to educate within our own studio, we reached out to the director's guild and the ASC - the cinematographers - and we've had many, many of them come through our studio. We've put them through, you know, half-day courses in 3-D. There's a lot of interest there from directors.

FLATOW: Yeah.

Mr. SELICK: You know, what we were - what we've really been waiting for here is to get to a place where we have enough screens, you know, to make it commercially viable, which we've certainly crossed that point now, thanks to Lenny's previous company, RealD, and of course, Dolby.

FLATOW: You know, I saw "Dial M for Murder" in 3-D after I had seen it for years as 2-D? What a difference it was, you know. That scissors comes right into your lap, you know. And - but Hitchcock was quoted as saying, he didn't like to work in 3-D, that it inhibited him or hindered the way he could set up a shot because he had to think of the 3-D angle involved here.

Mr. SELICK: Well, you know, in those days - and Lenny, you probably can speak to this better than any of us - but in those days, the camera rigs were pretty horrifically large and cumbersome. So, I can imagine from a director's perspective, you know, it would be quite laborious to set up any shot. Today of course, those cameras are digital and much smaller, and, you know, the entire rig might weigh 70 pounds.

FLATOW: Is that right, Lenny?

Mr. LIPTON: It remains a concern because the - you know, in production, it's very important to minimize risk and to do as many setups as you can. Although today's stereoscopic rigs are smaller and probably much better, it still remains a concern.

FLATOW: Mm hmm. Henry, are you going to do your next film in 3-D?

Mr. SELICK: It's pretty much if it works with story. I don't believe all films should be 3-D. I don't think, you know, "The Wrestler" - Mickey Rourke needed to be 3-D to convey his performance. So, it's really - it's up to the - if it enhances the story. I mean, I go back 20 years with Lenny Lipton. We did this little 3-D rock video together for the View-Master Corporation, and it's very much been a, you know, a long association checking in with Lenny over the years as he developed his equipment and ideas. For me, it's always does it work with the story? If it's sort of an add-on, gimmicky thing, I think we'll get the burnout that we got in the '50s, even without the headaches of the older technology. I think if everything is 3-D, everything's competing for attention that way, it'll get very noisy.

FLATOW: Jim, what do you think about that?

Mr. MAINARD: I agree. You know, I don't think 3-D is for every film. But I do have to say, I think that - you know, if you look at the movies that make the most money in a given year - you know, the top - you know, there'll be 50 movies that'll make, you know 80 percent of the box. And I think what you'll see is well more than half of those movies will move to 3-D, you know, even in the next three to four years.

FLATOW: Mm hmm. 1-800-989-8255 is our number. Let's go Paul in Sycamore, Illinois. Hi, Paul.

PAUL (Caller): Hi. And thank you for explaining why my polarizing lenses didn't darken when I looked at them with my dark glasses polarizing lenses.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: Because they were a different kind of polarization, right?

PAUL: Yeah. So, I'm curious to know how you do circular polarization.

FLATOW: Lenny, can you give us a layman's version of that?

Mr. LIPTON: Well, plain or linearly polarized light - you know, I don't know how to do a layman's version of that...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LIPTON: You know, light is considered to be an electromagnetic wave. That's the construct you use when you talk about polarization.

FLATOW: Right.

Mr. LIPTON: And we look at the electric vector, and we consider it to be confined to a single plane for linear or plain polarization, and for circular polarization, the electric vector - the tip of the electric vector describes a corkscrew. And so, it's either going in a left direction - a clockwise or anti-clockwise, in which case you have left or right-handed circularly polarized light. And if you have an analyzer - and it goes on and on; it's too complicated for the radio.

FLATOW: Well, let me see - let me see if I can explain it. Tell me if I'm wrong. In regular polarized light, it's either up and down or left and right. The light can go up through a little slit - let's say, up and down or left and right. But in circular, it goes in a corkscrew shape, and it could go counterclockwise or clockwise.

Mr. LIPTON: That's not bad.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: OK. And they do tell you not to use those glasses outside, don't they?

Mr. LIPTON: Well, the only reason for that is they don't absorb UV. Otherwise, they, you know, they do reduce the amount of light that reaches your eyeball, but they're not, you know - sunglasses have to absorb UV in order to prevent cataracts and protect your eyes. I think that's some kind of a definition - a legal or optical definition for sunglasses.

FLATOW: Mm hmm. Jim, can we now go back to our library of great 2-D movies and make them into 3-D?

Mr. MAINARD: It's certainly possible. There are a number of companies out there doing those kinds of conversions, and you can imagine studios with - you know, like a Warner Brothers or some studio like that or Sony that have these large libraries are certainly looking at doing that. I think that, you know, many of those movies will not translate well into 3-D because again, they weren't conceived that way. I think they can be made to be watchable, and possibly enjoyable, but I don't think that the preponderance of them will be, you know, great 3-D movies.

FLATOW: Mm hmm. One interesting thing, Henry, about "Coraline" - and I thought this was - is that a lot of the 3-D was subtle. You know, except for that needle that comes out pointing at you, that was a terrific 3-D, you know, moment. It was just sort of an enhancement to the film, sort of giving it a little bit of depth.

Mr. SELICK: I was always looking for the "Wizard of OZ" idea of going from this dull world to something far more exciting and decided to draw the audience into the 3-D space behind the screen as "Coraline" is sort of convinced - you know, in the story, "Coraline" discovers this better version of her own life, and so, use 3-D to sort of draw you in, rather than punch you in the eyes. I mean, it's a lot of fun to do - to come off the screen, but it really - it wasn't something that was going to fit in our story...

FLATOW: Right.

Mr. SELICK: And it really inhibits editing. If everything's coming off the screen and you're trying to do fast cutting, it destroys your muscles of your eyes. It's very painful.

Mr. MAINARD: Yeah, I'd have to second that. I mean, I think you know, our objective is - well, our first objective of course, is, do no harm to our audiences. And our second objective is, you know, to really, you know, enhance the story process - the storytelling process. And in general, for the - from our perspective, that means immersing the audiences into the space rather than, as you said, you know, sort of poking things out at the audience.

FLATOW: Mm hmm.

Mr. LIPTON: Well, I would like add to that.

FLATOW: Sure, Lenny, go ahead.

Mr. LIPTON: One thing that people usually don't consider is that the cinema has always been three-dimensional. The depth cues that you have in conventional cinema, you can appreciate with one eye. But the additional depth cue of the stereoscopic depth cue requires two eyes. So, I don't see the addition of the stereoscopic cinema - I don't see it as a revolution. I see it as an evolution and a way to tell the story - the way for the directors and the cinematographers to enhance their ability to tell the story.

And I do take issue with my colleagues with regard to the ventral penetration in the stereoscopic cinema. I think all movies, for business reasons, will have to become stereoscopic movies. As Jim pointed out, in the future, we're going to see a very large percentage of films which are stereoscopic, and the business interests that run the movie industry are going to come to the same conclusion that the people who ran the business in the '20s and '30 came with regard to sound. So, I think all movies will become stereoscopic, just as all movies have sound.

FLATOW: Mm hmm. Does that mean you'll be buying your own designer permanent pair of glasses to take with you to every film?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LIPTON: That's right.

FLATOW: Because they're charging a lot of money (Laughing) to buy those glasses at the theater. 1-800-989-8255 - Dan in Portland, Oregon. Hi, Dan.

DAN (Caller): Hi there.

FLATOW: Hi there.

DAN: Hey, I was wondering, given that it took tens of millions of hours of rendering to create the "Monsters Versus Aliens" movies, how many four-bedroom homes that would heat?

(Soundbite of laughter) Mr. MAINARD: Well, we do our very best to run the greenest data centers we can, but I understand your point.

FLATOW: Mm hmm. 1-800-989-8255. Let me ask you, Henry, about the ending - the real ending. There's a little Easter egg, as we say, was that intentional - I'm sure - at the end, right after the credits in "Coraline's" - stay to the way end. Was that an actual demonstration of how you made some of those 3-D mice jump around?

Mr. SELICK: It happens to be a beautiful little sequence...

FLATOW: It's beautiful. It's terrific.

Mr. SELICK: That shows all the rigs that actually support these things that are floating through the air. And I sort of - for those willing to sit through the credits, it was here's a behind the scenes of how we do some of this work. And I actually like leaving in those rigs and imperfections. I think one day we'll have midnight - we'll do a midnight cult screening of "Coraline" with no fixes, and you'll see all that stuff throughout the film. It's a treat - it's a treat for those who want to kind of know more about how we do the work.

FLATOW: I'm first in line for that. Talking about 3-D this hour on Talk of the Nation, Science Friday from NPR News. And I asked people who had seen it today - I said, did you stay till the end? And they said, oh, I couldn't, I just couldn't do it. I said, you missed the best part of the movie.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: Let's see if we can get a few more phone calls in before we have to go. Let's go to Lee in Alabama. Hi, Lee.

LEE (Caller): Hey, how's it going?

FLATOW: Hey there.

LEE: I had a question about computer-generated stuff. I teach 3-D imaging and animation, and these guys are saying it takes three years to create these movies. And I'm sitting here thinking, I've been through three different versions of my software in three years. Do you ever have to go back and fix stuff, like, you find a new way to do something that's faster and it makes it look better and all that?

Mr. MAINARD: Oh, yeah. That's - you've hit on a very big problem for us. You can imagine everything gets upgraded in three years. We've replaced most of the computer equipment in that time frame as well. So, yeah, we have a lot of our own proprietary software that we maintain. I like to say, we have a technology company trapped inside of a content company just to keep things going. So, yeah, it's quite an effort to keep current and you know, continue to revise our techniques.

FLATOW: Do you have to design your own computers and the systems that run them, too?

Mr. MAINARD: The software. The computer systems are actually largely systems you could go out and buy, you know, off the shelf, part numbers.

FLATOW: Mm hmm. 1-800-989-8255. So, let's let - we're running out of time. So, let me ask you about your next big projects. Henry, what are you involved in next?

Mr. SELICK: There's a few things in development. I'd rather not spill the beans just yet.

FLATOW: Oh.

Mr. SELICK: You know, one of them will be 3-D. We're sort of doing some tests on another project, whether to go that way or not.

FLATOW: All right. And Jim?

Mr. MAINARD: You know, I think we've been quite public and bold about it. You know, "Monsters Versus Aliens" comes out on March 27th, and we have three films releasing in 2010. So, we'll have dragons - "How to Train Your Dragon." We'll have a movie - there's "Shrek 4," the final chapter of the Shrek movies, and a third movie called "Mastermind." So, I think we'll keep your audiences quite engaged.

FLATOW: And Lenny, where would you like to see 3-D go? What is the cutting edge on 3-D?

Mr. LIPTON: I'm very happy with the way things are going. I waited for a long time to see a film like "Coraline." I waited for a long time to see the kind of work that Jim Mainard and Phil McNalley are doing at Katzenberg's Studio. I feel - it's almost like I died and went to heaven. These guys really know how to make 3-D movies, and I've dreamt of this for decades. And I'm very happy to have played a part in making this happen. And you know...

Mr. SELICK: It's a very big part, Lenny.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: Well, let me ask, as we're running out of time. The only thing missing from this 1950s 3-D, you know - what came next was smell-o-vision. I mean, you going to have the smells and things coming into the theater, too?

Mr. LIPTON: I think it's lays a rotten egg.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: Jim? Henry?

Mr. SELICK: I've actually pushed for it on "Coraline." I couldn't get anywhere.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SELICK: Just, you know, the scratch and sniff that was done years ago with polyester, I thought was hilarious. But I couldn't get anyone to take me seriously.

Mr. MAINARD: I think you're - Ira, I think you're more likely to see - you know, obviously economic times not withstanding - I think you're more likely to see an evolution in sound...

FLATOW: Right.

Mr. MAINARD: Where sound is actually placed - sort of co-located, you know - like if we want everybody in the theater to hear something on their left shoulder, we could actually do that today.

FLATOW: That's sort of what goes on at the theme parks now, when you...

Mr. SELICK: It is, although even more sophisticated than that. Maybe the very latest theme parks, but for the most part, people haven't experienced yet what can be done with sound.

FLATOW: Yeah. Well, that's the business we're in, so that's a good place to wrap it up. I want to thank you gentlemen all for taking time to be with us. Lenny Lipton, 3-D inventor, Henry Selick, director of "Coraline" and supervising director at LAIKA, Jim Mainard, head of production development for DreamWorks Animation. Good luck to all your films. We'll have to watch them this summer.

Mr. SELICK: Thank you, Ira.

Mr. MAINARD: Thank you very much.

Mr. LIPTON: Thank you.

FLATOW: Thanks for taking time to be with us.

Mr. LIPTON: Take care.

FLATOW: Have a good weekend. Greg Smith composed our theme music and we had help today from NPR librarian Kee Malesky. Surf over to our Web site at sciencefriday.com where we're Twittering. Maybe you'll Twitter some of your great 3-D experiences that you had over the years watching 3-D movies. I'd love to talk about them with you. Also in Second Life,you might join the discussion and also podcasting and Science Friday's still got our videos up there. Last week's Pick of the Week is still up there and still as great as it was last week. Also looking for your videos. Have a great weekend. We'll see you next week. I'm Ira Flatow in New York.

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