MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
Unidentified Man #5: Action.
NEDA ULABY: On a dimly lit soundstage at the Sony studio back lot, about 30 cinematographers and camera operators are practicing a kind of filmmaking most of them have never done before.
NORRIS: I was trying to, yeah, keep it on his chest there, but then have his head kind of pop off the screen.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
ULABY: This free three-day boot camp is the brainchild of Buzz Hays, who runs Sony's 3-D Technology Center. He says 3-D is not a trend.
BUZZ HAYS: It's been relegated to the gimmick bin for far too long. But for those of us who've been working in 3-D for a while, we realize that there's a certain truth to a 3-D image, that if it's treated well, you can actually really engage an audience in a way that you could never do in two dimensions.
ULABY: He says in the movie "Beowulf," for example, characters become more three-dimensional as they rise in power.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "BEOWULF")
ULABY: But the boot camp begins with serious lectures.
HAYS: So we have to use convergence to take the depth that we've decided upon with our interaxial control and slide it back into the splice surface...
ULABY: Convergence, interaxial, interocular - the cinematographers and camera people are gearheads game to master this technology, but they do have some reservations.
JAMIE FELZ: It's cumbersome. Yeah, I'm sure we'll get used to it.
ULABY: Camera assistant Jamie Felz is tiny, and she's not convinced the payoff of switching to a hulking 3-D camera that looks like a small tank is worth it.
FELZ: I personally don't care about seeing a 3-D movie. I'm not a 14-year-old boy.
ULABY: But Felz is about to make a movie that may appeal to one: "Harold and Kumar" in 3-D. Before the shoot in Michigan, the film's entire camera crew is here at 3-D boot camp.
FELZ: The rig that we'll be using in Detroit is 140 pounds. Four people have to carry it.
RODNEY CHARTERS: This is a huge concern for cinematographers because we fought so long to get our cameras to a point where you could hide them in places; you could carry them; you could place them in objects where the cameras never went before.
ULABY: That's Rodney Charters, the longtime cinematographer for TV's "24," a show he says would never have worked in 3-D because the camera had to be nimble enough to follow the star.
CHARTERS: We were with Kiefer the whole time because of the physicality of the camera, and that's all gone now.
ULABY: Gone, thanks largely to one movie: "Avatar."
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "AVATAR")
ULABY: Perry Hoberman teaches at USC's School of Cinematic Arts, where demand for 3-D training has skyrocketed.
PERRY HOBERMAN: A year ago, it was mostly animation students. But now, especially since "Avatar," the production students who are much more interested in live action are really gunning to go.
ULABY: So have you added faculty to help meet the demand?
HOBERMAN: We haven't added faculty yet. We hope to.
ULABY: It's hard, says Perry, to hire people to teach 3-D when so few can actually do it.
HOBERMAN: I mean, there a few people who are very, very experienced. But by and large, the industry doesn't have the kind of accumulative knowledge of making film after film after film after film.
ULABY: Buzz Hays, the director of Sony's 3-D Tech Center, says they're free for a reason.
HAYS: The payback for us is eventually someone will either do a Sony picture, or they'll work with Sony equipment or they'll buy a Sony BRAVIA. That's really the payback for us.
ULABY: Unidentified Man #7: The focus is starting near, and as soon as bag man gets up, it pushes far.
ULABY: One time, everyone goes wild with approval.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)
ULABY: Cinematographer Rodney Charters said what killed was the performance.
CHARTERS: He kicked him in the guts and ran off. It's the actors. It's always about the actors. And we're just there to film what they do.
ULABY: Neda Ulaby, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
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