Thursday, April 8, 2010

Canadian effects whiz whips Clash of the Titans into 3D

How do you turn a 2-D film into a 3-D money tree?

Having just talked to Hollywood’s go-to guy at the moment, your guess is as good as ours. He won’t say.

He also won’t directly take on his biggest critic (and former boss) Avatar director, James Cameron. At this point, Chris Bond is still a relative minnow. But come Sunday morning, he could be something else entirely.

Winnipeger Bond has created a software package called View-D that converts 2-D straw to 3-D gold quicker and cheaper (read: a reported $5 million (U.S.) per feature) than anyone else. He recently won the contract to rework blockbuster sword-and-sandal epic Clash of the Titans. Eight-and-a-half go-go-go weeks later, ta da. You’ll see the results beginning Friday.
So, how does it work, Chris?

“It’s artist-driven,” Bond says from Los Angeles, where he’s taking a few days off.

“There are a number of different phases and stages.”


“Basically it’s ..... a ha ha ..... basically it’s patent pending.”


Followed by a long, determined silence.

And, seriously, that’s all Bond will say. Prior to View-D, there were two main ways to render a live-action film shot in 2-D into 3-D, or what Bond calls “stereo.”

There is a number-crunching geometric method that replaces objects in an imaginary three-dimensional space, as in a video game.

Then there is rotoscoping, an animation technique in which objects are cut out and reframed using a collage effect. View-D uses neither geometry, rotoscoping or a third method, frame painting.

According to Bond, everybody else’s tools are primitive, costly and, most importantly, time-consuming when compared to View-D.

“We can do in minutes what other people need weeks to do,” he says.

Bond, 39, has worked in visual effects for a decade. He says that it was during a 2009 Las Vegas trade show – while he was sharing pre-dawn calls with James Cameron on Avatar, but before that film had changed the market – that he had his eureka moment.

“I just looked around at all the 3-D stuff, and it was all really complicated and really difficult,” Bond said. “So I started working on weekends, evenings, my own time, and I came up with a process to convert images to 3-D.”

Eventually, Bond brought the software package to work at post-production and visual effects (VFX) multinational, Prime Focus. He smoothed out the kinks by converting films that his company was doing the effects for. Somebody important noticed.

“The reason we got (Clash) is that last summer we were doing some tests for Harry Po ..... um, I won’t say which movie for Warner Brothers,” Bond said.

I think you just did.

“Um, right. Well, I’m not allowed to say that.”

So what’re you working on now? Besides Harry Po ....., I mean.

“I can’t say.”

Of course.

Whatever he has in the pipeline, everything rests on this weekend, when Clash is released.

“It’s ..... ha ha ..... it’s ..... let’s just say I am watching with great interest,” says Bond. Did we mention that the View-D patents are held in his name, not his employer’s?

Among Bond’s most recent VFX credits are G.I. Joe and the aforementioned Avatar, tortuously and expensively shot using 3-D technology.

Since he built the bandwagon, Avatar director Cameron has spent a lot of time knocking off people like Bond, who’d like to climb on via conversion. He’s been particularly spiteful about Bond’s yet-to-be seen efforts on Clash.

“They ignore the fact that we natively authored (Avatar) in 3-D, and decide that what we accomplished in several years of production could be done in an eight-week conversion with Clash of the Titans,” Cameron told USA Today three weeks ago. “If people put bad 3-D in the marketplace they’re going to hold back or even threaten the emerging of 3-D. People will be confused by differences in quality.”

Bond is careful in responding. There’s a long preamble about Cameron’s achievements (“I’ve loved, um, enjoyed his projects”) and a slightly tortured allusion about different still photographers preferring different cameras.

But it boils down to this: “It’s a little frustrating for everybody that’s worked so hard on the (conversion) project to have people who haven’t seen it make derogatory comments. I’d prefer that they’d wait until they saw the material.”

And there is the small issue of Cameron, conversion’s main hater, wanting to convert and re-release Titanic.

“That’s the irony,” says Bond. “On the one hand, it’s terrible and on the other, (he) may choose to do it (him)self.”

And if he gets a load of Clash and decides to call you up, you’re happy to help out, right?

“Happy!” Bond says. “I think Avatar was a fantastic achievement and I think that Clash looks great. But I don’t want to suggest that the five years of effort he put into the technology on a movie like Avatar is in any way overshadowed by anything we’ve done.”

No, no. Perish the thought.

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