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Monday, July 30, 2007

Pixar's 'Wall*E' and More from Comic-Con ... Q&A with IMAX CEO on Future of Large-Format Movies

- At Comic-Con over the weekend, Disney and Pixar lifted the veil a bit on two forthcoming projects -- the next 'Narnia' movie and the next Pixar movie, 'Wall*E.' From the Cinematical coverage:

    First, [director] Stanton talked about ['Wall*E'], which he described as basically "R2-D2 the movie," tells the story of a "trash-collecting robot named Wall*E" who gets a chance to finally leave a world where he's been alone for years and go into space. Once there, "he falls in love and its this love that may allow him to save mankind." He also talked about the challenges of making a film like Wall*E, one where the main character is a robot who communicates with a series of sounds and doesn't have a traditional voice.

    To illustrate the challenges of this type of film and how Pixar and Stanton will overcome them, the director then introduced pretty much the only man you could decide to call on when robots communicate with each other, convey emotion with sound and propel the story with their beeps, whistles and other noises: sound guru Ben Burtt.

    Burtt took the stage and stood in front of a keyboard, prepared to show how his use of sound would help tell the story and provide, what Burtt called, a "sonic texture for the film."

    ...Burtt went through several examples of the sounds he created for each of the robots in the film. Of course, the clips were great -- as you would expect from Pixar -- and showed how far animation has come over the years. It was also interesting to see the design of Wall E's love interest, the probe droid Eve, and how it looked like her design had been influenced by the iPod. I wasn't the only one who thought so. Several others around me remarked on the similarities.

- If you want more from San Diego, Variety has been producing scads of dispatches from Comic-Con.

- Kendall Whitehouse over at the Wharton School of Business passed along this great Q&A with Richard Gelfond, co-CEO of IMAX. They're still talking about an eventual transition from film to digital -- but I suspect this is being slowed by the company's precarious financial position. But here, he does mention a specific date, which is interesting. From the interview:

    IMAX is in the process of developing a digital IMAX system that, instead of working with 70mm film frames 10 times the size of 35mm, our whole technology will be in the digital world. And we're fairly far along in that development. I've seen a prototype. We're going to start to show customers prototypes in the next couple months. We're aiming to launch it in January 2009.

Gelfond also talks about his predictions for the next five or ten years of the theatrical exhibition business, which include more niche programming to small audiences, but fewer screens overall:

    I think you'll see a lot of evolution. You'll continue to see the home as the place of most change. You'll continue to see [distribution] windows shrink, meaning you're going to have access to content in the home even sooner than you do versus the theater. I always ask myself: If you're someone like Rupert Murdoch, who owns Fox and also owns different delivery systems around the world, why is it so important to give 50% of the opening box office to the exhibitor? If he can cut them out and deliver [content] directly to the consumer -- especially when they have better ways of viewing it -- why isn't he going to do that?

    Now the common answer to that is that the theatrical platform is a marketing platform for the other windows. And some of that holds [true]. But, for example, if there was another Star Wars and Fox could charge $50 on the download, and not have to share it with the theater operator on the opening weekend, why wouldn't you see some kind of blend of that going on? So I think you'll continue to see big changes there.

    With the change to digital, you'll see some changes in the way movies are distributed. The lock that the large studios have on distribution is partly because of physical distribution; you just need the infrastructure and the financial resources to distribute widely. But, as you go digital, you may be able to let smaller and more specialized players distribute in some way.

    You'll definitely see more live action. You'll see more 3-D.

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