Michael Bay and James Cameron Talk the 3D of TRANSFORMERS

Michael Bay and James Cameron Talk 3D

James Cameron and Michael Bay got together in Los Angeles on Wednesday night, with the masters of cinematic spectacle discussing 3D moviemaking in an event that was both an educational seminar (there were USC film students in attendance) and an unabashed Transformers: Dark of the Moon hypefest (around 15 minutes of footage was shown).

Bay, of course, was there because he directed the movie. Cameron was there because the Avatar 3D crew worked on Dark of the Moon, and he's one of the format's leading experts and loudest cheerleaders. The talk, dubbed "3D: A Transforming Visual Art" and held on the Paramount Pictures lot, was moderated by Jay Fernandez from The Hollywood Reporter.

So, the footage? It opened with the film's first five minutes, which start with an Optimus-narrated prologue on Cyberton and then fleshes out the story told in previously released trailers. The Apollo 11 mission was in fact motivated due to Transformers landing on Earth in the early '60s (I said the night was educational), and the resulting image of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin hopping around the moon in search of Autobot remains is undeniably appealing on a rather primal, "inner fifth-grader" level.

A sizzle reel followed, ending with an extended sequence featuring Josh Duhamel (returning for his third Transformers film) and other military types parachuting onto the streets of Chicago — a stunt, Bay explained, performed by the base-jumping "Birdmen." Also seen in the package: lots of Bumblebee action, comic relief from The Hangover's Ken Jeong, and Optimus Prime uttering the typically heroic line "Today, in the name of freedom, we take the battle to them."

The audio-visual presentation ended with a new 3D trailer, set to debut on Friday with Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

Cameron expressed his approval of the movie's use of 3D, complimenting Bay for "embracing it aggressively" (then soon adding that it would be naïve to expect the Bad Boys II director to approach things in any other fashion).

Bay didn't start out with Cameron's enthusiasm for 3D, saying the format "might be a gimmick" two years ago at ShoWest. That was acknowledged immediately, with the clip playing soon after Bay was introduced.

Bay still doesn't think that every movie needs to be in 3D — unlike Cameron, who stated "all films benefit from 3D in various ways" — but said that he did have fun shooting Dark of the Moon in 3D, and that it didn't add any shooting days to the schedule. Bay said that Cameron convinced him that 3D is a "fun tool" that can be boosted or dialed down to add to the emotion of a scene, just like music.

It did add a Bay-estimated $30 million to the production budget, though Cameron quickly interjected with his guarantee that 3D will add more than $30 million to the movie's take.

You can't talk about 3D without talking about bad 3D, though, and the negative press received by converted films like Clash of the Titans. Cameron said that filmmakers are "abusing [3D] left and right," damaging the format's ability to bring people back to movie theaters.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon was shot about 30 percent on film that was then converted to 3D, and 70 percent with digital 3D equipment. Cameron noted that he couldn't tell the difference between the two methods after recently viewing a cut of the entire movie.

It's clear that Cameron thinks that the 3D format as we know it today is still in its infancy; equating its current state to the automobile industry in 1905. In five to six years, Cameron predicted, homes will have big-screen TV with stereoscopic images that can be viewed from multiple angles— no glasses needed.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is just about six weeks away, with a scheduled release date of July 1, 2011.

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