Hollywood Considers Its Own Tomorrowland

L to R: Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" (2017) Lucasfilm Ltd.

The Future of Cinema Conference will examine how to meet the challenges of attracting next-gen consumers; updating immersive technology, high-dynamic range and other technical marvels; and promoting job diversity.

NAB Show again partners with the Society of Motion Picture & Television Engineers (SMPTE) for the two-day event, which will be held April 7–8.

RealD Senior Vice President Pete Ludè, SMPTE’s past-president, is particularly interested in new plenoptic imaging technology.

“With these new volumetric techniques, you can view life-like images that appear three-dimensional — even without glasses,” he said. “Unlike today’s 3D, you can also see around objects and view characters from multiple angles, if the director wants you to.”

Ludè will join Ryan Damm of Visby Cameras and Buzz Hays of Lytro, for the session “It’s a Wide, Wide World: Capturing Immersive Images.”

“Amazing new developments are being made in light field cameras and photogrammetry for image capture. For viewing images, new light field displays and multifocal plane optics for head-mounted displays are being developed; and there has been fantastic progress in computational cinematography, GPU hardware and micro-optics,” Ludè said.

Still, he added, much more work remains — including new standards for interchanging these image files between interoperable devices.

Saturday’s agenda also includes the session “Getting Ready for Next Generation Cinema,” hosted by Mike Zink of Warner Brothers; with speakers Ronan Boitard of Barco/MTT Innovation; Gary Feather of NanoLumens; and Jon Karafin of Light Field Lab Inc. Jaclyn Pytlarz hosts the session “The Future in High Dynamic Range — Are You Ready?” Speakers include Alex Chapiro of Dolby Laboratories and Tyler Pruitt of Portrait Dislays Inc.

Apart from a steady stream of impressive breakthrough technologies that are often best appreciated by consumers of sci-fi and fantasy-based motion pictures, the business end of cinema is facing some real-world challenges.

Despite some notable blockbusters, Ludè said the U.S. box office was down more than 2 percent in 2017. “If you look at just the top 10 tentpole titles, revenue is flat. I suspect there are many factors, including ticket prices, competing options available on OTT — especially Netflix and Amazon — and shorter theatrical-release windows.”

And then there is the next generation of consumers, often labeled Generation Z. Starting more than three years ago, Americans aged 12–24 saw 32 percent fewer films in theaters than they did just six years earlier, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. The number of “frequent moviegoers” aged 18–24 dropped by 17 percent.

The Sunday session “Gen Z: The YouTube Generation” will tackle this increasingly urgent issue. The session will be hosted by Chris Witham, director of Digital Cinema Technology at The Walt Disney Studios, and features Helen Ludè, a 15-year-old high school student from San Francisco (and the daughter of Peter Ludè).

“Between school work, travel-soccer, music and other extracurricular activities, I have minimal free time. However, I always find time to relax and watch my favorite YouTubers’new content,” said Helen Ludè. “Normally this consists of 15-minute videos on beauty and health. When an interesting movie comes out, I’ll go to the theater with my friends, and the at-hand convenience and accessibility of YouTube and Netflix has a great impact on our interest in going to the movies.

“Teenagers value their free time; and going out to the theater, while very fun, is also extremely time-consuming and often expensive. If theaters don’t find a way to make the cinema experience more exciting and engaging, we won’t have an excuse to leave the house.”

To confirm her assumptions, Ludè is surveying hundreds of teenagers around the country for a deep dive into the issue and plans to present her findings.

Other Sunday sessions include “Diversity & Inclusion in the Cinema Workspace” with Cynthia Slaven and Britta Wilson of Pixar Animation Studios. It will explore the steps being taken in cinema workspaces to cultivate environments of inclusion. The session “Do Androids Dream of Making Movies” will take a look at the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning in the creation of content and will feature Annie Chang of Marvel and Yves Bergquist of Entertainment Technology Center @ USC.

Peter Ludè said engineers like himself like to talk about such things as brighter laser projectors, HDR and immersive sound systems, all of which he believes help make the theater experience better than watching cinema at home.

“However, I think other amenities might be having an even more significant influence — such as comfy recliner chairs, high-quality food service and separate family-friendly and kid-free shows,” he said. “And the most significant factor is a steady supply of entertaining movies with a good storyline, good acting, and great cinematography.”