- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Toby Mensforth wants viewers to be immersed in the moviegoing experience. As director of theaters and concessions for Smithsonian Business Ventures in the District, Mr. Mensforth says the 3-D movies featured at the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of Natural History complement visits to the museums.

“It’s a fabulous way to transport people,” Mr. Mensforth says. “It takes people to another level.”

Three-dimensional technology has come a long way since the golden era of the 1950s. Today’s images are clearer than ever.

The movies are novelty films that come and go in popularity, says Patrick Wright, chairman of the video department at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. Typically, 3-D films have been a way to reinvigorate a dying franchise, he says.

“If it’s going to be used, it should add something to the film instead of detract from the story,” Mr. Wright says.

With all the visual stimulation today, an audience needs to be entertained, says Greg Foster, chairman and president of Imax Filmed Entertainment in Santa Monica, Calif.

The movies “Wild Safari,” “Aliens of the Deep” and “Magnificent Desolation” are presented at the Smithsonian in Imax 3-D.

“It’s fun to watch people reach out and grab things,” Mr. Foster says. “It’s almost like a roller coaster.”

Three-dimensional movies are a way to challenge the competition of DVDs and video games, Mr. Foster says. They give the moviegoer a unique experience in the theater that they can’t get at home.

“The seamlessness of the technology makes it work,” Mr. Foster says. “It’s not gimmicky anymore.”

Imax 3-D movies essentially mimic the way a person’s eyes and brain view the world, says Lorne Orleans, vice president of film production at Imax. He is the producer of the Imax version of the Hollywood blockbuster “Superman Returns,” which contains about 20 minutes of 3-D sequences.

Several methods are used to project 3-D images; Imax uses its own method. For a 3-D Imax movie, two film strips are projected through polarizers, Mr. Orleans says. The viewer needs to see the same object from two different angles for depth.

When a viewer is wearing Imax 3-D glasses, his brain naturally fuses the two separate images to get the three-dimensional image. The glasses have matching polarizing filters that correspond with polarizers that filter the two film strips. The polarizers separate the correct information to the correct eye. Without the glasses, a person would see a double image on the screen.

Imax 3-D movies have much steadier images compared to technology of the past, Mr. Orleans says.

“The images used to bounce around a lot,” Mr. Orleans says. “You would have a headache.”

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