BEYOND: Living inside 3-D drama

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Director Ben Stassen sees a revolution in movies as they fully immerse the audience in a virtual third dimension.

One of the leaders in the resurgence of 3-D cinema, he calls it “windowless filmmaking,” an approach in which creators no longer use the screen simply as a window to tell a story.

Instead, a film is fully conceived for 3-D. “We get rid of the frame, and you don’t bring the story to the audience but take them into its heart,” Mr. Stassen says.

A Belgian-born graduate of the University of Southern California’s School of Cinema and Television, he was attracted to the potential of 3-D after a screening of Disneyland’s “Captain EO” in 1985.

“For the first time, we had a presentation that was technically perfect and creatively just as interesting,” he explains.

As a co-founder of nWave Pictures, a digital entertainment company with offices in Brussels and Los Angeles, Mr. Stassen has worked on 15 specialty 3-D movies for theme parks and Imax screens over the past two decades.

After releasing such titles as “Haunted Castle” and “Alien Adventure” while refining high-resolution computer graphics for the large screen, he began in 2005 to develop his first full-length 3-D feature film.

The “windowless” result opens today on 800 U.S. screens with the computer-animated “Fly Me to the Moon,” a 90-minute voyage that takes audiences on a historical ride with the Apollo 11 crew with help from a trio of clever houseflies.

The film was conceived and shot solely for the 3-D medium.

“I would not have touched ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ with a 10-foot pole if it were going to be in 2-D,” Mr. Stassen says. “Without the 3-D, we really do not have a film.”

Though the mission was a fantastic human adventure, Mr. Stassen says the story is predictable because “everybody in the world knows what happened.” Immersion through 3-D keeps the adventure fresh despite that familiarity.

Viewers will most appreciate a four-minute sequence in which astronaut Neil Armstrong sets foot on the moon, and Buzz Aldrin plants the American flag.

“The emotion comes 100 percent from the physical presence,” Mr. Stassen says. The audience is “seeing an animated character come down a ladder, but living the moment with him is the key to the scene.”

Mr. Stassen says he considers the current 3-D revolution no less important than the addition of sound to movies in the 1920s, and 3-D touches every facet of filmmaking, from casting to editing.

To advance the medium, he cautions, filmmakers must be judicious with the use of gimmicks, such as waving knives in the face, and must create a new entertainment platform not tethered to two dimensions.

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