- The Washington Times - Friday, August 15, 2008

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.

“Those old-school techniques will cause an audience to lose interest,” he explains, as witnessed in the 1950s and ‘70s fads when a wave of two-dimensional B movies simply were enhanced with 3-D tricks.

“If we continue to make 2-D films with 3-D effects, I see no future in 3-D cinema,” Mr. Stassen says.

He also predicts technology will have a bigger impact on intimate films than on action-packed ones. “With all of the amazing digital effects these days, 3-D cannot add much to that type of film,” he says.

Mr. Stassen finds the future of 3-D films very exciting. Filmmakers, he says, have barely scratched the surface of what is possible in this “new language of cinema.”

“We see everything around us in 3-D,” Mr. Stassen adds. “We waited for artists in the Renaissance to use perspective in painting to bring the world to life, and a few centuries later, movies are able to capture reality the way we see it in our daily lives.”

Joseph Szadkowski

Another Hall mark

Some actors and actresses spend their careers hoping to be asked to appear in a Woody Allen movie. Rebecca Hall hooked a title role in his latest, and it’s just her third film.

The 26-year-old English actress stars in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” as Vicky, a graduate student who heads to the Spanish city for the summer with Cristina (played by Scarlett Johansson). The pair are drawn to a Spanish painter (Javier Bardem) who’s on the make - yet still attracted to his fiery ex, Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz).

“It’s borderline fairy-tale ludicrousness. It sort of just did fall into my lap, and I don’t quite believe it happened,” Miss Hall says by telephone from Los Angeles of being cast in the film. “I’d always wanted to be in a Woody Allen film; I’d always wanted to play a Woody Allen heroine, the kind that he’s so good at writing.”

“Vicky Cristina Barcelona” marks the first time Miss Hall has tackled an American accent on-screen. She says Mr. Allen simply asked if she could do one and took her word that she could. No audition was required. “He has an instinct that someone can do the job and deliver the goods or not,” she muses. “He goes out of his way to see everything you’ve done, and he asks other people about you. I think it’s a good way to cast.”

Though she has only made a few films - she also was in “The Prestige” and “Starter for 10” - Miss Hall actually might be considered something of an expert in the dramatic arts. It’s not just that she has been onstage frequently since making her professional stage debut six years ago in London in an award-winning performance in George Bernard Shaw’s “Mrs. Warren’s Profession.” Her father is Sir Peter Hall, the theater director who founded the Royal Shakespeare Company, and her mother is the American soprano Maria Ewing.

Touring the world as an artist herself sometimes brings back memories of a very special childhood. She had a strange feeling when she performed in “As You Like It” at Los Angeles’ Ahmanson Theatre “because it was the neighboring theater to the opera house where my mom used to sing all the time. I have memories of being 5 and waiting backstage for her to come offstage from doing ‘Salome.’ It gave me a tinge of nostalgia.” (Miss Ewing is famous, by the way, for ending up nude at the end of the Dance of the Seven Veils in that opera.)

Although Miss Hall began her career on the stage, adding film to her resume has enlarged her relationship with her famous father. “He doesn’t know so much about the film world, so he can just be a proud father and not necessarily be the one that I have to get opinions from,” she says.

Miss Hall says she has wanted to act since she was little, but she fought against those instincts for a long while before finally admitting she was meant to be an actress. “It’s a funny thing growing up inside what you end up doing because you get to see all the bad stuff as well as the good stuff early on,” she says. “You get a hopefully mature perspective on it.”

Kelly Jane Torrance

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