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By John Van Dusen

The plot may be out of his control but a Ryerson professor is content adding a new dimension to the world of film-making.

Dimitri Androutsos, Ryerson’s electrical engineering program director, has partnered with IMAX in a pilot project that aims to make 3D movies at a discount.

“IMAX was first out the gate to create a 3D context. They realized going to 3D is the next step for a movie experience. We may not be able to make the plot better but we can make the effects better,” said Androutsos.

The experience of IMAX 3D — IMAX’s first film premiered at Expo ‘86 in Vancouver — has been revamped.

Polarized lenses have taken over for the cereal box red and blues and surround sound is ever present. Androutsos’ technology is taking the 3D process one step further, speeding up the process and cutting costs.

The latest Superman movie featured 20 minutes of 3D action, but Superman flying out of the screen crystal clear through polarized glasses didn’t come cheap.

“Twenty minutes takes three months to do and it costs a lot of money,” said Androutsos.

Where technology stands now, IMAX has to hire about 30 people for three months of work to convert a movie into 3D.

Currently, IMAX formats the film for its larger screen and then the 3D magic is applied. Composite artists manually cut out the desired 3D image from the screen, frame by frame. Then another group takes the cut-out and adds depth to the image, said Androutsos.

Androutsos’s software speeds up the process by distinguishing between foreground and background objects. It uses monitors that make it possible to fuse sensory data from different sources and ultimately see information differently.

Androutsos thinks 3D has already made its mark, with the extra dimension turning a 2D flop into a 3D money maker.

“IMAX took Polar Express as a test bed. They took the whole movie and converted it into 3D. It flopped in 2D but it was a huge success in 3D because people loved the experience. By doing that they can charge three dollars more for an IMAX film,” said Androutsos.

Androutsos leads the pilot project along with his post doctoral student, Thomas El-Maraghi.

The pilot project is more than a year and a-half-old and has allowed Androutsos’ engineering students the chance to work with IMAX.

“It is a good research opportunity for students working on the project, and it brings a large name as a partner,” El-Maraghi said. He spends his time researching ways to improve the project.

Samuel Zhou, IMAX VP of Image Technology, said collaborating with Ryerson on the project has been “fantastic.”

“There’s been a lot of exchange of ideas and information, especially since the Harry Potter project.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: An IMAX 3D Experience” premieres Nov. 16.

A two-year extension of the project depends on funding from the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE).

The OCE has provided $200,000 for two years of research. The pilot project ends in December, but Androutsos and IMAX are optimistic the OCE will fund it for a bit longer.

Androutsos sees an extra added benefit of 3D.

“You can’t steal a 3D movie.”

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