3D University, Minnesota Film Board promote a whole new world

Neytiri teaches Jake how to live as a Na'vi in "Avatar."
Image courtesy 20th Century Fox

"I'd like to talk to you about a fresh start, a new world," a character tells Sam Worthington's Jake Sully in the opening scenes of "Avatar," the 3-D mega-hit. "You'd be making a difference."

The same line might be pitched at Minnesota filmmakers being encouraged to literally take their work to a new dimension this week at a "3D University," day-long Twin Cities symposium on the growing demand for 3-D material.

To be sure, it's a long way from the planet Pandora to downtown Minneapolis, but it's here that Minnesota Film and Television Board Executive Director Lucinda Winter is working to foster a brave new world of 3-D production. She says that while 3-D has not exploded the way people predicted it might a couple of years ago, there is a growing demand for content, and people with 3-D expertise are going to get work.

"One day you may be doing a program for Mayo Clinic in 3-D, and then two weeks later you could be on a commercial shoot, depending on what your skills are," she said.

The market for the skills extends beyond movies. ESPN has a 3-D sports network, there are 3-D video-games, and, Winter says, even some surgeons are experimenting with 3-D imaging in the operating room.

"They all require people who understand 3-D technology, know how to produce it, know how to program it, know how to make it happen, and that to me represents opportunity for highly technical jobs in Minnesota," she said.

A lot of 3-D work is already underway in Minnesota -- some of it just a few blocks away at Afterglow Studios, where founder and owner Luke Ployhar is expanding a creative shop that turns out 3-D animations for feature films, documentaries and commercials. He says 3-D allows people to see things in new ways beyond movie special effects.

"It's shocking how great of a talent pool there is here."

Ployhar cut his teeth in Hollywood. He worked on the crew that created the effects in the Tom Cruise sci-fi thriller "Minority Report." But he says he now prefers living and working in Minnesota instead of the dog-eat-dog world of Hollywood.

"It's shocking how great of a talent pool there is here," he says of the writers, technicians, actors, musicians, and others who want local film and 3-D projects without being in Tinseltown. "It's more collaborative, and that plays a huge role in doing projects here."

Ployhar recently worked on a huge 3D project created almost entirely in Minnesota, "Space Junk 3-D," an examination of the threat of debris in Earth's outer atmosphere. The film is the brainchild of Minnesota producer Melissa Butts, founder of Melrae Pictures. She says that while 3-D takes some specialized equipment, the real need here is to develop expertise.

Still, no one is letting their rose-tinted 3-D lenses blind them to reality. This new technology faces real challenges, not least of which is the availability of the goofy glasses the audience has to wear in order to enjoy the movies, television shows and even advertising, says Melanie Skogland, Director of Media Strategy and Investments for the Campbell Mithun ad agency.

"Someone has to recognize that it's in 3-D, get the glasses on, and by the time they do that that spot may be over."

The Holy Grail for media producers, a 3-D experience without the glasses, is also a long way off. And the few 3-D televisions currently on the market are priced beyond reach of a mass audience. But it's likely they will become cheaper. And that's why the Minnesota Film Board says Minnesota film makers need to get ready.

Afterglow Studio's Luke Ployhar says 3-D may seem like an "extra" now, but very soon, consumers are just going to expect it.

If You Go: 3D University takes place Monday, Feb. 27, 9 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. at Showplace Icon Theaters in the Shops at the West End, on West End Boulevard, in St. Louis Park.

Among those scheduled to attend are 21st Century 3-D founder Jason Goodman, who brought "Pirates of the Caribbean 3-D" and "The Amazing Spiderman 3-D" to big screens, and Steve Schklair, founder and CEO of 3ality Digital Systems, whose credits include "U2 3D," and "ESPN 3D."

Visit the Minnesota Film Board website has more details.

View the "Space Junk 3-D" and "Avatar 3-D" trailers below. The "Avatar" clip is best viewed with 3-D glasses.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.