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Immersed in Movies: Transforming 'The Wizard of Oz' in 3-D for IMAX (VIDEO)

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood September 11, 2013 at 2:30PM

"The Wizard of Oz" gets a 3-D makeover for IMAX and relaunches the renovated TCL Chinese Theater for a one-week engagement September 20. Three scenes were previewed to press, and it was a nice sampling: the introduction of the Tin Man, the storming of the Wicked Witch's castle, and the climactic castle chase.
The Wizard of Oz

Watching a glimpse of "The Wizard of Oz" in IMAX 3D earlier this week at the reconstructed Chinese Theater took some adjusting. Talk about a hybrid of the old and new (the 3-D was a bit of an eye-opener, though, and wasn't at all distracting). Then again, there's always been something hyper-real about three-strip Technicolor, and transforming Sid Grauman's ornate movie palace into a more immersive IMAX experience by the new TCL ownership is perfect for 21st century exhibition.

The 18-month 3-D conversion was earmarked for this year's 75th anniversary "Oz" celebration (even though it was released in '39), which includes a one-week engagement to relaunch the Chinese beginning September 20, followed by the October 1 release of a 5-disc "Collector's Edition" Blu-ray 3D/Blu-ray/DVD set from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

Scarecrow Wizard of Oz

Although they only previewed three scenes, it was a nice sampling: the introduction of the Tin Man, the storming of the Wicked Witch's castle, and the climactic castle chase. You get a wonderful sense of depth with so much layering (especially with the multi-plane castle effect), and the detail is stunning (from the Scarecrow's burlap texture to the Cowardly Lion's fur; from the extra rivet on the Tin Man's face to Dorothy's freckles). 

Granted, a flat IMAX experience would've yielded the same detail with greater contrast, but "Oz" is well-suited for 3-D, given how much it relies on effects. It's basically an animated movie with live actors, and the 3-D conversion makes primary use of animated techniques, particularly rotoscoping. The conversion was by Prime Focus, which also did such a great job on "Gravity," and then IMAX applied its proprietary remastering for the large screen. 

It was admittedly daunting for Ned Price, VP of Mastering, Warner Bros. Technical Operations, who's been close to "Oz" for a quarter of a century as a result of overseeing various re-masterings and a digital restoration. "Where was the grain going to go?" he wondered. "But I was pleased to see that it had its natural texture. I was also pleased that the 3-D wasn't pushed too much. Prime Focus made the 3-D very comfortable."

Working closely with Price, Prime Focus started with a depth script, isolating every element within the frame, which was divided into layers. They started shallow with the sepia opening in Kansas and then amped up the depth when Dorothy opens up the door to the Technicolor Oz. "That was a cool effect, picking points of contrast," remarks stereographer Justin Jones, who's also involved in look development. 

"It was the longest and most complex shot," adds Price. "There were a lot of 3-D elements like the flowers standing alone and the rotation was very difficult."

This article is related to: IMAX, Immersed In Movies, Features, Classics, Video

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.