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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

Jones admits that adjusting to the extreme shot length so prevalent in Hollywood movies of the era was the biggest challenge. "Normally, we work on shows with 1,800 shots, but with 'Oz' there were only 661 shots. An average shot lasted several seconds. Then you have shots that blend into each other, which doesn't happen anymore and were treated as one long shot to be consistent. There was also the complexity of the sets with the crowds of Munchkins and trees and foliage. We had to be really efficient with different stages from pipeline development, dealing with the assets and file transfers back and forth between all of our facilities worldwide.

"The cameras were very slow and you have a lot more time to look around the frame, which provides more freedom to viewers to check out what they want and get more immersed. It makes it technically challenging to have everything hold up to the same level of quality."

However, Prime Focus decided to "break the walls" of the stage-set backgrounds, selectively adding depth to some of the painted backdrops to enhance the illusion of the environments they depicted, including the yellow brick road, which now appears to stretch farther out. But they had to be careful to avoid too much miniaturization, so careful sculpting was required. Fortunately, the original cinematography contained a great amount of shadow detail that made such sculpting easier.

Wicked Witch Wizard of Oz

They also added the appearance of depth to some of the characters: the Wicked Witch's nose was distorted slightly in 3-D and her hat and fingers were exaggerated to make her seem scarier. At the same time, the Munchkins were made to appear smaller than other characters and objects. 

Price, meanwhile, says it was invaluable having the original blueprints for the sets to size them correctly. "I think of it like animation and the blueprints came in very handy to tell if, for example, rounded objects in the Wizard's room are concave or convex." Indeed, it was like redesigning the movie all over again for 3-D.

And then IMAX took over with its render-based process for managing grain and sharpness, and, thanks to a new software suite, the inherent source material of "Oz" has been brought out even more accurately and dynamically on the new IMAX screen.

Speaking of which, the newly renovated Chinese by TCL keeps the historical decor intact (including the ceiling and carpeting) while offering a state-of-the art IMAX experience with additional volume, LED lighting, improved acoustics, and stadium-style seating for nearly 1,000. In fact, to achieve the 94 x 46 screen size (the third largest commercial screen in North America), they had to dig about 15 feet underground into the orchestra pit and basement.

And for those wondering about projection, it's all digital in both booths (even for IMAX large-format film maven Christopher Nolan). For IMAX presentations, they're using the dual 2K system. But by the end of next year, TCL intends to raise the bar by installing innovative IMAX 4K laser projection (offering 8,000:1 resolution compared to 2,800:1 for IMAX digital or 4,000:1 for IMAX film). Of course, that would entail further remastering of "Oz" to keep up with the "great and powerful" changes in exhibition.

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.