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By Joe Tracy

(September 2, 2000) The biggest animated movie of the year may be one few people know about - CyberWorld 3D. Hitting IMAX theaters nationwide on October 6, 2000, CyberWorld 3D brings several animated shorts to life in one big celebration. Like Fantasia and Fantasia 2000, CyberWorld 3D is a gathering of many short animated selections, original and previously viewed, tied together by an animated narrator named Phig (voiced by Jenna Elfman).

CyberWorld 3D
viewers will put on 3D glasses then be transported into an adventure where CyberWorld is being threatened by computer bugs that are eating all the computer code and threatening the gallery of animated displays being shown to the audience. The gallery of animated displays is part of a museum tour, with Phig as your hostess, that plays the part of bringing the various animated pieces into one feature.

A handful of special effects companies were responsible for the eight short animated sequences for the CyberWorld 3D 45-minute animated adventure. Other companies, like Spin Entertainment, were used for original CyberWorld 3D elements using IMAX's proprietary Stereoscopic Animation Drawing Device, also referred to as SANDEE. Used to bring the computer bugs to life in CyberWorld 3D, SANDEE allows animation artists to draw in 3D freehand for IMAX rendering.

"With CyberWorld we wanted to allow audiences to be part of an animated film that can only be experienced through IMAX 3D technology," says IMAX CEO's Bradely Wechsler and Richard Gefond. "We look forward to showing the world Homer and Bart Simpson, and Z, Weaver, and Princess Bala from ANTZ, in 3D for the first time on the giant IMAX screen."

Bart and Homer Simpson? Characters from ANTZ? That's right. IMAX is using several already known animated characters to increase the value of the film. After all, what fan of "The Simpson's" would miss the chance to see the characters on a 65 foot high screen with 10,000 - 20,000 watts of sound (did I also mention the 3,200 watt subwoofers)?

The ANTZ Sequence
Bringing the ANTZ characters to life will be Pacific Data Images (PDI), under the DreamWorks banner. Like many of the other segments, the ANTZ piece is not original. It consists of a bar scene in the original 2D ANTZ movie where Z first meets Princess Bala. The difference is that the scene has been recreated in 3D specifically for the CyberWorld 3D movie. The process isn't as easy as just blowing up the original scene and rerendering it for IMAX.

"For an IMAX film to be creatively successful, there's a completely different language than traditional films," says ANTZ co-director Tim Johnson. "What the IMAX screen gives you is peripheral vision, so it's a mistake to just blow up the 35mm frame. What we did was re-size the image by adding more information around it to preserve the scene's original intent."

So how was this accomplished for the bar scene? According to PDI producer Don MacBain, it involved restructuring the original CGI files.

"We added about 200 ants because the original crowds only existed to the edge of the 35mm frame," says MacBain. "And where characters were only seen from the waist up, we had to go back and animate them from their waists down."

In the end, the ANTZ sequence for CyberWorld 3D is five minutes in length with rendering times of 6-8 hours per frame compared to the 2-3 hours per frame it took for the original ANTZ film.

"We are very happy to be a part of IMAX's first 3D animated release," says Brad Globe, a DreamWorks SKG executive. "Seeing ANTZ in 3D, on the giant IMAX screen, will make audiences feel a part of the ant colony and will, more importantly, expand animation beyond anything ever before experienced by audiences anywhere in the world."

The Simpson Sequence
The CyberWorld 3D sequence for "The Simpsons" is taken from an episode that originally aired in 1995, titled "Treehouse of Horror VI". It was a Halloween episode where Homer Simpson steps into a parallel universe where he becomes trapped in the digital world as a 3D character. The sequence was made possible by PDI.

"It seems only fitting that The Simpsons, a series that has always pushed the boundaries of animation, should be featured in an IMAX film that will take the genre even one step further, " says Gary Newman and Dana Walden, presidents of 20th Century Fox Television.

The Simpsons sequence was one of the most difficult to overcome because the 1995 sequence was made for television. In the TV version there is an extreme close-up of Homer's eyes and forehead. Yet magnifying that to an IMAX screen makes the image non-viewable. Because extreme close-ups like that aren't possible, the clip had to be reshot from a further distance, thus losing some of the impact of the scene (along with dialogue) that the director originally envisioned.

Further complicating matters is that the original Homer Simpson 3D scene was a "one camera shoot", so only the perspective from that one camera's angle was considered. IMAX 3D requires separate left and right eye images and simply adding a second camera to the scene wasn't possible without a lot of reworking of the original material.

Ultimately the challenge was to properly reframe and execute the scene for IMAX 3D without losing the meaning or power of the scene because of the changes. Through careful thought and execution the team feels they have conquered this challenge.

Tonight's Performance Sequence
Special effects studio REZN8 was called upon for a two-minute short titled "Tonight's Performance," which REZN8 founder Paul Sidlo refers to as a "Jules Verne-inspired modern-day opera in the clouds."

The sequence involves a female performing a fantasy ballet on a large floating theater. The ballet includes numerous additional characters and elements like flying whale-like reptiles and stilt-walking electrical engineers. The theater becomes a circus-like atmosphere including the multiple stages.

"Each team members' different strengths enabled us to exploit the intricacies of camera movement, color, and lighting," says Bill Dahlinger, a REZN8's art director and animator. "Large format filmmaking of this caliber also requires that we be very meticulous. Because the viewing area is so large, coupled with the stereoscopic considerations, we had to make sure the scale was accurate and that every piece of geometry was synched up in 3D space. At 4000 lines of resolution per frame, patience and precision were definitely valuable assets on this project."

Rounding Out CyberWorld 3D
Five more segments round out the CyberWorld 3D production:

Monkey Brain Sushi - developed by Sony Pictures Imageworks and shown at SIGGRAPH 1997, "Monkey Brain Sushi" takes place in a gorilla-led environment (think Planet of the Apes).

Flipbook - This is a two minute segment of images from the animated series Flipbook by Satoshi Kitihara. It has been taken by Inertia Pictures and converted for CyberWorld 3D's IMAX treatment.

Krakken - 1996 award winning short by Ex Machina (based in Paris) that involves a futuristic underwater adventure. Four minutes of film was recomputed and rerendered for CyberWorld 3D.

Joe Fly & Sanchez - created by Spans & Partner, which is based in Germany, Joe Fly & Sanchez is a slapstick comedy about insects. (Spans & Partner)

Liberation - a music video by the Pet Shop Boys brought to life by Eye Developments. It is set in an animated outer space with lots of colors and objects like erupting planets as Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe fly around. It has been described as an "abstracted vision."

Tying it all Together
To tie all the segments of CyberWorld 3D together, IMAX turned to Spin Entertainment, which was given the job of creating 11 minutes of original film that becomes the central story of the film. This includes producing the hostess Phig along with the evil computer bugs.

Spin Entertainment also created the museum for the film called "The Galleria". The museum is created as a cylindrical environment that, in the film, is 1500 feet high. Think of a giant tube or elevator shaft showcasing fine arts.

Phig is showing off the animation segments when she discovers that The Galleria is being eaten alive by computer bugs who are consuming the code. The film goes as far to tie this segment in with The Simpsons segment by having the vortex attempt to suck the entire Galleria into it like it had Homer Simpson. Phig must now attempt to destroy the creatures and save The Galleria.

The sequences sometimes required up to 150 layers, which Spin Entertainment created with assistance from a program called Shake.

"Compositing a film project with so many layers of images at such high resolution and in Stereo 3D is a very taxing process," says Norm Stangl, CEO of Spin Entertainment. "Shake made it possible for us to perform at this level of compositing."

Prior to this solution, Spin Entertainment had planned on compositing only 8 to 10 layers at a 3k resolution instead of 150 layers which appear in the final cut.

CyberWorld 3D and the Future
CyberWorld 3D is directed by Colin Davies and Elaine Despins. The score for CyberWorld 3D is being produced by two-time Emmy Award-winning composer Hummie Mann, who recently composed the music for Thomas and the Magic Railroad.

CyberWorld 3D is bound to garnish decent amount of press attention when it is released since it is the first ever fully animated IMAX Stereo 3D feature film. As Brian Weisfeld, senior VP of IMAX operations, told the New York Post:

"Homer Simpson sees how big his butt really is in 3D. Once the public sees these animations, they'll want a lot."

And a lot the public may get. IMAX is already readying two more IMAX Stereo 3D animated feature films titled Eddy Deco and Rumplestiltskin.

Ellen Wolf contributed to the ANTZ portion of this article based on her "Supersizing 3D Antz" article that appeared in Animation Artist Magazine's sister publication, Hollywood Industry.

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