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Discussing the future of 3D with Jeffrey Katzenberg and Conrad Vernon

Written by Matthew Pejkovic

Monsters vs. Aliens Movie Poster

If 2008 was the year of the superhero, then 2009 is shaping up to be the year of 3D.

While the mere mention of 3D will cause most to cringe at the thought of cardboard glasses and cheap novelty (mostly horror) cinema, this new and improved 3D promises to do away with its gimmicky past and re-revolutionize cinema as we know it.

Thanks to an ever advancing barrage of new technologies, major filmmakers have taken on the scarcely used format to enhance their already visually stunning filmmaking.

The most notable- and eagerly awaited – is James Cameron’s sci-fi opus, Avatar; Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson have teamed up to bring comic book The Adventures of Tintin to the big screen in motion capture 3D; while Disney have planned to re-release Toy Story in 3D, ditto George Lucas and his Star Wars films.

Leading the charge is Dreamworks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, who only last year embarked on a worldwide trek to promote the benefits of 3D to an equal chorus of cheers and boos. Now he has returned, backing his words with action, with a film in the bag in Monsters vs. Aliens.

When you see this new presentation/platform, it’s so exciting. We are at the beginning of what, I think, is going to be this great evolution and innovation in terms of what 3D means. The schools today are so much more exciting in terms of both making and delivering it to the movie theatre. And it is only going to get better from here. This is the beginning of a new era.”



Dreamworks Animation has steadily churned out top notch features, such as Shrek and Kung Fu Panda, which have make their competitors shake at their knees.

Continuing from their increasing cannon of feature films comes another solid entertainer in Monsters vs. Aliens, a battle royal/sci-fi spoof, which pits a team of outcast monsters against a ambitious alien invader.

The film is co-directed by Rob Letterman (Shark Tale) and Conrad Vernon (Shrek 2), the later joining Katzenberg in his recent trip to Sydney to promote the film.

“Conrad and Rob, they love those ‘50s, kinda tacky monster movies,” muses Katzenberg. “So it was really there idea to tackle those characters and reinvent them for the 21st Century and turn them into heroes.”

In reference to choosing just which monsters would make the cut, Vernon spoke giddily of the process. “There used to be twelve in a script. But we thought we want to get to know these monsters. We don’t want to just be this giant team of personalities. So we said, well what are the one that we will recognise most? So we went through and said, The Human Fly, that one is pretty famous. The Blob, with Steve McQueen. Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. Whether or not you have not seen the movie, you have seen the poster a thousand times. Creature from the Black Lagoon, probably one of the most famous of them all. Not to mention King Kong, (which) we kind of mixed together. And then Godzilla, which I watched on a loop since I was six years old...Godzilla/Mothra, you know? We had to have that in there. So we said, that’s enough. That’s a good solid team, and we think we can tell stories for all five of those guys.”

Providing the voices for these misfit creatures were a crack team of top notch voice talent. Leading the charge is Oscar winning actress Reese Witherspoon as Susan, a small town girl turned 50 foot woman, who is captured by the Government, coupled with a group of monsters (voiced by Seth Rogen, Hugh Laurie, and Will Arnett), and set to do battle against an alien invader (Rainn Wilson).

The film also stars Kieffer Sutherland as a rootin’ toottin’ General, ad Stephen Colbert as a aloof President of the United States.

All these guys are really good actors, so they (knew) where they needed to get in order to carry the scene over”, said Vernon. “ It’s our job to make very clear as to what the scene is about; what they need to do in order to carry the scene over; and if there not straight on with what we want, we need to put them there. And then they’ll take care of the rest. I mean, they did a brilliant job not only on getting emotionally on where they needed to be, but also ad lobbing lines and enhancing the scene itself.”



Although packed to the brim with a talented cast and an interesting premise, Monsters vs. Aliens is a film to be seen due to its technical prowess.

While most mainstream 3D features rely on gimmick rather than substance, Monster v. Aliens is a different type of beast. Created with latest 3D technology, it does not resort to “gotcha” 3D moments, but rather enhances its story with a subtle yet astonishing astounding use of the effect.

“We definitely did the 3D to suit the film,” said Vernon. “With anything that is going to be noticeable to the audience, whether that be music, sound effects, colour... anything that people will emotionally respond to, we need to make it serve the story. So we took the 3D and said, Ok, we are going to tread very lightly into this new world of 3D, and use it very sparingly, and make sure that we know what we are doing with it before we start poking stuff out toward the audience.”

And, according to Katzenberg, it will only get better from here.

“3D is better. It’s more immersive. (In) the way it tells a story, it enhances the feelings and emotions, sort of amplifies everything. The pictures are stronger, and therefore I think the connection (between) an audience to a movie is stronger, and’s a little bit like saying, why colour? Colour creates all those same enhanced feelings, and here is yet another way to expand the tablet of what we are making and seeing. I think it is an incredible innovation. The most exciting thing to happen to movies in my career.”

Jeffrey Katzenberg, James Cameron, and Steven Spielberg

The future of 3D: Jeffrey Katzenberg, James Cameron, and Steven Spielberg.


To be certain, 3D works well in enhancing already visually spectacular films on the big screen. But what of other genres? Can a drama benefit from a spice of 3D? Vernon and Katzenberg are both unanimous in the positive effect that 3D can have on all forms of cinema.

“I think 3D is going to become a tool that directors will use to help tell a story. I don’t think it is just something to be thrown on to something in every single movie,” states Vernon. “I can’t see Schindler’s List being in 3D and enhancing the emotionality of it. At the same time Manhattan was shot in black and white; Schindler’s List was shot in black and white; so the director will make the choice: If I shoot this is 3D, is that going to enhance the experience? If 3D helps the drama, yeah then they should use 3D. If it doesn’t do anything to help the story being told, they’ll probably say there is no reason. It’s kind of like saying, “Do you think animation would be good in soap opera?” Well, possibly, but it all depends on what kind of story you want to tell.     

“I think The Queen in 3D would be pretty fantastic!” jokes Katzenberg. “Again, I have a very aggressive point of view about it. It is like asking me: do I think movies are better with sound? I think all movies are better with sound. Do I think movies are better in colour? I do. Were there some great movies made in black and white? Yes there were. Do I think that movies are a more engaging, immersive, emotional, relatable when there is colour and lighting, then the answer is yes.”

And just like Vernon before him, Katzenberg uses Schindler’s List as an example. “Steven Spielberg, when he made Schindler’s List, it was nearly a black and white movie. It was very much an artistic choice he was doing, in how its images were revealed, and how colour comes to it in very small ways, very important strategic story points. And that was the design. And you can do the same thing with 3D: dial it up and down. And that is what is so amazing about the technology. Today the filmmaker is 100% in control.”

But could classic films be transformed into 3D, much like Ted Turner did with his Technicolor?

I haven’t seen it yet, with the way that I would be comfortable with it. I was never comfortable with black and white films being colourised, because I don’t think they looked very good. But two companies are working very hard right now about conversion, and in the same way that we built all kinds of tools that no one had ever seen or heard before in order to create 3D. So I don’t want to bet against them, but we haven’t seen anything yet that made us confident or comfortable with it.”

Youtube mock drama, The 'Bu, in 3D.


Yet for all of Katzenberg’s and Vernon’s passionate fervour for 3D, doubt still lingers for many.

Only recently, producer/director Michael Bay commented: “3D? I don’t know… I might be old school. I think it might be a gimmick.”

And therein lays the crust: just how can 3D succeed, if it is seen as nothing but a tacky novelty by so many?

“We are definitely conscious of that,” states Vernon. “When Jeffrey (Katzenberg), told us that we were going to do this in 3D, that’s what we thought. It’s just stuff popping out at people. It’s kind of gimmicky. And that is why we treaded so lightly into it...back off, and support the story. And then (bring it) forward, when we needed to help tell the story. So I don’t think people are gonna see this and say, “Ah, it’s just a gimmick”. Not in this move, because (3D) was used to enhance the story.”

Katzenberg concurs. “I was nervous, but I’m not now because I think the final results were as good as I had hoped. Sometimes there are things where I have expectations, and we don’t meet them. I have very high expectations with all that we do, and we don’t always achieve those. In this case the 3D achieves the expectations that I had hoped for, and that I had expected when we made the decision three and a half years ago to do this.  Enough people have seen the film in the correct presentation of it, and everybody reacts the same way. Some people like the movie; some people love the movie. But they all come away blown away by the 3D presentation.”

And, judging by the positive critical and commercial results thrown towards Monsters vs. Aliens, Katzenberg may be on to something. And, along with the anxious wait for Avatar, perhaps this is the moment that 3D will have its time to shine.

“I really think that this is the first time, the industry as a whole has embraced 3D,” enthuses Vernon. “It has always been segmented like an IMAX movie; or a theme park ride. It hasn’t really been embraced as a normal thing you would put to a movie. So I think this is the first time we are actually technologically stepping 3D forward, and actually using it in a way to enhance filmmaking. If audiences respond to it, which I think they will, it will start to create revenue in order to push it continually forward. Just like computer animation in Toy Story 2, Monsters vs. Aliens has really made leaps and bounds.”

Monsters vs. Aliens is now released in Australia, through Paramount Pictures Australia






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