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September 2014
Issue: October 1, 2013

Stereo Conversion: 'The Wizard of Oz'

Prime Focus World recently provided stereo conversion services for the 1939 classic, The Wizard of Oz. The film spent a week in IMAX theaters in September and was released as a collector's edition box set on October 1st.

Prime Focus World worked closely with Warner Bros. to deliver the full stereo conversion of film, which marks the oldest film ever to be converted to 3D for IMAX.

Here is a look at the team that worked on the project, and some of their experiences.

Los Angeles team
Justin Jones - stereographer, look development
Jeremy Nicolaides - creative supervisor
John Pierce - stereographer
Scott Farrar - View-D producer
Chris Del Conte - VP, business development
 
Mumbai team
Ritesh "Ricky" Aggarwal - stereographer
Jimmy Phillip - stereographer
Cassius Vaz - View-D production manager
Parminder Chadda - View-D 3D technical supervisor
Stephen Mascarenhas - SVP production, View-D
Merzin Tavaria - co-founder and chief creative director

 
What was the process like dealing with such a classic film?
Chris Del Conte: “It was definitely an honor working on The Wizard of Oz. Being the iconic film that it is, we knew going in that the film would require great attention to detail, as when working on any classic there is a lot of speculation and criticism regarding the quality of the work. We took that very seriously and worked very closely with Warner Bros. to stay with the original creative vision for the film throughout the conversion process, as well as treating each scene with the highest quality of detail.”
  
How long did it take?
Justin Jones: “We ended up taking about 14 months from start to finish. It was great to be able to commit time at the start to the design aspects of the characters and look of the film. We were able to spend about 10 weeks on developing that. The more time you have to get the design right, the better the end product will be, so we were very grateful to Warner Bros. for their commitment to that.”
 
What were some of the challenges encountered during the process?
Justin Jones: “Being a 1939 film, there were a few challenges, not with the age or quality of the film, but with the way it was shot. New films have lots of quick shots, but in a classic like The Wizard of Oz, we see shots that are much longer and pan across a lot of detail. To give an example, a 100-minute running time today might equate to 1,800 to 2,200 shots, but The Wizard of Oz was more around 650. What that means is that a good amount — about 20 percent — of those shots are more than 1,000 frames long, and that allows the audience to pay attention to every detail in the scene, making our attention to those details even more important.
 
“You also have scenes, like the musical number with the munchkins, where there are many characters and moving parts at the same time, all needing the same amount of treatment. We don’t do any automated processes, so all of those characters, each detail, needed careful sculpting and accurate roto work done by hand. It takes a lot of accuracy to start, and then to stay consistent across shots that are more than 1,000 frames just adds to amount of detail needed.”

How did Prime Focus World get involved in this project?
Chris Del Conte: “Warner Bros. first came to us about converting The Wizard of Oz for a special 75th anniversary home release on Blu-ray 3D. So we started working with Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.  After seeing some of the work we were doing, Warner Bros began getting excited about the quality of the conversion, and it eventually started talks about a possible theatrical release. Warner Bros. then found the opportunity with IMAX to up-convert to IMAX for an even larger-than-life experience.”

What is Prime Focus World’s experience working on classic films?
Chris Del Conte: “It’s an honor to work on classics like The Wizard of Oz. We used our View-D 3D-conversion process on Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace, which is another great library title.  The Wizard of Oz, though is the first film from that era to be converted using the technology we have today.”
 
How was the workload distributed?
Chris Del Conte: “Prime Focus World had approximately 1,300 staff working on the conversion of The Wizard of Oz across its locations in Los Angeles and Mumbai.”
 


Can you cite any challenging scenes?
Ritesh “Ricky” Aggarwal: “One moment that comes to mind is Glenda’s entrance when she meets Dorothy for the first time. She arrives in that pink bubble; it’s very ‘fairy tale.’ We wanted that entrance to have the original magical feeling, but we didn't necessarily want it flying off the screen. By adding the right amount of volume to the bubble it enhanced the illusion of magic while still embracing the time period of the film.”
 
Chris Del Conte: “Ned Price was an integral part to understanding the original production— sets, lenses, lighting — of the 1939 film. We wanted to maintain the creative vision of the entire film and this information really helped. Ned had an incredible wealth of knowledge about the sets and stages used to make the film. He was an honorary historian. He really helped us make each room, each place, feel like you were standing on the original set in 1939.”
 
Justin Jones: “Many of the sets included a matte painting background, being filmed entirely on a sound stage and/or back lot. These were obviously two-dimensional illustrations with an intelligent use of perspective by the artist to imply depth to the viewer. We wanted to punch these up a bit, so actually added some stereo depth to them during the conversion. For instance, in the hills, when Dorothy is leaving Munchkin land, we were able to add depth to that painted backdrop that gives it the effect of being several set pieces instead of one. That way we end up with a more elaborate set while retaining that stage play and whimsical look.”
 
Ritesh “Ricky” Aggarwal: “One aspect that we truly did enhance was the look of the Wicked Witch of the West. Working closely with Warner Bros., we were able to add a slightly more disparity to her nose and fingers, which creates a subtly uncomfortable feeling when she appears on screen. The difference is just enough to give a dreamlike sense of villainy.”