I, Robot was selected by Fox for a 2D to 3D conversion because it is one of the most popular Blu-ray titles in the catalogue

With so many 3D TVs, 3D Blu-ray players and PlayStation 3s (yes they can play 3D Blu-rays too) in the market – all up more than 50 million units combined worldwide – it’s no wonder there a growing appetite for 3D content. But there are only so many 3D movies that can be made every year, which is why 20th Century Fox has come up with another way to create even more 3D content.

Its answer was to dip back into its large and rich back catalogue and convert some classic 2D films into 3D.

Some 3D conversions have already been completed, like James Cameron’s Titanic, while the Star Wars films are also in the process of being converted into the third dimension.

To get the job done, 20th Century Fox decided has decided to partner with JVC Kenwood and created a powerful new technology to make the sophisticated process even easier to complete.

I, Robot in the third dimension

The popular Will Smith film I, Robot has become the studio’s first title to be converted from 2D to 3D for re-release not in cinemas but in the home on 3D Blu-ray. It is available in stores now.

Ian Harvey, 20th Century Fox’s Senior Vice President for advanced technology, oversaw the gargantuan project of converting I, Robot from 2D to 3D.

The film was chosen for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is one of Fox’s most popular Blu-ray titles and, secondly, has the look and feel that would make it a suitable 3D candidate.

“The trick to converting 2D to 3D is that we have to create two images and then show them to you one for your left eye and one for your right eye,” Mr Harvey said.

The first step of the process is to create a depth script – that depth script then says what items need to move forward and back.

The next process is called “Rotoscoping”, where each element is identified, outlined and designated to be moved forward or back in every frame of the film.

Elements of each scene are selected for rotoscoping

The same scene with the elements already selected for rotoscoping to create a 3D version

The benefits of the JVC Kenwood technology is that it can follow that process automatically.

The next step of the process is to create the second image for the other eye, which means shifting the mask. The catch is that as you complete this shift there is often missing information and missing elements of the picture.

The JVC Kenwood tool comes into play here once again and provides a way to paint in that missing data that would normally have to be done by hand.

But the whole process is not perfect with missing information and distortion still present after the JVC Kenwood 2D to 3D system has done its work, which is why every frame is inspected manually with the necessary touch-ups and adjustments applied.

But that’s not the end of the process.

Rotoscoping and painting are good for creating depth but without any thing else the elements will look just like flat cardboard cut outs.

Which is where the final piece of the puzzle falls into place – embossing.

Elements need to be given volume and curvature to avoid that flat cut out look.

“A face doesn’t look flat or like it’s cut out – it has to look like a natural 3D image,” Mr Harvey said.

“We have to provide volume or else you look like a cardboard cut out.”

Apart from adding that extra volume, embossing also has to adjust colour intensity as well as light and dark shades.

As was the case with I, Robot – when all is said and done – the result is remarkable.

iRobot will also be available in a limited edition set which includes the Sonny robot head statue

It would be safe to assume there will be a number of Fox films earmarked for a 2D to 3D conversion to be re-released on Blu-ray Disc.

A number of Fox blockbusters come to mind – Die Hard, Braveheart, Minority Report and the Alien series.

I, Robot is available now in 3D on Blu-ray Disc.

* Stephen Fenech travelled to Los Angeles as a guest of 20th Century Fox.