From the TED stage to the stage at Cannes, 3D evangelist and multi-platform director James Stewart is preparing the world for a 3D-enabled future, one client and one project at a time www.genevafilmco.com
James Stewart’s 3D journey began in 2005, when the Toronto-based director made a bold decision to shift the focus of his company, Geneva Film Co., to 3D production. At that time, the format was still mostly associated with gimmicky cardboard red and blue glasses. Hollywood was still set on churning out garden-variety 2D blockbusters. Nevertheless, Stewart did his research, assembled a network of inspired 3D experts and began pushing creative storytelling toward its 3D future. The game changed almost over night when a film by fellow Canadian James Cameron took the world by storm. Avatar brought a global awakening to the creative potential and mass appeal of digital 3D technology. Since then, Geneva Film Co. has been flooded with new 3D work and Stewart has been spreading the 3D gospel to a wide variety of clients and creative professionals alike at every chance he can get. While many production companies are still weighing whether or not to “Go 3D,” Stewart's hybrid production studio has been talking the talk and walking the walk, quite literally directing 3D content one day and promoting 3D and its continually emerging technology through high profile speaking engagements the next.
Stewart knows of what he speaks. With Geneva, he has been shooting spots around the world from Japan to L.A., and everywhere in-between, bringing the 3D magic to global brands like Lexus, Sprint, Toyota and Genentech. On the feature front, Stewart has collaborated with filmmakers such as Werner Herzog on the mesmerizing documentary “Cave Of Forgotten Dreams," re-mastering it for the cinema release. Stewart is also busy producing several mixed-media 3D films, such as the stop-motion animation 3D production Foxed! and the viral animated hit Beatrice Coron’s Daily Battles, where Stewart brings Coron’s 2D paper cut stories into 3D splendor.
When he’s not behind the camera, Stewart is behind the microphone. His presenting style is laid back but infectious, allowing him to appeal to people new to 3D and seasoned pros alike. He’s quickly becoming a sought-after speaker at events like TED and Cannes Lions, with a repeat engagement at Cannes 2012 already scheduled. When asked what keeps him motivated with such a hectic schedule, Stewart cites the audience’s reaction. "Creative professionals and brands just need to learn a little about 3D to see the huge possibility," he says. "Once they see the potential of telling stories ‘with depth,’ they get it." To encourage his audiences to embrace 3D technology, Stewart reminds them that 3D is already all around us in daily life. By shooting in three dimensions, "We see the content on the screen the same way that we view the world with our own two eyes. It is a natural way to experience digital content," Stewart points out. He often illustrates this simple concept with an equally simple visual experiment. At the last Cannes Lions, Stewart had the audience view his Lexus LFA 3D spot with one eye closed, creating instant 2D vision for the viewer. He then had them view it again with both eyes open, rendering the same spot into a more visually appealing and thrilling 3D version. Stewart asked for a show of hands: Who liked the spot better in 2D? The answer was unanimous. 3D wins.
Thanks to this approachable manner and his pioneer-like “early-adopter” status, Stewart has become a sought-after director and consultant on all things digital 3D. He has developed a reputation as a 3D guru, able to effectively decode the sometimes-challenging concepts and terminology that might confound those entering the 3D world for the first time. For example, a tongue-twister like "negative versus positive parallax" is deftly translated by Stewart to "just a fancy way of saying objects fly off the screen, versus immersing viewers in the scene.'" This kind of simplified technological discussion is helping to demystify 3D for many a wary creative who have, until now, found the process too daunting to engage in.
Stewart’s reputation as a 3D educator means he’s also had the opportunity to impact the development of 3D technology itself. Stewart has recently been approached by technology companies who are looking for his insight during the launch of their newest phones, tablets, and laptops equipped with 3D capability. "The most exciting recent advance is something called 'autostereoscopic' viewing," he explains. "In other words, 3D viewing without glasses." Long considered the Holy Grail of 3D technology, Stewart believes autostereoscopic devices will be the final game-changing step toward 3D becoming a truly household technology.
"In the near future, 3D technology will evolve to the point where it will allow for easy migration of 3D content between large home-based TV screens and the ever-increasing pile of new 3D-ready mobile devices – to be sold and used as secondary sets," Stewart notes. Considering the fact that many of these devices will also offer 3D cameras for recording, Stewart is excited about the likelihood of a full-scale 3D revolution propelled by allowing the power of 3D creation to be directly in the hands of consumers.
According to Stewart, an unprecedented number of 3D-ready screens and devices are currently streaming into the home entertainment market. The LG Optimus tablet, the LG Thrill, the HTC EVO 3D smart phone, a new Toshiba laptop and more are already on the way.
Gamers are enjoying franchise titles like Call Of Duty and Gran Turismo on Sony’s 3D-ready PS3, not to mention the tens of millions of people world-wide scooping up Nintendo's glasses-free 3DS handheld. Asus has also entered the glasses-free 3D arena with the release of a new autostereoscopic tablet. "I’ve even heard the rumors that iPad 3 may also have 3D capability. I am sure the nomenclature is very tempting," Stewart says.
From the beginning, Stewart has been of the opinion that "the kind of work companies like Geneva are doing will revolutionize not only motion pictures, but also media in general, from TV to gaming and mobile. The immersive nature of 3D changes the way we tell stories.” As Stewart’s 3D adventure progresses, he continues to see signs that the revolution is in full bloom: "While broadcasters like ESPN 3D, 3net, SKY, BBC and NBC (who will broadcast the London 2012 Olympics in 3D) continue to grow their sphere of influence, the cross-spectrum of new 3D content has evolved into a far more advanced and ubiquitous state than was anticipated a mere half decade ago.”
Stewart strongly believes that we are on the verge of 3D’s coming-of-age. "Once the demystification process has begun, it's a short leap to the really fun part,” he concludes. For Stewart, experiencing new 3D technology is the key to understanding and believing in its power as a storytelling tool. “Every creative who has held an autostereoscopic 3D smartphone in their hands has said some variation of, 'Wow!' For them, the idea that their new spot or brand film can now be played back in 3D, and that people can watch this 3D content as they're headed home on the subway after work, or in a park, or wherever… is truly an awesome and inspiring prospect."