The creators of 4DX have another theatrical format that is available in select U.S. theaters. I compared ScreenX to a horizontal IMAX, where certain scenes expand to fill the walls of the theater in a 270 degree panorama.
Now that I’ve experienced The Battleship Island and Bohemian Rhapsody in ScreenX, I wanted to find out how exactly it works. This weekend Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindewald plays in ScreenX theater.
Making a film is hard enough and ScreenX is a relatively new format, so how do they create two extra screens worth of material while they’re filming a movie? And where should the audience look when there’s so much screen information around them?
Gail Gutierrez, lead ScreenX editor and production manager in Los Angeles spoke with me by phone to walk me through the technical and creative side of ScreenX. In Los Angeles, ScreenX is available at the CGV Cinemas in Koreatown. Check the official site for ScreenX locations near you.
WLE: Where does the footage for the screens on the side of ScreenX come from?
GG: So it’s a combination of sources. We do pull from alternate takes and we pull from B-roll. So a good majority is from editorial. We also pull resources from the studios’ VFX vendors so that a CGI model, or we’ll get an environment and then we create the image ourselves. Our VFX artists do a great job in rotoscoping elements from different images of the film and placing them as needed.
WLE: So it does come from outtakes. Do directors ever shoot extra footage specifically for Screenx?
GG: No, not yet. It is our goal for ScreenX to start production, or concepts, from the very beginning. Only a few films have been shot with ScreenX in mind yet. We have a Korean short film called The X, from director Jee-woon Kim. We also had a concert film for Big Bang made and that was shot in ScreenX. We have one more concert film for a K-Pop group called Twiceland that comes out this year.
WLE: So there are cameras that can film 270 degrees for ScreenX?
GG: So when I say it’s being shot in ScreenX, we have a rig that has the center camera and then two other cameras on each side pointing at a 45 degree angle. We’ve done some tests with different cameras, with GoPros. I think the angle will differ depending on what kind of shot the director wants to get. We’ll use three cameras and warp the image as necessary. A person could use any camera they wanted for the center and then we’ll shoot simultaneously with the center camera.
WLE: Have you ever thought about using the ceiling as a fourth screen?
GG: We get that question often. It’s not a new idea that has come to us, but I think we’re still trying to master the sides first and trying to figure out the best way for production. Right now we only have about 43 minutes for Bohemian Rhapsody. We try to increase that number once we get more and more titles. Then maybe we can think about projecting onto the ceiling.
WLE: For a title like Bohemian Rhapsody, for the Wembley stadium scenes, were the sides captures in production or VFX?
WLE: On average, how long does it take to design a ScreenX experience for a film?
GG: The asset transfer takes about two to three weeks depending where the film is in post-production, and then it would be great to have at least four weeks for CG work. Then two additional weeks for QCs with the studios so that leads us to almost two months. I know for some titles we have less than three weeks to do CG so it’s always surprising what we can do.
WLE: Is the goal to one day have a movie where the entire running time uses ScreenX?
GG: Yes, it’s one of our goals and I think in order to do that, everyone has to be on the same page as far as the creatives go. That discussion has to start at the very beginning so ScreenX is planned with the script, it’s planned with the storyboard in order for us to pull that off.
WLE: If it takes two months to do 43 minutes, how long do you think a whole movie would take?
GG: I think an entire film would take as long as the actual film. As I imagine, we would be working side by side with the studio.
WLE: What material are the walls of the theater made of, and what are the technical specs for projecting onto them?
GG: The side walls are a custom colored fabric installed over acoustic panels. We use multiple laser projectors on the wings. We have a proprietary software that blends the image into one seamless image.
WLE: Why aren’t the wings made of the same material as the center screen?
GG: They’re not movie screens themselves because there would be a lot of washout for the center image. It’s a lot of light bouncing and I think if we were to install a silver screen on each side, we wouldn’t be able to see a good saturated image.
GG: One of the images that comes to mind is Grindewald surrounded by blue fire. You’ll see that a lot in ScreenX. We do our best to extend the magical effect that comes from the wand or from any spells that they do, so it creates more of an ambiance effect.
WLE: Will there be anything like Bohemian Rhapsody where you created montages in the wings?
GG: Bohemian Rhapsody was interesting because it was one of the first times where we didn’t do clear extensions. It was montage-y. It kind of was a collage. For Fantastic Beasts I’m not sure if we took that same approach. I think we tried to do our best to mimic the film’s style. In Bohemian Rhapsody there were a lot of montages and cutbacks from one scene to another scene. We play off of what the editing style is and create that same feeling with the wings.
WLE: Do you find that when audiences watch the film, they’re focused on the center image or that they look around the wings?
GG: When a first time audience comes into a ScreenX theater, I think they really don’t know what to expect. I bring my friends and I tell them what it is, but it just doesn’t really hit them. We have a brand trailer with a little girl and her teddy bear that plays before the feature film. That’s very shocking to them. They’ll look around for a bit and then once the feature starts, they’re entering it with somewhat of an experience with that brand trailer. Yes, they will look off to the sides but our goal is to immerse the audience in the story, not necessarily take away their attention and have them focus on our wings.
WLE: So the wings are more for the periphery?
GG: Yes, it’s definitely a periphery experience.
WLE: And you call them wings? I’ve been saying side screens.
GG: You can call them side screens. We’re used to calling them wings.
WLE: I’ll call them wings too. Has there been any thought to combining ScreenX with 4DX?
GG: Yes, we actually have two sites that combine the technology. One site is at CGV Yongsan in Korea and the other site is in Paris, France. So far, it’s doing really well.
WLE: That would be something to experience both simultaneously.
GG: You can’t create that at home. It’s exciting.