Earlier this autumn, Summit Entertainment acquired North American distribution rights to 3D animated feature Fly Me To The Moon. Following three stowaway flies inside the helmets of lunar astronauts, the film was directed and produced by Ben Stassen, also co-founder of Belgium-based nWave Pictures. "It makes it easier to control things," he says of his multiple roles.
For more than a decade, nWave has been known as a producer of "ride films for the motion simulator market" and for such 3D widescreen Imax spectacles as Wild Safari 3D: A South African Adventure. Stassen says his pictures have grossed more than $200m and that "200,000 people a day see one of our films".
Until now, nWave's wares have been found, generally, in international theme parks and Imax cinemas. The business model for these movies is different from that of conventional features: the opening weekend is not the be-all-and-end-all. Often Stassen's films show for years, but they do not have much of an ancillary market: "These films are framed for a 600sq m screen. They don't look that good on TV!"
Fly Me To The Moon will receive a mainstream release in the US via Summit. With more multiplexes in the US able to screen 3D movies, nWave has the chance to reach a far wider audience than ever.
Unlike Beowulf, released in both 3D and 2D versions, Fly Me To The Moon will only be shown in 3D. It comes billed as "the first-ever computer animated feature film designed, created and produced in 3D from frame one".
At this point, Stassen believes, exhibitors are clamouring for the kind of big-screen spectacle that 3D movies can provide. "Digital 3D is affordable," the nWave boss proclaims. He believes two conditions need to be met before 3D can achieve widespread acceptance. The first, technical quality, is already in hand. The second, strong content, might prove more of a challenge. "3D is a different language. A good 3D film won't play well in 2D."
Fly Me To The Moon was made for $25m - "75% cash flow ourselves and 25% through the (Belgian) tax shelter," Stassen explains. The company is already at work on its next project, 3D computer animation Around The World In 50 Years, following a sea turtle from hatching to maturity.
The challenge now for Stassen is to combine the "immersive experience" of a 3D movie with the pleasure of a well-hewn narrative. "Most 3D films today treat the technology as an evolution, like going from black and white to colour," he says. "But I think if 3D is going to be a mainstay, it has to be a revolution - a totally new form of out-of-home experience."
Ben Stassen's Cultural Life
Favourite recent film: Beowulf is an amazing-looking film with some really good depth, but the framing is somewhat contrary to what you would do in a 3D film in that things break frame all the time. I try to see as many films as possible when I have time. I see more in the US than here in Belgium. I see commercial films much more than art or alternative films. I like big tentpole films.
Favourite recent book: Current affairs and history. I don't like fiction very much. I seldom read a novel. I'm a big fan of Hunter S Thompson, the gonzo journalist.
Favourite music: I'm a die-hard Bob Dylan fan. I've seen him at least 20 times in concert. That would be my dream, to make a 3D film about Bob Dylan.