Interview: Jon Landau, producer of ‘Titanic 3D’

To celebrate the forthcoming rerelease of James Cameron’s blockbusting 1997 film Titanic in 3D – designed to mark the 15th anniversary of its original release and the centenary of the famous vessel’s maiden and final voyage on 15 April, 1912 – 20th Century Fox granted CineVue an exclusive look at eight scenes from the second biggest grossing film in history in the new format. There then followed a brief Q&A with the producer of both Titanic and Avatar (2010) (and presumably 2016’s Avatar 2 and 3) Jon Landau.

What technology would you have used if you were shooting Titanic in 2012?

Jon Landau: If we were doing it today, we would shoot the film in 3D. James wanted to but we did not have the technology, so the reason we are rereleasing it is that we feel that there is an appetite to see it again on the big screen. In regards to the 3D release, we are giving people the option, as we are rereleasing the 2D also, yet the 3D will be the archival master of our film for years to come. We feel the narrative storytelling is a selling point, and the ability to use 3D allows the audience the ‘transport of experience’ and to escape thanks to the storytelling, the characters and the performances. 

How difficult was the task of retrofitting Titanic into 3D?

JL: It was a mammoth task – every shot of the film is now a visual shot; every frame (24 per second) had to be looked at in terms of stereo depth processing. It surprises me how films release a 3D format in conjunction with their original 2D release, as they must only have six weeks to turn it around, and sometimes I feel that is the detriment to their product. We had 60 weeks to work on the conversion, and before that we had a year and a half of research and talks with vendors about the possibility of converting; the wonderful thing about conversion is that it is a creative process that uses technological tools, so we have not gone into the film editing it and doing a directors cut, we are converting not changing. We had 450 people working full time on the film, defining space and figuring out where objects sat in the shot. We used $18 million on this conversion, more of a budget than some films.

What was the hardest shot to transfer into 3D?

JL: The toughest scene to actually do for example, was the scene where Jack joins Rose for dinner at the Captain’s table. There are so many objects on the table and so much attention to detail in the original production in the foreground and background, that to figure out which depth a glass should sit in. And also close-ups, because our faces have depth, so sometimes a face looks bloated or a nose may look flatter than they appear. However, the audience came first so we had to make sure the sentiment of the film was not lost. 

Why do you think that 3D technology has got such poor press recently?

JL: I think not every film needs to be in 3D. If you look at a film like The Artist it’s black and white, silent and just as powerful a movie. I feel part of the problem are the glasses – they are part of the deterrent. So I have gone to the glasses’ manufacturers asking them to think of it as an opportunity, to make them cooler, classier and more aesthetic when you are sitting there. 3D is becoming more applicable to our lives as it appears in our homes, computers and mobile devices, so why not make it a better viewing experience. I also don’t think 3D is the future – for me, we have to try and make a move to 48 frames per second which will give us a crisper, sharper look giving the audience a heightened sense of reality and transform the exhibition experience. I think Peter [Jackson] is doing it for The Hobbit, so that will be exciting – and Peter is thinking of returning to The Lord of the Rings trilogy and converting them for 3D also. 

What does the future hold for you and James Cameron?

JL: Well, we are working on the Avatar sequels [Avatar 2 and 3]. We have recently leased a facility for 5 years, but we’ve built in-house a building for the technical, post production crew so they are a part of the collaborative process. We learned so much from Avatar to help us with the Titanic conversion than you realise. 3D is not the be all and end all in action sequences because of the sharp editing, 3D is key in dialogue scenes where the nuance of performance can still be captured and still grab the audience. And we don’t want to own the rights to 3D filmmaking – we invite Steven [Spielberg] and Peter [Jackson] to learn from us as we are all storytellers and we want to push and improve the future of film. 

Titanic 3D is released in UK cinemas on 6 April, 2012. The full trailer is available below.

Jamie Garwood