Sherak is the president of Stereo D, the company responsible for the 2D to 3D conversions of Jurassic Park and Titanic, as well as more recent titles like G.I. Joe: Retaliation and The Green Hornet. It is, as he explains it, a multi-tiered process, attempting to merge both creative and technological considerations. It starts with a creative meeting with the filmmaker, in which they watch the movie film together, discussing it scene by scene and point by point: “What are you looking for, what do you want from this, how do you want it to work?” For Jurassic Park, that meant a long sit with Steven Spielberg, which Sherak defines as “the most awesome meeting of my life… I’m sitting in a screening room with Steven Spielberg watching Jurassic Park on mute and talking through how he did the movie 20 years ago. Just as a fan, I mean, talk about a cool meeting! You try and do that as many times as you can just ‘cause you wanna relive it again and again and again.”
Next comes a step that will warm the hearts of film preservation advocates: a full 4K digital scan of the original negative, followed by a restoration to eliminate scratches, grain noise, and other natural artifacts incurred in the 20 years since its completion. And then the conversion begins, which breaks into four basic steps:
The filmmaker continues to give feedback on the work (“Steven might watch the shot five times until every note is addressed”); once they think they’ve got it down, they’ll run the film on a giant screen to check for little imperfections that they might’ve missed on their smaller screens and computer monitors. In the case of Jurassic Park, a new sound mix was created for the 3D re-release, and voila: project completed.
For this project, Sherak says, the process took a total of about nine and a half months, with more than 700 people on the job. Contrary to what you might think, the film’s age didn’t make it a particularly difficult conversion: “The challenges in this film were not because it was old. The challenge in the film was because – remember when we talked about the rotoscoping process? The challenge in this film is that it took place in a jungle with a rainstorm.” That means isolating every drop of rain — and that’s rain that was created practically, on the set, not in a computer after the fact (as might have happened were the film made today). “In today’s world you’d be given the visual effect,” Sherak says, “and then we’d just dimensionalize the CG rain that’s already technically in 3D and then we’d just add volume to it, because the CG raindrop is created in the 3D program inside a computer.”
With Jurassic Park in theaters today, Sherak is plenty busy, in the midst of 3D work on the upcoming Star Trek sequel, Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim, and Iron Man 3. Those were all films initially intended for stereo exhibition (unlike Jurassic Park of G.I. Joe), but Sherak stresses that, contrary to the negative connotations that have sprouted around some post-conversions, “we still convert the movie after it’s shot. You still have to let them capture the image. The difference is, yes, we were involved from the beginning.” They’ve got people on set, working with the filmmakers during production; “they’re making the decision before they shoot but they’re saying I want more leeway later so I’m gonna shoot the movie in 2D, then we’ll convert it later but knowing 100% from day one that it will be 3D.” But these conversions of older films are a dream come true for a movie lover like Sherak. “When we sat with Steven and he was talking about lens choices – I mean, 20 years later, how many movies… he remembered the lens! This was a 45 mil. Wow. Like, really? You can tell me every lens choice from that film? I’m the film geek who watches the behind the scenes on the DVD extras, right? So I got to do it for real.”
Jurassic Park 3D is out today in wide release.