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03.28.10

The 3-D Porn Revolution

Thanks to Avatar, the adult-film industry is banking on 3-D to be its salvation. Eric Pape on why directors—including Tarantino—want to make dirty movies you can reach out and touch.

An alluring blond woman powders her face with a brush while seated on a bed, seemingly unaware of the camera that is filming her. The pendant at the end of her gold-chain necklace dangles over her cleavage like an arrow pointing downward. Her supple breasts risk escaping from her white lingerie. She rolls on a stocking on one leg, and then the other. And then the screen goes black.

If this brief tease—which is part of the bonus features in a soon-to-be-released DVD—hardly seems like the inspiration for a radical transformation of adult entertainment, you are not wearing 3-D glasses. But the clip’s French director, Tom Sridix, tells The Daily Beast with the glasses on, “you feel like you can reach out and touch her.”

If the product is appealing enough, it could, at least temporarily, put porn production back into the hands of professionals. “No amateur can do this with Webcams,” director Tom Sridix notes.

That tactile observation, made when the commercial director’s clip was rejected as an advertisement for being too hot, led him to change jobs. Now he is preparing for the release of his full-length film, Shortcuts 3-D, which he believes is the first truly immersive high-definition 3-D adult film ever made. There is a fair chance that his film will one day be seen as part of an Avatar and Alice in Wonderland-inspired porn revolution. In any event, it is coming very soon.

It was just a matter of time before the Avatar-technologies that set Hollywood all aflutter—and that are similarly exciting the makers of next-generation televisions—reached the adult-film world. (Think about it: What genre should benefit most from 3-D’s ability to bring the viewer closer to the action on the screen?) But it turns out Sridix’s film has been in the works for a year, and it could have been released long ago, but he delayed it for the release of James Cameron’s epic in December so that his innovative film could ride the wave. “We had to wait for Avatar to come out,” he says proudly, “and be huge.”

Thanks to the record-breaking box office of Avatar, the 90-minute Shortcuts 3-D—which promises to immerse viewers in an even more “intimate and sensual universe”—is set for a mid-April release on DVD as a result of a distribution deal inked with France’s most famous high-end porn company. Initial sales won’t be huge, given that the first-generation 3-D televisions are only now arriving in stores. But the filmmakers and distributors are gambling on consumers’ curiosity: Will the actress or actor on the screen really seem to be a naked nymphomaniac in your living room?

Amid the current surge to provide enough content to convince folks to fork over thousands of dollars for 3-D televisions, much of the talk has been about the dozens of 3-D feature films set for release and sports events like the 2010 World Cup, which will be broadcast in 3-D, but it is worth remembering that pornography has already proven itself as a driver of technological adaptation. A generation ago, the porn industry tipped the balance in favor of VHS video, undercutting Betamax tapes, and Hollywood soon followed suit.

And that’s not to mention its role on the Internet, which led to the mainstreaming of professional and amateur pornography. How mainstream could 3-D porn actually get? Prominent directors including Gaspar Noé, who directed the disturbing and controversial French film Irréversible, Tinto Brass, of Caligula fame, and Quentin Tarantino have all publicly mused about making 3-D porn films. (Brass has hinted that he wants to remake the X-rated Caligula—which starred Helen Mirren, John Gielgud and Peter O'Toole in 1979—and which was inspired by Gore Vidal’s script.)

Despite their interest, producing a high-def 3-D porn film doesn’t sound very easy—at least not yet. For one, the awkward, bulky camera—88 pounds on a Steadicam or 55 pounds on a cameraperson’s shoulders, isn’t ideal for the all-important closeups, says Sridix. Beyond that, the technology still requires plenty of experimentation, as it is hard to know while filming what works and what doesn’t in an ever-fluctuating visual arena. Practically, this means that the 3-D portions of Shortcuts 3-D include many brief shots and a lot of editing (as is the case with much of Avatar). Part of it, Sridix says, is to avoid a problem that bedeviled old-fashioned 3-D: headaches. “The goal of 3DX isn’t to give people migraines; it is quite the opposite.”

It is no wonder that Sridix worked on the project for nearly a year—an eternity in the French porn world—even though there were only six days of filming. And there is a tremendous financial cost to using the technology. Sridix had to create the camera system from a prototype, as they weren’t yet being mass-produced, for about 50,000 euros (or $67,000). And that is on top of another 50,000 euros for the rest of the production, putting Shortcuts 3-D at the high end of France’s adult-film budgets.

But in an industry that has been battered by technological advances that leveled the adult-entertainment playing field (by allowing any Tom, Dick, or Jane to make and distribute cheap porn online), the high cost of admission into 3DX production might be an industry saver—if the product is appealing enough. It could, at least temporarily, put porn production back into the hands of professionals. “No amateur can do this with Webcams,” Sridix notes.

Excitement around the new technology is likely to stir up some quick and fierce competition among professionals, though. As Sridix says, “In France, we are ahead of this market now, but before long it will be everywhere.”

Plus: Check out more of the latest entertainment, fashion, and culture coverage on Sexy Beast—photos, videos, features, and Tweets.

Eric Pape has reported on Europe and the Mediterranean region for Newsweek since 2003. He is co-author of the graphic novel Shake Girl, which was inspired by one of his articles.  He is based in Paris. Follow him at twitter.com/ericpape