Friday, August 6th, 2010

Plastics, 3-D and the Summer Movie Season

Now that August is here, I realize that the summer movie season is almost over. Many of the big summer blockbusters like Avatar, Toy Story 3 and Step Up 3D (opening in theaters today) are showing us that 3-D movies are Hollywood’s latest fascination de jour. Buzz for 2012′s 3-D Monsterpocalypse, to be directed by Tim Burton, is already building. Long gone are the tacky 3-D glasses with cardboard frames and red and green plastic film lenses. This summer the movie studios have looked towards new eyewear and that’s a good thing for the plastics industry. 

The new 3-D glasses typically consist of injection molded and thermoformed frames, with polarized film and polycarbonate lenses. On the market you can find both passive glasses with a polarized lens or active glasses with computerized shutter technology built into them. Both types of glasses are successful at tricking your brain into thinking that you are seeing things from the movie in 3-D.

According to Slate and USA TODAY, the passive glasses that you find in movie theaters are usually washed for reuse or recycled. RealD Inc., a leading global licensor of stereoscopic (i.e., 3-D) technologies, claims that the demand for 3-D was so heavy between April and late June this year that it depleted its stock of glasses. In fact the company estimates that 200 million of its glasses have been used so far (which is a lot of plastic).

Active glasses are more prevalent in theaters in Asia and Europe. The glasses are similar to passive glasses in that they are encased in plastic frames.  However for active glasses, each eye’s glass contains a liquid crystal layer which has the property of becoming dark when voltage is applied, being otherwise transparent. The glasses are controlled by an infrared, radio frequency, or Bluetooth transmitter that sends a timing signal that allows the glasses to alternately darken over one eye, and then the other, in synchronization with the refresh rate of the movie screen. Unfortunately these glasses are a bit pricey at upwards of $100 or more.

Whether the interest in 3-D movies and TV continues to grow is still up in the air.  However without plastics, this latest technology would not be possible.

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