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Another dimension

Watching cinema in 3D predates the runaway success of 2009's Avatar, but James Cameron's blockbuster has turned the screws on a burgeoning technology, making it again synonymous with summer tent-pole films.

The movement is creating massive revenues for studios and theaters throughout the world, with moviegoers readily plunking down premium coin for the experience of seeing the stars reach out and touch them.

Last week, Pacific University hosted a 3D technology forum. The conference, which drew experts from the realms of technology, film and medicine, focused on the future of 3D entertainment in the home and the theater and how that technology may impact the study of optometry.

The event drew 75 registrants to Pacific's Forest Grove campus to see presentations from 3D experts like Phil Lelyveld, who manages the Consumer 3D Experience Lab at the University of Southern California, and 3D filmmaker Chris Haws.

The technology to make 3D films dates back to the invention of motion picture cameras, but technical requirements for accurate 3D imaging made stereoscopic film twice as difficult to produce as 2D films.

Three-dimensional film hit its initial stride in the 1950s, when thrill-seeking filmgoers donned the iconic red-and-blue glasses to glimpse everything from Alfred Hitchcock's 'Dial M for Murder' to a rash of B-grade horror films such as the classic 'House of Wax,' starring Vincent Price.

But beyond the technical requirements of getting the image right, the technology imposes challenges for filmmakers as well.

'If your actors aren't looking at each other,' Lelyveld said, 'you can see it in 3D.'

3D made brief comebacks in the 1970s and 1980s, typically for derided horror fare like 'Amityville 3D,' 'Jaws 3' and the third 'Friday the 13th,' which all used their status as the third films of their respective series to cash in on inflated ticket prices.

Until recently, however, 3D was relegated to IMAX films and theme park rides tied in with such movies as 'Terminator 2: Judgment Day' and 'Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.'

In 2003, however, director Robert Rodriguez re-adopted the medium for his third 'Spy Kids' film, that year's only 3D offering. For each of the following years, the number of 3D films grew exponentially as filmmakers, particularly animators, used advances in technology to enhance their films.

In 2009, the movement came to a head with the release of 11 mainstream films, including blockbusters 'A Christmas Carol' and 'Coraline,' as well as the Oscar-winning animated film 'Up.'

But it was James Cameron's blockbuster 'Avatar' that seemed to seal the deal. The decade-in-the-making film used a specially designed 3D Fusion Camera System to add rich layers to films and went on to become one of the highest grossing films of all time.

Now, 3D appears to be here to stay, with 22 films released by major studios using the technology in 2010, including 'Toy Story 3,' 'How to Train Your Dragon' and 'Alice in Wonderland.'

So far this year, no fewer than 13 films have already debuted in 3D, including the most recent 'Pirates of the Caribbean' offering and the comic book adaptation 'Thor' - and the summer is just getting started. From the latest Harry Potter film to an update of 'Conan the Barbarian,' an additional 10 mainstream films will hit theaters vying for the 3D audience, with an additional 14 slated to hit theaters by year's end.

Below is a rundown of 3D flicks hitting cinemas like Cornelius Nine and Bridgeport Village this summer.

'The Green Lantern': June 17

Ryan Reynolds dons the green tights and signature jewelry as a mild-mannered Earthling who comes into possession of a powerful ring and joins an intergalactic police force in the anticipated comic book thriller from 'Casino Royale' director Martin Campbell. Peter Sarsgaard and Blake Lively co-star.

'Cars 2': June 24

Lightning McQueen returns to the racetrack in the sequel to Pixar's runaway 2006 smash hit. This time around, McQueen (Owen Wilson) goes on the international racing circuit, only to be thrust into the world of international espionage.

'Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon': June 29

Director Michael Bay brings the high-grossing gigantic robots to the screen for a third time, with Shia LaBeouf helping the heroic Autobots defeat the evil Decepticons in a battle wherein the entire fate of humanity rests in the balance.

'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2': July 15

One of the most popular (and lucrative) franchises in cinematic history comes to an explosive end, with boy wizard Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his cohorts battling the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Finnes) and his army of evildoers.

'Captain America: The First Avenger': July 22

The iconic superhero returns to the big screen as a super soldier battling Nazis in World War II. Cap (Chris Evans) will return next year in Marvel Comics' much anticipated and highly ambitious 'The Avengers,' teaming up with Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, Thor and other heroes who have also proven box office gold. Joe Johnston directs.

'The Smurfs': July 29

The little blue men (and one little blue lady) of the popular Hanna-Barbera cartoon series make a big screen comeback as they are transported to modern New York while trailed by the villainous Gargamel (Hank Azaria).

'Final Destination 5': August 12

Death continues to creatively stalk unassuming teenagers in the second 3D outing for the gory (and highly bankable) special-effects driven series.

'Fright Night': August 19

The popular cult horror comedy from 1985 gets the remake treatment as a shy teen (Anton Yelchin) enlists a washed-up magician (David Tennant) to fight a seductive vampire who moves in next door and begins to stalk his mother and girlfriend. Colin Farrell dons the fangs as the film's villain.

'Conan the Barbarian': August 19

Newcomer Jason Momoa steps into Arnold Schwarzenegger's well-worn loincloth as the sword-wielding conqueror fending off hordes of supernatural villains and other evildoers.

'Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World': August 19

Director Robert Rodriguez continues his children's film series that reignited 3D in 2003, this time with his pint-sized spies racing to prevent world domination at the hands of a megalomaniac seeking to control time. Antonio Banderas, Jeremy Piven and Jessica Alba co-star.

All in all, it'll be a multi-dimensional summer at the movies, so try to look good in those glasses.