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Our classic films go 3D in Bollywood mogul's vision

Bollywood's wealthiest mogul is poised to enter the booming business of transforming 2D films into 3D -- with classics such as Casablanca expected to be given the full stereoscopic treatment.

Anil Ambani, who dominates the Indian film market but is also a leading Hollywood financier, will soon unveil a giant outsourcing centre in Mumbai that will be dedicated to the process of "dimensionalisation".

The £25m (€1.1m) facility is the result of a partnership between his post-production business, Reliance MediaWorks, and In-Three, a Los Angeles-based specialist in 2D to 3D conversion.

Inside the new unit, 1,000 Indian technicians will be guided by a handful of American experts. In-Three has already given industry insiders a taste of what may be in store, holding private screenings of 3D snippets of classics such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, 12 Angry Men and Casablanca.

India is in the picture largely because of its cheap labour: it takes 300 people three months to convert a film into 3D, and on the sub-continent wages are half of what they are in America.

The new technology works by combining two images; one for the left eye and another, from a slightly different perspective, for the right. Reliance will use the original film as the left-eye image. It will then digitally manipulate it to produce the right-eye version.

"You can't just press a button and have a computer do it. You have to take artistic decisions, such as what's going to appear in the foreground," said Patrick von Sychowski, one of the project's technical chiefs. "It's labour intensive, but you don't need 300 Leonardo da Vincis. Key decisions can be made by a handful of people."

The process currently costs between $3m (€2.2m) and as much as $15m (€11m) a film, but Mr Ambani hopes that the sheer scale of his venture will allow him to lower prices and accelerate turnaround times.

He is betting that viewers will soon start watching 3D films at home on special Blu-ray disks -- players for which are just starting to be released -- and a new generation of 3D television channels.

His clout in Hollywood --last year he pumped $325m (€237m) into Steven Spielberg's Dreamworks studio -- will put him in a strong position to win major projects, analysts say.