Former 3-D hobbyist captains "Monsters vs. Aliens"

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Phil McNally is such a 3-D buff he legally adopted the middle name Captain 3D, before his former hobby became a job making movies such as “Monsters vs. Aliens” jump to life in three dimensions.

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When the animated 3-D movie opens on Friday it will feature voice work from Hollywood stars Reese Witherspoon, Kiefer Sutherland and Seth Rogen, but its real star is McNally and a behind-the-scenes team of animators.

The native of Northern Ireland studied furniture design in London, but instead became an animator and eventually landed a job at DreamWorks Animation SKG, where his longtime interest in 3-D became more than just a hobby.

As the studio’s “stereoscopic supervisor,” McNally supplements a fancy title with an absent-minded focus. He often has more than one pair of 3-D glasses atop his head.

“One pair tends to just keep my hair out of the way now and I’ve got another pair, and they can start stacking up if I forget,” McNally said.

In “Monsters vs. Aliens,” McNally and the animators used 3-D animation to bring to life an epic battle.

Susan Murphy (Witherspoon) is a bride-to-be transformed into a giant named Ginormica, who brings to mind the title character in 1958 movie “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.”

A reluctant hero, she teams up with the other monsters lead by a U.S. army general (Sutherland) to take on space invader Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson) before he destroys the world.

The film is reminiscent of 1950s monster and alien movies. Rogen’s character B.O.B. is a brainless mass of goo, like the title character in 1958 movie “The Blob.”

It was also in the 1950s that Hollywood had its “Golden Era” of 3-D movies and produced films like the 1953 “It Came From Outer Space” using the technology.

McNally said the latest string of 3-D movies since the 2004 “Polar Express” has produced fewer films, but been more sustained than the shortlived 3-D boom of 1952-1953.

McNally is a member in the 116-year-old Stereoscopic Society of the United Kingdom, an organization that revolves around the long history of 3-D photography.

“For me it’s always been one of these serious hobbies which is out on the fringe somewhere, and I’d dig out the slide projector when friends were over,” McNally said.

“So it’s been so long that it’s something I’ve done as a side issue it’s still a real surprise to me that it’s here right now in the mainstream,” he said.

By the end of the year, more than a dozen 3-D movies from Hollywood studios will have played in theaters, and McNally will keep a bespectacled eye on all of them.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Bob Tourtellotte