Why 3D Won't Work, by Walter Murch - Complications Ensue
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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Roger Ebert explains why top editor Walter Murch thinks 3D will never work -- will always be a big headache.
The biggest problem with 3D, though, is the "convergence/focus" issue. A couple of the other issues -- darkness and "smallness" -- are at least theoretically solvable. But the deeper problem is that the audience must focus their eyes at the plane of the screen -- say it is 80 feet away. This is constant no matter what.

But their eyes must converge at perhaps 10 feet away, then 60 feet, then 120 feet, and so on, depending on what the illusion is. So 3D films require us to focus at one distance and converge at another. And 600 million years of evolution has never presented this problem before. All living things with eyes have always focussed and converged at the same point....

We can do this. 3D films would not work if we couldn't. But it is like tapping your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time: difficult. So the "CPU" of our perceptual brain has to work extra hard, which is why after 20 minutes or so many people get headaches. They are doing something that 600 million years of evolution never prepared them for. This is a deep problem, which no amount of technical tweaking can fix. Nothing will fix it short of producing true "holographic" images.
Now you know. Studios, just cut it out, okay?

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9 Comments:

Just don't do it for longform entertainment - anything over 20 minutes...

Which leads to an opportunity for theaters to screen shorts again and give the consumer more value for their money. It would be fun to see cartoons and serials at the theater again, and I'm sure would attract a broad audience.

$12 is a LOT to pay for tickets (not to mention Concession stand prices) so theaters should be pulling out all the stops to create 'events' at their locations. 3D is one way to do it - but yes, don't give the consumer a headache, give them more value for their money.

By Blogger Cunningham, at 2:41 PM  

I've never gotten a headache from watching 3D, but my wife doesn't really like watching 3D for that reason. Of course, I also don't really care about watching something 3D if I've got a choice. I'd rather watch something good, quite frankly, whether it's 3D or not. The fact that a movie is 3D will not make me watch it over if it was not.

By Blogger Tim W., at 5:45 PM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

By Blogger geoff, at 2:01 AM  

While I'm not a huge fan of 3-D and Walter Murch is a GOD!

3D convergence is something that can be taken into account during filming.

Murch is talking about traditional 3D practices where the angle between the cameras never change. In this case, Murch is dead on.

A lot of the technique James Cameron developed for shooting 3D was actually attempting to change the angle of the cameras in relation to one another and the depth of the shot.

It's a technique that actually compensates for convergence by working more like the eye.

It also applies more to objects in the foreground and closeups. Things at a great distance tend to look flat to the human eye anyway. There isn't much strain on the brain's part to put those two images together. However, objects in the foreground have a greater problem with convergence.

That said -- 3D really is a gimmick. And one I don't particularly enjoy.

I watched AVATAR the other day on HBO and was blown away by the detail. A lot of that detail I missed watching it in the theater in 3D.

By Blogger James, at 2:36 PM  

I am an SF fan and sometime video game widow. I've been worried that, due to my spouse's tastes, I'd be sitting through a lot of 3D in the future.

After Tron, I was so relieved to hear he is done with it.

By Blogger leannet3, at 7:12 PM  

The brain is amazingly adaptable. In 1896 (and again recently, although I can't find it) an experiment was conducted where lenses inverted the image. After a couple of days the subject was able to interact with the world like normal and the brain adapted to the inverted state. http://www.cns.nyu.edu/~nava/courses/psych_and_brain/pdfs/Stratton_1896.pdf

Whether it's worth undergoing that adaptation just for 3D movies is a completely different issue. Watching 3D golf tends to hurt my eyes and/or brain because the focal distances are so great. 3D is a neat effect but I know I'm watching it and don't feel as immersed as 2D.

By OpenID Talljoe, at 10:49 AM  

I forgot to finish my thought; Golf is sometimes hard to watch in 3D, but I have a better sense of where the ball is in relation to the cup, which is quite handy. The same goes for hockey, it's easier to tell where the puck is (on the ice or flying? In front of or behind people?)

By OpenID Talljoe, at 11:04 AM  

I get motion sickness all the time but 3D doesn't seem to bother me! Avatar in 3D was the most amazing experience I have to say... http://awritersconnection.blogspot.com/

By Blogger Zak, at 12:28 PM  

I usually just skip the 3D and see it in 2D. I find the 3D effects are a distraction and pull me out of the story (if there is one).

I think 3D has more potential in gaming than it does for film because depth perception will actually help gameplay because you'll be more immersed in the environment, so my hunch is that's where it will thrive. But when it comes to film and television, I'll just skip it.

By Blogger Kody¬†Chamberlain, at 8:54 AM  

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