Is 3D Back?Complications Ensue
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Friday, June 29, 2007

Before I left for the City, and then the Country, I attended an industry screening of a 3D short of a local spectacle which is a sort of Cirque du Soleil with spectacularly trained horses and riders.

After the showing, we all talked about 3D, and the producer who invited me said all the studios are shooting in 3D now. Which was something I had not heard before. (Have you?)

Is 3D back? It was big in the 50's for a few years when studios were trying to figure out what they could offer the audience that TV couldn't. Unlike Techniscope and Cinemascope, 3D didn't stick. It came back in the '70's and 80's (Jaws 3D!) but it has never stuck.

Now the studios are worried about DVDs and illegal downloading. What can they offer that viewers can't get at home? 3D rears its head again. (See this post about Disney offering Meet the Robinsons in 3D for a premium price.)

I thought this show was interesting because one of the problems of watching acrobats in a recorded medium is that we're so used to seeing spectacular things on the screen. To see an actor or horse rider perform something astounding in person is breathtaking, but on screen it becomes just another stunt. I wondered if the 3D experience might help convince the audience of the reality of what they're seeing; at least until we get used to seeing Die Hard movies in 3D, that is.

I did notice that the 3D effect was similar to the Imax effect in that the very short film seemed satisfying in its length. A 40 minute Imax film doesn't seem too short, because of the awesome amount of information on the screen.

I was not completely convinced, in the end. Movies don't feel flat to me; I'm used to interpreting them as visions of 3D worlds anyway. Even without stereoscopic vision, I have perspective to rely on, and depth of field, and occasionally smoke and fog. I know how far away things are.

On the other hand my mom told me that when she saw black and white films as a girl, she felt she saw them in color. She was used to adding the color back in, just as I'm used to adding the depth back in. Now that we're used to color, we don't add the color back into black and white. If we got used to seeing movies in 3D, would we lose the muscle that adds the third dimension to our viewing experience.

I'm not sure what the third dimension adds. Color really does add more information, and makes what we're seeing seem more real. Watching a movie in 3D just felt odd.

Maybe the problem is technical. Depending on where you are in the cinema, you'll experience a different degree of stereo separation. There is one spot in the cinema that gives a "normal" stereo view -- I'm told it is as far from the screen as the diagonal drawn from corner to corner of the screen. Everything else is out of kilter a bit. You might wind up with too much stereo separation, which makes everyone onscreen look fake, like a doll rather than a person. The only way to solve that would be to give every viewer VR goggles to view the movie in, and that's prohibitively expensive as yet.

But maybe the problem is that we really don't need 3D that much when we're sitting watching something. Sure, when we're catching a ball, we need stereo vision. But watching a story unfold -- I just don't know what it gives us. Probably someone will come up with some clever unexpected way to trick our stereoscopic vision for some artistic effect. But will anything solid and lasting come of it?

What do you think?

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I'm with you here, Alex...never quite 'got' anything extra out of something in 3D. Let's see what James Cameron does with it I guess.

By Blogger wcdixon, at 2:14 AM  

The only director I can think of who ever "got" 3D as something more than a gimmick was Alfred Hitchcock. Watching Dial M For Murder in 3D at the Film Forum was a revelatory experience for me. The way he manipulated space to create or increase moments of tension was subtle and extraordinary. It really showed that 3D could enrich the experience in a less obvious way than throwing stuff at the screen.

By Blogger Anthony, at 11:16 AM  

3D is back.

That's all I'm saying...

By Blogger Cunningham, at 1:21 PM  

When the film industry was competing with TV, 3D came and went away.

Now the film industry is competing with the internet. 3D will come and go away again.

Though, it might be possible to fix the "woozy when off-center" effect by using a special screen coating to get something that looks a bit like a hologram.

By Blogger Elver, at 4:25 PM  

It doesn't do much for me. To get the big experience, I went to Superman Returns in an IMAX theatre with a mix of 2D and 3D footage.

The 3D material did look cool but in gimmicky way that was even further removed from real than the sharper and less artifacted 2D footage.

I'll put my vote in for very clean 4K digital projection from a high end 4K camera as being more immersive and realistic than 3D right now.

This will change of course, there will come a time when we will have trouble telling if we are looking out a big window or if it is a movie. That time isn't here yet, it is just a desperate attempt to stave off the threat of home theatres and pirating.

By Blogger Clint Johnson, at 1:49 AM  

how on earth did you miss this link:

By Blogger gezgin, at 4:43 PM  

I've always thought the resurgance of 3D was simply another fad, but I haven't seen the new technology to judge for myself. However, 3D tech has one awesome, and as yet unseen, application—watching live sports in 3D at a movie theatre.
And there must be something worthwhile about 3D if James Cameron is using it.

Great blog!

By Blogger Ross Pruden, at 3:54 AM  

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