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Old 01-29-2011, 12:10 AM   #1
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Are 3D movies toast?

Why 3D doesn't work and never will. Case closed. - Roger Ebert's Journal

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I received a letter that ends, as far as I am concerned, the discussion about 3D. It doesn't work with our brains and it never will.
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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.

If we look at the salt shaker on the table, close to us, we focus at six feet and our eyeballs converge (tilt in) at six feet. Imagine the base of a triangle between your eyes and the apex of the triangle resting on the thing you are looking at. But then look out the window and you focus at sixty feet and converge also at sixty feet. That imaginary triangle has now "opened up" so that your lines of sight are almost -- almost -- parallel to each other.

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.

Consequently, the editing of 3D films cannot be as rapid as for 2D films, because of this shifting of convergence: it takes a number of milliseconds for the brain/eye to "get" what the space of each shot is and adjust.

And lastly, the question of immersion. 3D films remind the audience that they are in a certain "perspective" relationship to the image. It is almost a Brechtian trick. Whereas if the film story has really gripped an audience they are "in" the picture in a kind of dreamlike "spaceless" space. So a good story will give you more dimensionality than you can ever cope with.

So: dark, small, stroby, headache inducing, alienating. And expensive. The question is: how long will it take people to realize and get fed up?

All best wishes,

Walter Murch
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Old 01-29-2011, 12:25 AM   #2
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I'm not yet sold on 3D, though I don't see why it can't have potential as a possible artistic, and certainly stable entertainment option. Cameron did it well, though the degree to which is enhanced the film is probably negligible. He did prove it can be DONE well, and without (almost) all the problems Murch brings up. For one thing, Cameron did always make the point of convergence and focus the same, which eliminated half of that problem. There's still no getting around the first part of it Murch mentions, at least not with the current 3D technology (curious to see how glasses-free 3D evolves and if it makes things easier), but I think he's overselling the "pain" of watching 3D, at least when it's done right, and for people who are physically able in the first place. As for the "darkness" issue, it's really not one, since the projected 3D imaged typically have their brightness enhanced to compensate, though I read that does have its effects on color balance and such. But that is adjustable as well to compensate. Glasses-free 3D will reduce that issue as well I assume.

So yeah, it's a bit more work and it's certainly more expensive (at least until it, possibly, becomes common to the point where theaters can't get away with charging so much extra), but I think it could be worth it in particular projects. I don't want to see every film in 3D, nor the majority of them. But I'll wait until I see what Coppola, Herzog, Scorsese and Spielberg can come up with before I fall on one side or the other.
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Old 01-29-2011, 12:27 AM   #3
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Where are ya, Deep?

In all seriousness though, I really think 3D only has a couple years at most (if not less) before people tire of it. It's a gimmick - an admittedly cool one, when done right - and nothing more. I think what will really kill 3D are the crappy conversions
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Old 01-29-2011, 12:35 AM   #4
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It is a gimmick. But gimmicks aren't inherently bad. Simulated-motion amusement park rides are gimmicks, and they're among the most popular attractions around. Hell, they're a blast and they don't seem to be going anywhere. I think filmmaker's eagerness to sell 3D as a passively-immersive layer to cinema turned out to be a failed experiment. As I said above, I'm willing to see what particular artists can do with it beyond adding a mere layer of "depth" to the image, which most will agree doesn't really achieve that anyway. I wish people would embrace it for what it does accomplish though, which is allow for some fun thrills, and work with that dimension *cough* to explore possibly creative new uses for it. Now, that's not what Herzog is doing, it seems, but if anyone can make the "passive" application of 3D work it's him. And I'm sure Coppola is cooking up some nutty stunt for it with his announced new film. I expect Scorsese and Spielberg's films to be somewhere in between, but I can easily see them applying their master's touch in perhaps more subtle ways that still reap its benefits. We'll see.
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Old 01-29-2011, 12:38 AM   #5
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I gotta say, I was on the 3D train until I saw Clash of the Titans. It definitely soured the experience for me. Maybe I just need to see another one that was meant for 3D from the start.
Even though it looks like it's probably a typical action adventure type movie, I kinda want to see that cave exploration movie in 3D if just for the atmosphere
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Old 01-29-2011, 12:42 AM   #6
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As Lance was saying, I'd love to see a more "passive" approach. Nothing takes me out of a 3D movie more than them throwing something out of the screen just because they can.
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Old 01-29-2011, 12:53 AM   #7
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Heh, I'm actually saying, I think a lot of films are trying the passive approach already, like Avatar and most of the Pixar films... and I don't think it really works. At least not yet. Or... it works, but doesn't really enhance anything. I think the most successful uses of it thus far (not that there are many... if any at all) actually try to take advantage of the dimensionality. U23D probably achieved this best of anything, making use of the outward and inward space, creating some truly exciting and expressive compositions - placing you in the crowd, heightening the light and stage effects of the show in more purely cinematic ways, the overhead shots which transformed the stageiness of concert film into something between live performance and cinema. It wasn't merely a passive varnish placed over a standard film, but it wasn't as cheap as throwing things out of the screen and making you duck. This is the sort of 3D I'd like to see more filmmakers play with. Unique expressive, potentially artistic applications which might validate the gimmick.
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Old 01-29-2011, 12:56 AM   #8
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That was kind of what I meant, I'm really out of it tonight, my iron's really low, and I just hoped the post would stand on its own, but obviously not if I'm using the wrong wording.

What I don't want is for 3D to attempt to just be a quick little magic trick, like the popping things out of the screen like I said.

What I meant by passive, is a lot like what you're saying, using it to enhance and draw you further into the film. But passive isn't the right word, because you do want to understand it's going on to an extent. Just not to the point of it being invasive.
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Old 01-29-2011, 01:01 AM   #9
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I hear ya.
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Old 01-29-2011, 01:04 AM   #10
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Excellent.
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Old 01-29-2011, 01:12 AM   #11
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All that said though, My Bloody Valentine 3D was kind of awesome.
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Old 01-29-2011, 01:20 AM   #12
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Yeah I don't think the gimmick has been explored as an artistic tool yet, but Hollywood's eagerness to jump on the Avatar bandwagon has definitely turned 3D into a but of jokes a lot of the time now. Weirdly enough, the culprits in the Clash of the Titans conversion fiasco, WB, shied away from releasing the completed conversion of Deathly Hallows Part 1 for fear of the quality. Surprising, given that they'd had over a year to do it since that was a plan a long time ago unlike the 2 month notice situation with Clash. Also, it's the moments of 3D in WB's prior 2 Potter installments and Superman Returns that show conversions actually can be done really well. I am excited to see how Hugo Cabret uses 3D. It'll be harder to gauge what Spielberg does with it since TinTin is animated.

While 3D added nothing to Avatar as a film, it did distract the audience from the film's myriad of cliches, and propelled it to a $2.5b gross.

I think Disney has it right, with the way they've projected perceived depth into Tron Legacy, and their conversion of Pixar's last few, seeing into the screen is a lot less stressful on the eye, an a lot less gimmicky.

Did I miss something Lance, are you talking about upcoming Coppola and Herzog films made in 3D???

And yeah, to this day U23D is the most impressive use of 3D I've ever seen (and I had seen many before that, and have seen a lot since), that would be true for the fact that there was zero ghosting alone, something no 3D experience even Avatar can claim from my viewing.
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Old 01-29-2011, 01:24 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by Lancemc View Post
All that said though, My Bloody Valentine 3D was kind of awesome.
Nothing grates on me more than the fact that I missed that. (Ok, some things do, but in the context of THIS conversation)
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Old 01-29-2011, 01:33 AM   #14
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Herzog made a documentary in 3D. Looks incredible.

YouTube - Cave of Forgotten Dreams trailer

Coppola's new film is said to feature just a particular segment in 3D with the rest in 2D. I'm imagining a sequence or more not unlike the colored memory/fantasy digressions in Tetro, in terms of 3D providing an expressive counterpoint to the main body of the film. This is all speculative on my part of course, but yes, he's using 3D for part of his next film.
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Old 01-29-2011, 01:37 AM   #15
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Holy shit, I've been out of touch lately. Herzog is one of my favorites, and that is an amazing trailer. Interesting to hear about Coppola's use of it. I was really disappointed when it turned out Soderberg's Contagion wasn't going to be 3D, that would have been the first use of it by a real maverick artistic filmmaker.
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