29 January 2011

Why the 3D movie case is not closed

Roger Ebert posted a letter from film editor and sound designer Walter Murch. “Why 3D doesn’t work and never will. Case closed.

Munch’s main point is around convergence and focus.

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.

The greater the distance, the less depth perception matters. The real magic of stereoscopy happen when the convergence and focus distances are similar. When you can see the small differences in depth within the form of the focal object. Large and exaggerated depths and rapid changes of convergence aren’t where the magic is.

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.

If you don’t have a lot of shifting convergence, then I guess this won’t be an issue. In any case, though, I think less rapid cuts would be a very good thing. Rapid cutting annoys me in 2D.

And lastly, the question of immersion. 3D films remind the audience that they are in a certain “perspective” relationship to the image.

shrug I know that I have never felt as immersed in a film as when I was when I was standing outside Baikonur Cosmodrome...when I was really sitting in an IMAX theatre with 3D glasses on.

But who am I to argue with an expert like Munch? Reading their arguments, however, I just can’t help but think that many of the people who dismiss 3D in films dismiss it based on bad and gimmicky 3D instead of on the merits of 3D when used well.


Anonymous said...

The trick would be getting everyone to use it well, and I fear that's an impossibility. I suspect it will stay around, but will find a niche with certain films, rather than be exploding everywhere like we've seen since Avatar. Personally, I find the glasses, etc. to be an annoyance regardless of how good the effect may be in the film itself, so it's not going to be for me.

Robert Fisher said...

Yes, getting everyone to use it well is an impossibility. But then, so is getting everyone to use film well. Sturgeon’s Law tells us that the only way you get anyone using it well is to have a lot of people using it, even if most of them are doing it poorly. ^_^

Anonymous Dimwit said...

I find 3D to be a mind boggling experience. I've watched 3D movies and experienced many of the 3D demonstrations and have always come away miffed at the end result.

The latest one I watched was Tron 3D and my brother was praising it to high heavens. I on the other hand just saw this strange diorama that doesn't seem to really add to the experience. I can only speak for myself, but I'm not spending extra to wear those glasses to watch movies.

Maybe my brain is simply old fashioned for these new fangled stuff, but 3D will get a pass from me. I don't even understand what "use 3d well" is supposed to mean from a cinematic context.

I find an old pair of 20-sided dice more alluring. :)