3-D, This Year’s Savior

19 01 2009

3D Film Image

3D Film Image

There’s an exhibit here at this year’s Sundance Festival, at the Sheffield, which highlights two different 3D technologies (the correct phrase, I’m told, is not 3D, but stereoscopic). And while I really loved the expansive, trippy, artwork that was displayed on the screens (created by the talented Justin Knowles, from CGI Studios) you have to wonder if stereoscopic is really something that audiences are clamoring for.  

Back in the 1970s, I remember a few 3D films which always involved the filmmakers tossing something directly at the audience. It was the fastest way to create the “oooh” effect in the audience. Last year, when I was at the CILECT Conference in Beijing, I saw an incredibly impressive 3D experience which was completely controlled by the viewer. So, the technology is impressive. But, like HD televisions, it’s hard to see how the audience is going to need to buy into the technology, especially if it requires buying anything.

The problems with convincing people to buy into the stereoscopic world were obvious at the exhibtion, just from the physicality of the presentation. First off, there were two incompatible technologies (how did that work for you HD-DVD??) — one with two stacked projectors and the viewer wearing a pair of glasses that combined the two into one brain image. Then there was the Mitbubishi style — 60fps projection, which alternated left and right eyes. It required a pair of expensive glasses that blinked the alternating eyes, synchronized with the screen so each eye saw only the frames designed for it. This amounted to, sorta, a 30fps image with depth.

Two competing technologies. Let me say that again — two technologies.

Each required a computer to play back the movies, but each required different standards. Good luck with that.

Second, in both cases, there were a limited supply of glasses and when too many people were using them, you got to stare at an unwatchable image.  Very 60s trippy, but not very satisfying. Unless the consumer is willing to buy a large supply of glasses, you’re going to have a limited supply at home as well (especially with the Mitsuibishi electronic glasses). And as soon as your seven year old kid marches off with one of your pairs, someone’s not going to be able to watch 3D in your house.

[I actually offered the kind Mitsubishi sales woman some advice — the company that invents a pair of glasses with a cheap tracking device, is going to make a mint. Think of how many times you use your car door remote to locate your car in a large parking lot.]

In its defense, at least the 3D experience offers enough different from the 2D one to make the average viewer notice (as opposed to HD, which I still maintain is not different enough to convince most of the American public to repurchase all of their SD DVDs). But if filmmakers spend the next three years throwing objects at the camera, in order to create that “oooh” moment, we’re going to grow tired of this gimmick rather quickly. It’s hard to believe that there are millions of people ready to throw away their 2D movies so they repurchase a more expensive experience that won’t involve things being thrown at them. And while people didn’t mind watching Ted Turner’s colorized movies on TV years ago, I don’t know anybody who refused to watch those movies in black and white when they were at more convenient times. In other words, 3D doesn’t rise to the level of “must have” or “it will change my life so it’s too cool to pass up.”

Except in games. The Beijing experiment, in which I could control how I perceived the space around me, was so immeasurably more satisfying than its 2D equivalent, that I was immediately thrust inside the experience.

Films are, basically, a directed experience — someone else is helping us through the story.  Games are much more player-driven and, as such, benefit from an expanded world. There is much that 3D can do to help us explore our world in film (I edited one short in 3D and it was not a wonderful experience), and I assume that as filmmakers get better at telling stories in that landscape, we will get more mature works. But it is in the world of immersive entertainment, where presenting the audience with a world that they can control, that steroscopic has some value.

To that end, everyone would get a better return on their investment if they stopped paying to give us Miley Cyrus in 3D, and instead invested in giving us Master Chief in 3D.


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8 responses to “3-D, This Year’s Savior”

23 01 2009
HOLLYN-wood (Norman, that is) » Why Paramount’s Decision To Pay to Go Digital Is Good For FIlmmakers (17:56:25) :

[…] more films shown digitally, as well as more films shown in digital 3D, a gimmick that you’ll learn to loathe soon enough. But hey, more digital projectors is definitely something I can get […]

23 01 2009
Editing — Working With Context | The Editor (19:04:51) :

[…] to try and talk some about what I learned up at Sundance.  Until then, I’ve written about my observations with stereoscopic films (which I saw up there) over at my blog Hollyn-wood.  See you […]

23 01 2009
The Editor - How To Edit — Working With Context | Film Industry Bloggers (20:00:36) :

[…] to try and talk some about what I learned up at Sundance.  Until then, I’ve written about my observations with stereoscopic films (which I saw up there) over at my blog Hollyn-wood.  See you […]

27 01 2009
Andrew Woods (01:05:25) :

3D Display Technologies
Let me offer a few corrections to the technology aspects of the article:
1. polarised projection and the Mitsubishi 3D HDTVs are not _competing_ 3D technologies – they are just two of _many_ ways of achieving the 3D in the home. Other technologies include 3D displays from: Samsung, Zalman, Viewsonic, DepthQ, iZ3D, etc…
2. Invariably the same computer and software can drive all 3D display technologies listed above (and more) so there’s no road-block there.
3. The Mitsubishi 3D HDTVs operate at 120 images per second so that each eye receives a full-colour flicker-free image at 60Hz.
4. The 3D glasses aren’t expensive – $45 for the Samsung 3D LCS (Liquid Crystal Shutter) glasses, and there are some other cheaper options. For polarised 3D displays the glasses are around $1 each or free if you see a REAL D 3D movie.

You are right to identify stereoscopic 3D Gaming as a growth area. There is a lot of activity in this area and also was the subject of a special discussion forum at the 2009 Stereoscopic Displays and Applications conference held just last week in San Jose, CA. Speakers at the panel included NVIDIA, DDD, iZ3D, MTBS3D and DepthQ.
At the conference reception we had two large screen 3D projection systems setup – Guitar Hero in 3D was one of the games demonstrated in 3D and everyone had a ball!

27 01 2009
Loren Miller (08:56:35) :

Polarized passive glasses will probably win out over the ungainly powered LCS– although neither of these technologies are new. I was watching stereo animation on an Atari ST with LCS glasses 20 years ago, likewise Polarized, which felt infinitely lighter and better than old school anaglyph.

A wraparound Polarized model would be a winner.

Even cooler would be stereo without *any* glasses, and I know of some companies that are pursuing it.

Then we have to work up a theory of holographic editing… otherwise, back to stage plays, folks… :-(

27 01 2009
Loren Miller (09:07:28) :

…or worse, back to those ping pong paddles in your face.

I guess that would be a “jerk back moment” Norman? 😉

27 01 2009
Norman (17:55:09) :

Thanks so much for clarifying these points. One of the things that I like about blogging is that it’s a chance to meet knowledgeable people like yourself. Please keep following and keeping me honest!

27 01 2009
Norman (17:56:05) :

Hmmm, I like the idea of a “jerk back moment” though it sounds fraught with potential Name Barbs.

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