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"Dark, small, stroby, headache inducing, alienating. And expensive."
January 24, 2011 8:48 AM   Subscribe

Film editor and sound designer extraordinaire Walter Murch writes to Roger Ebert regarding a fundamental conundrum of current 3D technology: "It is like tapping your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time."
posted by oulipian (84 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
3D ruins my ability as a view to take on an entire scene and let my eye roam around the frame cause it forces a single focus point.
posted by The Whelk at 8:51 AM on January 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


The article won't link for me. I found this alternate mirror though.

But I enjoyed Ebert's previous criticism of the 3d gimmick.

I'm not sure this letter adds much to the conversation! I think he sealed the deal last time.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:54 AM on January 24, 2011


Third Ebert post in 48 hours?
posted by stinkycheese at 8:55 AM on January 24, 2011


Third Ebert post in 48 hours?

At least it doesn't link to his Amazon Affiliate account.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 8:58 AM on January 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


The 3D push is mostly about the hedonic treadmill, keeping the Shenzen factories going, the fact that home entertainment is in the process of a transformation that has seen more change in the last few years than in the entire previous century, giving people fewer reasons to go to a Regal cinema and pay 13 dollars to watch commercials and buy $8 popcorn.

It doesn't have a damn thing to do with being enjoyable to watch.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:59 AM on January 24, 2011 [14 favorites]


The Whelk, there seems to be some interesting work on multiple focus points in a 3D display. I don't know if it'd work for movies, since I don't quite understand what's their doing to achieve the effect.
posted by Mister Cheese at 9:04 AM on January 24, 2011


As a friend said to me the other day, in real life, you get to choose what you focus on. In a film, the director chooses. In 2D, this is fine. In 3D, this confuses you. So, every movie must be in deep focus, like Citizen Kane. And that doesn't work for every kind of scene.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:04 AM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Third Ebert post in 48 hours?

Think of it as the first Murch post since 2006.
Except as a footnote in here.
posted by oulipian at 9:06 AM on January 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


Since Ebert doesn't seem to have approved any comments on this blog post yet, I'll post the comment I wrote, here:

"With every amount of respect possible to both yourself and Mr. Murch (who I idolize in so many ways), I do think that there's one thing that is being overlooked: The human brain is always changing, evolving to deal with new paradigms of both storytelling and reality.

ALL issues of ticket price and Hollywood studio quality aside for a moment:

As a viewer, I personally enjoy and don't have issues with well shot and edited 3D (even very quickly edited 3D) that takes convergence and depth into account. I'm not the only one. I know some people do have problems with this, and I wish they didn't. I think everyone has a different set of tolerances. Some hated the fast (MTV style) editing of the 80's and found it disorienting

As an artist and filmmaker, I'm driven to explore any untapped medium's ability to connect with an audience in unexpected ways.

So, the desire to squash 3D as a potential new medium is baffling to me. The backlash against ticket prices and gimmickry is not. But "Case Closed?" Maybe for some, but not for others. A newer generation of viewers is growing up with 3D and their brains will have a different tolerance than we do now.

I agree the focus should always be on story - but I also still believe that it's not just the story that makes it art, it's how it's told. Why not explore new ways to tell it?"
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 9:07 AM on January 24, 2011 [6 favorites]


3D movies have been around since 1922, and they seem to come into fashion again every 20 years or so. Then everyone gets bored with it and wanders off. I really doubt that anything short of a completely new technology, entirely separate from 2d projection, could ever make 3d display work well enough to stick around as its own viable medium.
posted by echo target at 9:10 AM on January 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


My next article title:

"The best way to get traffic is to make a definitive statement about something for all eternity. Case closed".
posted by jeremias at 9:14 AM on January 24, 2011 [8 favorites]


Metafilter: something to do with the amount of brain power dedicated to studying the edges of things
posted by chavenet at 9:21 AM on January 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


"The best way to get traffic is to make a definitive statement about something for all eternity. Case closed".

Don't forget to add a healthy dose of Appeal to Authority.
posted by rocket88 at 9:28 AM on January 24, 2011


I think he overstates it a bit; there is a place for 3D but it's not on the TV set you watch every day, nor is it for every type of programming. For something that is meant to be a visual spectacle of a certain type, 3D can really add to the experience. I don't think there is any point seeing Avatar in 2D, for example. But it does take away from some other things, such as character development, because it is distracting and tiring. I haven't seen Green Hornet but it sounds like the kind of story that would do just fine in 2D, with a lot of character interaction as well as the action.
posted by localroger at 9:31 AM on January 24, 2011


ALL issues of ticket price and Hollywood studio quality aside for a moment:

I think Ebert's main point is that most directors can't put issues of ticket price and Hollywood studio quality aside. He concedes that famous (and budget-rich) directors like Cameron can make a film which is enhanced by 3-D. Most directors do not have that luxury.
posted by muddgirl at 9:32 AM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Which is the bigger problem: 600 million years of evolutionary adaptation or a lifetime of adjusting to the natural 3-D all around us? Could this problem be overcome by raising a child from birth in a movie theater that was constantly running 3-D films? Shouldn't we try to find out, for the good of humanity?
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:33 AM on January 24, 2011 [7 favorites]


I think Ebert's main point is that most directors can't put issues of ticket price and Hollywood studio quality aside. He concedes that famous (and budget-rich) directors like Cameron can make a film which is enhanced by 3-D. Most directors do not have that luxury.

I think there is an unhealthy illusion that shooting and editing 3D costs a lot of money. That isn't necessarily true. It can be done for a very reasonable amount and done well. Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams is one example. The main thing, I think, is finding an idea that warrants the application of 3D. That's where we need to start thinking differently, in terms of storytelling.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 9:36 AM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Right now, in the world, young people are playing 3D games at home on their 3D TVs while wearing 3D glasses and using multiple control sticks and real-time motion control. Some of these people may even invert their x- or y-axis controls. These people may appear to be having fun; we know however that such complicated interaction is clearly impossible, the "CPU" of our perceptual brain is simply unable to work that hard for any length of time.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:38 AM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Discussions of 3d film making are always weird for me, simply because I don't normally experience depth perception of any sort except when watching a 3d movie.

So, for one, I honestly don't like 3d movies because the entire experience is distracting for me, since I have to deal with this sensory input that I don't normally get. And two, if that is what you guys see the world like, I'm GLAD I don't see depth.
posted by strixus at 9:40 AM on January 24, 2011


Barring some amazing new technology, I'm planning on only seeing 2D movies in the future. Avatar was pretty amazing but other than that, the ten or so 3D movies that I've seen in the last five years have just looked dim and gimmicky. It's really not worth an extra $5 to have to squint through a movie and end up with a headache.
posted by octothorpe at 9:40 AM on January 24, 2011


I'm starting to get the impression we should just shut down the MeFi front page and all follow Roger Ebert's blog. I am not necessarily opposed to this.
posted by dry white toast at 9:43 AM on January 24, 2011


I think there is an unhealthy illusion that shooting and editing 3D costs a lot of money.

If 3D movies don't cost much more money to produce, then it's even more gimmiky - studios charge extra for no real benefit to the movie-goer. It's marketing.

Ebert actually cites Herzog's film as a worthwhile use for 3D, so it's incorrect to state that his position is absolutely anti-3D movies. But I think he has many legitimate points when it comes to movies like, say, Avatar: The Last Airbender, which was a shitty movie that used 3D as a marketing and profit boost.
posted by muddgirl at 9:44 AM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Could this problem be overcome by raising a child from birth in a movie theater that was constantly running 3-D films? Shouldn't we try to find out, for the good of humanity?

I think Plato had something to say about this.
posted by Bromius at 9:46 AM on January 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


Right now, in the world, young people are playing 3D games at home on their 3D TVs while wearing 3D glasses and using multiple control sticks and real-time motion control.

If they've already done their homework and it's the wrong season for little league maybe they could get jobs. Mr. Gower could use some help at the drug store.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:47 AM on January 24, 2011


3D makes a great deal of sense for those video games where depth perception is an issue, meaning nearly all first-person shooters and a lot of action/adventure games as well.
posted by LogicalDash at 9:54 AM on January 24, 2011


Ebert actually cites Herzog's film as a worthwhile use for 3D, so it's incorrect to state that his position is absolutely anti-3D movies. But I think he has many legitimate points when it comes to movies like, say, Avatar: The Last Airbender, which was a shitty movie that used 3D as a marketing and profit boost.

I absolutely agree - and it's very frustrating seeing what could be a viable medium tarnished by greed. There is a difference between the medium itself and the way Hollywood has been utilizing it.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 9:55 AM on January 24, 2011


...but since we need Hollywood support of the medium to convince movie theaters to adopt it, then artiste directors have to support Hollywood's use of 3D, no? It's sort of a devil's bargain - we can't have Cave of Forgotten Dreams without Green Hornet.
posted by muddgirl at 9:59 AM on January 24, 2011


Some of these people may even invert their x- or y-axis controls.

I think we can all agree that the line needs to be drawn here.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 10:02 AM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm waiting for them to put out prescription 3-D glasses.

Or at least for more places to make 3-D glasses that fit neatly over real glasses. So far there's only one theater with 3-D glasses that are comfortable to me. Sometimes I switch to contacts, but that just makes my eyes even more tired by the end of the film.
posted by Karmakaze at 10:04 AM on January 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


I hate the over-3Dfication of movies for a lot of reasons, but one that I don't see mentioned a lot is that RealD and/or every movie theater I've been to with RealD has decided that glasses-wearers are second-class citizens. I don't understand why they can't have a supply of larger sized 3D glasses that will actually fit around glasses. One size does not fit all.
posted by kmz at 10:07 AM on January 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


And, on non-preview, what Karmakaze said. Except I don't wear contacts at all so that's not an option.
posted by kmz at 10:08 AM on January 24, 2011


...but since we need Hollywood support of the medium to convince movie theaters to adopt it, then artiste directors have to support Hollywood's use of 3D, no? It's sort of a devil's bargain - we can't have Cave of Forgotten Dreams without Green Hornet.

True, but the same can be said of most technological advancements in film. CGI can be used poorly and beautifully, as can great 5.1 sound or digital cameras. What would be great is if there were more indie explorations of 3D film, so that we had a choice. With consumer level 3D cameras and youtube adopting 3D standards, we're seeing a lot more of it. Is it all good? No, but if people experiment with it and begin using it wisely, the studio movies will adopt the techniques developed in indies... or they won't. Most studio movies lately have been disappointing, 3D or not!

So... what it seems to come down to is getting the ticket prices lowered back down to reasonable levels, and better movies being made in general.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 10:08 AM on January 24, 2011


Barring some amazing new technology, I'm planning on only seeing 2D movies in the future. Avatar was pretty amazing but other than that, the ten or so 3D movies that I've seen in the last five years have just looked dim and gimmicky.

I've only seen one film in 3D and it was Avatar (3D-Imax). And yeah, it was thrilling at times, a cool enough ride. But it didn't BLOW me away.

A. Because the narrative was struggling hard to find a second dimension.

B. Because like Murch observes, there's something about the whole 3D experience (the goggles? the way they interact with our corneas?) that served to shrink my perception of the screen size. 3D-Imax and it actually felt smaller than a normal theater screen, and I had a perfect seat (dead center maybe a third of the way back from the screen).

So yeah, I agree with him. If I was a betting man, my money would be on 3D not being the defining technology of future-cinema. But I fear it's a long bet. Much like trench warfare in World War One, the powers-that-be are going to throw everything they've got at it for a good long time until pure attrition and madness wears them down.
posted by philip-random at 10:09 AM on January 24, 2011


A. Because the narrative was struggling hard to find a second dimension.

Similarly, I've been finding 3D movies "lacking depth in the 4th dimension" aka. the progression of time...or simply, a plot.
posted by samsara at 10:16 AM on January 24, 2011


The human brain is always changing, evolving to deal with new paradigms of both storytelling and reality.

True. In a few million years, people will really love 3D movies.
posted by The World Famous at 10:17 AM on January 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


The 2011 Razzie nominations are out, including a new category for the "Worst Eye-Gouging Mis-Use of 3-D"
posted by schmod at 10:17 AM on January 24, 2011


The 2011 Razzie nominations are out

At last, something where I can root for The Last Airbender!
posted by kmz at 10:23 AM on January 24, 2011


Could this problem be overcome by raising a child from birth in a movie theater that was constantly running 3-D films? Shouldn't we try to find out, for the good of humanity?

Well, evolution is more about incremental changes over time rather than an individual's specific adjustment to a problem. So, we'd have to arrange some sort of systematic sexual/ nutritional reward or deadly punishment for a whole population of people watching 3d movies over several generations.
posted by Think_Long at 10:25 AM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I always invert my up-down look axis joystick because I spent my early game years playing flight sims. So if I'm using a joystick, even in an FPS I need to pull back to "pull my nose up" and look upwards. There's more than 100 years of established UI design for flight controls.

I thought Tron: Legacy worked well in 3D, as did Avatar, but both were made from the beginning to be 3D. All the other films that have had it slapped on for marketing look horrible.
posted by zoogleplex at 10:26 AM on January 24, 2011


I don't think Ebert is right on this one. People have done studies using inverted lenses in glasses, which flips the visual field of the subject upside down. Some of these studies were done in the 1950s or later, some as early as the late 1800s, even. People with the glasses on learn to adapt. There's no reason evolution should have equipped us to deal with a completely inverted view of the world, and yet with enough exposure our brains can learn to deal with it. Brains are plastic. That's why we are able to adapt to missing limbs, prosthetics, etc. and so forth. I would argue that for some people it won't work well, but for some people riding in rollercoasters doesn't work well either - and yet they still sell a hell of a lot of tickets to amusement parks.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:28 AM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, this has been known for some time. I wrote about it here. It's a limitation filmmakers have to work around, just as they've worked around limitations like reel sizes, projection capabilities, and so on.

Poorly-made movies will always look bad, and most 3D movies these days are poorly made. To make categorical statements about the viability of a cinematic technique (mostly being misused) is to open yourself to ridicule a year or two down the line when your key point is no longer an issue.

Working around the incompatibilities between the human vision system and the ability to film and project 3D images is a work in progress. If, in a few years, 3D hasn't still caught on, it won't be because of phantom technical problems like this, but because people in the business made bad movies.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 10:31 AM on January 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Working around the incompatibilities between the human vision system and the ability to film and project 3D images is a work in progress.

It's been a work in progress since the 1920s...
posted by muddgirl at 10:33 AM on January 24, 2011


It's been a work in progress since the 1920s...

Since a good while before, actually. Stereograms were very popular in the 19th century. Like I said, our ability to film and project these images is improving. Already the first wave of active-LCD glasses (which I abhor, but were an improvement over the color-marring red/blue and the resolution-halving angular polarized) is making way for far superior circular polarized glasses and projectionists and TV makers are working on improving the brightness to compensate for light loss. As for filmmakers... well, if they consider it a gimmick, it will always be a gimmick. But if they consider it a filmmaking technique like shooting in black and white, optical and real special effects, or, say, minimizing camera movement, then it will be a filmmaking technique.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 10:46 AM on January 24, 2011


I think it was Bob Mondelo doing his 2010 end of year mentioned that the resurgence in 3D is actually based in antipiracy. You can't take a cam of a 3D movie and torrent it.
posted by asockpuppet at 10:47 AM on January 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've never seen a movie in 3D, but I am in awe of it solely for its apparent ability to convince people that Avatar wasn't hopelessly silly. That's quite an achievement. The illusion of depth in the picture must have really distracted everyone from the total lack of depth in the story and characters.
posted by rusty at 10:47 AM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


And here it is
posted by asockpuppet at 10:48 AM on January 24, 2011


Good point about torrenting, sockpuppet.. although I think it's just as much about creating a stupid gimmick that morons will buy into, to make money. Like religion!
posted by ReeMonster at 10:50 AM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm just trying to imagine what would have happened if movie studios had forced theaters to charge a fee for the first Blockbuster movies to feature CGI or digital audio.
posted by muddgirl at 10:50 AM on January 24, 2011


It's possible to get in to a showing of the new 1D movies, but be patient: there's always a line.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:51 AM on January 24, 2011 [17 favorites]


People will suck down high fructose corn syrup and think they're eating food, so I'm sure enough will continue to believe they're more entertained by staring intently at an optical illusion for 2 hours than actually sitting and enjoying a movie that Hollywood will keep at it. And I'll get to feel smugly superior to the masses for yet another reason, so it's win-win.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:51 AM on January 24, 2011


The difference between limitations of 3D and previous filmmakers' technical limitations (such as reel length) is that with 3D it's not a matter of what you can or can not, it's a matter of what you should or should not do.

Murch mentions the fact that 3D films are quicker to strobe when moving horizontally. I've noticed this effect and it drives me nuts. However I've noticed this effect during horizontal pans in "good" 3D films such as Avatar, Coraline and Cave of Forgotten Dreams. In each case it was a distraction that pulled me out of the movie and made me have to refocus my eyes. And Avatar for the most part kept the focus wide still had a few shots with a very shallow depth of field forcing the viewing to focus on one point on the screen or risk getting a headache.
posted by thecjm at 11:00 AM on January 24, 2011


those dinosaurs sure are noisy...
posted by sexyrobot at 11:07 AM on January 24, 2011


I have never seen a 3D movie and thought, "I was glad that was in 3D." I have never seen a 2D movie and thought, "I wish this was in 3D."
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:32 AM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


As a complement to my response earlier, I just responded to this article in depth here.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 11:37 AM on January 24, 2011


It's possible to get in to a showing of the new 1D movies, but be patient: there's always a line.

What's your point?
posted by TedW at 11:37 AM on January 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


I am psyched that Walter Murch is still with us (though apparently he's only in his 70s; he must have been a real wunderkind)!

In other news of Relatively Obscure People Who Are Huge Celebrities To Sidhedevil, I was sad to see that Theoni V. Aldredge had died. Best Broadway costume designer ever.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:56 AM on January 24, 2011


I haven't seen Green Hornet but it sounds like the kind of story that would do just fine in 2D, with a lot of character interaction as well as the action.

Just going by the previews, it looked like another odd-couple action/comedy flick. Hollywood has delivered the same formula forever. If Green Lantern is not going to offer 40s noir, why not just watch Lethal Weapon instead?

It's getting criticism as gimicky because it's being used in gimicky ways, made worse by the fact that every trailer editor seems intent on making the audience flinch at least three times using sudden in-your-face effects shots. After you've spent ten minutes before the movie having fishooks, mechanical parts, asteroids, buidlings, bullets, predatory fish, and swords flying at your face, the pace is spoiled for the main feature.

Right now the field is dominated by "look, we're in 3D" gimicks like extreme zooms, flying effects, and throwing things at the camera. Hopefully that will burn out soon.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:16 PM on January 24, 2011


Right now the field is dominated by "look, we're in 3D" gimicks like extreme zooms, flying effects, and throwing things at the camera.

Would you like some more ... PANCAKES?!
posted by CaseyB at 12:23 PM on January 24, 2011 [6 favorites]




But elderly. =But= elderly.
posted by Sebmojo at 12:28 PM on January 24, 2011


Oh, lord, CaseyB, now I am laughing like a particularly amused hyena.

For those of you who have never seen it, Dr. Tongue's Evil House of Pancakes. PRETTY SCARY, KIDS!
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:33 PM on January 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


The money quote from Ebert, "I’m not opposed to 3-D as an option. I’m opposed to it as a way of life for Hollywood, where it seems to be skewing major studio output away from the kinds of films we think of as Oscar-worthy. Scorsese and Herzog make films for grown-ups. Hollywood is racing headlong toward the kiddie market."

Ebert's argument is that 1) current 3D technologies are inferior in image quality to other premium cinema technology and 2) the upsell of 3D ticket prices is driving the production of a lot of crap.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:51 PM on January 24, 2011


In fact, not only is 3D inferior to premium projection technology, it's often inferior to standard projection technology. Your mileage may vary of course. I'm skeptical of Murch's claims that 3D never can hit that bar, but his criticisms of contrast, scale of the frame, and focus need to be addressed either by the technical medium or the cinematographers using the medium.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:32 PM on January 24, 2011


I have never seen a 3D movie and thought, "I was glad that was in 3D." I have never seen a 2D movie and thought, "I wish this was in 3D."

Exactly. By choice I saw Toy Story 3 in 2D and I don't think for a second that I missed out anything. Quite the reverse, really -- I got to see it fully illuminated without a hunk of unfitted plastic on my nose, any distracting focal-plane weirdness or my eyeballs trying to go off in different directions when glancing around the frame. I don't doubt for a second that I had a better experience.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:40 PM on January 24, 2011


I saw Toy Story 3 in 3D (not my choice) and you really didn't miss anything. It didn't really use 3D in any interesting way.
posted by octothorpe at 2:20 PM on January 24, 2011


Entertainingly, you can get a pretty good 3D effect in the cinema or on a TV with one very simple action: Close one eye.

Why does this work? Because as Murch points out, our eyes converge to look at objects at certain distances, and when you're watching a movie the convergence information from your eyes is telling you that you're looking at a flat screen. The cues contained in the picture, however - far things being smaller, very near or very far things being out of focus, nearer objects occluding farther ones, etc. - are telling you that this is a window to a 3D world.

Remove the convergence information, and suddenly you don't have conflicting accounts of what you're looking at. You still get the problem of only one point of focus, but other than that it really works rather well.
posted by ZsigE at 2:36 PM on January 24, 2011


I have no dog in this fight, because I see every 3-D movie in 2-D thanks to my poor depth perception. The ones that are supposed to be in 3-D just give me headaches.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:36 PM on January 24, 2011


It didn't really use 3D in any interesting way.

Well, that's the thing, isn't it? People are shooting movies in 3D but still conceiving of them from a background of 2D.

I don't know if any here have seen the concert film U23D (interestingly a National Geographic film). It's a pretty excellent example of how 3D can really transform a film and give it an entirely different feeling. (It's seriously worth seeking out if you can find it playing anywhere.)

There are very few fast-cut sequences in the film. Instead, lengthy camera shots allow the viewer to really look at the image being shown. And those images were planned from the beginning to be a bit of a showcase for 3ality's digital filming process.

One angle that the film keeps coming back to is a rather curious angle above the stage, and a bit off to the side, looking down at a skew. The result is that the viewer really does perceive this flat plane of a concert stage with these remarkable little LIVING pop-up book figures performing on it.

Another great moment which they come to a few times in the film is a shot from the back of the stadium across the audience there toward the stage. And the opening of the physical space while sitting in a movie theater is astounding. The concert-goers in the film end up taking the place of the lower rows of seats in the movie theater, and then the sea of the crowd just goes AWAY from you for an impossible distance. It truly feels like you're sitting in that crowd, THERE, at the rock concert, and not in a dark box inside a mall.

There's one extended sequence of Bono singing, a single take for a good portion of the film, and it's a reasonable close-up, and he does that Bono thing where he's reaching out toward the audience. Only in this case, he's reaching right out toward YOU! Inviting you into his song, to share his moment. At the 3 screenings of the film I went to, this was a segment where a lot of the audience would reach out toward the phantom hand being extended toward them.

So, the problem is, people aren't actually designing 3D movies FOR 3D. Quick cuts have to go away, unless VERY careful planning is taken to make sure that the convergence point in the cuts are not only on the same focal plane, but also in the same part of the movie frame. Eyes darting about looking for focus aren't happy eyes, even if the focal distance is the same.

I think a really amazing use of 3D would be movie musicals. But only if they get away from this Chicago / Step Up / MTV quick cut editing which they use so often to disguise lack of dance skill and other shortcomings on behalf of the performers. Imagine one of the very long Rogers/Astaire dance numbers in 3D! With the stage extending out into the movie auditorium, and these two people doing AMAZING THINGS, all in a single camera take.

I think the result, if done right and actually thought through, could be breathtaking.
posted by hippybear at 2:41 PM on January 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


Oh man, I totally forgot about U23D. That really was bloody awesome, and I'd suffer through ill-fitting 3D glasses again for that. It isn't exactly the same thing as actually being at a U2 concert, but it was as close to the real thing as you could get. (From the perspective of not having to stand in line for hours to get good GA spots, you could say it's even better than the real thing. ;) )
posted by kmz at 3:05 PM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


The new Narnia movie had good 3D. It wasn't dark, and you totally forgot the movie was IN 3D until the money shots were pulled out. Though thinking back, for the first minute or so every human face looked like it was computer-generated, so maybe it was not that the 3D was good so much as that I had less trouble adjusting my vision than Ebert.
posted by subdee at 3:41 PM on January 24, 2011


That was a strange use of appeal to authority - I thought with all the Sound Designer credentials, Mr. Murch was going to talk about how 3D films presented an insurmountable problem for positioning sound effects... like, how do you simulate echoes between multiple 3D objects hovering in space? But there's probably an algorithm for that anyway.

I've never seen a 3D film yet, but I think there's plenty of promise in presenting 3D sports and live events using this medium. I'd love to be able to see an elite receiver repositioning himself in air to make a catch over a defender, and call me a neanderthal, but I think it would pretty damn nifty to see someone's snot locker explode in a cloud of sweat and saliva on a 3D knockout punch.
posted by krippledkonscious at 3:58 PM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the result, if done right and actually thought through, could be breathtaking.

As Sparta said to Philip II, "If."

I am inclined to agree with those who say that 3-D is being used for gimmicky wow-shots rather than to advance or broaden the story in any meaningful way. In this as in so many regards it is like IMAX (and I do not mean the fakey-fake "imax" that you find in your local AMC, but the full-on, six-storey-tall screen. For forty years, there has been a breathtaking, immersive* experience available to movie makers and for forty years it has been used for movies about jellyfish and the the space shuttle and the Grand Canyon. These are movies where "good" and "bad" do not apply, but "pretty" does.

In a better world, Kubrick's last film would have been Napoleon, in IMAX. Hell, I would even pay to see Michael Bay make full use of IMAX.


* A friend of mine worked summers in high school at the Cinesphere in Toronto. Every summer, she tells me, three or four people would get carted out by the paramedics after suffering heart attacks. She says she always wondered, "Why not just close your eyes?"
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:06 PM on January 24, 2011


The new Narnia movie had good 3D. It wasn't dark, and you totally forgot the movie was IN 3D until the money shots were pulled out.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader was shot in 2d, for 2d, and had 3d added in post by Fox, who were on the record as doing it to make more money. So, except for a couple of shots, they weren't even trying to make gratuitous 3d effects, which ended up working in its favour (IMHO)
posted by Sparx at 4:52 PM on January 24, 2011


All living things with eyes have always focussed and converged at the same point.

My optical physics is rusty; can someone explain why this doesn't seem to happen with mirrors? Aren't you looking at projections on a flat plane also?

I don't understand what is meant by "converging" either.
posted by rubah at 5:06 PM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wait, Tron: Legacy was designed to be shot in 3D? My experience seeing it as such (not available in 2D around here) suggests that they remembered at points, and so you wind up almost exclusively with fairly lazy overhead shots seemingly meant to remind you that it's in 3D.

"omg an elevator is coming up."
"omg walking down a hallway."
"omg JUMPING"

I'm not the only one who had this reaction, right?
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:25 PM on January 24, 2011


I'm not the only one who had this reaction, right?

That was my reaction, too. You're not the only one. I saw it in 3D because the theater right by my house only had it in 3D. I thought the 3D added a tiny bit of "depth" to the look and feel of the film but I didn't notice any "hey look! 3D!" moments. It was also a little dim. And I wear corrective glasses anyway, so I hate putting 3D glasses on over my regular glasses. Stupid 3D.

One of the most beautiful and creatively-useful tools in cinematography and photography is depth of field. 3D basically ruins that.
posted by The World Famous at 5:32 PM on January 24, 2011


My optical physics is rusty; can someone explain why this doesn't seem to happen with mirrors? Aren't you looking at projections on a flat plane also?

Mirrors aren't a projection on a flat surface; a reflection is quite different. For purposes of discussion and most practical physics you can treat a mirror as just what it looks like: a clear window into a real space just like the one you're in (but inverted front-to-back).

I don't understand what is meant by "converging" either.

Convergence has to do with the different angles each of your two eyes has on the thing you're looking at. Because your eyes are separated from each other horizontally, their lines of sight "converge" on the object you're looking at. The amount of convergence in looking at your own nose in a mirror that's 5 feet from you is identical to that of looking another person's nose (not in a mirror) 10 feet from you. The angle of convergence directly correlates to distance, and it's one of the pieces of information your brain uses in resolving depth. It's also something your brain has learned to control in response to other indicators of distance. Simulated 3D works largely by presenting different position information to each eye, as well as a different angle on the objects, so that your eye muscles can behave naturally. (Focus is an altogether different problem, one that is not easily solved in a general way.)
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:36 PM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I saw the use of 3D in TRON as similar to the way that in Brainstorm (the very best movie ever made about scientists at work) the mind-recorded scenes were in 70mm and the RL scenes in 35mm. That is, the extra technical depth was your clue that you were in something that wasn't real, that was better than real. And for me that worked in TRON because the Grid was after all the creation of Flynn, an early 80's video game designer, and his entire gestalt amounted to WOOHOO AIN'T THAT COOOOOOL! Or at least it did before he spent a thousand subjective years in Cyberspace.

Still and all, several people have remarked that the most impressive 3D images of several recent movies have occurred during the credit roll, where perhaps going too far doesn't put so much at risk.
posted by localroger at 7:30 PM on January 24, 2011


Walter Murch is not "just" a sound designer - he was editor of just as many films, including the first 3D movie I ever saw: Captain EO. So I would not say that Ebert is Appealing to a False Authority.
posted by muddgirl at 7:47 PM on January 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes, Tron: Legacy was shot using actual 3D cameras, and not converted to 3D in post-production. I believe they even used the same cameras that Cameron developed and used for shooting Avatar.

As far as Brainstorm goes, the mind-recorded scenes were SUPPOSED to be shown in Showscan, a large-size 60fps format which was developed by Douglas Trumbull, who was discussed not too long ago here on the Blue. Showscan is remarkable. It's a shame it never caught on.

Video discussing the Showscan format can be found in "Immersive Media Part 2", located a short scroll down this page.
posted by hippybear at 8:16 PM on January 24, 2011


"One of the most beautiful and creatively-useful tools in cinematography and photography is depth of field. 3D basically ruins that."

There's actually (in my opinion) a pretty well-done depth-of-field focus pull done in 3D in Tron, switching focus from young Grid-Flynn to Clu. Of course it's all done using 3D modeling etc. instead of real cameras, but I thought it worked quite nicely.

And yeah Tron was deliberately shot in 3D. I thought they made good use of it and it wasn't overapplied and obvious. Far less obvious than it was in Avatar.

Converting to 3D in post is horrendous. Watch that Alice in Wonderland flick with Johnny Depp in 3D... ugggh.

And now Lucas is doing a 3D post conversion to the Star Wars films, apparently. That should go well...
posted by zoogleplex at 9:44 PM on January 24, 2011


Thanks for that info about ShowScan, hyppybear; Brainstorm is one of my all-time favorite movies but I never knew about that.
posted by localroger at 5:31 AM on January 25, 2011


All living things with eyes have always focussed and converged at the same point.

Not true. Many animals don't have binocular vision. The reason why many birds, including robins, cock their head is to center an object in the field of vision of one eye. Human binocular vision is a product of our primate ancestry.

zoogleplex: And now Lucas is doing a 3D post conversion to the Star Wars films, apparently. That should go well...

Lucas is actually one of the few people I trust in the industry to pull it off and not have it look like complete trash. His bigger problems are a tin ear for pace, plot, and character.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:02 AM on January 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Roger Ebert's 3-D rant is close-minded and wrong:
I've had enough of this persnickety crusade, marching, as it does, under the banner of pseudoscience....

OK, let's not quibble with the idea that human beings might have evolved to jump away from oncoming automobiles on the prehistoric savannah. I'm more interested in the two notions that follow from this dubious logic. First, that we ought not consume any form of entertainment that doesn't derive from a selected biological trait; and, second, that standard flat-screen cinema is somehow better suited to our genetic makeup—more natural, I guess—than 3-D.

I wonder if Ebert really believes that the arts should cater to our Darwinian design, or that we're incapable of enjoying anything for which our brain wasn't delicately prewired. But in the event that he does, I'd only point out that such gimmicky and distracting art forms as, say, music, may very well be fiddling with our cortex in ways that have nothing to do with the fight-or-flight demands of a saber-toothed tiger attack.

It's just as silly to presume that viewing a film in 3-D is any less natural—from an evolutionary perspective or otherwise—than watching it flat. For starters, the human eye did not evolve to see elephants stomping across the Serengeti at 24 frames per second. Nor are we biologically attuned to jump cuts, or focus pulls, or the world seen through a rectangular box the sides of which happen to form a ratio of 1.85 to 1. Nor indeed was man designed to gaze at any image while having no control over which objects are in focus and which are blurry. If all those distinctly unnatural aspects of standard, two-dimensional cinema seem unobtrusive, it's only because we've had 125 years to get used to them.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:20 AM on January 26, 2011


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