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What is our problem with 3D?

4th March 11

Posted by Mel Exon

Posted in Film, technology

Author: Alice Bullimore (@alicebmore), Producer, BBH London

Poor 3D.  It’s been around forever yet we still don’t seem to be able to make up our minds on whether it’s any good or not.

It’s exactly one year since we partnered with Burberry to stream their show live in 3D to 5 VIP locations. Everyone was excited about Avatar. We wanted to give the fashion elite from Paris, Dubai, Tokyo, Los Angeles and New York a real-time experience of the show that trumped watching a standard webstream at your desk. It was the first ever global live simulcast in 3D.

However I doubt Roger Ebert would have bothered.

He argued recently that our brains just can’t handle 3D visuals and it gives us all a headache. ”It doesn’t work with our brains and it never will” he categorically states.  He quotes a letter from Walter Murch who argues a fundamental convergence/focus issue when watching 3D that “requires us to focus at one distance and converge at another. And 600 million years of evolution has never presented this problem before.”  As far as Mr Ebert is concerned, that’s it. “3D doesn’t work and never will. Case closed.”

Except with 508 comments on his post and counting, it seems the case is not completely closed for the rest of us.

Now, these guys are clearly dons. Ebert is a Pulitzer prize winning film critic who’s written for the Sun Times forever and Murch, an award winning editor and sound designer who won an Oscar for his sound editing on Apocalypse Now and the English Patient.

But is it that black and white?

Does it have to be 2D versus 3D?

The main points leveled against 3D in this debate are worth digging a little deeper on.

1. 3D doesn’t work with our brains and gives us headaches

Look, I feel sorry for the dudes who get headaches, but that’s clearly not the case for everyone. Personally, Avatar and Tron at the IMAX were extraordinary to watch. Full feature length viewing, completely headache free. Sure, these films won’t win Oscars for their plots, but for the pure visual epic-ness of it all, they were stunning.

2. 3D doesn’t enhance the emotional experience of watching a film

Sure, there are films which have no reason to be in 3D. But studios are hard wired to make money and making a film like Yogi in 3D might just make the difference between box office success and failure.  When watching Tron at the IMAX, billed as a 3D film, a lot of the scenes were actually in 2D. The 3D was used where it could create most impact. Similarly, for the VIP guests watching the Burberry show, the format suited the content.  A long catwalk with models striding out towards you and the shortness of a show made it an ideal 3D viewing experience. 3D can still work well, when used well. The detractors seem to be in denial that there is emotional impact in the sheer wow factor of a great 3D experience.

3. Is 3D here to stay or is it today’s betamax?

Dramatic falls in DVD sales will require Hollywood and TV manufacturers to push whatever the next difficult-to-pirate camera technique is. Other than Cameron, few of the top Hollywood directors have gone for it though. 3D’s real home might be end up in gaming. I can’t wait to see the Nintendo 3DS (which looks amazing – you can even turn it ‘up’ from 2D to 3D just like turning up the volume).

Bring on the future I say.

Bring on different types of visual and sonic exploration.

Why not explore all the ways we can use the senses to give a heightened viewing experience (what did happen to smell-o-vision?). There may be some betamaxes along the way, but going to see a 3D film is still a special shared experience.

For a start, we get to laugh at each other looking goofy in the glasses (for the time being at least)…

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