Going 3D won’t hide your one dimensional characters

It is clear to see that when it comes to going out to the cinema, 3D is the way to go. Such a high percentage of films are being released in 3D these days that they take up a vast majority of the viewing schedule. Combine the mainstream appeal and monetary bonuses from showing these films in 3D, and you really can’t blame cinemas for preferring the new format. It makes good economic sense to show more with the higher profit margin, particularly if you can ensure that this new format has a monopoly during peak hours.

However, last week the extortionate price of the format hit me again. I was using Orange Wednesday’s 2 for 1 offer, and was charged £2 for each second ticket. This was because under the terms and conditions of the Orange offer, you are entitled to a free standard ticket but the individual cinema can chose as to whether it charges for any upgrades such as 3D, premium seats etc. It therefore cost me £25 for four tickets when using the Orange offer of 2 for 1. It is at this point that it becomes excessive, when it costs the same for a triple format Blu-Ray as it would for 4 people to see it at the cinema WITH DISCOUNTS! If you hadn’t got this offer and didn’t have 3D glasses (which it must be noted are NOT included in the £25 quote above) then a night for two at the cinema would cost £23.

The reason why I find this so objectionable is that 3D does not in my opinion add value but actually detract it. I must add that I’m not a sufferer of headaches from 3D films, but others are. I’ve even know one friend actually feel dizzy from the experience, though this was whilst viewing on a large IMAX screen. This has been what the vast majority of conversations I’ve had about 3D are primarily concerned with, the side effects and not the supposed added bonus.

Before I go on to discuss the actual effect of 3D let me first clarify the different flavours that are available. The first is those that are shot in 3D. This is essentially using 2 cameras positioned so that they simulate a pair of human eyes. You then show each camera’s footage to only the corresponding eye, thereby giving a realistic 3D effect. These can arguably add value, as the effect is genuinely immersive. Provided that the special effects are inserted correctly, this can work really well. Rather than trying to include gimmicky shots of objects flying at the audience, the idea is to create a depth within the image that the viewer becomes accustomed to and accepts. The idea is that like other special effects, the impact is not noticed and it just becomes part of the experience. This was achieved in Avatar for example, when I forgot several times that I was watching a 3D film and had just accepted the fact the world had depth.

The other kind is post production conversion of one camera’s footage to have depth. This requires manually editing each frame to have an altered version of the raw footage so as to fool the eye that there is depth. This process is not a simple one and cannot simply be done by a computer algorithm. The outlines of shapes cannot always be identified in an image, due to blurring, lighting and other variables. It is therefore necessary to do this process by hand afterwards, and the amount spent on it defines how good it looks. Clash of the Titans was one of the most notoriously bad post conversion jobs, as the outlines selected were not always accurate. Background characters heads were missing and other such errors led to a distracting viewing experience. This was later blamed on lack of budget, compressed timescale and the virgin state of the technology, but either way, it showed the problems of converting to 3D.

Conversely however, it showed the benefits as well. The films was trashed by critics, particularly for its 3D nature, but it made a big return. This has thus been the motivation for the 3D trade, financial reward. The format has helped boost returns of films substantially and both Alice in Wonderland and Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs have managed to be within the top twenty highest grossing films of all time (positions six and nineteen respectively at time of writing) despite being critically panned.

It is however not artistically beneficial to do it. Those involved with shooting the raw footage were concentrating on getting their focus, composition and balance right. When you change this to 3D, all these things change. Through the lenticular lenses, the image appears darker and it can be harder to determine details. The composition is changed entirely by rendering the image in three dimensions, which in turn means that the focussing is problematic. I’m often annoyed by 3D conversions, or even ones poorly shot in 3D, that have foreground objects that aren’t in focus. The 3D image will be seen by my eye as real, and it will thus have to adjust its focal length depending on what it wants to focus on. The illusion of reality is thus spoiled when a quick cut averts your eye to focus on something that the 2D cameras weren’t focusing on. With a flat image, you just have to change where you’re looking to be in the right focus, but 3D is thus more work.

I think that there are some valid uses of 3D visuals and some films can work in the format. I thought on seeing Avatar that it had enhanced the experience, though that could have been because of the IMAX screen on which I saw it. It could have however been due to Cameron’s direction, as he always wanted it to be a 3d feature. It’s possible that due to this keen passion for the format, he was willing to alter his directorial style and manner to ensure that it was optimised for three dimensions rather than two. I think that for most animations, it is acceptable, as the objects they are rendering are actually created in three dimensions. The focussing problem is also easier to prevent, as the camera is different. With motion capture footage too, objects that were very out of focus can be corrected, as it were.

There are some however that really don’t benefit from the format, but are made worse by poor execution. Thor was a post conversion job that really was not very good in some places and made me feel like Marvel were cashing in. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was shot in 3D, but the focussing problem loomed repeatedly and the darker picture made it hard to follow the film at points.

It is however hard to say what can be done. The cinemas have complete control on what films they show and while many of us are not fussed on paying the extra, at the peak times when we want to meet up with our friends to see the latest release, the chances of a 2D version being shown are low. I would suggest waiting until release on Blu-Ray makes financial sense, but it avoids both the experience and the advanced viewing that cinema allows. I really have no advice to give unfortunately, but it is something I see very little value in terms of enjoyment. Some films I do want to see in 3D, those that are being made for the format. Tintin for example is one that I will most certainly be watching in 3D at the cinema. Captain America however, I’d rather see in flat form.

So what are your thoughts? Do you like it, do you think it will last or is this just a phase? And if you agree with me on it being over priced, what do you think can be done about it?


One thought on “Going 3D won’t hide your one dimensional characters

  1. ChrisJ

    For me the 3D effect gets lost as my eyes naturally revert back to 2D most of the time unless I remember and then the world goes 3D again. Apparently though this is a common problem as even Johnny Depp can’t see in 3D, instead seeing the world in 2D. It’s also quite common for people who have an astigmatism not to be able to see the 3D effect from polarising glasses. As I have an astigmatism this probably would go to explaining why.

    I tend to get much more out of the high-definition of the cinema instead, recently getting my first Blueray disc the high definition really does make the film much more immersive for me that 3D did in the cinema.

    There are some scenes however that really get the 3D working and as part of the action. The “Test Flight” from How to train your dragon, flight scenes in Ice Age 3D, or where an object is being thrown past the camera are especially good and make the whole experience so much more. I thought the 3D particle effects in Avatar, and making each console 3D on the base also really made it and also reminded me that I was seeing a 3D film. Generally I wish films added an extra element with reset my 3D sight, such as have something very close to the camera, something else a long way away and the action in the middle, whereas they tend to have the action in the middle scene and the background. This may though highly the granularity of the level of 3D different people can see up to.

    After watching Despicable me again recently it’s quite obvious when they wanted to really prove the 3D point. Such as when the spaceship crash landed having the tip drive towards the audience, I know it’s cheesy but for me it makes it a little more immersive. Also the scene at the end with the minions trying to get as close as they can to the audience was incredibly engaging and really demonstrated the 3D aspect.

    I would have preferred seeing Pirates of the Caribbean in 2D, and after watching the film in 3D I was proven right. There just didn’t seem to be enough 3D definition which warranted it to be used and nothing really stood out at me which would have made the storyline better with the 3D added.

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