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The problem with 3D technology in modern cinema is that is it usually an unnecessary add-on designed to create false buzz and inflate ticket prices. Sure, occasionally a pick-axe or severed appendage will fly out of the screen and into your face, but it doesn’t really add anything to the overall experience. Say what you will about Avatar, but seeing that film in 3D was an experience unto itself. It truly was beautiful and it felt nothing like just “seeing” a movie. It felt like living through an event. I actually read that well-done 3D can trick your brain into storing movies in the place that it would normally store memories of real events. That said, most 3D movies trick your bain into spending money on them, sitting through them then storing the memories in the same place you lock away 4th grade wedgies, 5th grade accidental farts during book reports and 10th grade atomic wedgies.

Avatar showed us what 3D can be in the hands of someone that views it as a story telling medium unto itself, rather than just a gimmick. After watching Peter Jackson’s recent The Hobbit video diary, I feel like we might not be so quick to dismiss 3D as a flash in the pan studio money-grab. The tech he is developing and the techniques they are using to create The Hobbit are truly astounding. First of all they are shooting at 48 FPS (movies are 24FPS and we see around 60FPS) at 5K! That’s nearly 5 times more information than our best HD, being recorded at twice the frame rate. He says in the video that people equate viewing the footage to having the back of the theater cut out, and just watching real event happening on the other side. If that doesn’t get you excited, then your mind has surely been warped and twisted by Sauron. Also, by the last few Final Destination and Saw movies.

Perhaps we should start regulating what movies can and can’t be shot in 3D. Maybe there should be a test, or a review panel consisting of James Cameron, Peter Jackson and “Weird” Al Yankovic.

COMMENTERS: PLEASE WATCH THAT PRODUCTION DIARY! Ok, now are you feeling any sort of increased enthusiasm about 3D? If not, why? Where do you want to see this tech go? Obviously every movie doesn’t need to be in 3D. Where do we draw the line?

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58 Comments

  1. Okay, here's my deal with 3D:

    I'm farsighted, and every time I watch a 3D movie it gives me an eyestrain headache.

    No matter how good the movie is, no matter how well they utilized the 3D tech, I am always going to get eyestrain headaches from 3D (until they invent an entirely new way to make things 3D, and before you say it: the Nintendo 3D has the same problem).

    • Just kind of curious but since its the finest example of 3D I've see did you see Avatar? If that gave you a headache then I would say your probably screwed when it comes to watching 3D.

  2. Another very good example of 3D done right is Coraline. They put a lot of thought and effort into making it properly.

  3. I'm excited by the possibilities of 3D, I really am. I just refuse to be excited by a new Peter Jackson film. He's said himself (citation needed, yeah) that when he watches movies, what he really pays attention to is the special effects. Well and good, except he seems to believe that effects are all you need to make a great movie. He seems to forget about making the characters memorable and the story interesting. I won't get into specifics due to the risk of annoying people, but, man, did anyone else feel Jackson was just going crazy with his effects budget when he filmed LOTR and King King and forgot about the rest of the necessities?

        • Probably helps that he had original works that he had to keep his movies true to where as King Kong though has been made often over the years is little more than a monster movie. Though it's hard to make many sweeping statements about Peter Jackson's Filmography because since his modern work is largely LOTR and not much else.

    • I'm weary of Peter Jackson because he revealed himself to be a Big Fat Scab early on in this project. I know a lot of producers are probably guilty of the same thing, I know you can't really expect everything you see or consume to be made in a completely ethical way, but because he made such a big deal out of it, I am permanently boycotting giving-him-any-money.

      I know it's irrational to single this out, but his behaviour with the union in New Zealand was just soooo brazenly *scabby* that I just don't think I can enjoy anything with his name on it now.

  4. the major stumbling block is the glasses, And from my understanding the technology to make 3D sans glasses is still 5 years away form easily being mass produced.

    As for myself, I have astigmatism and I don't see 3D unless it's highly exaggerated. otherwise to me it just looks like a regular movie.

    • I have a similar problem, but I find it's possible for me to put my glasses on under the 3D glasses.

      Then I see 3D in all it's glory: as if all the action is happening within a two-foot rectangular box hovering inches from my face.

      Thrilling.

      (Incidentally, when I put my glasses on at all, the whole world around me jumps into 3D. Do you find that?)

  5. I was so disappointed with LOTR that the more bells and whistles PJ shoves into the Hobbit, the warier I get about the finished product. I'll wait until I see actual reviews of the 3D before plonking the extra shillings down.

  6. I can't see 3D because my eyes work independently like a chameleon's (strabismus), but this is the first time I feel like I'd be missing out on something. I suppose the 2D movie will be cool too, right?

  7. I think the problem with 3D movies is that the serious ones are big budget movies. Having a smaller budget movie would force the people involved to be more creative and innovative. Look at James Cameron's earlier films. The original Terminator had a budget of just $6 million and Aliens had a budget of $18 million. Aliens was made with only 6 xenomorph suits but they created the illusion that there were hundreds of those things.

    There also needs to be strong producers, writers, and other collaborators to keep the director's ego in check. Again, look at James Cameron's films. The quality of the writing declined in proportion to how much control Cameron had over his films. When he made Terminator, Cameron was a new director so he didn't have that much power, William Wisher helped him write the script, and Gale Ann Hurd was there to keep him from going too crazy. He had to be creative and work with very limited resources. Same thing with Aliens, The Abyss, and even Terminator 2, there were people there, especially Gale Ann Hurd, who were not afraid to tell Cameron when he fucked up. Once you get to Titanic and Avatar, Cameron had almost total control. There was really no one to keep his ego down. Cameron was not just the director, he was the writer, he was the producer, the co-producer is a pretty hands off guy, and none of the stars were famous or powerful enough to challenge him.

      • But Lucas is just a terrible director in the first place. Cameron at least knows how to get good performances out of his actors. He's also great with action and he knows how to effectively use special effects. Plus he's good with camera work and he's a competent editor. Cameron's problem is mainly with the writing while Lucas has problems with just about every aspect of movie making except maybe producing.

  8. Even after Avatar, I still don't buy 3D as more than a gimmick. It requires serious over-engineering of the image to provide a small benefit to those with the right vision profile, viewing position, and equipment. Deviation in any one of those fields obviates the limited gain from the inflated price, and even with the trifecta, one only has a visual bonus that is irrelevant to a quality movie with decent immersion. Dumping heavy effects on a weak movie is only painting over a cracked foundation, I'd rather read a book.

    As to PJ (initials used to denote a lack of respect) and his upcoming Hobbit, I'll likely give it a miss for more than just 3D issues. His comic-book re-imagining of Middle Earth leaves me cold, and leaves me to believe that his appreciation and understanding of the world is quite different than mine, and I think, rather thin.

  9. Say what you will about the quality of the individual films themselves, but I also thought Tron and Transformers: Dark of the Moon were perfect examples of great 3d use. In the former, the 3d was used to great effect in the virtual world, all the real world shots were 2d. So there was a real deliniation of the effect itself to serve the story. The virtual world inside the computer seemed both more real and less real as the 3d accentuated the computer generated parts.

    With Transformers, 3d forced Bay to slow down his action and fight sequences, and the 3d for the first time game me a sense of actual geography in fight sequences. Instead of a blurry confusing series of images, I was able to orient myself as to what was going on around me.

    I'm not sold on putting glasses on just to watch a movie. But I did just order a 3d samsung so I suppose I dragged myself kicking and screaming into the future.

    S.

    • im not sure if it was the theater we were in or what, but when I saw Tron: Legacy in 3D I never even noticed it. And i dont mean, "it was so subtle it didnt take over the movie." I mean I REALLY didnt notice it.

  10. I'm still not excited about 3D for pretty much the same reason everyone isn't. There's nothing there but gimmick, I watched Avatar twice in theaters first 3D then 2D and the primary difference was my lack of hatred for the glasses when watching 2D. It added a tiny bit of depth but never enough to make it exciting or in anyway special in comparison to the 2D version.

    3D in general I think will always be a gimmick because there's simply nothing adding to the story. I openly challenge everyone to prove that wrong, not just for me but for you cause you'll probably get labeled a genius/innovator/etc… for being the first to figure it out after nearly 100 years of 3D movies.

  11. Thanks for turning me on to these videos Joel! I love looking at the technical details of a shoot like that.

    I'm really eager to see how all this turns out myself. I don't mind when films are in 3D so long as they make interesting use of the technology, so I guess my line is "where ever it works." Films origins are rooted in spectacle, so I don't really mind a return to that, so long as it helps the film express its vision.

    Here's an odd thought I just had along those lines: If they ever remake Citizen Kane, it should be in 3D.

  12. Until we get true holographic movies, even the most ultra-super-mega-HD 3D will still cause eyestrain, headaches, and fatigue for many people.

    Why? Because in a 3D movie, the image (where your eyes focus) is always at a fixed distance (the screen), but the stereo images (where your eyes converge*) are at varying distances.

    This can never happen in real life, so our eyes and brains (which were built to focus and converge on things at the same distance) can get unhappy.

    *Convergence is the amount your eyes swivel in closer towards eachother as you look at closer objects.

    • There is an important misnomer, here: The "3D" movies, are only stereographic movies. These consist of only two images, one for each eye. The glasses and so on only separate (de-multiplex, to be technical) the information contained in what appears to be one image.
      A true 3D item is easily discernible, as one can move around, and see the sides of things. I used to try to look around things shown on TV, when I was very young—Man! that was frustrating! So, I have been sensitive to this issue for ages, it seems.
      In short: Sashazur has it right.

  13. Wait, it's going to be shot in 3D? I'll have to take 3D glasses into account for the costume I'm making for the premiere. Also, does this mean the Hobbit movie will be seared INTO MY BRAIN? And when we go senile decades from now we'll be telling the nursing home staff about the time we looked for treasure and were imprisoned by Thranduil?

  14. Last film I saw in 3D? The latest Final Destination film. Was the movie good? Not really. Did it utilize 3D well? … Kinda. There were long montages of stuff being destroyed and crashing into glass that was so over-the-top it made me chuckle. I have to say, it was one of two films I've seen that made the 3D an entertaining part of the film.

    The other was Megamind. I don't know, maybe it was just me, but they used the 3D to make everything look GORGEOUS. The water effects in particular were jaw-dropping. There was, if I remember correctly, a few gimmicky bits, but most of it seemed to be dedicated to making everything look a bit shinier.

    Ultimately, though, I don't like 3D, as most times films with it add a few 3D scenes just so they can have it and charge you extra. Not looking forward to 3D Hobbit, but I do think that they MIGHT be able to pull it off tastefully and well.

  15. Worth noting: Hitchcock filmed "Dial M for Murder" in 3D. If you watch closely you can see the signs of stuff that utilizes the Z axis for cinematography and editing. Have fun trying to find a print of it in 3D, though.

  16. I saw Avatar in 3-D, and, while the 3-D effects were better than average, it still didn't look quite "real" to me. Being near-sighted and astigmatic, I had to wear the 3-D glasses over my eyeglasses. I don't know if this affected the way the film looked to me or not, or if it might be something to do with my vision problems in general, but I have yet to see any film in 3-D that did look "real."

    Given that the Hobbit will be using a different approach than usual, I will probably give it a shot. I also know people who can't watch 3-D because it either gives them motion sickness, or they just can't see it properly. Don't know if the different techniques used in the Hobbit will work for any of them or not.

    BTW, love the "bug-eyed" Joel in this strip. Very funny. And is Eli buying all the beer in the store?

  17. For me, it's a non issue. Movies are "good" because they have a well written story that is well acted. Big, in your face 3D (like "Avatar") takes my focus away from the story and the acting. In the case of Avatar this was a good thing because the story and the acting were both…uh…not very good.

    I have the same reaction to massive CGI battles like we saw in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. There is so much on the screen It's hard to follow and doesn't add anything to the story.

    The Hobbit is going to be good because Peter Jackson is making it and Tolkien wrote it. Not because it's 3D.

  18. I have a 3d TV and I can say I absolutely love it… For gaming.

    I now have some 3d movies (Mostly Disney movies because they have more 3d than anyone right now) and they're alright, but basically offer no more of an interesting experience than the content offers on its own. Only Avitar is really enhanced by 3d.

    Now gaming, on the other hand, could not be better with 3D. Its totally immersive. If you thought Portal 2 was confusing when you were drunk, try when you're drunk and playing it in 3D. Its totally immersive and you can even more easily forget that life exists while playing it.

    Now, all that being said, I have an LG which has passive 3d tech. I cannot suggest this enough. Active tech is both way more expensive (Because I get glasses every time I see a movie in 3d now), and is way worse for your eyes. I can't deal with Active 3d for more than 20 minutes without getting a headache. Passive I can watch for hours.

  19. I guess I'm one of the lucky ones with vision problems that can see 3D, (Near sighted, but I pop in the contacts when I head to the theatre) and when it's done right, it's blown my mind. Avatar specifically comes to mind, because it wasn't pop-out 3D but gave depth to the movie. I agree with Jasontalley a couple posts above, 3D made Avatar better because it so highly enhanced the visual experience. I don't remember much about the movie except that it was absolutely beautiful.

    As for The Hobbit, I'm already wetting my pants with excitement. The fact that it'll be 3D, and done right (or so I hope, but don't doubt it will, given it's Jackson at the helm) makes me even more excited. Maybe I'm falling for the gimmick, but the claim of "cutting away the back of the theatre" has me even more wound up about it.

  20. When I saw Avatar in the theaters, the staff made a mistake and played the 2-D version for the first 20 minutes or so. They stopped the film, apologised, gave everyone vouchers for a free movie, then started it up again in 3-D. I have to say, the difference was more than just noticable, it changed the movie entirely. Now, since then I've yet to see another movie in 3-D. But seeing these videos sure gets me excited.

    Of course, Peter Jackson could make this thing in 1-D and I'd still watch it and praise the "revolutionary infinitely thin line cinematography".

  21. I feel like with any unique film shooting style 3D has it's place and can enhance an already good movie that uses special effects to aid in telling the story. The way Hollywood had thrown that technology at every movie is not what I would like to see from the technology. I feel like converting and shooting every movie in 3D is a mistake. At least Peter Jackson is concerned with the quality of the effects. When done properly 3D can truly help you become immersed in the world that your viewing. Avatar is the exact example that all Studios and Directors should use as to how to apply the technology.

  22. I'm actually looking forward to the Harold and Kumar movie in 3D. I'm a fan of 3D that takes itself seriously, don't get me wrong. But it's just so much cheese in the trailer alone, that it looks like it'll be a lot of fun!

  23. Someone planning to spend the day drinking beer thinks someone else is crazy? Um….

    “With a name like "Bro-Braü", you know it's gotta be great beer!”—or not.

    Besides: There is only one flying dinosaur. But you need to wear the glasses, to see it properly.

  24. I just really really really really really really really really really LOVED the two art guys DRAWING STORYBOARDS in 3D.

    To me, THAT is the coolest thing ever. Who needs a movie?

  25. When I saw Tangled in theatres, I found that the 3D added lots of texture and depth and beauty to an already gorgeously animated film. So far it's the only unobtrusive, not-so-gimmicky use of 3D I've seen, and I hope to see more like it.

    The thing about 3D is it's still in its infancy, so everyone's still going, "LOOK WHAT WE CAN DO!". Remember, color film was exploited for maximum gimmickry when it first came out, too ("That's a horse of a different color!", anyone?). It'll probably take at least another couple of years for the filmmakers to stop shoving paddle-balls, spears, bullets, yo-yos and mucus (to name just a few examples) in our faces just because they can.

  26. You know what sold me on The Hobbit's 3D?

    Those two concept artists sitting there, one with a red pencil and the other a blue one, each drawing slightly different versions of the same shot. The frakking pre-visualization is in 3D! This may not be completely new. Maybe they had a red and a blue pencil sketch side by side to show how that sword would poke your eye out in the POTC4 trailer, but this is the first I've seen of 3D concept art, and that got me psyched. This is clearly not some afterthought "Let's run the whole thing through a crappy 3D conversion so we can charge an extra $5 on every ticket."

  27. I'm sorry, but I'm just so excited. I really think that 3D is the way forward, as long as it's done well. Avatar is a sterling example of this. It's more than just a gimmick, it can add another dimension to the moviegoing experience. Jackson is quite clearly excited to be filming in 3D, and with that excitement; coupled with his drive and determination I think he could 'save' 3D.

  28. I didn't watch the production diary, but I am unenthused about any movie in 3D, as I don't have binocular vision. Everytime a movie comes out and the only theatres in reachable Houston show it only in 3D I die a little inside.

    • Depends on what source you consult. Since the human eye and brain don't actually perceive info in FPS strictly speaking, it's more of a best guest. Some believe that your eye can't discern the difference in 30 FPS video and 60 FPS video, while other studies show you can see well beyond 200 FPS. Your eye sees a certain amount of info (akin to 30 FPS) and your brain fills in the gaps with fake information that it has generated (pretty crazy), and the effective rate is something like 60 FPS.

  29. Dammit, retinal scarring. =
    Even my 3DS, while I can see the 3D, if I look at it for long at all (I mean more than 60 seconds) blinding pain int he good eye, and migraine like head pains.

    … and I really REALLY want to see Dredd in 3D.

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