Does 3D Work?

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The debate whether 3D technology is necessary has basically boiled down to one question: Does the technology even work? Leading the anti 3D group has been Roger Ebert. Vehemently against the technology, he’s posted time and time again his reasons to why he doesn’t believe it’s worth our time and money. In his post “Why I Hate 3-D (And You Should Too),” he argues that the image is always darker than the 2D version, and it rarely provides an experience that’s worth the extra money. In addition to making some of us nauseous and being a distraction, he said that our brain, which is already used to seeing things in the third dimension, automatically converts what we see on the screen. His most poignant argument, however, comes from the fact that he believes Hollywood is dumbing down entertainment and losing the importance of story, not visual tricks, in movies:

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. Disney recently announced it will make no more traditional films at all, focusing entirely on animation, franchises, and superheroes. I have the sense that younger Hollywood is losing the instinctive feeling for story and quality that generations of executives possessed. It’s all about the marketing. Hollywood needs a projection system that is suitable for all kinds of films—every film—and is hands-down better than anything audiences have ever seen. The marketing executives are right that audiences will come to see a premium viewing experience they can’t get at home. But they’re betting on the wrong experience.

He also posts a letter from famed film editor and sound designer Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now, The English Patient, Cold Mountain), who explains why 3D technically doesn’t work. It’s a convergence and focus issue, he explains:

But the deeper problem is that the audience must focus their eyes at the plane of the screen — say it is 80 feet away. This is constant no matter what.

But their eyes must converge at perhaps 10 feet away, then 60 feet, then 120 feet, and so on, depending on what the illusion is. So 3D films require us to focus at one distance and converge at another. And 600 million years of evolution has never presented this problem before. All living things with eyes have always focussed and converged at the same point.

If we look at the salt shaker on the table, close to us, we focus at six feet and our eyeballs converge (tilt in) at six feet. Imagine the base of a triangle between your eyes and the apex of the triangle resting on the thing you are looking at. But then look out the window and you focus at sixty feet and converge also at sixty feet. That imaginary triangle has now “opened up” so that your lines of sight are almost — almost — parallel to each other.

We can do this. 3D films would not work if we couldn’t. But it is like tapping your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time, difficult. So the “CPU” of our perceptual brain has to work extra hard, which is why after 20 minutes or so many people get headaches. They are doing something that 600 million years of evolution never prepared them for. This is a deep problem, which no amount of technical tweaking can fix. Nothing will fix it short of producing true “holographic” images.

As a counterpoint, Slate’s Daniel Engber argues that it’s about time for Ebert to quit griping about 3D. If our eyes are already used to seeing in 3D, then what’s the difference if we see a movie in 3D? He says it adds a different experience – the bonus of binocular disparity – which can bring us in to the movie and add to the suspense:

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.

Personally some movies like Avatar I don’t think I would would watch any other way because 3D makes the movie an experience and really helps you enter the world of Pandora. I do like to have my options though, and it does get annoying when I can’t watch a regular movie in 2D because there are only 3D versions out there. I don’t think adding another dimension to classics like The Godfather or A Clockwork Orange will make a difference because people are drawn to these movies because of the high level of storytelling skill it took to make them. What do you think?

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