Sunday, April 24, 2011

Some philosophizing on 3D

I sent this message out to our 3D video and animation email list at IU and thought that I'd post it here as well (somewhat truncated).  It lays out my current philosophy on stereoscopic 3D which, of course, is subject to change as I learn more and make more movies.  Here ya go.

Fact: color movies were (and still are) more costly to shoot than black & white. {same with 2D vs 3D}

Fact: extra training is needed to shoot with color film than with black & white (lighting needs and slower film speed mostly). {same with 2D vs 3D}

Fact: early color efforts really looked terrible, the process was still developing (please pardon the pun). {same with 2D vs 3D}

Fact: later color processes (e.g. Technicolor) improved the fidelity significantly and people started to want to pay more.  You want to see and all black & white Wizard of Oz (which has a lot of tech parallels with Coraline if you consider color == 3D for story purposes)

Now, on to some real quotes from the early era:
“The process of Color motion picture photography [has] never been would tire and distract the eye, take attention from faces and acting and facial expression, blur and confuse the action....” Douglas Fairbanks, 1930
‘Whether color can make black and white pictures as obsolete as sound made silent pictures, is, as suggested, quite another question. The silent picture was slain overnight by the jawbone of Al Jolson, whose Jazz Singer threw a hitherto sceptical industry bodily into speaking likenesses. But color is not so pronounced a revolution as sound’  Fortune Magazine, 1934
I don't think: sound == color == stereoscopic 3D

I do think, however, that these progressions are stepping stones to increasing the fidelity of the tools to make movies.  If writers, directors, stereographers, cinematographers choose to use these tools to convey story, great.  If they're there for emotional impact, great.  If they're there for eye candy, great.  If you got a reason to use (sound, color, 3D), great, use 'em!

People still make silent movies (albeit with a score usually) today in the 21st century.  People still make black & white movies (albeit with a slight bit of chroma from time to time {e.g. Schindler's List, girl with the red coat} but not always) today in the 21st century.  People still make flat movies today (albeit with 3D graphics and effects rendered monoscopically) in the 21st century.

Content creators are going to use the tools that they choose to use and the language of those tools will continue to evolve. There are established norms and expectations for the use of sound (atmospherics, score {Jaws, any monster movie}, effects on voices {guard programs in TRON: Legacy}).  There are established norms and expectations for the use of color (woman in the red dress, cowboy in the black hat, bon vivant in the colorful suit, etc.).  These technological tools have had decades of fairly common use to figure these things out.  The first 3D movie screened for tickets was back in 1922 (The Power of Love), then not again until 1952 (Bwana Devil), both of which had mediocre reception. 1953 saw the much more successful release of House of Wax, made for $1 million and has a lifetime gross of $23.7 million (I wish I had invested in that production!).  I can't find a breakdown of 2D vs 3D ticket sales, but that type of movie lends itself to 3D.

Would Bleak House be improved in 3D?  Perhaps, but I'm not confident that the knowledge of 3D and polish of the tools available to create in today 3D are at the level needed to make ANY movie as good or better in 3D.  Some movies will just benefit right out of the gate, some may NEVER benefit.  How would Casablanca look in color?  Or as a silent?
"Of all the gin joints in all the world, she has to talk into mine."
That just sucks as a title card compared to Bogie acting it for a talkie.

Some movies just aren't going to be better in 3D and if they aren't better you'll have a much harder time justifying the added cost.  On the flip side, if a movie would have been killer in 3D, but was shot flat due to budget, that's just a crying shame.  Gone with the Wind as a black & white?  Yes, it still would have been a classic movie, but would it have had the same staying power and punch that it has enjoyed all this time?

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