If You Can’t Make It Good Make It 3D

19Sep11

One of the things that struck me from the reading is that, “media workers seek recognition and acclaim from their colleagues and not necessarily from citizens or consumers.”1 This idea was further cemented by thinking back on one of the Directors that I most admire as an artist: Alfred Hitchcock.  I mention Hitchcock because the man was a master of branding himself and catering to his target audience via a formulaic process.  Hitchcock is arguably one of the most successful directors in film history; however, he never won an Oscar as Best Director though he was nominated for the prestigious award five times over the course of his career.2  Why do I bring up this point?  Simply, I was always taught to know your audience and I do not understand why this simple rule is being neglected by the film industry in regard to 3D films.  You may ask, “What is the crazy student going on about?”

Recently there were several articles (IFC, Slate, and Screenrant) that have pronounced 3D filmmaking as dead and who is to blame?  It would seem that the studios are to blame as “those in charge of the format sacrificed long-term viability for short-term profits…”3 Basically, the long and short of what has happened is that after “Avatar”, the studios all wanted a piece of the 3D pie but they hadn’t been making 3D films (only a handful of films have been made in true 3D since “Avatar”) so the studios quickly manufactured a post-production 3D process, using rotoscoping, that converted 2D films into 3D films thus inundating the public with bad 3D films.  The unsuspecting public not realizing the difference between good 3D and bad 3D have all too gladly paid for the 3D branding and have been burned.

What’s the difference between bad 3D and good 3D?  Well, the problem with a post-production 3D process is that these films were shot in 2D, meaning the Director of Photography filmed them in a 2D style that was never intended for 3D.  You may ask so what does that mean?  Here are two examples that I witnessed of 2D shots that were converted into bad 3D: One, in “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”, there was a shot with an object (set dressing) in the foreground that pulled focus from an actor (upstaging the actor in 3D but the foreground object would have gone unnoticed in a conventional 2D shot). Two, many of the lanterns rising through the air at the climax of “Tangled” were too far forward in the foreground, which created eye strain in 3D but again would have gone unnoticed in a 2D shot.  If these shots had been set up by the Director of Photography with consideration for depth of field in the shot for 3D viewing then these problems would have been avoided.

3D “”…was just being applied liked a layer, purely for profit motive,” said James Cameron, who rates the quality of 3-D in dimensional fractions, 2.2-D or 2.5-D. According to this theory, high-end, “real” 3-D sells itself, while the crappy, cash-in conversions—the “fake” 3-D—destroys the brand.”4

The main problem now is that if we look at the following chart then we realize that 3D as an art form may go the way of the dinosaur long before it ever had the chance to shine.

What this means to me as a media artist is that this resurrected form of storytelling may be lost to me before I get to fully explore it due to the mindset of top level market logic management looking to cash in on a quick turnaround in profit without consideration to the long term effect on the artistic value of 3D as a cinematic storytelling tool.

Russell McGee

1M. Deuze, MediaWork, (Polity Press, Malden, MA, 2007), pp. 106.
2 IMDB, Alfred Hitchcock (I), WWW Document, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000033/
3M. Singer, The 3D movie revival (2009-2011), WWW Document, http://www.ifc.com/news/2011/09/theories-on-the-death-of-3d.php
4D. Engber, Who Killed 3D, WWW Document, http://www.slate.com/id/2303814/pagenum/all

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