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I’ve received a lot of emails on my post about Why 3D Does Not Work. Many agree, but some others seem to have problems with it.

For those left scratching their heads, here are five simple points:

  1. The 3D object exists on a 2D plane. There is no weight to this 3D object. It’s paper-thin.
  2. 3D effects draw attention to themselves and take us out of the film experience, distracting us from the narrative.
  3. 3D can cause a loss of sharpness to the image. Particularly in fast-paced sequences images can become blurred, losing clarity and resolution.
  4. Our eyes adjust quickly to 3D. We most likely will notice 3D effects at the start of a film but not at the end. If we’re not actually noticing it, it might as well be 2D, because:
  5. The ‘2D’ image already has an incredible depth that is totally convincing. It’s part of the reason why both photography and film have remained so powerful to this very day.

In 3D individual, isolated spectacles are most effective, for example a bubble leaving the screen and heading towards you, a fish swimming out from the ocean or a secret passageway extending deep into the screen.

3D is most effective as a novelty, not as a sustained visual system throughout a feature film. And there has not yet been a film to prove otherwise.

Photograph (US, J. R. Eyerman, 1952) of an audience at Bwana Devil. Originally published in Life Magazine, hosted by and co. of Google.

My post on Why 3D Doesn’t Work has proved to be both popular and contentious, so I thought I’d follow it up by making it clear that 3D is not the sole domain of multi-million dollar movies. 3D imagery is in fact a 19th Century technology.

Stereoscopic photography emerged around the late 1830s, soon after the development of photography itself. But the stereograph boom really occurred in the 1850s after its success at the 1851 Great Exhibition.

There is something endlessly fascinating about early stereoscopic views and they work in a far more delicate and beguiling way than the latest wave of 3D cinema. I urge you to seek out a stereoscopic viewer, whether in a museum or even seeking out your own online, or even make your own.

For more details about stereography  take a listen to this episode of Jeff Curto’s brilliant History of Photography podcast or visit these comprehensive links to stereoscopic photographs.

I leave you with a few interesting views:

Co. of Japan-in-America.

Co. of Wikipedia.

Co. of Stereoviews.com.

I was recently asked by the BBC to comment on whether Avatar would herald in a new revolutionary kind of cinema, and whether its CGI and 3D effects meant that it would be far more immersive and spectacular than anything we’d ever seen before. It’s a shame they asked me before the film had actually been released. On the radio I warned: ‘Don’t believe the hype’ and that turned out to be pretty much the case, except I wasn’t prepared for how bored I would be.

Here’s the real problem with 3D. The 3D plane that detaches itself from the screen and heads towards you is itself 2-dimensional, creating an effect that is explicitly artificial. Yet as the 3D effects continue our eyes adjust and we no longer notice it, as was the case in Coraline, Up and Avatar. 3D has to draw attention to itself to be noticed but by doing so distracts you from the film itself.

3D cinema breaks the primal illusion of cinema, that a flat image can appear to have depth. 3D suits its status as a novelty for good reason. It’s 2D cinema that’s the truly immersive experience.

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Christian Hayes
classicfilmshow@gmail.com
christianhayes.net
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