How to do 3-D
3-D Film Theory
3-D Film List
3-D Film Review
3-D Camera Build
21st Century 3-D
Stereoscopic film is more than a medium designed for thrill rides. It
is film with an extra axis, and because of that more of an engulfing,
interactive experience than any other broad audience entertainment. Stereoscopic
film touches its audience, and does so almost physically. Because of this
real depth, classic mise-en-scene goes out the window.
"3-D is not reality. It’s simply another way of creating an art form. 3-D is a total illusion, it’s not just adding something to heighten something else."
"The only hope for 3-D is that someone will come along with taste and understanding and do a good story without regard for the extremes of 3-D, using it in terms of story itself. There’s a real need for story, story, story."
"Three-D is the best visual medium ever invented. And it’s also the least understood and most abused. It’s just like having diamonds that are covered with dirt and saying they’re not worth anything. Three-D is not a lot of trouble if people understand what the potential is."
"If you try to stick things out of the screen at every opportunity it’s like asking a musician to always play loud. You know, ‘It’s always gotta be loud’. It’s really crazy."
So not one of the shots for The Polar Express was ever staged for stereoscopic viewing. Still, The Polar Express was a big success - but that could be more to do with its timing and subject; Christmas and Santa Claus. It never fails.
In general, this indifferent approach to the 3-dimensionality and stereoscopic staging has resulted for The Polar Express in an uneducated use of 3-D. Almost every shot has objects sticking out of the screen. This tires the eyes quickly and renders real visual treats with object out of the screen unimpressive. 3-Dness is, like any filmic technique, as impressive as it is unique in the whole of the film. It's all about relativity: if all shots are of maximum depth and use all available z-axis space, no one shot will stand out. On top of this, again because of the absence of 3-D planning when the film was created, there are not enough points of reference to establish the depth of scenes. This makes scenes recede and lose impact.
Time to ask Sony Pictures Imageworks (SPI) ourselves! As published in Australian New Media Magazine 'Digital Media World', here's us asking digital Effects supervisor Rob Engle the questions that nobody else did. Q&A with SPI on the Polar Express 3-D (Click to open interview)
Presentation limitations aside, is the stereoscopic factor a valuable asset to film, or is it just a gimmick? Stereoscopics are being perceived by the industry as the ultimate visual extravaganza for film, but too complicated or expensive for its own good. Because of this, mostly only short, special films are being recorded in 3-D. Like ride-films for theme parks or IMAX theatre showings. This exclusiveness has made today’s public associate 3-D film with the thrill-ride film, the IMAX, and their effect-driven content. Sometimes, however, a flat narrative film incorporates short pieces of 3-D film for its special look and attraction to audiences - like the ending of Nightmare on Elmstreet - Part 6 in 1983.
On rare occasions, a big Hollywood director might even decide to incorporate 3-D into his or her film for reasons of content. Francis Ford Coppola is one of those directors, and 'Bram Stoker's Dracula' was to be the film. It is not strange that especially Coppola should think of the 3-D option, for he directed 'Captain EO' - the 3-D film attraction at Disneyland (now closed down and replaced by 'Honey, I shrunk the audience').
Jim Steranko, the film’s project conceptualist:
In all, three major sequences would utilize the 3-D process. One was a dream sequence aboard a train when Mina and Van Helsing are traveling to Transylvania as Van Helsing sends Mina into a hypnotic trance, sections of the railroad car vanish, beginning with the roof. Overhead we see clouds . . . rushing past in accelerated motion, phantasmagorically. Last, the climactic chase to the gates of Castle Dracula would be enhanced by the process. Dracula, being a master of the elements, created a kind of earthquake. He commanded the ground itself to open up. There was a scene where Dracula rallies the elements [lightning, fire] . . . and this had to do with the sun going down - because they could get to him and stake him through the heart, cut off his head if they could get to him before sundown."
But the notion of filming these potentially dynamic scenes in 3-D was
somehow lost in the shuffle. "My guess is because Francis was determined
to bring this picture in on schedule and under budget. There were numerous
problems along the way that probably could have changed that. But my guess
is that, shooting in 3-D, the manufacture of masks, the distribution of
them to the audience to put on - that whole process would have complicated
the filmmaking schedule perhaps to the point where it would have jeopardized
his requirement that he bring the picture in on time and under budget.
The picture was already complicated."
A total of about 150 stereoscopic features for cinematic release were produced up until 2006. A list of productions incorporating 3-D in any way would number over 300. However, only 150 of these 300 films consist of stereoscopic sequences only. To see the actual list of all 3-D films ever released, go to the 3-D Film List section right here on The 3-D Revolution website.
Usually the full-length features incorporate a clearly defined piece of the film where the stereoscopic segment starts and audience has to put on the 3-D glasses. A perfect example of integration of this 'Now is the time to put on your glasses' in the story of the film is the stereoscopic bit in Freddy's Dead: the final Nightmare (1991) where the main character has to put on 3-D glasses herself to be able to distinct between the nightmare world of Freddy Krueger and the real world she wants to get back to. So the moment she puts on the glasses, the film shows the 3-D part, and the moment she takes them off again, the 3-D part is over. Spy Kids 3-D (2003) outdoes this clarity by flashing the words "Glasses On" and "Glasses Off" on the screen. It also features and explanatory sequence in which this process of putting on the glasses and taking them off again is carefully examined, step-by-step. This somewhat mimics the 1950's tradition of having the film's producer talk to the audience about why and how to wear the 3-D glasses. Just imagine getting it wrong!
Films with this short a 3-D sequence are part of the 150 'partly 3-D films' list.
To clear up a general misconception about 3-D movies: anaglyphic stereoscopics - being red-blue 3-D - are mostly used in films with short 3-D scenes and 3-D films with a moderate distribution budget. This, because with anaglyphics only the glasses need distribution and no projection adapter is required in any theatre. Also, re-issued versions of 1950ties movies during the 1980ties revival of the 3D film sometimes used anaglyphics because of these very reasons.
Most 3-D films, however, used - and still do so - the polarized system where polarized lenses separate the left and right eye image through matching polarized lenses on the viewers glasses. This means that full colour, no hassle, no headache films have been around since the start of the polarised 3-D film tradition in the 1950ties.
Modern electronics allow for IMAX theatres to use rapid shutterglass technology - left eye glass blacks out, right eye glass clears up, and invertedly so 1/48th of a second later - a process expanded upon by Real-D's polarizing shutter projection, which requires the audience to wear regular polarised glasses. Read more about these different display technologies in the 21st Century 3-D or the 3-D Script to Screen section.
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