How to do 3-D
3-D Film Theory
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3-D Film Review
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21st Century 3-D
Framing can enforce the narrative of a film, like with the shot of The Searchers in still 2.0. Here, the cowboy is the protagonist who has to choose between civilization and the wild. Before going either way, he pauses in the doorway of the cabin, illustrating his inner struggle with this choice. It is important for this particular shot that the man be a silhouette, blending in with the darkness of the cabin and being contrasted with the bright outdoor scene. In this way, the shot draws strength, and even its right for existence, from its composition and especially from its flatness - the indoor and the outdoor are presented in the same plane.
An example of framing that tells of relationships and power can be seen
in still 2.1, where the optical illusion is given of the man being very
small and lying on the screen, on top of the ladies. This signifies their
playful approach to men and ultimately their power over them in relationships.
Again, the flatness of the frame makes the existence of this shot and
its semiotic meanings possible. This optical trick is off the menu with
3-D framing, since the man would show to be lying far away, taking him
off his supposed position on the steel frame of the screen. A different
approach to achieve the same semiotic meaning must be employed in 3-D.
How can 3-D framing, especially with regard to the third axis, contribute to the narrative of a film? This is the key question of 3-D framing. And what is framing in depth anyway? Especially in abstract framing, like in musicals or in paintings, the flat quality of the picture, presenting a geometrical order, would suffer from three-dimensional presentation. Added depth draws the attention to the depth itself, attracting the eye away from the overall composition of the picture. The stereoscopic image makes looking at its overall composition difficult, since the brain is compelled to scan into the depth.
To understand what space in film is, we must look at how mise-en-scene defines it. Bordwell & Thomson define mise-en-scene in relation to space in the following way:
The 2D image displays a composition within a frame, just as a still photograph or painting would. The arrangement of the mise-en-scene creates the composition of the screen space. That two-dimensional composition consists of the organization of shapes, textures, and patterns of light and dark. In most films, though, the composition also represents a three-dimensional space in which the action occurs. Since the image projected on the screen is flat, the mise-en-scene must give the audience cues that will enable us to infer the three-dimensionality of the scene. The filmmaker uses mise-en-scene to guide our attention across the screen, shaping our sense of the space that is represented and emphasizing certain parts of it. In cinema, our vision is attuned to changes of several kinds: movement, colour differences, balance of distinct components, and variations in size. Our sensitivity to these changes allows the filmmaker to direct our notice across the two-dimensional space of the frame.
So in the 2D image space is defined by elements that cue a feeling of space and depth - and distance, where the 3D image need not do this at all. So 3D film will employ a different mise-en-scene all together, leaving space and depth cues behind. Then does 3D film attune our vision by closeness of scene objects? The need for distinction through colour disappears, but a new powerful tool for the filmmaker arrives with the possibility of contrasting actual depth and traditional 2D depth cues.
Bordwell & Thomson:
The use of a telephoto lens in the example of still 2.6 makes for the blending
of all planes, from the man in the foreground to the airport and the city
in the background. In still 2.7, the men are sitting at a clear position
at the table, but the overhanging flooding light fuses them into a unity.
Would these shots work in 3-D? They will certainly be read differently.
A different approach will need to be employed.
Illustration 2.8 compared to 2.9 is a fine example of the difference between literacy and abstract representation. It's the same scene, painted by the same painter, but the abstract version was done two years later, when Cezanne had started experimenting with impressionist representation. Neither one of the paintings is more beautiful or better in a technical way, but the abstract painting is what made Cezanne unique and ultimately famous and an example to future painters. It's all about imagination, personal vision, putting emotion in every stroke of the brush. It's unique because of these qualities and can be an example to other painters, but it's never a rule of conduct.
Playing with planes, representation and possibilities of abstract imagery
means new possibilities for the 3-D filmmaker when it comes to truth of
volume, size and spatial relations. An actor or object can be given special
meaning by changing its volume or size and where this would not show in
a 2-D film at all, in a 3-D film this would mean a new semiotic tool. Difference
between cardboard flat scenes and volumetric 3-D scenes can tell a story
or enforce an emotion conveyed by the cinematography. Just imagine the bizarre
new meaning the subjective reality cue of the focus pull gets when it is
performed in a 3-D shot. The same goes for varying the length of lenses
and depth of field blurriness; it's like guiding the viewer through a stage
What happens for example, when these compositions filmed by Godard are presented in 3-D? The power of the image lies in the absence or presence of depth cues, and the images play with the brains way to distinct and to give order of importance to the scene presented. A 3-D presentation of these images would destroy the whole premise of them, and thus this sort of playing with composition has to be approached in a different matter in 3-D.
Or, as it is still very possible, a cardboard flat part of the film starts
to present these images, to eventually continue in volumetric imagery -
playing even more with the viewer and its perception of depth and scenery.
An excellent example of imagery that could suffer from 3-D presentation is the cinematography of Film Noir. Through the use of light and shadows, a lot of information is provided concerning the place of the characters in their world. This is especially so when it comes to anti-hero detectives who never seem to fully walk out of the shadows, joined at that by a ‘femme fatale’, while the ‘saving angel’-type of a girl never touches that shadow. Narrow patches of light can then focus the viewer’s attention on a face or a prop, important to story and character development. Also, a flat lighting model can signify the flatness of a character. How many 3-D films employ anything but a flat lighting model – almost all do.
These compositions of 'absence of shadow' and 'volume through light' are designed to create more than just depth cues and positional relationship; they connect with the sort of use of light and darkness that paintings of Grandmasters make their subject matter so much more than just a truthful replica of reality. This composition works as a flat illustration, greatly due to blending of dark areas and unclear spatial relationships. What then if these cinematographic paintings are given depth and the power of ambivalence is removed through clear signifying of depth, spatial relationship and inevitably omnipresent volume? Does flat lighting really need to be employed in 3-D for effective cinematography? 3-D film-noir can be a reality but the approach would have to be a bit more careful in the lighting department.
However, when the full flat lighting model of most stereoscopic films is
used for the vérité art form of documentary filming, much
power can be drawn from the its realistic qualities. Weaknesses in (narrative)
compository film become strengths in realistic film.
So does this notion imply friction between narrative cinema and the thrill-ride, when shot in 3-D? When watching a 2-D narrative movie, the viewer assumes a different watching role than with the experience of a point-of-view movie. The first being an abstract mode of understanding the narrative; identifying with characters, expecting a certain mode of story, and being exited or surprised when the story actually unfolds as the viewer anticipated.
Then the viewer is subconsciously decoding the semiotic hints offered, making the whole movie experience an intricate process of living along with the story being told. So this is more of an emotional experience, drawing the viewer into the movie on an intellectual level, while still enabling the viewer to distinct between the screen and reality because of the easy option to look away from the screen. Composition can help to enforce the dramatic visual way in which the story is presented, and can aid the narrative in providing semiotic elements, or become the way of telling the story in itself.
Action in 2-D narrative film needs to be motivated by story, and is only
interesting when it serves the story to develop in a more dramatic way.
How can stereoscopic 3-D film employ its third dimension in a way that is serving the narrative rather than moulding a story around three-dimensional movement? Admitted, most 2-D narrative films mould their stories around central emotional factors in a similar way that 3-D films adapt story to third axis movement.
The notion of the stage play is an important signifier for 3-D film and its overlapping relation with theatre, film and fun-ride short film. Since the 3-D film enables the filmmaker to present actors and props as if they existed in a space ranging from infinity to right up close to the viewer, that viewer will judge the presented imagery as it would a theatre production. Physicality is a keyword in this comparison. So 3-D film takes one step back, whilst taking one step forward in the development of audio-visual presentation. It presents itself as a physical theatre play, but does this by the rules of cinema - an art form directly derivative from the theatre play. Then what are the rules for theatre staging - differing from cinema staging?
And do 3-D filmmakers realize that they can abandon cinema rules, set up for the premise of the flat canvas having to look like a three-dimensional space, only to present a perfectly controlled theatre piece where anything can happen visually and in audio? Perhaps the most important difference in staging comes from the two-dimensional medium's use of signifying interpersonal relationship by composition. Size, position and most importantly, eye-line, signify the position of domination and struggle for power - a predominant factor of visual narrative.
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