cc licensed flickr photo shared by The Naughty Prata

I barely watch anything on my home TV screen (I don’t get a signal nor any cable, so its for DVDs only), so I’m not quite up to speed on the latest technology for 3-D video but it is a technology we try and track for the NMC Horizon project.

About the 3D film I’ve seen in the theaters was Avatar (saw it twice) and have to admit the 3D added something that grew better as you noticed it less, it was not like the gratuitous flyouts of shovels and guns that marked the cheesier and older 3d movies I saw longer ago.

The current issue of Wired magazine (18.10) (I get the dead tree version in my mailbox, I am now a throwback) got my brain spinning a little bit simply from the Rants section. I cannot say why it got me thinking, but I find its better to play it out than figure it out.

There were comments to the past Will Ferrel cover issue on the future in a column, Does Every Film Need to be in 3-D?.

One reader wrote

3-D is annoying and cumbersome and adds nothing to the story or plot.

I was nodding in agreement, but then thought longer- how does foley add directly to the plot? or makeup? or lighting? One might argue that they do so indirectly, but really are all about the recipe that mixes together to create the context for a plot to take place.

It got me thinking of a young Australian I met on one of my flights recently, He was in construction, as a plasterer, but talked excitedly about working on the set of a movie being shot on the Gold Coast of Australia that was using Avatar-like technology. He shrugged off “all I did was build steps for a scene”– and one could ask again, what does this guys plaster have to do with the plot?

I don’t think you can dismiss 3-D because it is not part of the plot.

Another comment in Wired:

Come back and talk to me when you have a universal standard and I don’t have to wear any damned glasses.

I agree that putting on the glasses adds to the sense of looking at something rather than being in the space, but there needs to be some device to generate the visual offset that creates the 3D affect. Again, during Avatar, I pretty much forgot I was wearing glasses.

But what I started thinking about that what we have seen so far is not really much 3-D, like maybe 2.4-D (?). What we get is looking at a 2-D screen where some elements appear to poke out and move towards me slightly, but its really not going too far out from the 2-D plane.

Now to me, a 3-D experience would be I am sitting in the middle of my living room, and the scenes would take place all around me- in front, to the sides,m behind, like sound can do now. And maybe I could navigate my way to different scenes?

But that again is not all that different from some of the 3-D game experiences. The thing about a movie (or a book) is that there is a narrative trail, a direct we follow or are lead. Most of the time it is in chronological sequence though this has been cleverly hacked. That narrative element seems important to me, even if allowed branching, because that is what makes it a story.

So I am trying to speculate what a plot would look like if it really was a full 3d experience.

That is as far as I got.

I remain on the skeptical side and seeing it like others as more of a gimmick; I am quite fine with a well developed story on a 2-D screen (or page)– they always work well when they can suspend your beliefs that being the power of story.

but hey, I would not mind being wrong at all. Bring it on 3-D… maybe it will convince me to sign up for cable.

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An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. I’m sheepling behind you. Not only do I not own a TV screen, I missed 3D Avatar in the theaters. Sigh…Not really. Not my kind of film.

    I agree that you can’t debunk the technology solely on the “need a good narrative” premise. But I think it’s legitimate to point out that it’s hyped so that we buy new TV.

    Life is 3D; go out and walk around the block damnit. Get a 3D life. Bark.

  2. Roger Ebert has a pretty good take on 3D in the movies.

    It reduces the brightness of the picture, lowering image quality. But, it also constrains the editorial possibilities – fast cuts from far to near to far fatigue the eyes, so 3d starts to shape the pace of action and the visual language used to tie shots together.

    But the biggest reason to resist 3D is that it gives Lucas yet another opportunity to bundle up the Star Wars saga to inflict upon us once more. Han shot first. In 3d.

  3. I expect it is not lost on you that 3D is actually DRM cloaked as aesthetic technology. It has very little to do with improving the narrative (or other) capacities of filmmaking and more to do with both ensuring continued bums-in-seats in large-screen cinemas and preventing piracy, especially of the cam variety.

    Personally, I am looking forward to dancing on the grave of 3D, especially 3D TV. Absolutely stupid and pointless. The only thing that makes it any bigger a sign of the end times is to actually watch Glenn Beck self-flagellating while tea-bagging Rush Limbaugh, all in 3D.

  4. Scott, that’s some sloppy reasoning there. As long as there’s a 2D version of the movie in theatres, the 3D version isn’t very effective at DRM (preventing screener cam versions).

    3D is all about giving yet another version to purchase. If you _really_ want to see the movie, you need to pony up the extra for the IMAX Real3D SurroundSound Smell-o-vision version. Did you see the movie 30 years ago in boring old 2D? Pay lots of money to see it again for the first time, in Simu-Real3D! *cough*Lucas*ahem*

    It’s a way to charge more for what can be advertised as innovation (even though it largely degrades the quality of the experience). It’s not about DRM, it’s about overcommercialization. There’s a difference.

  5. It’s not sloppy reasoning – they just haven’t moved into that phase of deployment yet. But it is absolutely about preventing piracy (along with providing an “enhanced” experience to either get more bums-in-seats or sell more DVDs). these are not mutally exclusive, and fairly soon you will start to see releases without 2D versions, or with 2D versions in some what delayed or greatly limited.

    Either way – go away 3D, you are boring me.

  6. I could see an argument for 3D being used to push digital projectors (with a layer of DRM) – I think most theatres around here went digital long ago.

    I really hope that Ebert is right, and that this 3D craze is just part a cycle, due for a backlash before fading into obscurity for another 20 years.

    The 3D TV and game console thing is crazy, too. Let’s cook an immature and crappy technology into some insanely expensive gadgets and see how many rich idiots will pony up… Sigh.

  7. I admit 3d is gimmicky and a money grab by the industry, but that doesn’t mean that some brave soul one day isn’t going to figure out how to realize an artistic vision that can only exist in 3d.

    I am not saying I can imagine the artistic use of 3d, but I will give any technology the benefit of the doubt. Moving pictures were probably thought to be gimmicky at one point as well. The problem is we are making and consuming 3d movies with the rules that were adopted for 2d films.

    Another example to look at in the 3d space is the 3d rides at disney world and other giant theme parks. I am not saying these are example of artistic non-gimmickry but the technology is much more impressive than what I have seen at the multiplex.

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