Cheap 3D Tricks

I had the pleasure of seeing my first 2010 3D movie today, Tim Burton’s adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. The film takes place in Alice’s later years, and her return to Underland holds the mission of dethroning the Red Queen and slaying the Jabberwocky.The story of Alice and the setting of the fantastical Underland all serve as excellent examples of how 3D’s strengths lie in bringing fantasy to life.

Alice, and the audience, follow the Chesire Cat into a world of wonder

As discussed previously, one of the fears behind the sudden surge of 3D films is that it will be overused. I hold this same concern, but in the sense that it will be overused in films whose genres do not warrant the technology’s use. 3D, in my view, is best utilized when the following criteria exist: a) the visuals are largely (if not entirely) digital or constructed in some manner, and b) the genre or story is rooted in fantasy/the fantastic (this can include science fiction, horror, and often children’s animated films). In short, 3D is best utilized when it is making the unreal and fantastic seem realistic.

This likely (and rightly) seems paradoxical, in that I am suggesting that an effect that is rooted in creating a realistic experience is best incorporated in situations of obvious fantasy.  I believe this, however, because as realistic as 3D may render a image, it is an effect, one that we are aware of and one that is not perfect in the sense that it does not match our realities exactly. Thus, when it is applied to images that closely match what we perceive as real, we notice what deviates from our reality and thus become distracted by the “mistakes” that exist in this creation. Such distraction takes away from immersion in this particular world, and may lead to annoyance with the effects that are attempting to (inadequately) bring it to life.

Fantasy, on the other hand, creates a world that may resemble our own at the most basic levels of recognition (seeing motion, looking at plant and animal life, etc), but beyond that, has created its own rules for how its inhabitants look and function. As such, when an audience watches a fantasy, an audience can accept that fantasy as reality for the time being, and in turn, become more immersed when that fantasy is brought to life by digital effects and, in the case of Alice and other films like it, the 3D. When one is viewing the world of Underland, one is not distracted by its deviation from reality due to the digital effects and the 3D motion, as the world itself already deviates from reality. Instead, audiences can become immersed in the fantasy and better take part in a cinematic virtual reality through this 3D fantasy construction.

Fantastic characters like the Chesire Cat, which are completely removed from reality to begin with, are less jarring than their human counterparts when they appear in 3D

Burton seems well aware of this necessity, lending to Alice in Wonderland‘s strengths as a 3D film. The entire film is in 3D, but the scenes taking place in England are not distracting in 3D; they just occur. The magic happens in Underland, with spaces opening and closing within the screen and fantastic elements coming forward as well as from the sides (Burton, like Cameron, does well in utilizing 3D to be more than just an effect that brings objects out). The effects serve to create a more immersive space and while there is a cheap 3D trick or two (watch out for the Mad Hatter’s hat), the focus is on the entire world of the film as opposed to a single object when the technology is utilized.

Two worlds watch one another in a 3D, immersive space

It is fitting that a story such as Alice in Wonderland has been adapted into 3D, as it revolves around a woman whose own reality has been disrupted by an alternate world that differs vastly from her own. Throughout her life she remains convinced that her visions of Underland are the result of a dream, and when she returns, she remains convinced that she is still dreaming, even as she encounters characters who pinch her arms and try to convince her she is not asleep, but in fact living in this “fantasy” world. 3D almost aims to do the same. While it is obviously not transporting anyone into a fantasy world, it is making fantasy worlds a reality, or at the very least, a virtual reality, one that audiences can mentally inhabit while awake. Such worlds are not dreams, but memories, memories of imaginations yet to be explored.

All stills from All Movie Photo

Not a whole lot of 3D news this week, but all the same, it’s time for this week’s 3D round-up!

*Luc Besson’s (The Fifth Element) next film, Section 8, will be in 3D.

*Amidst all the other happenings in the Spider-Man franchise, the new reboot film will be in 3D. Let’s hope they can contain all the “web slinging at the camera” shots to a reasonable minimum.

*Other upcoming 3D releases: Priest, Underworld 3D, Drive Angry

*For some nostalgia, check out this preview for the original 1953 release of House of Wax

Check back next week for more 3D goodness!

I came across this article which details a theater in Korea that has been showing Avatar in “4D.” In addition to seeing 3D imagery on the screen, the theater in question has added sensory effects such as laser lights, splashing water, and “smells of explosives.” This is the only known area that has turned the film into a theme park ride, but it certainly isn’t the first time that movie theaters have pulled out stunts to appeal to the other senses.

3D was not the only technique that movies used to compete with television. Other tactics included sensory effects such as “Smell-o-Vision” and creating tactile sensations that went off during the film in specially-equipped seats. It’s easy to see why such processes didn’t catch on at a technical level – I imagine there weren’t a lot of theaters looking to install special seats and keep stock scents on hand.

"The Tingler," a film that employed tactile effects that included buzzing audience members when the "creature" was loose. Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/originalalamo/2595038194/

I think that ultimately, though, 4D films were doomed from the start because it asked for too many senses to be involved with a visual medium. That might seem like a strange claim from someone who touts 3D’s potential to turn cinema into a virtual reality. I do think that is an advantage, but it is still a property that comes from visual effects. It stays in line with what cinema has to offer as a medium and enhances this offering by creating a stunning visual effect. You feel as if you can reach out and touch the images, but in the end, they are still images, ones that are experienced strictly by the eyes.

4D, on the other hand, works so hard to encompass all the senses that it ends up feeling less like a realistic experience than pure visuals alone. When so many senses are becoming distracted, it removes audiences from the visual component, and in turn may remove people from the film itself. Think of it this way – when something jumps out in a scene in a horror film, you scream but are still watching the film. But when a friend of yours jumps at you while you’re watching the horror film, you scream at your friend and look away from the screen. Your friend may have timed his/her actions to coincide with the film, but because you were distracted by something that was not embedded in the film, you are taken away from the film itself.

A 4-D experience I'm sure no one is eager for. Image: http://screencrave.com/2009-09-14/the-ring-3-will-be-in-3-d/

Further, there is such a thing as sensory overload, and films are no different. Films are at their immersive best when they work with what they have – amazing visuals. Yes, audio comes into play, but ultimately a great film is determined by how it looks – how it tells a story, how it pieces everything together, how shots are composed, and the like. Adding extra senses to the bag make the process of viewing a film all the more complicated and thus takes away from the immersion itself. 3D even runs this risk by the incorporation of items such as glasses and special equipment, though I do think this is something that can be overlooked once grown used to, as the effects remain rooted strictly in the visual. Getting shocked in my seat or having a scent blown in my face  causes me to look, and think, elsewhere, removing my attention and myself from the film at hand.

4D does have has its place, though – theme parks. In a theme park a film is structured with the idea of a ride in mind, which is an entirely different experience. While I see longevity for 3D, I do not see a similar future for “4D” outside of Disney World.

It’s time for this week’s installment of the 3D round-up! All the latest news, brought to you in amazing 3D. Well, not really – we’re not at the point yet where we can view blogs in 3D (but as soon as it’s available, it’s happening on this blog). But in the meantime, here are some 2D offerings on the 3D movie world …

*Avatar is tied with The Hurt Locker in scoring the most Oscar nominations for this year’s awards, with a grand total of nine nominations. Anticipate several horrible jokes about 3D at this year’s ceremony (given: a fake bit about how this monologue/musical number/award presentation is in THREE DEE, prompting a bad actor to lean over the audience with bug eyes and hands waving)

*The latest Dune film may happen in 3D – director Pierre Morel would like that, at least

*Paramount would like to release the next Transformers film in 3D, though the amount of time needed to do so may be a hindrance. Ultimately it’ll come down to the truckload of money that would likely come from a 3D film featuring Megan Fox

*More 3D lovin’ is on the way – Tinto Brass (Caligula) has announced his own plans to direct a 3D erotic film set during the Roman empire

*This past Sunday’s Grammy awards featured a Michael Jackson tribute that was partially in 3D

*And the most shocking news of the week: Fox wants an Avatar sequel. In the same article, it was noted that Avatar’s upcoming DVD release will not be in 3D, as, according to Murdoch, the technology isn’t there yet. You can bet it’s on the fast track though – if there’s one thing studios love more than charging extra at the movie theater, it’s double-dipping via new DVD releases

See everyone next week with more 3D news!

With great technology comes great skepticism, and 3D is no different. While critics have been around for years, the criticism and praise have both become more vocal in light of the success of Avatar and the subsequent Hollywood scramble to release more and more films in 3D. I recently stumbled across this article that aptly summarizes most every critique of the 3D process I’ve heard. Each argument makes a valid point, and not surprisingly, I have some thoughts of my own to share, both in agreement and in conflict.

One of the most common complaints comes from wearing those glasses. Yes, they’re a a bit of a pain. In addition to having to wear something during the movie, there is also created waste. Until we have decent hologram projection technology, though, they will have to do. The article in question criticizes the plastic glasses over the paper ones, but the plastic glasses can at least be reused by the theater; and the paper ones are even more difficult to keep on during the duration of the film. Several complaints against the glasses are also directed towards the comfort of wearing them, particularly if you have vision trouble. I wear glasses and am nearsighted and have had no trouble with the 3D glasses whenever I’ve gone, but theater experiences vary for everyone.

No caption can convey the awesomeness of this photo. Image: http://www.barack-obama-now.com/blog/?p=1473

Such variation also exists with another common complaint – the physical drainage that comes from 3D. Many have complained of headaches, eye strain, sore muscles, etc. Again, a problem that can hopefully be fixed. However, I offer as a counter that such experiences not only vary from person to person, but are not restricted to 3D alone. I got physically ill watching movies such as The Bourne Supremacy and The Hurt Locker, neither of which were in 3D. The cause? They both employed shaky cam cinematography, a process that has caused nausea in several audiences, and one that my stomach and I would love to see fall by the wayside. But I know that it won’t, because when a filmmaker thinks it will work best for the film, he or she will choose to use it – and rightly so.

Likewise, if a filmmaker thinks 3D will work for his or her film, he or she will use it. The trouble is, several fear that 3D is going to be used way too much. The massive success of Avatar has spurned one 3D announcement after another, with several films being lined up to be shot in 3D or re-rendered with the technology. Some articles I have read fear that every single movie will soon be released in 3D. Says the Cinema Blend author: “Like Aunt Fanny clinging to her rabbit ears in the face of TV’s digital conversion, 2D viewers are about to be pushed right out of the movie market.”

I’m sorry, but I think this claim is flat-out ridiculous. It reminds me of when Final Fantasy: The Spirit Within came out, featuring highly realistic CGI that created almost human-like actors. Some were convinced that such CGI would come to replace human actors altogether. While Final Fantasy was a total flop at the box office (which laid a lot of these claims to rest), and 3D films like Avatar have been much more successful, I still see similarities between the two technologies in that people think the latest advancement is going to take over the world, when in reality, it will be employed where it will work best with the film at hand. Yes, Hollywood is going a little 3D crazy right now because unlike 3D surges past, the technology is actually being used well and appreciated by audiences. However, consider this: Hollywood releases roughly over 200 movies a year. So far I know of about 20 upcoming 3D projects, including ones that were just announced or in pre-development. So, given those figures, less than 10% of the movies being released or considered in the near future are going to be in 3D. That hardly seems like a global takeover.

CGI actors exist in appropriate films, but have yet to replace their human counterparts. Similarly, 3D is likely not going to fully replace 2D images. Image: http://www.agirlsworld.com/rachel/beat-street/reviews/finalfantasy.html

Furthermore, with a few exceptions, the 3D format is staying within genres where it works: sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and CGI children’s films. All of these genres rely heavily on the imagination, the unreal, and the concept of possible worlds, making 3D an excellent fit. I’ve seen no announcements for a film like Doubt or Up in the Air to be made in 3D, because as much green as studios are seeing from the process, in the end they know it won’t work for these kinds of films. Like several cinematic processes, it is one that is dependent on the genre and the story. Not all films can be shot in 3D, nor can they all feature shaky cam, or jump cuts, or CGI imagery. It all depends on the film.

Finally, in terms of green, a very valid complaint is the cost of going to see a film in 3D as opposed to a “regular” screening. Theaters typically add about $3 to the existing ticket price to see it in 3D. I agree this is a bit insane, as I doubt that the plastic glasses cost that much to make. Hopefully in the future a balance can be struck on 3D ticket pricing. However, if the movie studios weren’t charging us for 3D, they would find another way to get more money from us. As it is, I’ve watched the amount of money I have to spend on a movie ticket go from $6.00 to $10.50 over the course of my life. Hollywood is greedy, and overcharging for 3D is just one piece of evidence.

Not every film is being released in 3D, but there are several that I'd love to see released as such. Case in point - Christopher Nolan's Inception. It would be amazing! Image: http://www.slashfilm.com/tag/inception/

Many of the concerns with 3D are understandable, but I do not think they exist for 3D alone, nor do I think that these are dealbreakers for the process. 3D is yet another cinematic trick, one that needs to be used carefully and wisely, but one that I do think has a future, so long as care is taken.

I frequent many movie sites and thus stumble across all sorts of interesting items, many of which I’d love to talk about on the blog. These items, though, don’t always warrant an entire post, or else come so quickly that I couldn’t possibly devote the time needed to keep track of all of them. So, I am beginning a new weekly post called the 3D Round-Up. Each week I will post links in an “Internet Soup” fashion detailing the various goings-on in the world of 3D. So, without further adieu, here is this week’s 3D Round-Up!

The greatest news I’ve heard all week. I’ll be checking Fandango daily until tickets go on sale.

As has been widely reported all week, Avatar has become the highest grossing film of all-time, with 72% of sales coming from 3D showings

Warner Bros. to re-render the already completed remake of Clash of the Titans, as well as the upcoming Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, into 3D

I guess it was inevitable – Gaspar Noe (Irreversible) to shoot an erotic film in 3D

Other upcoming 3D movies: Gremlins 3, Twister 2

Check back next week for more news, fun stuff, etc.

Image: JoBlo.com

As Avatar smashes every record known to man and 3D further proves itself to be a viable technology (or at least, one that is being applied to several upcoming films), I find myself interested not just in the process itself, but in the way it’s being marketed to us loyal film fans.

Usually, 3D is promoted in the film’s trailer. We see the preview, say “ooh and ahh,” and then the studio adds a cherry on top (or induces a groan, depending on the film) by stating, “In 3D!” This will also appear on the poster and other promotional materials, and rightly so. No movie studio is going to make a film in 3D and then let audiences figure out the process for themselves. Furthermore, they want to emphasize how awesome the process actually is (or how they want us to believe it is), lending to the use of terms like “Amazing 3D,” “Eye-Popping 3D,” and the like. It reminds me of old-time marketing where terms like “In Glorious Technicolor” were all the rage. On a side note, wouldn’t it be fun to add such advertising to the most basic or common of film elements? “Marvelous editing!” “Fantastic focus!” “Luminous lighting!” But I digress.

Really, you could put "amazing" on almost any Tim Burton movie poster, 3D or otherwise

What I find really interesting, though, is that 3D advertising is not relegated simply to the film in question. In theaters today you will find promotion for the technology itself. I’ve gone to many a theater where posters and standees advertising 3D technology alone are mixed in with the movie promotional materials. The fact that the technology is being detached from specific films themselves really speaks to 3D’s staying power, or at least, the desire of film studios to increase this power. Rather than present the format as something dependent on a film, it is almost creating a reverse dependence, in that it is a burgeoning technology that films are lucky  to possess. It’s an independent entity that is growing in prominence and popularity, and everyone – films and audiences alike – should see it as such.

A poster for 3D technology hangs with posters for what's currently playing at a theater, hinting that 3D technology, as opposed to just 3D films, is "now playing" as well

The reverse dependence is emphasized here visually, as the 3D process promotes the films in this standee

Furthermore, the language of current 3D marketing fascinates me in the context of viewing 3D as the creation of cinematic virtual realities. Most of the advertising I see for the technology emphasizes it as an “experience.” Such language suggests that this is not something one simply sees; rather, one is completely immersed in a given narrative’s progression as if the progression were his or her own. Thus, there (potentially) exists a greater connection with the film in question than found when one simply “watches.” This language also expands to what studios actually call the 3D process. While still largely referred to as “3D,” several advertisements tinker with the name to include such titles as “RealVision 3D” and, my personal favorite, “Real-D.” Even the 3D Dolby slogan, “Believe Your Eyes,” demonstrates the desire of these companies to emphasize the realistic qualities of the 3D process, almost suggesting that the process is making real(istic) what was previously seen as pure construction and fantasy.

Believe (What We Tell) Your Eyes (To Believe)

Just how realistic these worlds actually become is left to the individual audience member. Most people do not actually believe that these 3D worlds are real, but then again, they also know that any virtual reality construction is just that – virtual. For the time being, though, these virtual constructions provide a bit of an escape into a fantasy world, one that requires our imagination for its existence to seem valid, but one that also helps its audience along with various technological advancements. It seems that the marketing campaign behind 3D views the technology as one that helps with the viewing of cinema as a virtual reality – or at least, would like us to think so.