13 September 2007

The first full 3-D Feature Film?

Avatar 3-D Poster

Every time a new 3-D movie is released, silly claims are made about its unique status. ‘The first 3-D feature film’ is heralded over and over again, ‘The latest technological breakthrough in 3-D’ is employed on a steady basis and it’s always ‘The first 3-D movie to envelop you completely’. What would you say if every new regular movie release claimed to be the first colour movie or the first release with sound? It would be laughable, and yet 3-D stereo releases employ this PR silliness time and again.

Up until now, 3-D movies have been directed by 3-D technicians and directors who have not understood, or used, the possibilities of volumetric storytelling. You can’t say directors of stereoscopic movies have been doing a good job when only about 230 3-D movies have been made so far since the invention of cinema, of which 225 are happily forgotten and 5 are actually really remembered by moviegoers and film historians.

Dial M for Murder 3-D
Dial M for Murder: one of the best (and most restrained) 3-D films ever made

It is time we create and foster a new generation of 3-D film directors. This can be done properly when a stereoscopic film school or 3-D film program at a film school is introduced where a new generation of 3-D filmmakers can emerge. Film production company-wise, there is the same need for education on the possibilities and pitfalls of 3-D.

Especially because stereoscopic 3-D is a complex medium with many technical and creative parameters - that can all go horribly wrong. Because he who does not know the past is doomed to repeat its mistakes! As with technology, 3-D is a craftsman’s tool, and a hack’s toilet paper. And when it comes to the history of 3-D movie production, there have been a lot of hacks around.

3-D stereoscopic film education should not just be about how to put two cameras together, but also about how to use these two cameras to produce tomorrow’s 3-D cinematic masterpieces. Are you just creating a 3-D space or are you actually using it? Because 3-D hasn’t been around for longer than 2 years per fad – in 1923, ‘53 and ’83, 3-D direction is still in its infancy. Just like the directors of the 1920s who were discovering the benefits of utilizing cuts, 3-D is still being discovered by today’s producers, directors and editors. And therefore it is often still used in a very childish way – with actors literally chucking pies at the camera – think of the very recent ‘Meet the Robinsons’.

Meet the Robinsons 3-D
Meet the Robinsons - Disney's latest 3-D release

You will hopefully agree with me that 3-D film education on a student and a corporate level is vital for the survival of 3-D cinema. Because how is the consumer expected to value the stereoscopic image of the near future if it will be a clumsy, uneducated and unimaginative audio-visual visual product? Let alone a product that causes headaches with its audience!

Whenever I talk to people about 3-D film making, the first thing they say is: “But isn’t modern technology going to solve all those problems?”, followed by: “I saw a glassless 3-D plasma screen with images in 3-D”. But what were those images in 3-D? What is the content? Digital projection is fantastic and HD is a real solution, but problems with 3-D have almost always stemmed from bad use of 3-D, both technically and creatively.

Title sequence of Friday the 13th: Ouch!

It is human nature to blame technology for personal mistakes and stereoscopic 3-D has suffered some of the worst examples of this trait. Tomorrow’s camera and projection systems are not going to solve tomorrow’s misuse of these systems.

Hopefully, current 3-D releases will stick with proper 3-D filming techniques long enough for a new generation of stereoscopic filmmakers to learn the trade and eventually really exploit the marvellous new possibilities of this closely related, yet very different cinematic art form. Having a digital and even a glassless way of presenting 3-D will never take away the need for decent 3-D content.

Because stereoscopic or not, content will always remain king.

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