01 September 2009

A future of 3-D through the eyes of Blue Alien Giants

A future of 3-D through the eyes of Blue Alien Giants

As published in this month's Veritas et Visus magazine

It is being heralded as the 3D movie that will single-handedly save the stereoscopic industry, or, rather, kick-start it into full gear and propel it into the common man’s cinema diary and living room. Avatar.

Avatar 3-D posterAll stereographers talk about it with awe and expectation, while salesmen of 3-D hardware excitedly shout out its name. But what is Avatar? A high-concept science-fiction film of the purest kind. Space marines, alien planets, a war between man in spaceships and helicopters and exoskels with machine guns and a jungle-bound alien race of blue giants.

Some would describe it as effects for effects’ sake, but whatever the case, it doesn't sound like a broad audience movie. By all accounts Avatar should have been a niche market film, appealing to young men and even younger boys. Are our mothers and wives going to want to invest emotional energy into giant blue warmongering aliens? They have spoken in their billions and have said and unequivocal 'Yes'. Sci-fi is mainstream again in 2010, especially when it's in 3-D.

It would appear that the largest part of the cinema-going and movie-buying audience does not need to be convinced that wearing 3-D glasses is not stupid, annoying or even uncomfortable any more. At least not in the cinema. Dissing anaglyph glasses is still not the way forward though, because it is the diss that is remembered, not the difference between dichromatic and polarized image separation. Yes, glasses could be physically more comfortable, but that does not take away the psychological barrier most people experience when faced with the prospect wearing them over their TV dinner.

Honestly, you won't look like Nerd, nor will you go bald when you wear 3-D specs

So how can we remove this inbuilt reluctance and fear? By presenting the doubters and cynics with their favorite content in really well shot 3D and letting the power of word of mouth do its job.

In my opinion the key to a 3-D future lies in the romantic comedy, the costume drama and the psychological thriller. Taking real numbers as found on IMDB, less than 1 in 10 movies produced overall is a science-fiction or fantasy film (6%), 1 in 10 movies is a family film (including animation, 10%) while 5 in 10 movies are a romantic comedy / drama (47%), yet when it comes to 3D movies slated for a 2009 release, 3 out of 10 movies is a science-fiction / horror / action film (33%), almost 4 out of 10 is animation / fantasy / music (35%) and just more than 2 out of 10 is a documentary (24%). The remaining 1 out of 10 movies (9%) is reserved for music specials and naughty movies, while no romantic comedies of drama films are slated for 3D release. How can there possibly be proper penetration of stereo 3D as a mass-audience medium if the main types of cinematic story are not told in 3D? If Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep don’t look good in 3D, don’t even bother trying to sell the 3D Ready LCD screens.

In terms of broadcast TV, cooking programs and reality shows will have to work with 3D to make financial sense. Again, sales men are focusing all their energy on sports broadcasts and thus targeting boys and men. But what is one football match in a sea of time-filling content such as that of The Apprentice, Strictly Come Dancing, As the World Turns, Oprah Winfrey and Jerry Springer? That is what the reality of a 3D stereoscopic future is all about. We all know a tomato will look fantastic in 3D and that bargain diamond ring on QVC’s home shopping channel will sell very well when it pops off the screen, but what about book reviews and embarrassing celebrity reality filler? I, for one, will not feel enticed to don 3-D glasses to watch animals do the funniest things – in 3-D. But perhaps I just don’t know what I’ll be missing yet...

Oh yeah - LOLcatz in 3-D. It's the future of entertainment!

On the production side of things the only way for a true 3D switch-over to happen is complete standardization and idiot-proofing of recording, playback and delivery hardware. Of course us stereo experts will all be out of a job when everything is standardized and built-in, so we can all enjoy long weekdays in front of the 3D television. Fixed interaxials for studio shoots, fixed minimum distances to the camera, no more convergence control and a pipeline that allows for previewing and editing in the final screen size of choice all the way. No more need for lookup tables and heated discussions over what to do or not do in 3D.

Producers want a straight off-the-shelve stereoscopic camera and pipeline solution and that’s what they will get. We will see a return to cameras with three fixed lens options as standard in the 1950s and 60s. But what is the bulk of 3D films to be produced with such standardized equipment going to look like? Creative 3D control will go out the window. On most productions, that should actually be a blessing though: watch one movie with divergence and vertical parallax and you will agree with this point.

Experience is everything in 3-D shooting and even then, with veteran stereographers at
the helm, eyestrain can creep in. Automatic, real-time vertical parallax detection and correction hardware will remove the strain of having to precisely align a 3-D camera rig before every shot. Miniature cameras and lenses will mean effortless, small and light 3-D rigs that don’t even
look like they contain 2 cameras or lenses. And to top everything off, image capture will happen with inbuilt retinal rivalry correction and will be dual-stream compatible all the way down the pipeline without you even noticing it.

No more heavy camera rigs in the 3-D future

Will you still be excited about 3-D in this future? Well no, because it will be a normal, every-day, run-off-the-mill format – unless we will shoot extraordinary content in it and produce visual stories that have never been seen or experienced before. And although Avatar may be breaking new ground in terms of VFX and live-action integration, it is its story and characters that are going to determine whether we will want to see more science fiction films about giant blue aliens in 3-D.

Blue Aliens are all the rage!


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