The Business of Stereoscopic 3-D Films

Shrek

Stereoscopic 3-D filmmaking is either the latest film fad or the future of theatrical animation. For those who know their film history, all indicators point toward it being the former. This Portfolio article by Kevin Maney is one of the better pieces I’ve read about the topic:

“Studios are latching onto 3-D for much the same reason that Bob Dole took Viagra. Most of Hollywood’s businesses are making money–for all Katzenberg’s complaining, DreamWorks’ first-quarter profit was up 69 percent–but the sector that makes Hollywood feel best about itself, theatrical showings, is deflating, in large part because the difference between seeing a movie in your local multiplex and on a 52-inch high-definition TV in your family room is not that vast.”

Earlier post about 3-D on Cartoon Brew

(article link via Kottke)


  • http://www.rauchbrothers.com Tim Rauch

    I’ve found “3-d” films to be barely different than the regular “flat” films. If anything, I feel distracted and sometimes queasy watching them. Gimme the flat films! Am I just a fogey?

  • http://www.windupmagic.com Jay Taylor

    The only stereoscopic film I’ve gone to see was Nightmare Before Christmas. Although, I realize it’s something they did after the fact. The film wasn’t shot that way.

    A lot of people aren’t comfortable watching 3d. On the old thread people complained of headaches a lot. I remember seeing NBC made my eyes a little sore afterwards. Plus, what about people who may be partially blind in one eye? Will movies forever look blurry to them if they can’t use the 3d glasses?

    I don’t necessarily think it’s a fad, but that maybe it only works for certain types of movies. I certainly wouldn’t see much point in a romantic comedy being stereoscopic!

  • Michael J. Hayde

    “…theatrical showings, is deflating, in large part because the difference between seeing a movie in your local multiplex and on a 52-inch high-definition TV in your family room is not that vast.”

    Especially since, in a theatre, you can’t pause the film until the idiots in front of you shut up and watch.

  • Bill5925

    I agree that it’s distracting. The only time it’s added to my enjoyment is in theme park shows. I suspect those executives pushing this are just looking for a way to draw our attention away from weak story telling.

  • Brian Kidd

    I’m a huge fan of 3D films, but think that a film should only be shot in 3D if it plans on exploiting the process to its fullest. If it’s an SFX extravaganza, then great! If it’s a film that doesn’t benefit from 3D, then why bother with the extra expense? Something that’s computer-generated has the benefit of being able to be tweaked for the best visual effect. Live-action films are a crap shoot and don’t work well, more often than not. I do think that the modern digital 3D is *much* better than old-fashioned 3D because of the lack of flicker.

  • http://persistenceofvision.blogspot.com/ Ethan

    And they’re harder to steal and put on “Bit Torrent”

  • Kyle

    I think and hope 3d will become the standard. we have come a long way since the red and blue glasses. honestly. the only types of movies I want to stay completely flat are hand drawn animated films, such as the upcoming Disney movie “the frog and the princess”. when I saw that Chip and Dale short before meet the Robinson’s (or was it nightmare before christmas…I forget) the effect didn’t work well. it looked like animated cardboard cutouts.

    aside from what I wish all movies were 3d. I love the effect so long as it doesn’t scream “look at me, I’m in 3d!!!” like the theme park attractions do. if they can keep it subtle it can only enhance the immersion.

    I cant wait to see all 3 Toy Story movies in 3d.

  • Justin Walker

    For those who are blind in one eye they get the 2D version of the film.

    I’ve seen several movies in 3D now, Meet the Robinsons, Beowulf, Monster House, as well as several shorts. In my opinion 3D is the future, however filmmakers still don’t know how to use it to the best of their ability. The framing and timing of shots is different (it takes at almost two seconds for your brain to interpret depth), the colors that should be used is different (the eye can’t resolve the depth in blue colors), transparency needs to be taken into account (water, fog, smoke), as well as numerous other issues. Until the filmmakers learn how to account for all of the differences in 3D and learn to actually use the additional depth to their advantage (composing the frame in depth, depth timing as well as color timing) we will get movies that sometimes look good, sometimes look bad, sometimes causes headaches, and overall underwhelms us.

  • http://doujinshiland.blogspot.com Adam Van Meter

    I think that the 3d thing is really never going to catch on, because for the time being it doesn’t lend very much to the experience. Granted, seeing something come flying off the screen is good for a thrill now and then, but honestly – should the thrills of a movie come from a gimmick? Shouldn’t it be the film itself that engages us?

    I’ve seen a good handful of shows in 3d, and it never feels like the experience was integrated into it in a way that felt.. you know, organic? It’s tacked on, in most circumstances.

    One of the few times when I’ve felt 3d was crucial to my having a good time was at the Terminator show at Universal Studios. Seeing the creatures flying off the screen, right in my face, in those circumstances.. it was great – but here’s the thing. The /whole experience/ is centered around that. I think that’s what makes the difference.

    Anyway, tl:dr, I think 3d will remain a gimmick and fad until it becomes more fully realized as another tool that can be used to tell engaging stories, not just sell tickets.

  • http://segaltoons.com Steve Segal

    Like Brian I am a big 3D fan. It’s true that 3d has been a short-lived fad in several incarnations, but there are several reasons to think that history may not repeat itself this go round. The moist important is the presentation; the new systems (there are at least three competing, not counting IMAX) use one digital projector for both eyes, so a faded print or a print with splices is not a problem. That will mostly eliminate the headache issues and make it much easier for the projectionists. Next, as Brian alluded, is CG, the other 3D waves didn’t have computer graphics to any major degree (except amusement parks). This makes it much easier to control the parallax and depth; in addition they can add stuff thrown at the camera and control where it lands instead of pulling it on strings. In the 50′s when every studio had 3D films in production, there were no animated features released; now most of the 3d films are animated. And even though some great directors worked in 3D, they were not as passionate about the technology as James Cameron or Robert Zemeckis. Lets just hope that the films are good films first and 3d films second.

    And if you’ve only seen 3D with anaglyph (red/green) glasses you haven’t really seen 3D.

  • red pill junkie

    Ironic, how once WB close ist animation department because the execs thought 3D films were going to make cartoons impossibly expensive; and now this new 3D campagin is being speared primarily with the use of animation films.

    How the world turns, eh? ;-)

  • http://deneroff.com/blog/ Harvey Deneroff

    My wife has poor vision in one eye and has trouble seeing stereoscopically. However, when we saw Beowulf in 3D, she did have stereo vision for the duration!

  • Oliver

    If 3-D is “the future of movies” — yeah, they said that about Quentin Tarantino and ‘Speed Racer’ as well, people — then I’m sticking with my Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection boxset.

    Question: Katzenberg says 3-D is the future, that he’s “never been more sure of anything in his life”. Is this the same Katzenberg who convinced himself ‘The Lion King’ would gross $50 million, tops, and that ‘Pocahontas’ was a lock for a Best Picture nomination?

  • ridgecity

    I think 3d is good, but even that can’t help a bad or boring movie. I remember seeing “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly” in 3d is the experience was awesome.

    Also, it works only on some movies, many movies can’t take advantage of the effect.

  • captainmurphy

    any one notice wonkiness in trailers for journey to the center of the earth? The live actors looked cgi tweaked in to an uncanny valley probably due to 3d rendering in post. Why not just shoot that green screen stuff in 3d as well?

    Any one have a technical explanation of the Real3D 3d process?

  • http://segaltoons.com Steve Segal

    captainmurphy says:
    “any one notice wonkiness in trailers for journey to the center of the earth? The live actors looked cgi tweaked in to an uncanny valley probably due to 3d rendering in post. Why not just shoot that green screen stuff in 3d as well? Any one have a technical explanation of the Real3D 3d process?”

    Steve says:
    I am not an expert on 3D, even though I worked on a 3D film (It’s Tough to be a Bug) but I’ll try to address your questions. They do shoot green screen in 3D, though I don’t know the particulars for Journey, and I didn’t notice the “wonkiness” in the Journey trailer.

    RealD is a projection process not a production process. It uses a silver screen and disposable glasses (all this was referenced in the linked article). The other popular system is Dolby which uses a normal screen and glasses that must be returned (then washed and reused). Once a film is produced it can be projected in either system. Theatres must decide if they want the flexibility of being able to show a 3d film on any screen in their multiplex, but handle glasses (which have a way of leaving the theatre with the patron) or having a dedicated 3D screen and inexpensive disposable glasses.

    And to ridgecity who saw “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly” in 3d: I wish I knew the details, since to my knowledge this film was not shot in 3D nor converted like Nightmare Before Christmas. Where did you see this?

  • http://tsutpen.blogspot.com Stephen Cooke

    Oliver said:
    “If 3-D is “the future of movies” — yeah, they said that about Quentin Tarantino and ‘Speed Racer’ as well, people — then I’m sticking with my Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection boxset.”

    I’m assuming you know that Harold Lloyd was a huge fan and practitioner of 3-D photography…

  • Gary Gibson

    As an old 3-d fan from way back, I have to read the datelines more than once in the current news releases touting 3-d as the “film technique of the future”. A little research will show almost the exact same claims being made in the 1950s by film studio bosses (who should know better). This was a time when the movies were trying to lure audiences away for the competition of television (albeit not from 50″ HD screens at that time). Many films, exploitative as well as mainstream used the stereo techniques available at the time and as a kid I was fascinated. As the “fad” wore off and strained eyes wearied of the gimmicky technology, many 3-d films in production (including Hitchcock’s “Dial M for Murder”) were released “flat” instead.

    Today’s 3-d technologies are much improved, but one can say that about all film technology. We still want to see a good story that engages the audience and few techniques (beyond color and vastly improved sound) have made films so much better they will continue to enchant audiences for years to come.

    I still like to produce stereoscopic stills with my “antique” 35 mm stereo camera and everyone finds the pictures amazing and super-realistic. However no one I know has run out and bought a 50′s stereo camera like me. It’s a great hobby, but …

    By the way I am constantly annoyed by those in the media as well as “regular people” who constantly reference the red-blue glasses as the norm for those old movies in the ’50s. There were almost no films released at that time requiring red-blue glasses; almost all 3-d projection systems used the much better polarized glasses. (Admittedly some 1950s 3-d films have been re-released converted for using the anaglyphic red-blue separation.)

    Lots to be read on-line about stereoscopic photography and film-making which will continue to have many uses in science and theme park demonstration but I would say limited use as a popular live-action film-making technique.

  • Oliver

    Only *after* his retirement from filmmaking…

  • bath

    The technology used in “Journey to the Center of the Earth” is rumored to be a dawn of the new 3D era…or so a crazy lady on AC Transit told me…She allegedly saw it and supposidely the creatures literally fly around and into the audience!

  • RAB SMITH

    I go to the movies around 3 times a week, and it is still well worth the extra hassle. Ideally, I would love a decent home theater set-up, and indeed I have a projector, which certainly heightens the viewing experience: TV [even on a vast screen] takes the fun out of watching movies……

    ——sadly, my home environment is not ideal for an all-out projection set-up, and until I can afford a bigger house [with a seperate room for a dedicated 'private' cinema], the local CINEMA will, in the main, supply my popcorn thrills……

  • http://www.io.com/~o_m/omworld OM

    “Studios are latching onto 3-D for much the same reason that Bob Dole took Viagra.”

    …Oh, in other words, despite all the hype it’ll still be a flop regardless of size?