3dprojection 3dprojection

3-D is a Fad

I love 3D movies.

Thanks to a pair of 3-D film festivals held in L.A. several years ago, I’ve been lucky enough to see perhaps 95% of all 3-D films ever made. On top of that, I think the use of 3-D in recent motion pictures (Coraline for example) is perhaps the best application of the format in film history. Digital technology has -at last- perfected the technique. I’m not crazy about having to wear the extra set of glasses… nevertheless, it’s a wonderful way to experience a movie.

But it ain’t gonna last.

The current preponderance of 3-D films that Hollywood is perpetuating is simply a business trend. The medium is not being revolutionized. It is not the second coming of The Jazz Singer.

A front page article in Monday’s L.A. Times (“Taking Filmmaking To Another Dimension” 04/06/09) repeated all the hype, reported all the grosses and played up all the coming attractions that have been reported everywhere – from Variety to The Wall Street Journal – in recent weeks. It’s almost overkill. Yeah, yeah, we know… Katzenberg, Lasseter, Cameron, Zemeckis, everyone in Hollywood is on board. And they’ve declared Monsters Vs. Aliens as the watershed picture. Its opening grosses, in 3D venues, justify a sea change in production, distribution and exhibition.

But it’s all B.S.

First off, all this nonsense about how all the “old” 3D movies used red/blue anaglyph is a lie. Yes, prior to 1952 there were a few releases (like Pete Smith’s MGM “Metroscopiks” shorts) that used the technique (and don’t miss Albert Brooks’ hilarious faux anaglyph trailer for Real Life (1979) which perpetuates the myth), but all features made since the 50s use essentially the same polaroid system used today. The big difference, thanks to digital projection, is today’s 3D movies are easier to show and have perfect registration between the two images projected.

Next, the current hype about the studios’ expectations of 3-D is a 55-year old rerun. As Leonard Maltin said in this Wall Street Journal article, it’s “an absolute replica of the pronouncements and interviews that came out in 1953.” This time, however, the pronouncements are bigger and louder. Director Patrick Lussier (of the recent 3-D slasher flick, My Bloody Valentine) is quoted in the L.A. Times piece saying, “You could do My Dinner With Andre in 3-D and it would be incredibly compelling.” Maybe so, but it would be because of the script and acting, not the “immersive 3D experience”. Lussier also claims that the 3-D format is “more than a fad.”

Sorry… it’s a fad. A fad concocted and controlled by the major studios. The question is “why”? Here’s the answer: the studios are promoting 3-D films right now in an effort to convince the theaters to convert to digital projection. Once all theatres go digital, there will be no need for the studios to create expensive 35mm prints, they’ll be no more costs for reels and cans; the cost of transporting 100 pound film canisters coast to coast, the cost of storing prints in film depots and later, the cost of destroying worn prints will be eliminated. The savings to the studios will be enormous.

The theaters have resisted the move to digital because it costs tens of thousands of dollars to replace the 35mm projectors and install the new equipment. Theaters contend there’s nothing wrong with 35mm film; that audiences can’t tell the difference, so why bother to convert. Thus the studios are gung-ho for 3-D in an effort to provide something that digital can do more effectively than traditional film equipment.

There are other reasons as well: Digital distribution will cut down (or hopefully eliminate) film piracy; and 3-D films can attract people to theatres to experience a visual show they cannot (as of yet) get on cable TV, blu-ray discs or over the internet.

BUT as soon as all theaters (or a majority of them) eliminate film and go completely digital, I predict the current 3-D fad will end.

The recent 3-D propaganda, aimed at the general public and national movie chains, is really a push for digital conversion sooner rather than later. This is all well and good, but it has nothing to do with storytelling or good filmmaking.

The 3-D gimmick didn’t last in the 1950s, nor the 80s. It wasn’t because the process was more primitive – it wasn’t. Animated films (or any films) today are going to be successful in 2D or 3D, hand drawn or CGI, due to one thing: story – not special effects or 3-D. Cinemas will all go digital eventually. 3-D itself is pretty cool. It just bothers me how it’s being sold to public. Wearing glasses to the movies is not the future.


    Makes sense to me! I hate my glasses…having to put on a second pair and wear two pairs of glasses at the same times makes me a double nerd…unless you hold that two negatives make a positive..then in that case I’m super cool wearing two pairs of glasses at the same time trying to watch this damn movie…oh that’s so cool! ~~~~NOT!

  • Mitch Kennedy

    Great post! 3-D is a gimmick!

  • Jay Taylor

    If it was Amid that posted this, everyone would stone him verbally! But seeing as it’s Jerry, everyone will probably agree…

    Either way, I agree!

    What I find strange is the idea that digital distribution will somehow cut down on piracy. Wouldn’t it actually make piracy easier? I’m fairly certain it’s easier to take a digital copy and distributed it online, than it is to do the same thing with a reel of film. :)

  • Don’t forget that they’ll also have trained the audience that a film viewing costs $15 instead of $10, and they’ll be able to keep the price higher. Monsters vs Aliens made as much as it did because of the additional admission price (and the 4000 theaters it played in).

  • I agree with you, Jerry. It’s not going to last long, but it is a fun cinematic diversion.

    “Animated films (or any films) today are going to be successful in 2D or 3D, hand drawn or CGI, due to one thing: story – not special effects or 3-D.”

    I definitely agree with that.

  • phil

    One of the most insightful and non-bashing 3-D articles I have ever read, your fellow brewmaster should be taking notes…

  • I’m going to have to agree. After seeing Coraline use 3-D to create a stage play feeling, I was thinking there could be a chance for 3-D, but after seeing Monsters v. Aliens, the 3-D seemed tacked on and forced. I had forgotten about the 3-D halfway in. We’ll see what happens in the other “3-D” films… but yeah I’m going to say 3-D is a fad.

  • Thank you for that insightful editorial, Jerry. The good part is, as theatre owners are here said to say, movie goers can’t tell the difference. That’s much better than the early days of digital music, where many CD’s weren’t mastered correctly for the medium. The somewhat sad side is that, like some old analog recording engineers who knew how to manipulate recording for vinyl, producing rich depth and warmness to the sound, some film photographers expert with manipulating analog distortions with their own medium. Films like Oci ciornie (English:Dark Eyes) directed by Nikita Mikhalkov; and Mua he chieu thang dung (English: The Vertical Ray of the Sun) directed by Anh Hung Tran. I don’t have the Dir. of Photographer’s names, but these are fine examples of the film itself as art.

  • Someone

    Plus one of the big reasons they’re doing 3D films is that you can’t go in with a camcorder and steal a 3D film and upload it to the web. It’s a way to draw people back to theaters.

  • Angry Anim

    Excellent article, Jerry! Well said!

  • Bobby D.

    I hope your posting of these great, insightful articles isn’t a “fad”. For the record, I’m a glasses on glasses guy as well…I can’t stand it…it’s like trying to balance a plate on your head, while watching the film.

  • Well, for me ….. putting on the glasses and watching the added depth in the visuals WAS worth the extra $.

    Simply, …it adds to the whole ‘being at a movie’ experience outside of the home.

    The FUN factor.

    Maybe history will repeat and this goes away … but I think there will always be an audience for a more entertaining visual experience that is different than the home theater set up.

  • Tom D.

    people who wear glasses can have custom prescription polarized glasses made so they only have to wear one pair.

    i believe harold lloyd had such a pair made. i know a friend of mine did. they work quite well, and make for a much more enjoyable experience.

    yes, it is an added expense and is not for the casual 3d patron, but for people who are fans of 3d it is worth the cost.

    btw, one of the reasons 3d films flopped in the 50’s was because not only did it take two cameras to film the movies, but it also took two projectors to show the movies. the projectionists’ union demanded that there be two people to run the two projectors, thus driving up the price of showing the films.

  • Kyle Maloney

    I don’t get why people have to be so down on 3d. you say you like 3d, but then why so many posts about how its not the future?

    Is it being over hyped? Sure. but if it makes a movie more enjoyable (and in my opinion it does) then why shouldn’t it be here to stay? So long as we have the option, I don’t see it going away. Especially once they can finally eliminate the need for glasses, which will be possible in theory within the next 10 years I hear.

  • I watched “Bwana Devil” back in the fifties, and I noticed how silly the theater audience looked wearing those silly glasses.

    I couldn’t help but notice at the “Monsters vs. Aliens screening they look just as stupid today.

    Well said, Jerry.

  • Watching MvsA in 3D was fun – but enough fun of that kind in this decade. The next 3D film I’ll be watching will need to have a different technology so there’s no ghost images of bright objects.

  • now who’s the cynical one? who cares? if it goes digital the better, the more inventions like the Red Camera the better chances original artist can create high end content at rock bottom prices. Let the artsy and white stripe wannabe film makers of the world keep their 35mm. I’m all for technological advances even at the cost of… wait a minute. what the hell are you arguing about? oh, that’s right, you don’t really argue anything… uh, way to state the obvious. HA!

    I will give you credit though, the sneaky conspiracy like theory of studios switching to digital may be spot on.

  • tekena

    It’s more than just story, it’s everything. Picture, music, even lighting. just sayin’

    Excellent speech none the less.

  • This is a very well-written article, but I can’t help but notice the difference in the comments on this post versus the Amid’s post with Roger Ebert’s thoughts on 3-D (which are very similar to Jerry’s).

  • elan

    Conspiracy? I wouldnt go that for. Id say it has more to do with being able to justify charging more money per ticket. And are film prints *really* that expensive to make and ship? Given a 150+ million production budget for most animated films, film prints and distribution is probably proportionally small

    Besides, if it brings more digital projectors to theaters, whats wrong with that? For the record, I think stereoscopic 3d is a bit distracting, but its also an option. If you dont want to see it, go see the non stereo version (Bolt and MVA both has non-stereo screenings)

  • Drew

    I’m really looking forward to hearing what people think of 3-D technology when Pixar’s Up or “Toy Story 3” comes out. I’m betting everyone will be singing a different tune after either one of those movies.

  • Buddy D

    “Animated films (or any films) today are going to be successful in 2D or 3D, hand drawn or CGI, due to one thing: story – not special effects or 3-D.”

    – 3D effects are just easier to create.

  • Thanks Jerry for that well researched, well written post. I agree with everything you said. EXCEPT the basic premise. I don’t believe it’s a fad, I also don’t believe (as Katzenberg asserts) that all films will be in 3D. It will be a specialty technique, and presented like the roadshow films of the 60’s. I don’t care that the switch to digital created it, it’s here. I suspect that studios and exhibitors would have brought 3D back with or without the switch to digital, they do it every few decades. I love to watch good movies in 3D, it doesn’t mean that watching in 2D would make the movie bad any more than watching a color movie in black & white would destroy the movie.

    I wear glasses and I have no problem wearing 3D glasses over my glasses. But before you go out and make prescription 3D glasses, be aware that there are different types of glasses. I saw M v A at a local that showed it in Imax with linear polarization and it also showed the film in regular 3D with circular polarization. I tried my circular glasses (which I got from that theater) on the Imax film and they didn’t work. And that was RealD, Dolby 3D is also different.

  • Great commentary…I agree. I saw Monsters twice. First in a regular theater. Second, with the glasses. I could enjoy the jokes and story, and get attached to the characters far easier without the glasses. They distracted me. For those of us already wearing glasses, we need a better option than wearing two pairs of glasses.

  • TimmyElliot

    Well, fad or not, I support anything that would reduce or eliminate piracy. I think that would kill our industry faster than just a string of bad gimmicky films.

  • >>I’m going to have to agree. After seeing Coraline use 3-D to create a stage play feeling, I was thinking there could be a chance for 3-D, but after seeing Monsters v. Aliens, the 3-D seemed tacked on and forced. I had forgotten about the 3-D halfway in. We’ll see what happens in the other “3-D” films… but yeah I’m going to say 3-D is a fad.>>

    I was skeptical about the 3D in Monsters Vs Aliens (which is the very first movie I have seen in the format, with the exception of short features like Captain Eo or that Muppets short in Disneyworld). But when I watched the movie I really enjoyed it and I think it really made the movie more entertaining. However this has also a bad side. I believe the movie is too oriented to the 3D experience. It’s not full of “dispensable” scenes, except for the paddle-ball at the beginning, but it sort of gives the impression that they just included as many action scenes as possible. Maybe the movie was going to be like that anyway, but the last thing they need in Dreamworks is another thing to distract the viewer. They already use pop culture jokes, action sequences and fast pacing to distract from their lack of substance.

    I enjoyed the movie and I think Dreamworks is getting better, but they need to set the bar higher. Kung Fu Panda worked really well. It was a memorable movie even if the plot was predictable. I think it’s good to have an alternative to Pixar that’s more comedy-oriented and I’m happy to see Dreamworks recent character design is a little more reminiscent of Looney Tunes than the usually ugly designs they have in Shrek or the abysmal Shark Tale. Next thing they need is getting a little more subversive in their humour. MvsAliens had a chance to be like that with characters like the president and the general but it mostly played safe.

    More on topic, I also get the feeling 3D is not going to last, but I don’t really know. I also think I have had enough of it for some time. I liked it but ultimately I think I’ll prefer going to a cinema that’s next to my home rather than going to the one that has the 3D. I’ll probably watch Coraline in 3D, but with Up I’ll surely pass.

    In any case this was a very interesting and informative comment.

  • William

    Nice article, Jerry. Another thing, which someone mentioned previously, is that this is also a way to get home theater folks back to the movies. This aspect is not too different from the fad’s original run, when audiences were drawn away by television.

    I suspected the studios have wanted to convert to digital projection but hadn’t heard much until now. It will be truly sad when the day comes, as there is no experience like seeing a REAL print of a film. Digital simply cannot compete with film’s natural ability to express lighting, atmosphere and warmth.

  • Quote: “Conspiracy? I wouldnt go that for. Id say it has more to do with being able to justify charging more money per ticket. And are film prints *really* that expensive to make and ship”

    One print will cost around $1500 -that’s discounting the lab processes to get it to duplication stage which can be anywhere from 10 to 100k. So a blockbuster opening on 4000 screens will cost about $6 million. Shipping six 25 pound reels overnight (lets say 2 day to be conservative) with insurance -$200 x 2 (each way). That makes $1.6 million. That doesn’t count warehousing and personnel and other overhead costs.

    So it’s not out of line to assume that the film projection process costs a distributor around 10 million dollars. That’s a lot of money that could be saved.

    And Jerry, very thoughtful write up. Your take is solid, from the business end. From a creative point of view, 3-D is alien to essence of film. The medium, by it’s nature is a flat projection. That’s why it’s nothing more than a fad

  • Awesome post, Jerry!

    I’m glad 3D is just a fad, but I’m not too glad about the possibility of ticket prices staying at 3D prices after it dies down.

    Then again, Pixar movies are about all I go to the theater for anymore.

  • I have to find the article, but a while ago there was a print out which explained how digital storage is actually much more expensive than what we have now. Hard drive degraging, changing formats, etc. It was quite interesting.

    About the 3D. They are starting to manufacture theater screen setups and TVs which give you 3D without glasses. Then I’m in!

  • acetate

    Here here ! One of the benefits of getting older is that you get to see trends repeat and you can spot them as exactly that…trends or fads. I’m 48 and have seen the 3D revolution 3 times now. Mid 70’s , mid 80’s and now.

  • Abe

    The second coming of The Jazz Singer happened in 1980 and starred Neil Diamond in blackface. They should re-release that baby in digital 3D.

  • John

    Yes, film prints are expensive. To the tune of about $10k to strike a 5-6 reel show. Comes in 2 cans, each about 30lbs. That’s per screen across the US. For perspective, FAST AND FURIOUS was on 3461 screens for 4/3-4/9. (http://www.variety.com/index.asp?layout=boWeekly)

    That’s $34 million solely in distribution print costs.

    Contrast with a digital print which costs about $175 to copy onto a drive that is downloaded to the projector’s server, and is 10lbs. The drive is reusable, and the digital print doesn’t have to be replaced because wear and tear make it unwatchable.

  • I know my comment will fall on deaf ears, but while I think Jerry’s article is well thought out, I must respectfully disagree with him here and say that I really *love* 3D, and am very impressed with the Real D format.

    I saw CAPTAIN E-O back in 1986, and was blown away. Until recently, I didn’t know that early 3D was polarized! Even I was used to standard anaglyph 3D, which is okay, but just doesn’t work as well as polarized, and leaves a funny aftereffect on your eyes.

    My older brother once bought an awesome polarized lens and a 3D card for his computer, which would enable him to see 3D on his computer (mostly in games and graphic demos), but for some reason, it stopped working on his computer. Is it possible to see 3D movies get a DVD or Blu-Ray release in 3D format? The answer to that one is pretty ambiguous.

    Yes, 3D may be a gimmick, but I doubt that it will stifle something as indestructible an ingredient as story. Not everything has to be as upper-class as Pixar or other studios from the “Golden Age.” We can have great 3D movies like CORALINE, and possibly the UP-coming Pixar movie, we can have mindless fun movies like MONSTERS VS. ALIENS, and we can have bad 3D movies like the JONAS BROTHERS bomb. And that did nothing to kill 3D.

    Is 3D a fad? Perhaps. But one thing’s for certain, it’s here to stay for quite a while, if not for good. It’s come a long way.

    BTW, while I’m bespectacled, I prefer to wear contact lens when going to see a 3D movie (I did this with CORALINE and MONSTERS VS. ALIENS). Wearing 3D glasses over regular ones is just too cumbersome. I’d tell fellow bespectacled ones to try wearing contacts for 3D stuff, but who am I to judge?

  • Mark K.

    Distributers want theaters to pay for digital conversion, and are also screaming for a bigger percentage of the box office cut up front. If I were a theater owner, I’d say “screw you,” too. Especially in this economy. If theater owners wanted to spend money, they should clean up the theaters, clean and repair the screens, and pay the pimply faced teenagers running the place a bit more, and teach them to show some respect for their jobs and the paying customer.

    It is a fact that audiences are NOT clamoring for more 3D. Not one of the recent crop of 3D films has turned a profit in 3D alone (a large majority is still from traditional projection). That the glasses destroy the image is what should be making people–especially artists working in animation–angry.

  • Brad Constantine

    I don’t consider 3d a “fad” as much as I do a “gimmick”…In the 50’s, the 3d gimmick was used to get folks back into the theatres and away from new invention TV. Then came cinemascope which also was supposed to thwart TV and get folks back into the theatres. Now the gimmick is to bring folks to the theatre and find a way to charge an extra 3 bucks per ticket. Sony has 3d widescreen TV’s in the works so It’ll all come full circle…in a few years we’ll be going to the movies to see square 2d black and white silent movies just like the old days….and staying home to see 3d cinemascope surround sound movies. hehehe… who knows maybe the 3d porn craze will take off.

  • Wow. You could not be further off the mark. At least you acknowledge the success that 3D has been enjoying!

    When given the choice, audiences go for 3D movies (stats prove it) – that is all you need to know. Supply and demand. Can’t beat a free market my friend.

    Look – I am biased. I run a site dedicated to 3D movies. But I saw the handwriting on the wall 3 years ago when I started the blog that 3D was coming and it was not a gimmick this time around. It enhanced the viewing of movies. As color did for black and white.

    What gets me is people who say it is a fad and yet wake up every morning to a stereo world as they have 2 eyes. The world is no longer flat and it is time to join the masses and embrace the better way of doing things.

  • Jim Dorey – Don’t get me wrong. I really love 3D movies (I say so at the beginning of the post). Its true they are enjoying success and I’m very pleased about that. I’m not against dimensional films at all.

    My argument is that this current flurry of 3D features is really a smokescreen for a larger Hollywood agenda: getting theaters to install digital projection equipment. I’m not against that either. My beef is that the Hollywood PR machine is not being truthful about the reasons the studios are jumping on the 3D band wagon.

    It’s not about the “immersive experience” or artistic purposes. It’s about saving money.

    I believe 3D will always be with us. It has been, since 1915. But I also believe the amount of films created in this format will crawl to a trickle, in a few years, once Hollywood gets the theaters converted. I would call this limited burst of 3D production and the surrounding hype a “fad”.

  • sean w

    great post, glad to finally hear someone say it.

    though, i must point out that the only 3D movie i think that will change things will be James Cameron’s Avatar.

    IMAX. 3D. Cameron. world changed.

    an immersive experience like that will be what differentiates cinemas from home theatres. that’s what will change things. until then, you’re right. it’s just fluff.

  • Mark K.

    ‘When given the choice, audiences go for 3D movies (stats prove it”

    Factually speaking, this is not a true statement.

  • To clarify my last response, I never intended to imply that Jerry doesn’t like 3D movies, as he’s said himself that he loves 3D movies and the 3D effect. I share his concern with the way companies are marketing it, and the fact that people are ignorant of the history of 3D, but as long as people are impressed with it, I’m not complaining. I just disagree, to an extent, about it being a “fad,” is all. Like I said, perhaps it is a fad, but as a gimmick, it’s here to stay for quite a while. It’ll always come and go, like new gimmicks do. As long as it’s used well, it’s going to have a long life.

  • I agree, Jerry, it’s a fad. And maybe it is a smokescreen to convert theater’s to digital. But if it entertains AND eliminates piracy I don’t have a problem with it. Besides I really liked MvsA. It was fun.

    On an unrelated note; I bought a copy of The Harvey Girls @ House of Secrets today, and I love the book. Great intro. I hope Dark Horse decides to do more collections in the future.

    Take it easy on the film industry Jerry, without it we’re out of business.
    And for the record: I don’t care if I look ridiculous wearing 3-D glasses if I’m enjoying a film. Maybe going to Rocky Horror shows in NYC cured me of such foolish concerns.

  • acetate

    Best use of 3D in a film for me is Mickey’s Philharmagic. If you havn’t seen it, check it out at Disneyland or World.

  • frank

    I like the three d experience. Since I cannot experience red/blue I never knew what it was like until Disneyworld 2 years ago. I, sort of , enjoyed nightmare before Christmas rerelease in 3D but that was obviously tacked on. I am looking forward to M vs A and seeing it this weekend.

  • Pedro Nakama

    Now if they could only find a way to make the commercials they play in theaters 3D…

  • BRAVO.

    Thanks for the refreshing honesty Jerry. This is the bets thing posted on here in a long while(or any film related website).

  • I agree.


    It’s annoying

  • Jason

    I agree with acetate about Mickey’s Philharmagic. It’s terrific. But not only for the clever use of 3D, but because it’s got a clever story loaded with authentic Disney dust. As an attraction it’s way better than the Muppet 3D (very old and pretty childish) or even the Bug’s Life 3D (nice, but more gimmicky). It’s an attraction that punctuates the character and meaning of the park that surrounds it, and the 3D serves to bring its characters more fully to life (we see Tinkerbell actually fly through the theater, then beckon us to Neverland). If any of the 3D movies coming out now had an ounce of Philharmagic’s charm, I’d be first in line at the box office for all of them.

  • vveksuvarna

    well, the article make sense,

    except the fact that, digital films cost more to preserve due to unpredictable nature of the hard drive, where as film only takes far away limestone cave.

    research the topic & you will see the actual disasvantages of digital.

  • Agreed. It’s a gimmicky fad which belongs in theme parks or drive in movie horror pictures. Now there’s a good use of 3D, to scare the pants off of your date so she’ll cling to you at the movies!

  • Jim Dorey –

    Yes, most of us wake up and view the world in stereo, but it’s a stereo where we can direct our focus. Stereo film doesn’t provide that ability and consequently works quite differently from real life vision. Stereo film actually discourages our eyes from wandering the screen in taking in information via framing and composition because the effect is actively telling our eyes parts of the image are out of focus. Traditional cinema gives us representational cues for our brain to decipher depth, allowing us to focus our eyes on things we know to be out of focus without our eyes painfully rebelling against their biological imperatives. Stereo film delivers more visual data, but it’s less artistically informative data.

    Seeing Bolt in 3D was hugely distracting for me. Every time I tried to soak in the whole screen it forcefully nudged my eyes back to the focal point. It’s like cinema with training wheels.

    I fear it’s not a fad, but I sure as hell hope it is.

  • Jonathan

    So what if it is a fad?

    I should be so lucky as to create a fad.

    As H.L. Mencken said “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”

  • Spike

    I don’t really see how film is any better than digital. If digital is cheaper for filmmakers, then I hope 3D does a successful job of convincing the cinemas to convert.


    More of a ploy than a fad…..

  • Mike Ballew


    I believe you are off the mark with regards to the longevity of stereoscopic films from this point forward.

    3-D in the 1950s and 1980s certainly was more primitive than the 3-D of today. Most 3-D films of the 1950s were dual-strip, requiring interlocked projectors for proper exhibition. The two projectors had to run in perfect sync, with matching focal-length lenses and matching focus. Light levels had to be the same, or very nearly the same, in both lamp houses. Framing could not be off by so much as a hair. The shutters had to be opening and closing in phase. And any repair made to one damaged “eye” (say, the left-eye print) had to be precisely duplicated in the other “eye” (the right-eye print).

    3-D films of the 1980s were no improvement. Most of them employed two Techniscope-sized frames stacked one above the other in the area normally occupied by one CinemaScope-sized aperture. Special optics—sometimes sophisticated double-barreled lenses, more often cheap beamsplitters—were required to show the films. Projectionists weren’t always careful in aligning the optics to get an optimal picture. Tons of light were lost. A simple task like splicing could be a nightmare, swapping out the left- and right-eye images onscreen.

    In the digital 3-D cinema of today (as best exemplified by Real-D), there is precious little that can go wrong in the projection booth. The left and right images are in perfect registration. They both exhibit the same illumination characteristics, the same pin-sharp focus. They cannot go out of sync. Technology has at last caught up with a marvelous dream shared by filmmakers as diverse as Edwin S. Porter, Sergei Eisenstein, Andre De Toth, and James Cameron.

    The popular assertion that story trumps 3-D is correct. But substitute terms. The assertion that story trumps sound, or story trumps color, or story trumps widescreen is also quite true. But sound, color, and widescreen are all valid tools in the filmmaker’s toolbox. And they have become indispensable tools. Keep your eyes on 3-D, as it will prove to be the same.

    You say that “theaters contend there’s nothing wrong with 35mm film.” You may be correct, but I’d like to see a citation. In high school, I personally worked in a movie theater where projectionists were expected to pitch in at the concession stand while shows were in progress. Venues like that would no doubt prefer beautifully automated digital projection systems. Now who will step up and invent the digital concessionaire?

    Last of all, underlying much of what you say is the implication that cost savings are not a sufficient reason for the ongoing push to convert theaters to digital exhibition. Saving money is not an unworthy goal. Movie studios and theater chains alike are in business to generate profits, and eliminating needless expenditures is one potential avenue towards achieving that goal.

    Best regards,

    Mike Ballew

  • Maybe the word “ruse” would be more appropriate than “fad.”

  • elan

    >>‘When given the choice, audiences go for 3D movies (stats prove it”

    Factually speaking, this is not a true statement.<<

    Does anyone have a link to back this up? Id assume that between Bolt and MvA and Coraline, the vast majority of movie-goers saw the Stereo3D version over the film print.

    And while I like film prints as much as the next guy (deeper contrast, etc), theaters do a piss-poor job of keeping the prints and projectors clean. I worked on Bolt so I saw it in stereo3d and film, and the film experience was definitely worse than digital. The projection was covered in hair and scratches, and the sound wasnt as good. Plus, when the source is digital, it makes sense to see it in the lossless version…digital.

  • That’s interesting – didn’t Pixar release a digital only version of “Cars” to encourage the same result?

    I thought that the push for digital projection has been going on for years and most theatre chains had it by now. I wonder why they just don’t cry ‘recession’ like other industries? Might get better results.

    If digital distro is so cheap and they charge MORE for 3D product, they make a killing in the middle of a recession. That whole ‘recession-proof’ myth of the entertainment industry isn’t by accident, is it?

  • Good spill Jerry; and might I add: I totally agree with going to digital projection. I don’t believe it totally will eliminate actual film stock, per se, since it’s like the idea of photography eliminating the need for oil painting. But digital projection is NICE. VERY nice. And in large commercial theaters, it’s a format I prefer. There’s a definite difference I can tell between film and digital projection, and I think if it further helps anti-piracy and costs in the long run (not to mention better preservation, and less problems with running actual reels), it’s a switch I would make.

  • At least people have the object of watching it in 3D.

    But watching it in 3D doesn’t do anything to the story, for that I also think it’s going to be a fad.


  • Blaze

    First off, you’re entirely wrong in saying the technology is the same. The red-green effect doesn’t even count. It was a misery to watch such a film. Any other polarized attempt I’ve seen in the last few decades has been blurry and not-quite-there. “Monsters vs Aliens” had the technique down cold. Short of some sort of hologram projection, it’s as good as it’s going to get.

    I feel very sorry for all these people who have headaches, or have focussing problems or lesser niggling complaints about the 3D effect. I had no such problem. I enjoyed a deeper, richer, visual experience.

    So, of course it’s a good story and acting and etc that makes a movie. But cranky fossils probably said that about the introduction of colour into movies. Stereo sound. From the first time I saw a 3D movie, I wished someone with actual creative power and talent would utiilize the “gimmick” and simply make a movie without things “coming out of the screen”. “Monsters vs Aliens” was a happy-go-lucky animated romp, but it was also the closest I’ve seen to just such a movie. One or two silly “out of the screen” moments, but otherwise, sit back and enjoy.

    What I fail to comprehend is why so many blogger types are up in frothing-at-the-mouth arms against 3D. If it takes off, swell. If it doesn’t, c’est la vie.

  • For those that think a 3-D presentation is an impediment to piracy… Wrong! It seems to me that those jerks that go into theaters and steal the movie with a camcorder will just need a polarizer in front of the lens, thereby capturing the regular 2-D version. Oops! I just gave away the weak link.

  • John A

    If the studios want the theaters to use digital projectors, why don’t the studios put up the money to BUY the digital projectors rather than spend 175 mil on a crappy 3D film?

  • Siamang

    I draw the analogy to stereo sound.

    Sure, when Sensurround premiered, it was nothing but a gimmick. But eventually multi-channel sound, including tons of base-thumping woof, became part of the filmmaker’s toolset.

    Could you ‘tell a story’ without it? Yeah. But let’s put films like My Dinner with Andre to one side, and talk about popcorn movies.

    When you think of a movie like Transformers… is it REALLY about the story? Heck no. It’s about *having fun in a movie theater*.

    Is 3d fun in a movie theater? Hell yes. Keep “The Reader” and “The Wrestler” and “Doubt” and “Milk” flat.

    But give me Monsters vs. Aliens in 3-d please, and don’t forget the extra butter on the popcorn!

  • Just a little continuation on my previous comment.

    I love 3D movies too, I think they’re extremely fun, I just think it’s not going to stay long while they are still great popcorn entertainment. Though if you want to convert a classic (especially a live-action film), just don’t tamper with them and keep them flat.

    As for IMAX 3D, I think it’s another good theatre chain, but it’s getting overused to a boil, take a look, there’s a ton of IMAX DMR and 3D-converted movies arriving soon – including “Star Trek”, “Transformers 2”, “Harry Potter”, and Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland”.

    Also, when IMAX was starting to slowly get more successful with “Space Station” and “The Polar Express”, not much people gave a darn about it, was it praised by critics and recognized by the news stations? Yes, but it wasn’t until Warner Bros. pushed out multiple films in the format after 2004 (including 20 minutes of 3D Superman) was when that format was starting to get recognition.

    Also, with the economic downturn, it’s understandable that theaters are trying to get an audience back into the theatre, but it’s pretty much like the 50’s all over again. Back then, television was the big poison, so theaters decided to put out multiple formats, including Cinerama, Cinemascope (a format which I love), and -of course- 3D.

    That’s my diagnosis, and here’s a message to the studio executives who are desperate in cashing-in with digital 3D: “Story first, then spectacle.” I think “Monsters vs. Aliens” was like Dreamworks’ feature-length test film for the format (even though they started three to four years too late) and while I did enjoy it, “Coraline” had a much better use of the 3D format, and I felt “Bolt” had it’s 3D effects forced not to mention it elevated it’s budget to $150 mil.

  • Roger Thornhill

    I don’t see why 3-D piracy is impossible. You just need two cameras and polarizing filters. What I wonder is if anyone has ever truly been satisfied with a pirated video that somebody shot with a camcorder in a movie theater. Seems absurd to me.

  • Tom Ruegger


    Excellent Post. Timely and savvy. A great example of Cartoonbrew once again “Leading the Animation Conversation.”

  • William

    “I don’t really see how film is any better than digital.” – Spike

    Most digital pictures in general look simultaneously flawless and lifeless. Film treats lighting and textures in a much more natural way (live action seems to reflect this more than animation).

    Pay close attention to the commercials, and maybe the previews too, the next time you go to the movies. Try to make it a live action movie. They typically show everything but the feature itself on a digital projector now. See if you can tell the difference between the look of the feature (still on film thankfully) and everything else. The difference is startling.

  • Jay Taylor

    As far as film and digital is concerned, film has a certain look to it. Digital has a certain look to it. Both can be tweaked, but they both retain a certain look.

    Some people happen to prefer the look of film. Some prefer the look of film. Still, some like both!

    That’s not to say that people who prefer film vehemently HATE digital. I personally prefer film, but also recognize that there’s a lot of great looking movies and shows being done digitally.

    Having said that, I hypothetically prefer film projection, but not if the projector is being run by some high school kid who doesn’t care about what they’re doing.

    Digital projection, to me, looks mostly like television. Since I grew up with film projection, digital doesn’t “feel” like the movies to me. It feels like big screen TV. Of course, I could never have a screen that big at home, so it still retains a “spectacle” aspect.

    Also, archiving digital elements has some big problems. With film, you can lock it in an airtight safe, and it’ll probably look fine in a hundred years!.

    Anyways, there doesn’t seem to be any perfect solution or compromise.

  • Siamang

    “Also, archiving digital elements has some big problems. With film, you can lock it in an airtight safe, and it’ll probably look fine in a hundred years!.”

    Then why don’t you convert the digital bits to barcodes and expose those barcodes on film stock, and lock that in the same vault?

  • bruce

    hey, just wanted to say that this is a really interesting point of view – I have to agree. thanks

  • EHH

    Micheal Bay called it a gimmick. However, I find the whole digital converting thing clever. I can imagine what Lasseter is thinking, “As long as we don’t do the obvious “in your face” gimmicks, we’re fine.”

  • Daniel M.

    Very well worded thoughts on 3-D, and I can clearly see why this post gets a lot more respect than Amids. I dont agree with it all, but I do appreciate someone actually thinking subjectively rather than trying to turn the 3D initiative into an evil plan devised by Dreamworks and JK.

    I’m sure Amid (and the rest of his fanboys) will love ‘Up’ in 3D, lets just wait…

    And if he doesn’t, I will gladly put my foot in my mouth

  • Joe

    Your reasoning left out one important fact, that I believe, will be the ultimate determinant of whether or not 3-D continues to pervade the market: 3-D is generating higher profits that 2-D. That is really the end of the story. It is relatively expensive to turn a film from 2-D into 3-D. Probably in the range of $10-15MM on top of the rest of the production costs of a traditional animated film. The incremental rents from the box office must cover that cost in order to justify continued use of 3-D. With MVA two weeks ago, I believe that a majority of revenues came from the 3-D screens, even though those screens comprised a minority of the release locations. Theaters are charging up to a $4 premium/ticket for the experience. So, using a a standard 50-70% of gross revenue from the theater as the gross profit on a film’s theatrical release, one can easily calculate the ROI on a 3-D conversion. Keep a running average of the ROIs as more and more 3-D films are released, control for genre/target/animated or not, etc., and it will be very clear whether or not 3-D will be around or fade away.

  • Chris J

    I don’t think you can call something that continues to come back every 20 years a “fad.”

    It’s certainly a gimmick, however, and will be until someone creates a new paradigm of filming movies that takes advantage of what 3D has to offer.

    Someone needs to figure out a new filming language for 3D (if that’s even possible). When THAT happens, everyone will see how they’ve been using it wrong. Some are predicting that James Cameron’s AVATAR will do just that, but I’m highly skeptical that it will be anything more than the gimmick it always has been.

    I’ll be pleased as punch to be proven wrong, however.

  • Jerry, your knowledge of film history is vastly better than mine, and you describe a clear motive from a studio standpoint, that makes sense to me. But, coming from someone who has not taken it seriously all these 36 years, I think you’re discounting some key variables. Number one, the audience experience. I think you normally wear glasses, so I can imagine that 3D glasses are cumbersome. But, getting away from the old, cheap paper red and blue crap is a huge difference from my standpoint-it’s not so obtrusive and kind of adds to the shared experience inside a theatre. That’s another thing: people in general are being much more choosey about which films they want to plunk $ down on, because it’s an expensive date now. And, if you’re looking for an experience over simply a compelling film, then 3D is a little more exciting. Another point is that the world has changed. Today, people are more exposed to technology and are more accepting of changing interfaces. And lastly, it seems that film-makers are beginning to grasp the psychology of the effect, and it’s uses in storytelling. It’s another tool or film-making principle that can change the way a film is perceived. And, I don’t think film-makers will be so willing to chuck that tool.

  • Daniel M.,

    Yeah, I noticed that, too! Jerry was a lot more thoughtful in this post, and definitely more objective, even though I don’t agree with every single word. But it was very well thought out, nonetheless, without implying some tired, evil conspiracy by “The Man.” I know Jerry didn’t like MONSTERS VS. ALIENS (which I totally enjoyed), but I respect him all the same.

    3D or not, I’m sure Amid may very well love UP. (And it’s only fitting that Pixar pull out all the bells & whistles for their 10th film!) But it’s too soon to tell.

  • Wow it seems like most people are annoyed by 3D and get headaches and such. I’ve had no such problems, and I really enjoy the effect, especially in animation. I’m all for it in the future, and its improvement. I wasn’t aware it hasn’t uprgraded in such a long time, and it makes a lot of sense about your theory of the Hollywood agenda, and what Michael Sporn said about driving up ticket prices. Unfortunately we don’t decide, the collective voice of the general public does. Hopefully I don’t start getting headaches and sore eyes. :P

    I might have to jump on the band wagon.

  • This article http://vfxworld.com/?atype=articles&id=3920 deals with this issue and concludes that while digital rollout is a factor it doesn’t entirely account for the studios interest in 3D – which is of course of entirely financial.

  • Victoria

    Then there are those who CAN’T appreciate a movie in 3D. My husband doesn’t have stereo vision.

  • I disagree with the general census commenting. There have been a few comments which agreed that halfway through movies you sort of forget that its in 3-d. That may be the case. Its sort of like when my wife and I upgraded to a great Sony widescreen high def. television. The image was so crystal and clear. I must admit I dont realize things being in high def. until I go over to a friends or my parents and view the fuzzy image on their regular cable TV. If you asked me to go back to standard TV…no way.

    There have been many studios trying to cash in on the 3d fad, i’ll admit, however Im really looking forward to the great innovators getting involved with the technology. Theres a great article on this very topic in TIME magazine about the future of 3D technology and where James Cameron is going to take it with Avatar as well as Steven Spielberg and others. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1886541,00.html

    There’s a quote James Cameron had in the article which has me REALLY excited about it…

    “The scenes were so startling and absorbing that the following morning, I had the peculiar sensation of wanting to return there, as if Pandora were real.Cameron wasn’t surprised. One theory, he says, is that 3-D viewing “is so close to a real experience that it actually triggers memory creation in a way that 2-D viewing doesn’t.” His own theory is that stereoscopic viewing uses more neurons. That’s possible. After watching all that 3-D, I was a bit wiped out. I was also totally entertained.”

  • D.Z.

    Have to agree. They were saying DV would change film a decade ago, and the only thing it did was contribute to a drop in attendance.

  • Bob

    Wow…I mean wow. Do you know your film history. Anyway, I think the live action Star Wars TV show in 3D will be a game changer. Heck, if your gonna start your own network, ya might as well roll out your big gun.

  • Mike

    It’s a gimmick.

    And god do I love it.

  • I saw “Up” in an all-digital theater.

  • Grant Vuille

    3D vs. 2D–Gee, all you have to do is double, triple, or quadruple the frame rate of ‘motion-pictures’ or ‘2k/4k motion pictures on video, and you can forget having to wear glasses for an immersive 3D effect–it’s that simple, wake up Hollywood!


  • Bryon Shaw

    Everyone should listen to Ballew. The guy knows 3-D!

  • JP

    Really interesting article, but I disagree. I also compare this change to the introduction of sound, color, widescreen and surround sound. Glasses-LESS 3D TV is in the works and from what the manufacturers are spilling, will be in production and in the consumer’s hands in less than 10 years. See: http://www.engadget.com/2008/01/04/mitsubishi-shows-off-3d-tv-technology-no-glasses-needed/
    and: http://www.examiner.com/x-4255-Philadelphia-Tech-Gear-Examiner~y2009m2d22-3DFusion-Makes-3D-television-possible-while-preserving-dignity. Also, just this week ESPN announced a 3D sports channel, and a coop including IMAX, a major network and others has announced a #d channel as well. Once people are used to seeing their moving images in 3D, it will be hard to go back. I have friends that just won’t watch black & white films, and I imagine the same reaction will pop up among those raised on 3D. Once the glasses come off, the fad is over.

  • Jonathan

    I’m more than halfway through producing a short CG animated film, and I intend to finish it off with a stereo version. If there is a demand for product, it will be available. I might get lucky. Here’s why I think so:

    History shows opportunities open up with new technology.

    Most vaudevillians dismissed “moving pictures” as a fad. Even Charlie Chaplin entered films with the thought it would be temporary.

    It was the garage shops playing around with computers who are now practically in control of the world.

    When CG started to get a foothold, anyone with a little experience could get hired at ILM. Many of those folks are giants in the industry now. At that point I left traditional work behind. Many of my former co-workers didn’t take the steps and got stranded.

    You scoff at new technologies at your own risk.

  • ZAR

    The industry DESPERATELY needs a new gimmick to push on the market.

    While neither BluRay nor HDTV have reached too high a market share (just go and take a look at the OTHER markets than the US and Japan), they now think they can skip to another gadget and sell it even better.

    (Potentially, they will pack it chockfull with even MORE DRM-crap and copy protections.)

    Come up with 3D-holoprojection like in Star Wars and maybe. But with glasses? We had that in the Fifties AND late Seventies.

    No, I don’t believe in 3D. It has failed before and it will fail again.

  • Steve Burstein

    I don’t think the reporters who regurgitate the Red/Green myth are lying.I think they just don’t know what the hell they’re talking about(like the teacher at my high school who thought that “Bad Day at Black Rock” was a Western).

  • I ALREADY can’t stand watching movies in 3D. It’s irritating to my eyes and it’s distracting from the narrative for no real reason. The only movie I was able to stomach in 3D was Avatar, and that’s because it was so vital to the experience and it was executed in a way that wasn’t physically painful. I’m all for the High Def IMAX type stuff, but the 3D glasses just hurt. I enjoyed How to Train Your Dragon much more without the glasses.

  • Ryan G

    3D is a fad, and will always be one, even if it does come back once every couple of decades. Some of the people here like to compare stereoscopic with the introduction of colour and sound, but one important point is that the audience didn’t need to wear anything extra to experience colour and sound. I am beginning to dislike the current reoccurence of stereoscopic because of the glasses and I already wear glasses so it’s uncomfortable.

    The only reason stereoscopic films are making money at the moment is because it’s all new (again), so you have audiences flocking to it to see it for themselves.

    How does everyone who likes stereoscopic films think of the fact that you are watching something a few stops darker than what it actually is? I mean am I taking crazy pills here by saying that I am the only one complaining about the lack of brightness watching these films?

    Well, I guess it doesn’t matter as I won’t be watching anymore stereoscopic films, and I am not the only one beginning to say this.

  • Ronald Doucet

    Check out Roger Ebert’s opinion on the whole matter:

  • cheese

    You’d be right, if it wasn’t for INTERACTIVE media. We didn’t really have that in 1953. Videogames, home TV’s with total choice of what to watch and when, headsets for PC, these are only just beginning. We’ve far from perfected the art, either.