early3d early3d

Walter Murch: Why 3-D Movies Don’t Work

Early 3D

There are plenty of reasons to dislike 3-D movies, like how they induce headaches and strain the eyes, make the imagery darker, and simply don’t contribute anything to the story. But legendary editor and sound designer Walter Murch sent a note to Roger Ebert explaining what he feels is the overwhelming reason 3-D movies are flawed: human eyes weren’t designed to focus and converge on images at two different distances. Murch says:

The biggest problem with 3D, though, is the “convergence/focus” issue. A couple of the other issues — darkness and “smallness” — are at least theoretically solvable. But the deeper problem is that the audience must focus their eyes at the plane of the screen — say it is 80 feet away. This is constant no matter what.

But their eyes must converge at perhaps 10 feet away, then 60 feet, then 120 feet, and so on, depending on what the illusion is. So 3D films require us to focus at one distance and converge at another. And 600 million years of evolution has never presented this problem before. All living things with eyes have always focussed and converged at the same point.

If we look at the salt shaker on the table, close to us, we focus at six feet and our eyeballs converge (tilt in) at six feet. Imagine the base of a triangle between your eyes and the apex of the triangle resting on the thing you are looking at. But then look out the window and you focus at sixty feet and converge also at sixty feet. That imaginary triangle has now “opened up” so that your lines of sight are almost — almost — parallel to each other.

Read more of Murch’s thoughts on Ebert’s blog.

(Thanks to the numerous readers who sent me this link.)

  • Well, DUH.

    But I’m glad SOMEONE finally said it. This era in movies is going to be lampooned in about 10 years.

    I wonder why the medical industry has been so quiet about this.

    Thanks so much for posting.

  • Newton Perch

    An ophthalmologist needs to weigh in on this, as backlash as already begun.

  • When he keeps using phrases like “it has something to do with”, know that he’s venturing into *guess* territory.

    But I’ve read that sort of explanation before… that it’s the difference between convergence distance and focus difference.

    the reason i don’t buy it yet is that…

    1) the difference in convergence angle between 120, 60 and even 10 feet (his examples) is minuscule, less than 3 degrees.

    2) The difference in focal length in the eye between 10 feet and 120 is also minuscule. Get out an old camera that has a focusing scale on the lens. I have one that goes from 2.5 feet to infinity. The difference between 10 feet and infinity is all packed in the last quarter of the lens’s focusing adjustment.

    These are not big physical leaps for the eye to make and the idea that some unnatural combination of these extremely small differences is causing such severe reactions seems unlikely. Anyone who wears glasses for near or far sightedness experiences far more deviation from a natural focus/convergence combination because of the bending of the light by the lenses.

    If someone is wearing bifocals, which focus/convergence combination is the one that causes a headache outbreak? Neither.

    I’m going to posit that the people who being made ill by 3D are about as numerous as those made ill by bifocals which is really a very small number. But the former are more vocal.

    Strobing? Maybe, but he’s only got his subjective opinion on it. Classic cartoons animated on two’s have twice the strobing of a live action movie and didn’t produce a nationwide epidemic.

    One extra stop of darkness? That’s insignificant for the human eye.

    Case not closed yet.

    I’d like to see research into this by someone who’s done real experiments on real subjects and came up with real data.

    • Also, strobing is only an issue with older shutter-glass technology. The current generation of passive circular polarization in the theater doesn’t have that problem, and the tiny tiny amount of 120Hz flicker introduced in the home theatre space is only barely perceptible if you look for it specifically if you’re ultra-sensitive to it (I am – I also see the rainbow shimmer on cheap DLPs) and the next generation of home hardware will surely be even better.

      • Trevor

        Correct me if I’m wrong, but the strobing that is being described is more for high contrast areas giving a ghost image because the circular polarization can not fully filter out a white dot in a black field.

      • Bruce Wright

        Some of that ghosting is subtracted digitally.

        Also fluffy is wrong about passive glasses eliminating the shutter glass. Yes, the passive glasses are passive… but the projector has the shutter-glass.

        So there is still a strobing issue, but it’s just been relocated from the glasses to the booth.

        It’s a minor but well-known issue with the current technology. It’s a priority that the various systems are working on fixes for.

    • Mark

      “1) the difference in convergence angle between 120, 60 and even 10 feet (his examples) is minuscule, less than 3 degrees.”

      For an instrument as finely tuned as the human eye, 3 degrees is HUGE.

  • I’m a big fan of Mr. Murch and the science of his argument seems sound, but you can’t argue with the countless people who legitimately enjoy the 3D experience. In many cases the quality of the film and the quality of 3D do not merit the extra charge. Seeing Avatar or Up in 3d, though, made the experience more immersive and more impressive. If people enjoy it and are willing to pay the extra cost, then whether or not evolution has prepared us for 3D movies doesn’t really matter.

    • Karl Hungus

      “People like blood sausage too.”

      • Peter

        Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm… SAUSAGE!

  • Val

    In a 3D movie, your focus (assume they mean “accommodation”) and convergence will be at the character you’re paying attention to. Things that are out of that plane of focus will be blurred, depending on how “far” off the screen they are; just like in real life. That is the point of the “realism” of 3D, you can pick and choose what part of the film you wish to bring into focus at that moment.

    Accommodation and convergence are linked in healthy eyes; one triggers the other. You will be both focusing and accommodating at the plane of the illusion which has our attention, and humans have been doing that evolutionarily for a VERY long time.

    • That isn’t really how it works. The focus is still determined by the camera; your eyes can’t focus on different planes because the image is still all on one plane.

      I know I wasn’t the only one who was bothered in Avatar because I kept trying to focus on those stupid floaty things floating around blurrily in the extreme foreground, but couldn’t.

  • I wonder how scientific this information is. You’d imagine quite a few people to have done some extensive research in this area. Either way, it all rings very true to me.

  • I was in PC Richards yesterday and they had this huge 3 d display tv
    there was a line to step up to try the glasses( which were mounted on a telescoping pole) and I waited listening to the comments : “amazing, fantastic , unbelievable what they can do now”. Then came my turn and immediately my eyes felt strained and my brain sorta hurt. What I want to know is :How is it so easy to sell people a headache ?

    • Bruce Wright

      I think there is a problem in that the people who do get headaches from this assume that everyone gets them.

      I work in 3d, and I don’t get headaches from it if it’s done correctly.

      That said, I can definitely create headache-inducing visuals with 3d. But then again, I can create headache-inducing visuals with 2d as well (using extreme flicker-cutting and strobing).

  • Milo Thatch

    Jeffrey Katzenberg: Changing Human Evolution one over-priced 3-D film at a time.

  • Mike

    Sorry 3D, but I’d rather pay extra for a gimmick like… oh, something really unusual—an original story.

    • Iritscen

      Hmm, that’s a novel concept — that movies would work like cars or computers or most products or services, where you pay more if you want better quality. Somehow I suspect the Powers That Be don’t favor this idea because of how few movies would get the higher price.

      • Mike

        Yes, very few movies indeed.

  • Well, there’s no question that Mr. Murch is a very, very smart man. I completely respect his opinion on this, but I disagree.

    Simply because an effect like this is relatively new to our species and our brains does not, in my opinion, cause it to be invalidated. I mean, his objections to the medium are completely on the money, but do we really think the human supercomputer is incapable of learning how to perceive things differently?

    I find that I have the most success with 3d when I relax my eyes and let the film do the work. I don’t have any of the issues that are usually mentioned around 3d (headaches, eyestrain, etc). Of course, in my normal life I wear glasses that refocus my eyes against their will, so maybe I’m used to letting apparatus do some heavy lifting for me.

    My guess is that, as this medium continues to grow (which it will, as it is being fueled by big money and will enhance sports and porn, two big drivers in entertainment tech), people like Mr. Murch will continue to thoughtfully provide feedback on the “speed bumps” and wrinkles in the process. As they do, I would expect to see more innovation and refinement of the process — and, most excitingly to me, EXPERIMENTATION with what can be done with 3d. I mean, we look at all these examples of “realism”, but what about the uses of stereoscopic vision that have nothing to do with realism and could be explored to simulate different effects that are unachievable with 2d?

    Anyhow, good post! In a climate where lots of ideas get thrown around all kneejerk-like, it’s good to see thoughtful exploration of why we feel the way we do about this tech and its implications.

  • I don’t really have a problem with the technique/naturalistic use and feel of 3D – it’s nice looking when used right (though I like Murch’s breakdown). What I have a problem with is theaters relying on it for another fleeting incentive to lure people into the big screen and away from their own (generally all around cheaper and more comfortable) home theaters. Theaters need to completely restructure their entire business model and downsize – they’re just too big, too pricey, and to obnoxious. Some of the best theaters I’ve been to were the smaller, pampering theaters. Not THAT much cheaper, but always much, much more worth it.

    • optimist

      I’d suggest theaters shoudl restructure their business models in the other direction.

      Some of the best theaters I’ve been to were the “pampering” kind-not always smaller, but the Arclight model: A-1 projection, clean, comfortable stadium seating, NO ads, NO texting/talking/disturbances allowed.

      I’ve always paid more happily to see any film that deserves a theatrical viewing at one of the so-called premium places. To me the “obnoxious” places are the cheaper ones that bring out teenagers and other people who are only sort-of interested in actually sitting attentively through a movie-any movie.
      For many people today, clearly the home setup(which I can’t afford, actually)IS preferable. If so they should absolutely stay there and enjoy it their way, doing whatever they want for 110 minutes rather than bring their personal living room couch ADHD-talking, getting up, texting, answering the phone, babysitting-into the filmgoing experience that at minimum cost everyone else 10 bucks & up.

      3D will rise or fall on its own merits but it’s not a maker or breaker.

  • Hermes

    Whenever the shot changes in a 3-D film your eyes have to adjust to a new convergence, and there is always a split second of confusion before your mind can see the 3-D effect. That’s why 3-D looks better in still images like comic books, where you can stare at the image until you are drawn into it. If the edits in a 3-D movie come too fast it gets tiring to adjust to them and you get an annoying sense of discontinuity.

  • Hollywood is terrified that the internet will destroy the music business just as it is destroying the music business. When a teenager is able to download a feature-length movie in the time and store hundreds or thousands on their iPod or smart phone, the game is over.

    This is why the movie studios are desperately pushing the 3-D experience. They need a gimmick to slow the endless decline in movie attendance, or at least make as money as they can before the bottom falls out. Technology is destroying the 20th Century business model, and nobody has yet to conceive of a plan for the 21st.

    The experience of watching movies on 35mm film, projected onto large screens in a darkened theatre, will go the way of vinyl records. That isn’t to say they will die out completely, but become a haven for a very small and dedicated community, and reserved for a handful of venues and special events.

    • Oluseyi

      And I say, “Hallelujah!”

      I read a science fiction short story many years ago, Dreaming is a Private Thing by Isaac Asimov, in which the fact that collective experience of a mass entertainment medium is dependent upon spectacle is a given once private apparatus are readily available and affordable. Ever since I’ve viewed “the movies” as directly analogous to Asimov’s “Dream Palaces,” as I’m sure was his intent, and in recent years have made my purchasing decisions accordingly. I go to the theater to see large, bold, spectacular visions. Star Trek (yay!), Tron: Legacy (boo!), Transformers 2 (hiss!). I’m sure True Grit and Black Swan are great, and I’ll see them eventually, but in the comfort of my home on a device that I can pause for a bathroom break or rewind to listen to a line of dialogue again.

      Where the Hollywood studios are failing, in my opinion, is in trying to slap 3D onto everything and claim the result is a spectacle. If I ran a studio, I’d use 3D exclusively for purpose-built vehicles while continuing to release “2D” features unaltered (why leave money on the table?), and I’d make the 3D features shorter so as to get better ROI. (My hypothesis is that people will pay reasonable premiums for shorter but much more spectacular films.)

      So Hallelujah, I say. Let these studios fail and these executives get axed so that someone with a better idea can give it a shot. Let’s fail faster so we can get to better ideas, sooner.

  • Oluseyi

    Walter Murch is not an expert on vision, cognition, the anatomy of the eye or even the mechanics of 3D image generation. Why am I supposed to listen to his opinion on this? Especially when people who ARE experts refute his “analysis”?


    I’m no fan of 3D, but I also won’t invent reasons why it will “never” work. I’m just committed to waiting for holograms, instead.

    • Mark

      Patric Napel is an expert on optics?

      FYI, Murch IS an expert on Film and Editing and the audience response to the images they watch. Probably the best in the world. Science by the numbers when dealing with stereoscpoic imagery is misleading at worst, and wildly varying at best. And numbers do NOT take into account the variations in audiences eyes. And 30% loss in brightness and contrast as an average is more than one stop.

      I’ll never understand people who are willing to pay more for lesser quality.

  • Bruce Wright

    I don’t buy this argument. Evolution never built us up for a lot of stuff we do all day.

    It’s really strange for Murch to martial an evolution argument as to why he doesn’t like a particular form of entertainment.

    I understand it can be a source of eyestrain. But we strain our bodies in lots of popular ways for entertainment. We didn’t evolve with skiis on our feet. We didn’t evolve with scuba tanks on our backs. We didn’t evolve with horses under our butts. We have words to describe the discomforts we put our bodies through for ‘fun’. Saddle sores, tennis elbow, swimmers ear…

    I think it all boils down to the argument “I don’t like this, therefore the entire world will eventually agree with me and stop doing this.” Funny. Millions of people seemed to like Avatar in 3d just fine.

    Evolution doesn’t weigh in on *any* argument over how to make movies. It’s a stupid argument with a simplistic view of nature. It’s just silly and facile. Evolution didn’t “build us” to use use birth control either. So what? We’re humans. We invent and adapt.

    Murch uses “evolution” on his side of the argument the way other people use “God”. Like “If God had meant man to fly, we’d be born with wings!”

    I also don’t like Ebert taking this (as he usually does) into absolutism. He basically says eyestrain is an issue…therefore 3D will NEVER solve this problem EVER. “3D doesn’t work, never will. Case Closed.” It’s like shutting people up. Like no bit of evidence or argument or any new invention would ever change his mind. It’s so dismissive of an opposing opinion that he sounds like a politician. “I said GOOD DAY SIR!”

    Gee, I guess if Ebert says something is impossible, it really is.

    Here he is writing during the dawn of digital theatrical projection:


    “No matter what you’ve read, the movie theater of the future will not use digital video projectors, and it will not beam the signal down from satellites. It will use film, and the film will be right there in the theater with you.”
    -Roger Ebert: Futurist.

    “The source of their signal is an array of 20 prerecorded 18-gigabyte hard drives, trucked to each theater. This array costs an additional $75,000”
    -Roger Ebert describing what is today $80 worth of technology.

    It’s always the luddites who can’t imagine that limitations are challenges to be tackled, not reasons to celebrate and stop working.

    Oh, and Ebert also says that Videogames aren’t art, and “never will be”. CASE CLOSED!

    • Mark

      There is very rarely artwork in videogames worth looking at–but when there is, it’s nice. But videgames themselves will not be “art.”

      • Mark

        I’m yet to see a video game I’d call art, but I do not doubt that it’s possible.

    • Jorge Garrido

      “Oh, and Ebert also says that Videogames aren’t art, and “never will be”. CASE CLOSED!”

      So statement from argument B closes the case on argument A?

      • Bruce Wright

        It’s an example of Ebert’s penchant for absolutism and drastic “end of discussion” predictions of artistic limitations, which he projects infinitely into the future.

        He seems to think he has found boundaries that are firm and immutable. Then he declares “case closed” for all the rest of us folks who dare imagine better.

  • I like 3D. I wouldn’t shell out for a 3D TV set, but I enjoy 3D in the theater. I have no problem with headaches, focus or any of those issues.

    While I may be at odds with the rest of the world, I really think that it makes an event movie, more of an event.

    If you don’t like it, go watch the 2D version. But for my money, if they’re releasing a movie that I want to see in 3D, I’ll see it in 3D.

  • I respect Walter Murch’s opinion. Not only is he a consummate sound designer he’s a picture editor too so in that respect he IS an expert on vision as it pertains to the edit and visual storytelling. Read his book In The Blink Of An Eye. Better yet, watch some of the films on which he’s been picture editor AND sound designer, like The Conversation and Apocalypse Now. There’s no question that your eyes work harder to register stereoscopic images over 2D images in the darkened theater. At least, mine do. I’m sure that extra work poses problems for how some editors choose to cut. Maybe not, though. All films will still be enjoyed in 2D long after their “3D” release.

    If I have to choose however, between watching a film in stereo or just nice, old-fashioned 2D, I’ll go for the 2D. I don’t like having anything between my eyes and the picture plane. I have seen my share of 3D movies, but I don’t like that 3D films run darker and more desaturated and I don’t like the way 3D muddies up the edge of the picture frame itself. I love that the edge of the frame is the boundary into which I am transported. I don’t need the film to come out at me. I chose to see Avatar in 2D and enjoyed it just fine. I think if I had seen it in stereo, my eyes would have exploded.. there was so much going on in that picture frame.

    If I want a truly 3D experience, I’ll go to a museum and walk around a Henry Moore sculpture as long as I like, viewing it from different vantage points. Or go to the theater, or take a walk in the park. Imagine that. If you want to get technical about it, that’s Real D 3D, and nothing will ever replace that. The first time I saw Picasso’s painting, Les Demoiselles D’Avignon at the Moma in New York, it blew me away. I was totally floored by the piece. Firstly, because it was much bigger than I imagined, taller than me. And because it embraced the flatness of its 2D presentation. When museums start selling glasses to see such paintings in “3D”, I will stop paying to visit them.

    As for film..like painting, I love that it IS 2D. I love the various formats 1.33:1, 1.85:1, 2.35:1, and so on. Don’t forget that CinemaScope, the beautiful widescreen format introduced in the early 1950’s, was a way to get audiences back into theaters again after television sets became the norm in most households. A gimmick at the time, but still an epic, glorious 2D image. I remember seeing a gorgeous print of Ben-Hur (1959) at The Egyptian Theater in Hollywood several years ago. Charlton Heston was sitting in the audience too…

    “3D” will never top that. The End.

    • Mark

      The20th Century’s greatest film director, William Wyler, and a good script, like that for Ben Hur, do more than “3D” ever could.

      Also remember, 3D films are 2D.

  • Having watched “How to Train Your Dragon” in Imax 3D and “normal”, I have to say I preferred the 3D experience.

    It’s not for everyone, but neither is the movie itself.

    This era in filmmaking would best be served if both sides stop staying “this is the way it should be”. There is no one-size fits all solution.

    • Bruce Wright

      Agreed. “Dragon” was an almost spiritual sensation for me in 3d. The flying scenes in 3d were like a lucid dream.

    • Justin

      I agree. I also watched Tangled first in 2D and then in 3D and I really felt the 3D added to the movie. Many times it wasn’t the “in your face” spectacle that most people attribute to 3D, but really an increase in the emotion of particular scenes.

  • Bruce Wright

    Great post, Lou.

    While I like 3d, I don’t feel it’s necessarily superior or inferior. To me, it’s ‘different’, like some films are better in Black and White than I could ever imagine them being if they were in color.

    For example, Avatar I wish I could see again in 3d anytime I wanted. Seeing it in 2d is like seeing Wizard of Oz in black and white. However I really don’t feel I need to see “Up” in 3d again, and the 3d in that film was well done, subtle and comfortable throughout.

    I saw Coraline in both, and when watching it in 2d I *missed* the 3d. I won’t even watch Coraline now, I feel like the 2d is a diminished version of the film.

    I do think that watching a 3d film, for me, takes a bit more “effort” (for want of a better word) than just sitting there in a theater usually takes. For some films, that effort is worthwhile and rewarded, others not really, and I’d rather watch the movie the easier way.

    On a different note, when it comes to 3d the conversation seems to split along different lines:

    Some people like 3d.
    Some people don’t like 3d.
    Some people don’t like 3d and really think you shouldn’t like it either.

    Murch and Ebert fall into that last camp.

  • Royce Banuelos

    I don’t see how the 3D hurts anything. I’ve seen 3d movies before and don’t have any physical issues. The effect kind of wears off after a while. It’s a gimmick. Something fun to experience.

  • I’ve recently seen several great movies and truly enjoyed them. Then, I remembered why it was such a great experience. Not one of them was in 3D.

    I’m not knocking the technology, and people are welcome to all the 3D they want – or can afford. A great story a good old fashioned flat screen is all the depth I need.

  • Kitschensyngk

    3D is a gimmick.

    It was a gimmick in the 50s.

    It was a gimmick in the 80s.

    It’s a gimmick now.

    No amount of computer technology will change that.

  • Bruce Wright


    Animation is a gimmick.

    Motion pictures are a gimmick.

    Photography is a gimmick.

    It’s all tricks to fool the senses into thinking you’re watching real things.

    • Donald C

      I fully agree.

  • Degeaffusunuman

    A lot of people don’t realize that “shooting for 3D” has helped a lot of movies. When I watched Rapunzel in 2D it almost seemed 3D because they had set their compositions up to work well in 3D. The same thing with Tron. I saw it in 2D and noticed how well planned the compositions were.

    Whatever Mr. Murch is saying is a bunch of bull. Has he even seen Avatar? I think there are a few different types of people in relation to 3D movies. Those that see them and love them. Those that have eye problems, and those that pretend to have eye problems. Just because you saw Spy Kids 3D in anaglyph or Honey I Shrunk the Audience at Disneyland and thought they were awful, doesn’t mean you should naysay 3D. Check out a modern 3D movie. Heck check out a classic 3D movie projected in a modern fashion. I saw a show of 3D films made since 1900 put on by Serge Bromberg, and they all looked great. Save for the first one which was projected in anaglyph instead of the modern fashion. Anaglyph 3D always gives me a headache after a while, and whenever I saw Honey I Shrunk the Audience the 3D hardly worked for me at all. So those of you that say you don’t like 3D, I suggest you give it another chance. Even the polarized systems have gotten a lot better in the last few years.

    Face it folks, 3D is the next step, just like the transition from black and white to color. Actually I think its more like shooting in widescreen or 65mm back in the day. You have to take a step back and produce on a more epic level. In a time where shaky handheld camera seems to be so cool, this is a welcome change to me.

  • GW

    How about addressing a basic loaded assumption here? There’s the idea that double eye projection means 3D display. Just because 3D, in its most popular format, uses imagery projected to both eyes does not mean that a device that projects images to both eyes must be used to display 3D. Just what are all the different uses for dual eye projection now that the current 3D craze has brought the technology back into theaters?

  • wgan

    the only problem is that clunky glass

  • Mark

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with 3D really, but there’s no doubt 3D films have to be made differently. Different composition, different editing, different use of focus. The idea that 3D film is superior to 2D is ridiculous though. It has added a dimension, but there are drawbacks and there are still things 2D does better. I don’t mind the two co-existing, I just resent when the 2D option isn’t made available.

    • Mark Walton

      Wow, you pretty much said exactly what I was going to say. I would only add that I resent paying so much more for a 3D presentation of a film, when film prices (at least in California) are already ludicrous. At least they should give you a discount if you bring your own glasses. And if I go to a theater, and the glasses don’t work properly, are so dirty (if they are the reusable kind) I can’t see out of them, or the projector isn’t bright enough for me to see certain darker scenes (all of which has happened to me), the theater should refund my ticket without delay, at the very least (which sometimes has happened).

      • Mark

        You don’t get a discount for bringing your own glasses in California? Man, that’s bad.

  • Lib

    To me, the problem with 3D is that virtually no movie takes any real advantage from it. All those overpriced 3D films out there are exactly the same thing they would be if watched in 2D: a good composition, use of light and color and camera placement is enough to make the audience understand the depth of things, feel excitement or get immersed in the movie. In those terms, 3D adds absolutely nothing to the film language as we know it. It’s just a poor excuse to bring people back to film theaters and they try so hard to sell it as some revolutionary change.

    The only rare exception to this fact would be a film like Pixar’s Day and Night, where the use of 3D was smart and justified instead of completely gratuitous.

  • Does this mean no 3D rerelease of Return To Oz? That scene where the Nome King is slowly lowering Jack Pumpkinhead down his throat would be TERRIFYING in three dimensions!

  • Peter


    No, there are no reasons to dislike 3D movies.


  • chipper

    I guess I can’t judge 3D for myself because I’ve only seen one movie in it (Up) and it didn’t do too much with it. I’ve got both Coraline and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs on video. I’d be curious to know what they’re like in 3D, I’ll admit, but they’re still cute and fun.

    Still, the idea of seeing those hideous blue people in Avatar in 3D terrifies me to my very core.

    • Mark

      Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is actually the only film I’ve seen where the 3D genuinely added to the experience. Nothing pops out, but the depth it adds was really effective.

  • The last time I watched 3D my eyes exploded. Avatar is a mess to watch either in 2D or 3D. It only reminds you again and again that 3D is much better than reality.

  • eeteed

    3D movies do not “…make the imagery darker…”

    the film must be projected with higher levels of light to compensate for the polarized glasses.

    theater owners are informed this, and told what level of light is needed.

    unfortunatley, some theater owners are greedy and refuse to project the 3D films with the proper amount of light to save money.

    i went to an older theater to see coraline in 3D, and walked out because it was underlit and blurry. i saw it across town in a newer high-end theater, and it was projected properly and looked beautiful.

    • Mark Walton

      I have to say, perhaps I am unlucky, but every 3D film I’ve seen so far has seemed just a little too dark to me (and slightly lower contrast, muddier colors, and fuzzier detail)- and I’ve seen a lot of different movies in a lot of different theaters with 3 or 4 different kinds of 3D glasses. I say this as someone who, nevertheless, really likes certain 3D movies, and, granted, some experiences were darker than others, and my eyes generally got used to the darker image, although some particularly dark scenes were hard to see at all. If someone has solved this problem, I’d be delighted, but I haven’t seen it yet.

    • Mark

      There’s always some colour loss with the glasses, no matter how much the projection compensates. Get an image and open it in photoshop. Now make a copy and put these two images side by side. Stick a layer of solid black over one and drop it to 10% opacity. Now, adjust the image beneath until it matches the original again. You can use any tool in Photoshop you want, but you’ll never succeed, not without altering that layer of solid black in betwwen you and the image.

      It’s the same with the glasses. With some movies the compensation is enough, but most of the time it isn’t.

  • Toonio

    3d is not the problem, what they are doing with it really is.

    Hollywood should stop the 2d to 3d conversions and shoot with systems like avatar’s, and must important use it with a purpose.

  • 3D hurts my eyes, and I don’t think it adds anything from a storytelling perspective, but most people don’t seem to have any problem with it. I always experience the same issues mentioned here (cuts in 3D are extremely jarring and momentarily straining; everything being in focus at once feels wrong and is hard to get used to) and I’d like 3D to go away just as much as the next guy if not more so, but these visual problems just doesn’t seem to be the case for most people.

  • Joe Boulden

    As much as I respect Roger Ebert, I have to say I’ve had good 3d experiences as well as bad. It’s like any other medium, it depends on the artist(s) and the viewer(s).

    I have an easy time at 3d movies done well. “Up”, “Toy Story 3”, The latest Narnia, “Avatar”, these had excellent strain free 3d from my perspective. It added a lot to the films. The ones that do all their 3d in post don’t do as well.

    A lot of people do not see in proper stereo and for them I understand it being tedious.
    And there should be a better solution for the dimness.

  • Ken Cope

    600 million years of evolution hadn’t prepared me for watching 24 2D photographs per second, in a darkened room, while the point of view jumps all over the place, multiple times per minute, far more rapidly than I could ever physically shift my point of view, in the blink of an eye. I learned to adapt anyway, because I derive a degree of pleasure and satisfaction from learning how to do new things, especially when they are initially challenging, but increasingly rewarding over time.

  • Cyle

    I read this letter a few days ago, and it certainly makes a lot of sense. I don’t know if the eye strain issue is hard wired or something we can overcome after getting used to 3D. We’ll probably need more research before we can say for sure. I do know that I did experience some strain when I saw Avatar. It was slight, but I noticed it. I think we should stop arguing over whether 3D causes strain because some people experience it, others don’t, and the level of strain varies from person to person. Everyone’s eyes are different. These films are supposed to appeal to large audiences though, so they need to fix the strain issue, save 3D for short films only, or just wait for a new 3D technology.

    I do take issue with those who claim 3D doesn’t add anything to the story. Filmmakers (all artists in fact) use whatever tools they have at their disposal to affect the audience, tell stories and communicate ideas. There were those who said color wouldn’t add anything to films before people demonstrated the advantages. Color could have even been considered a limitation since certain visual effects techniques and other tricks depended on the lack of color to work. Like anything else, there were pros and cons.

    The key is controlled use. The introduction of color created the need for color grading. Without the precise control over the colors in each shot, modern color films wouldn’t look so good. I’m sure he wasn’t the first to explain it this way, but I like the way Stu Maschwitz describes filmmaking as the process of removing information. When you add another category of information (like color) you have to go back and edit it to remove the bad and enhance the good. The same thing applies to depth.

    Like others have said, you have to compose everything differently. You can’t have distracting, out of focus foreground elements floating in the way of the action (the glowing things in Avatar) or quick seizure inducing cuts and camera movement. If something extends beyond the surface of the screen, make sure it’s fully within the borders at the edges. If a certain kind of shot creates an irritating strobe effect, trash it. The problem here is that every 3D film is being shown in 2D as well. They’re trying to make a film that works both ways which pretty much guarantees one of them will be inferior. If they made a 3D film where the depth added something important, 2d theaters and TVs would be showing an incomplete film.

    I love the fact that traditional film is 2D. That’s a huge part of the visual appeal: it’s moving photography. I don’t ever want that to change, but at the same time, I don’t think it’s the only way to create a motion picture. The problem is people are following 2D rules to shoot 3D movies.

  • 3D works fine for me SO THERE.

    • Because 3D threads are all about the personal anecdotal evidence.

  • Donald C

    Oh heck, I don’t care, I just love 3D.
    I’d just like a good story along with it. It shouldn’t have to be one or the other.

    • Bruce Wright

      How to Train Your Dragon, Coraline and Tangled had good stories and excellent 3D.

      • Mark

        In the case of Tangled, I think the 2D version was an improvement over the 3D version. The other two were more or less the same in 2D or 3D.

        Although I have to point out How to Train Your Dragon showed it really understood how to use focus in 3D. In the shots where there was massive depth in the image, every single element in the image was in sharp focus. This takes some stress of the audiences’ brains.

        When you watch a 3D film, and there’s a foreground or background element and it’s out of focus, and you look at it, your brain can’t figure out why it can’t get it in focus. It’s one of many reasons why people get headaches watching 3D. But that was never a problem in How to Train Your Dragon.

  • Birrats

    I don’t mean to complain. It’s not the end of the world. Flat-viewers, like me, can watch 2D versions of 3D content

  • In the 1920’s there was great discussion regarding the danger of color movies (then an emerging technology).

    “Too hard on the eyes” was the common wisdom even though people walked about seeing color 24/7 in their daily lives.

    Douglas Fairbanks had to do a lot of advance PR quoting “experts” to convince people that it was safe to view his full-length color movie “The Black Prirate.”

    I have to wonder if our problems with 3D are similar.

  • Anybody think they’ll pay us more to work on a 3D movie?

    • Karim

      Surplus-Labour as my good ol’friend Karl would say… ;)

  • You pay money to see something you’ve never seen before, not to see something as it naturally occurs every day, all the time. I’d rather shell out to see a really good story I haven’t seen before.

    If what you want is to see some really good 3D, take off the 3D glasses, step outside the theater and walk around.

  • Controlled studies I’d like to see…

    – give people some clear, ordinary glasses (a placebo) and tell them they have to use them watch a (completely normal 2D) movie and see how many report headaches or eye strain.

    – are people more likely to report problems if they sit at the side instead of the center? At the front or back?

    – make the price of a 3D movie the same as a 2D movie and see if the percentage of people reporting problems changes.

  • There are many strong reasons to dislike 3D now (it is an idea not fully baked to release as a standard), but a scientific conclusion that 3D doesn’t work and will never work is pretty BS. Slate deconstructs Ebert’s argument:


    I love Roger and all, and I always understand WHY he says the things he says (and empathize with him for it), but the man is well known for declaring opinion as fact*

    *case in point, that video games are incapable of being art. When barraged by the internet community, he backpedaled, but instead of backing down from his statement, he instead says, “just because I don’t believe that video games can be art doesn’t mean nerds aren’t allowed to enjoy it.”

  • NC

    I hate to say it but we’re living in a pretty shallow age. No one wants deep and original stories. They want “an experience”. Ray Bradbury saw this coming decades ago in “Fahrenheit 451”. People just want a rollercoaster experience without having to pay the admissions fee to an amusement park. It’s sad but it’s reality, people are clamoring for hi def images so they can see things clearly and yet oddly not think about anything. It’s just really frustrating, I had this conversation at work the other day, the guy was trying to convince me that Transformers, Avatar and The Blind Side were better films than the King’s Speech, Inception or The Social Network. People just don’t want to think anymore, they just want to be entertained.

    • Yes, if only people would go see those movies then they might make some money and even get Oscar nominations. I guess the audiences today are too shallow for that to ever happen.

    • Mike

      Those obese invalids in “Walle-E” also come to mind.

  • DB

    To add another thought:

    I agree that 3D is not something that ‘mimics’ real perception – but for a different reason than I see stated in the above post…

    As I see it (no pun intended) the data our brain processes through our eyes is not processed as 3D – it is processed as a flat image WITHIN our brain. A great Trompe-l’Å“il painting can look like it’s ‘real’ for this reason.

    Our eyes can be tricked by such an image – it is our sense of touch that would tell us it was not real.

    It’s more our sense of ‘feeling’ and sensation that makes things 3D. If you are walking through the woods, 3D is experienced more by the inner SENSATION we have of moving through space – or of the feeling of wind going by, tree branches brushing our face, etc.

    I think 3D is an interesting gimmick, but it in no way mirrors real perception to me – rather it’s like some sort of ‘alternative’ way of seeing things. I might buy it in a film if it was presented as, oh, I don’t know, point-of-view shots of some alien life form with three eyes or something.

    I think 2D movies appeal to us because it DOES more accurately mirror actual human perception.

    • Cyle

      You make some good points, but I think the main reason 2D film seems more compatible with human perception is because it’s easier to accept a fixed focus and point of view on a flat image. When you look at a painting or photograph, you don’t try to bring blurry or background images into focus. You accept the boundaries of the image, treat it like a window, and accept the focus given to you. Once you add depth, human instinct will be to attempt to choose what’s in focus like we would in real life.

      I think one of the biggest challenges for making 3D work will be creating shots where the viewer accepts the fixed focus. Of course if they create some sort of holographic projection technology where the audience *could* choose what to focus on, you’d just have to treat it like live theater and account for different points of view and a lack of direct control over the audience’s focus. At that point, traditional film-making rules wouldn’t be very helpful any more, and we’d have to treat it like a stage performance.

  • Since we’re all posting what we’d personally like to happen in the future of cinema as if it’s objective fact as a kind of magic spell; I’m looking forward to Tetsuo 4 in Imax 3D :)

  • JD

    Who needs 3D when you can have smell-o-vision! Of course, only Weird Al could have seen this coming.