Archive for February, 2016


Its most recent demise has been nothing short of astonishing. As recently as four years ago 3D seemed atop of the world and gaining momentum with filmmakers and TV broadcasters around the world seemingly poised to jump on the 3D bandwagon. Pouring tens of millions of dollars into new cameras, rigs, and displays, the major manufacturers like Sony and Panasonic subsidized to a huge extent startup venues like Sky 3D and Direct TV’s Channel 101. By January 2013 virtually every large screen display sold in the USA offered a 3D capability.

Then what happened? Despite the manufacturers’ best efforts and massive financial investment the public in Western countries never really cared for 3D. In Asia the public’s view was more positive but the interaxial handwriting was already on the wall in the principal markets in the USA and Europe.

Today, save for the few studio tentpole movies still distributed in 3D, the format has become all but irrelevant for most non-theatrical applications. You can blame it on the uncomfortable glasses, the underpowered insufficiently bright displays, or the poorly developed skills of 3D filmmakers, who not understanding the physiological impact of stereo viewing, unwisely opted for maximize depth at the price of viewer comfort. It goes without saying that  inflicting riveting pain on one’s audience is not a good way to win its loyalty and affection!

Since the dawn of painting and photography the challenge to artiss has always been how to best represent the 3D world in a 2D medium. Because the world we live in has depth and dimension, our filmic universe is usually expected to reflect this quality by presenting the most life-like three-dimensional illusion possible for our screen characters to live, breathe and operate most transparently.

In the 2D world of cinema and TV the camera craftsman uses mainly texture and perspective to foster the desired three-dimensional illusion. While the 3D shooter makes use of many of the same tools the stereo format inherently goes a long way  to promote the feeling of a real world experience. In fact the 3D shooter must often mitigate the use of aggressive depth cues, as the forcing of perspective can be very painful to viewers.

As a cinematographer and 3D specialist I attribute the format’s lack of public acceptance to something rather fundamental. Of course the ‘3D’ format isn’t really 3D at all but stereo, which is much less immersive. Viewing a movie or TV broadcast in stereo requires substantial viewer effort, a reliance on a gimmick or ‘loophole’ in human physiology that allows viewers to separate focus from convergence. As it turns out a large part of the audience is simply unable or unwilling to perform the unnatural act of forming a 3D image in its mind; it can be tiring or painful, and not at all conducive to what is supposed to be an entertaining experience.

In spite of all this, the savvy cameraperson today understands that the lessons of 3D, i.e. communicating the maximum number of depth cues to viewers, can greatly enhance the impact, breadth, and effectiveness, of our traditionally composed 2D captured scenes.