Almost every 7th person on this planet is unable to see proper 3D, at least that is what some scientists came up with during a study. They get sick, disoriented, get headaches or just plain don’t see depth. Still 3D is “da hype” for movies nowadays. Everybody and their dog churns out 3D movies.

One one side, it is good that the movie industry is trying to go into the 3rd dimension again (after those miserable failures in the 70s, 80s and 90s), on the other side it seems that many movie makers haven’t got the slightest clue on what to DO with this new dimension.

First of all, you can’t just “add 3D” to a movie and it makes sense. The audience got used to the way that movies work on the 2D screen. Fast cuts, camera moves, selective focus and all that jazz is fine and well and tested over several decades of movie making. Well, guess what, the game changes when going to 3D. Since there is more information on screen, people need more time to take it in. Since 3D on screen is basically fake (I’ll get into that in a second), the strain on the viewers eyes is bigger. If you jump cut around, people are going to barf in the theater. Probably not what you are after.

3D in cinemas is (like everything else in movies) a big fake. You are basically showing a picture in a way to make it look as if it were 3D, which it is not. Well, guess what, the brain actually notices it and reacts with confusion.

First of all, your eyes have to focus on the screen itself, even though the 3D illusion shows items deeper behind the screen (accommodation vs. vergence). This mismatch is something that gives a lot of people a slight headache or some nausea/dizziness after a while. Second, the brain is used to be able to focus on whatever it wants in a 3D scene and get that into focus. Which of course does NOT work with a movie, as the guy behind the camera decided for you which parts of the movie are in focus and which aren’t and there is nothing YOU as the viewer can do about it.

So, from an audiences point of view, what is the big deal with 3D? It’s harder to watch and you have to wear those silly glasses (that are probably germ infested from the last slob who wore them). Film makers have not yet grasped what they can actually DO with this new dimension that adds real value to the movie. It took the industry several years to figure out how to effectively use sound, same with color. 3D will be no different, is my guess.

If you have tons of money, you can of course make a technically fine 3D movie (i.e. Avatar), but besides being “cool”, what artistic benefit did 3D provide in this movie? Furthermore, pretty much all movies coming out now have a quite crappy 3D rendition. And don’t even get me started on the movies that have been 3D-ized in post…

Well, enough griping, let’s see what I expect from 3D going forward in order to adopt it fully:

  • no glasses
  • user selectable focus (I want to look where *I* want to look)
  • true depth (accommodation vs. vergence)
  • use of 3D as an ARTISTIC instrument (vs. as a techno gadget)

How can this be solved? Heck if I know…. some clever people are working on varifocal- and multifocal-plane autostereo displays (i.e. no glasses, you can focus where you want and accommodation vs. vergence is better), but these displays are single user displays and completely unfit for a movie theater with more than 1 simultaneous viewer…

My prediction is that the 3d experience at home will be much better much sooner than in theaters. Which sounds like the partial death of theaters but that’s another story for another day.