The impact of digital technology is being felt—for better and worse—across a wide variety of cultural sectors (books, music, photography). One of the most prominent disruptions has been in the rapid evolution of tools used to shoot, distribute, and project motion pictures.
The new documentary, Side by Side provides an insightful record of this moment in the film industry—the migration from traditional film capture, duplication, and delivery to digital cinema technology. It offers a thoughtful exploration of where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going in this industry.
Written and directed by Christopher Kenneally, it is co-produced and narrated by actor Keanu Reeves who brings his own front-of-camera experience into the mix.
It’s easy to be giddy about the incredible new possibilities enabled by emerging technology. And it’s easy to be maudlin and nostalgic for old mediums and formats. Side by Side provides an unsentimental platform for prominent and passionate advocates—pro and con—to examine in more detail different facets of the transition.
“You can’t shoot 3D on film…so film has been dead in my heart for ten years” —James Cameron, director
“I hate 3D. I put on those glasses, I get sick to my stomach. The whole 3D phenomenon, it’s a marketing scheme, isn’t it?” —Wally Pfister, cinematographer
There is mainstream (George Lucas, James Cameron) and esoteric (Lars von Trier, David Lynch, Lena Dunham) support for digital filmmaking that enables advanced effects and “democratizes” access.
There are also persuasive diatribes (from director Christopher Nolan, cinematographer Wally Pfister, and others) noting what is sacrificed, tangible and intangible, with the loss of the chemical film process and accompanying workflow.
I try not to do reviews here, but Side by Side is an excellent, entertaining film. Balanced, beautiful to look at (in handsome 2D), it’s a must for anyone who cares about this business. Martin Scorsese, fresh off his triumphant 3D Hugo gets the last word: “How do you use it to tell a story? It’s up to the filmmaker.”
France’s Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée or CNC (in English “National Centre for Cinema and the Moving Image”), is instituting an effort to ban silver screens across France and in the process making a strong statement on one of the nagging issues of digital cinema projection, low light levels, while dealing a serious blow for leading 3D exhibition systems.
Carole Lombard on the cover of a 1930 issue of "Silver Screen" magazine. The term is emotionally linked to the golden age of cinema.
Silver screens are synonymous with old school cinema, but in recent years they have become a required part of the kit for one of the most popular 3D exhibition systems, RealD. They also tend to have a brightness differentiation so light levels drop off around the edges of the screen area creating a “hot spot” effect reminiscent of the old school movie experience. This compromises image quality for non-3D films and can impair viewing from some angles within the cinema.
The CNC on behalf of the French government is charged with “supporting, regulating, negotiating, promoting and distributing, cooperating with local authorities, protecting film heritage.” In the interest of improving image quality and visibility they are mandating that silver screens be phased out going forward. While the ban will not impact competitors Dolby and X-pand, RealD has a market share of about 75% of deployed 3D screens in France. The agreement to transition away from silver screens to bright white is being seen as a challenge to usability for 3D.
Variety has an excellent summary here, and the original announcement, billed as an agreement to guarantee quality in digital cinema, is available here (in French).
Planet3D comment: this is a reminder that technology has to keep up with quality demands. It’s a commercial challenge, but in the final analysis audience experience is the most important thing.
Planet3D features a section from a 19th century painting of a woman entertaining herself with a stereoscope.
In a brave, creative move the NY Public Library has made more than 40,000 stereograph images available online at a new site along with a tool it’s calling the “Stereogranimator.”
Stereoscopes are a fascinating part of 3D history. They remind us that 3D is not a new entertainment phenomenon but a technique we human beings have been playing with for a very long time. The cards themselves are windows into other times and places—the stereo effect often brings a startling realism to a old-fashioned sepia image.
This Sterogranimator tool lets users select an image from the archive, render it as an animated gif and/or an anaglyph image (where two color offsets create the illusion of depth). These can then be shared in the online gallery (and in the case of the anaglyph images, viewed with red/blue glasses).
A page of frenetic flashing gifs or anaglyph pictures at first glance may seem, well, silly. Take some time to look at them and notice the subject that photographers chose to shoot (and site visitors chose to “stereoanimate”—the depth of images, the vantage points, the subject matter. It will bring you closer to some pretty amazing people, places, and things.
While debate continues about 3D as a cheap commercial trick or powerful visual tool this project brings interesting insight and context.
Thanks NY Public Library.
From the private collection of Planet3D: before cats on the Internet there were stereoscopic cats.
I have to be honest, when I started this blog I thought it was going to be a long time before 3D gained wide acceptance as more than a gimmick. Audiences were weary of poke-in-the-eye hijinks and cheap, quickie cardboard conversions and there was very little to point to (Avatar and, um, Avatar 2?) as an alternative.
The tide is turning sooner than I expected. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Scorsese’s Hugo actually “overperformed” at the box office on its opening weekend. The film is a hit with audiences and critics, winning new respect and credibility for 3D.
I wanted this blog to be a forum to exchange ideas, debunk myths, and objectively consider the challenges of 3D, but now I’ve also got to find some polite ways to say “I told you so”.
It’s gorgeous. Lyrical, subtle, joyful, witty, inspiring, and deeply moving. The film presents four of Bausch’s modern dance pieces, interspersed with vignettes—danced and spoken by company members as well as some archival footage.
The backstory is heartbreaking—Bausch passed away before shooting could begin and never got a chance to see her very ephemeral art captured so lovingly on screen. Her work is deeply emotional and very theatrical. I’ve seen plays within films before (Olivier’sHenry V, Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast) but never anything that emulated the experience of being at a live performance so profoundly.
It’s great work, Wenders is a great filmmaker, but the masterful use of the 3D stereoscopy tool truly makes it transcendent.
The show sold out, the audience included a who’s who of the local art and museum scene. In the lobby people were offering to buy tickets off those who had them.
Unfortunately this was a single screening, in a sub-optimal oddly shaped theatre, with bad sound, cheap glasses, faulty AC and a technical snafu that made the first few minutes unwatchable (double image but not in 3D—hoots and howls from the upscale artsy crowd). I can’t wait to see it again, somewhere great.
I was accompanied by a couple artist friends who were ready to hate it. They came away saying it was the best film they’d seen in ages.
The truth is, we are on the verge of a golden age of 3D as an artistic medium. Whether or not you care about modern dance—this film is a masterpiece. In Pina 3D is not a gimmick but an essential component of telling the story and immersing us emotionally into what is on the screen.
I hope it wins every prize. I hope it inspires a new generation of filmmakers and audiences alike. I know it inspires me.
“This is something that’s been said a billion times elsewhere by everyone else – there’s nothing quite as soul-destroying as paying a little bit extra to spend two hours watching a shoddy 3D post-conversion job in a pair of uncomfortable glasses. Ditching the pretence that 3D is either a) the future of cinema or b) a good thing at all would also be a good start.”
To paraphrase from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “I’m not dead yet. I’m getting better!”
This has been a hard post to write! You know how little kids sometimes get so excited when describing something amazing that they stammer and ramble—unable to just spit it out? That’s what I felt like after attending the excellent keynote session “Your World in 3D: Separating the Facts from the Hype” at 3D World in New York City last month.
There’s so much to say, so much to share, it’s hard to boil it down to a digestible blog post so I will summarize and probably be quoting this in the weeks and months to come.
The session kicked off with an introduction by Jim Chabit, CEO of the International 3D Society—an organization doing important work in bringing together a community around 3D. (Full disclosure, I’m a card-carrying member). This group is putting together events, awards, and information to build some momentum for 3D. Using facts and figures he asserted that 3D continues to do strong box office—especially internationally. He also focused on some upcoming major releases in 3D—Scorsese’s Hugo Cabret (which got rave reviews for an unfinished cut screened at NY Film Festival a couple of days earlier), Spielberg’s Adventures of TinTin, and the James Cameron’s 3D conversion of Titanic.
Buzz Hays, Senior VP 3D Production at Sony is an incredibly knowledgeable and dynamic speaker. He focused on some of the important technical issues and gave an overview of the stereoscopy training Sony has developed for film professionals. These in-depth (forgive the pun) materials are aimed at fine-tuning 3D cinema skills. Sony has been offering this course to help raise the overall technical level in the industry. He walked us through some of the key variables—tools that can be used for subtle (and no-so-subtle) effects. We also saw examples of common pitfalls (misalignment, mismatchs, and distortions) that helped explain and quantify when/why 3D becomes more uncomfortable to watch.
This presentation clearly and eloquently articulates the flexibility of 3D as a tool. When waved about recklessly it can be annoying and even uncomfortable. When it’s wielded with finesse it adds depth on many levels to story telling.
John Cassy from Sky3D in the UK stressed the importance quality and variety in content. “If you think 3D can paper over the cracks, you will fail”. He insists that quality 3D content relies on combining stories, people, and partnerships. We saw gorgeous footage from upcoming releases: “Meerkats” (cute animals in awe-inspiring scenery) and “Kew Gardens” (luscious, HD/3D time-lapse shots from one of the world’s great botanical treasures). He hailed Sir David Attenboroughfor being an early leader in 3D, the way he was an early pioneer of color TV 45 years ago.
Michael Duenas, DO,from the American Optometric Association (AOA) was the final speaker. The AOA recently released a fascinating report on 3D in education and in that context Dr. Duenas gave a passionate and wide-ranging presentation on the role of 3D in vision health and the far-reaching repercussions of not having adequate screening at an early age. It’s a bold assertion—that traditional eye examinations, in focusing on only one aspect of vision health, overlook the critical capability of stereoscopic vision. The resulting misdiagnoses and lack of treatment impact student engagement, learning, and broader issues such as crime and recidivism.
The AOA is going beyond debunking fears about 3D and championing it. This is a fascinating area that I’m sure will be getting a lot more attention.
The session wrapped up with a clip of silent film legend Harold Lloyd, an early enthusiast of 3D, converted to 3D. It looked pretty darned good.
It puts forward a passionate, eloquent vision of what is possible with 3D as an artistic tool. Wenders has created “Pina”, a film featuring the work and creative company of the late Pina Bausch. He screened some clips from the film and it’s amazing. I can’t wait to see the whole thing. Here’s the trailer:
The speech is long and reads like an epic poem but it’s really a manifesto challenging the trivialization of 3D as an artistic tool. Anyone interested in 3D, film, or art in general should read this. I will be posting my favorite quotes starting with this one:
[on working on “portraits”, close-ups of the dancers]
I must say: I was, again, unprepared. We had been using this technology for weeks already, and had started to “understand” it, learn how to move the camera, learn how to deal with “depth”, but this sheer presence of a person, without choreographie, without sound, without story, almost without purpose, was… mind-blowing.
I had not seen that in any film before, not in any 3D film, that’s for sure, and not even in our own shots. How this medium was able to actually transcend (in the very sense of the word) the realm of cinema, of cinematic representation, and create (or imitate, I’m not sure) “presence”, human presence, in body and soul… that was shocking.
The most outrageous, though, was, or is: the present perception of 3D is going in the opposite direction. It is all taking place in the realm of fantasy, and the actors on the screen are more devoid of reality than any actor in any old black and white movie. Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz in “Pirates of the Caribbean” for instance (I could pick many other examples) are not “there”… they do not exist, with all the gimmickry around them they are strange, human-like creatures, “body snatchers” like in that film by Phil Kaufman. And that goes for everything that comes packaged in the 3D envelope of the Major Studios. They have taken this language, this amazing new medium, and … kidnapped it, stolen it, mutilated it beyond recognition, so none of their audiences could possibly conceive of it as a tool to represent … reality. Human reality. Our planet. Our existence. Our concerns.
But: I am convinced that this is what 3D was invented for.
On the heels of the American Optometric Association report‘s praise for 3D as beneficial to learning and health, there is new research being published that expands in more detail on 3D as a tool for engagement, learning, and retention.
These initiatives are interesting for a couple of reasons. First, if 3D is not only not bad but actually good for kids, if schools trust it, then that goes a long way to debunking some of the anxieties—specific and generalized—about the impact of the technology on young people.
The education market is also a potentially large and lucrative one for selling projectors. The theatre market is not high growth–the TV market will focus on sets, not projectors. This is good business.
Here’s an interesting video case study:
A tip of the hat to Wired magazine’s “Geek Dad” column for covering this!
Finally, here’s the complete announcement of the research findings:
3D Lessons Deliver Higher Levels Of Understanding And Increased Focus To Students Across Europe
European research highlights significant improvements in test scores as a result of learning with 3D content
LONDON – September 29, 2011, 12:00 p.m. GMT: Texas Instruments (TI) (NYSE:TXN) DLP® Products presents data that shows 3D, when used as a teaching tool in classrooms, has a widespread positive impact on how students learn. The independent study is announced today at the UK launch event in Claridges, London and hosted in collaboration with The Company of Educators. Conducted in classrooms across seven European countries, the research compares the difference in comprehension, information retention and overall behaviour between students learning via traditional 2D methods versus learning via 3D projection.
A long-time partner in providing technology for education, DLP Products initiated the study as a way to gather information and feedback on teaching with content displayed using 3D projectors. The research team, led by Professor Anne Bamford, Director of the International Research Agency, commissioned pre- and post-testing on control and variable student groups to track information retention and understanding, as well as collected observational data during classroom visits to measure student attentiveness and behaviour.
Highlights from the survey include:
On average, 86% of pupils improved from the pre-test to the post-test in the 3D classes, compared to 52% who improved in the 2D classes.
Individuals improved test scores by an average of 17% in the 3D classes, compared to an 8% improvement in the 2D classes between pre-test and post-test.
92% of students on average were attentive during 3D lessons, while only 46% were actively paying attention during non-3D lessons.
“Teaching in 3D is a remarkable educational tool that enables students to enhance their learning capabilities by truly engaging and interacting with the subject criteria in a highly effective way,” explained Kathryn Macaulay, Deputy Head (Data, Operations and Communications) at The Abbey School, Reading, UK. “This research clearly demonstrates the ‘real’ results that high quality teaching in 3D generates and further reinforces the need for wider appreciation of how 3D technology can be adopted in the classroom to allow students of today and tomorrow to fulfill their potential.”
The research project involved 740 students (ages 10-13), 47 teachers and 15 schools across France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Turkey, United Kingdom and Sweden between December 2010 and May 2011. Students were tested before and after the lessons, with one control group learning with 2D methods only, and the other receiving the same instruction, but with 3D content added into the lessons. Students were also tested on their ability to recall the information four weeks later, and researchers collected observational data on the engagement level of students at set intervals during each of the lessons.
Bamford said, “Across all of the schools involved in the study, 3D shortened the time it took for students to learn concepts, increased their attention spans and resulted in overall deeper thinking from the students. The findings indicate that 3D projection should be considered now and into the future when looking for ways to improve students learning and engagement.”
Adoption of 3D-Ready projectors looks to have no signs of stopping. According to the Pacific Media Associates (PMA) 2011 Q2 Census Report, nearly 2 million DLP 3D-Ready projectors were available globally at the end of 2010 and 4.1 million units are expected on the market by the end of this year. This comes as no surprise with the lifelike images that 3D projection can provide, which not only keep students‟ attentions, but also provide an immersive, 360-degree view of content that previously could only be taught using flat, 2D images and videos, or rudimentary models and figurines.
“We are delighted for the opportunity to jointly host the UK launch event with TI DLP Products,” said Peter Briggs, Master of The Company of Educators.
“At Texas Instruments, we work to provide technology that improves people‟s lives and the results of this study show that we‟re putting our resources in the right place,” said Roger Carver, Manager of Front Projection, DLP Products. “As the technology powering the vast majority of 3D-Ready projectors around the world, from cinemas to classrooms and home theatres, TI DLP is focused on enabling teachers and students worldwide to experience the same kind of learning success that has been found through this project.”
This should make some industry insiders very very happy. The American Optometric Association (AOA) is releasing a report called 3D in the Classroom subtitled “See Well, Learn Well”. (See the announcement by clicking here).
Contrary to recent gloom-and-doom reports about the perils of 3D—including headaches, nausea, and damage to the vision of young children—the AOA is asserting that its research shows not only does use of 3D significantly enhance learning in the classroom, it’s useful in early identification of vision problems for early intervention and treatment. According to the AOA:
“…New 3D opportunities are underscored by two essential facts, 1) children often learn faster and retain more information in the 3D environment, and 2) the ability to perceive 3D and learn in 3D requires precise elements of ‘vision fitness’. Importantly, 3D vision fitness skills associated with eye alignment, eye tracking, and balanced and corrected refractive errors are also associated with improved overall reading and learning abilities.”
The announcement continues:
“The recent emergence of innovative 3D presentation technologies and 3D content in movie theaters, in the home, in video games and now in the classroom , perhaps surprisingly, provides a unique public health opportunity. The ability to perceive depth in a 3D presentation – known as ‘stereopsis’– turns out to be a highly sensitive test of a range of vision health indicators. It is much more sensitive than the standard eye chart that has been in use for 150 years, because it requires that both eyes function in a coordinated manner, as they converge, focus and track the 3D image.”
Variety has an excellent article by Michael Sullivan putting this into context for the high stakes emerging 3D business which ranges far beyond education to encompass entertainment, advertising, and gaming. Addressing industry warning labels (Nintendo 3DS for example) he says:
“AOA began speaking out after Nintendo attached a warning on its new 3DS stating that the effect should not be used for children younger than 6. In a statement, the AOA disputed that assertion, saying, ‘Since vision develops from birth, it is crucial to uncover the type of vision disorders that may interfere with Nintendo 3D viewing at an early age. Accordingly, children younger than 6 can use the 3DS in 3D mode if their visual system is developing normally.’ Labels on most 3DTV sets also warn against prolonged viewing, despite the fact that there is no medical evidence that substantiates these warnings.”
My opinion: this is closer to a credible scientific insight than the alarmist news reports that have been proliferating recently. But I am filing this under “Business of 3D” as well as “Science of 3D” because, well, I’m essentially a skeptic. Debates around the dangers of smoking and climate change teach us that it’s not enough to see what is being said—it’s important to always see who is saying it and what’s in it for them.
So far, however, the pedigree of this report looks excellent and that’s great news for the 3D industry. Stay tuned.