Wim Wenders: sharing the space

I had the incredible privilege of hearing Wim Wenders’ keynote address to the Toronto International Stereoscopic 3D Conference (June 11, 2011).  I transcribed some of my frantically scribbled notes at the time.  Now the entire speech is available online at Mr. Wenders’ official web site.

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.

3D in the Classroom Picking up Momentum

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.”

To view the full report of the findings, please go http://www.DLP.com/aoapresspdf. 

Stop the Presses! 3D actually GOOD for children?

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.

UPDATE! the report is available online here.

Debating 3D #2: Roger Ebert “I Hate 3D”

Vintage Roger Ebert from Newsweek back in 2010: Why I Hate 3-D (And You Should Too)”

This is a particularly eloquent and thoughtful criticism of 3D from a famous lover of films. Film critic, historian, and beloved blogger Roger Ebert summarizes the shortcomings of 3D from his point of view: venal Hollywood studios squeezing extra money out of audiences, charging premium prices for sub-premium product, compromised light levels, not suited to adult storytelling, headaches/nausea, nefarious equipment vendors trying to make a buck, and more.

Ebert cares passionately about film and makes an excellent case for higher frame rates, as well as better quality storytelling.

Published in Newsweek magazine and The Daily Beast web site, May 9, 2010, this article is an important part of the ongoing debate.  Click here to read then entire piece.

10 New Rules for Saving 3D film

“Enough with the gimmickry, price gouging and 2D conversions” Fantastic piece from MacLeans.ca by Brian D. Johnson June 30, 2011.  Some highlights:

Abolish 3D ‘conversion.’ […] Movies shown in 3D should be designed and shot in 3D.”

Unless you’re shooting a porn movie, stop pimping out 3D as a special effect. Enough with the poking, jabbing and zooming. Look, we walk around in 3D all day long without noticing. Breaking the fourth wall with a gun or a spear takes us out of the movie.”

Cut the tempo of fast-action scenes in half. That third plane of motion complicates everything; it makes our eyes work harder, and more independently. Give them a break.”

Take a cue from Werner Herzog and make 3D a tool for documentary revelation.”

Make movies in 3D, not for 3D.”

“Get creative. 3D was miscast as a marketing gimmick wedded to the action blockbuster. Why not use it to open up the art house? […] There’s no telling where that third dimension might lead if it were married to emotional depth.”

Debating 3D #1: Roger Ebert says “Never”

“Why 3D doesn’t work and never will. Case closed.”

Film critic, historian, and intrepid blogger Roger Ebert drew a line in the sand in this blog post from January 23, 2011.