What’s Wrong with 3D?

11/02/2010

Now that 3D has invaded our cinemas and threatens to take over video games and television markets, do we actually know what we’re looking at?

3D is not actually three-dimensional

When you look at a 3D image, you’ll notice that it’s actually composed of layers of 2D images. The person or object appearing to be closer than the background or hovering above the seats in front of the screen is still a two-dimensional image, and so is the background. This might be the reason why a lot of people forget about the 3D halfway through the film and feel tempted to take the glasses off.

Cinematography hasn’t caught up

3D films are mostly shot like the good old 2D films. In 2D photography (like in painting) lighting, perspective and framing are some of the visual tools to create a sense of depth. So, before the film gets its 3D treatment, most of the job is already done in the camera. The problem is that it doesn’t always work. Using out-of-focus objects in the foreground to create depth works for 2D but in a 3D image you’ve got a large blurry lump protruding out of the screen towards you – it looks distracting and unnatural, and not very RealD. The question is – why use techniques of 2D photography when you’ve got 3D anyway? 3D has been around for ages, there was a big wave in 1950s after having been around since 1890s – so why hasn’t the imagery evolved? And also, I hope they can get rid of those defects in human eyes – it wasn’t red eye but a similar white glimmer that made humans look eerie.

3D doesn’t raise the quality of the content

– just like any other technical gimmick. If the script is bad, it’ll be a bad film in 3D. Some film-makers forget themselves and just want to play around with the 3D result in in excessive prodding, poking, running, falling and flying. After the first wows the audience will grow tired of this because  running in itself makes poor drama (or if I want to watch people run, I’ll expect that from a marathon on a sports channel not in a dramatic piece of storytelling). 3D is an action medium which explains why we’re not going to see the release of Casablanca in 3D.

Do we know about the health hazards?

The human brain is a highly complex and a fragile organ. You don’t really look with your eyes but with your brain, the eyes are just the physical tools for seeing. According to an article by Mark Pesce, during the projection of a 3D image, a slightly different image is projected to each of your eyes, meaning that the brain will have to adjust and start ignoring some of the cues for depth in order to make sense of the technically manipulated image (this is also why 3D won’t feel that real). So after the film, when you take your 3D glasses off, your brain is still ignoring those cues and has to switch back. For some, it happens right away, for others, it might take hours – this condition is called binocular dysphoria. So, now with the 3D technology taking over the cinema, television and video games markets, people who will be exposed to 3D imagery on daily basis and continuously confuse their brain about depth cues, might end up with permanent binocular dysphoria. No one has done any health and safety testing around this, so what will you do when your child who spends hours playing a video game or watches sports or educational programmes on a 3D TV set ends up with permanent brain damage?

So, before we become all euphoric and welcome this innovation with open arms, should we take a moment and think about what we’re actually looking at?

Related articles:
Mark Pesce /ABC Keep doing that and you’ll go blind
Hollywood Reporter ‘Avatar’ 3D glasses confiscated in Italy
LiveScience Why Do 3D Movies Make Some People Hurl?
Samsung.com Samsung 3D TV Notice on Health Risks

and watch a visual demonstration by film critic Mark Kermode
How 3D Really Works

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2 Responses to “What’s Wrong with 3D?”

  1. Jonathan said

    Interesting post. I don’t know if I’m really impressed by 3D, and do consider it a gimmick, but still have you seen Avatar? The movie takes 3D to another level.

    • Margit said

      Thanks for the comment, Jonathan. Yes, I’ve seen Avatar – that’s what made me write this piece. I had Avatar in mind when I was writing about perspective and out-of-focus foreground objects that are used in 2D imaging to create a sense of depth, which means that if you’d consider Avatar visually impressive, it is already impressive before any 3D treatment! Great paintings and photographs are still great without any technical “filters” placed between the image and the viewer. I have to say I hadn’t seen 3D films before this – it never sounded appealing – so I can’t imagine what 3D looked like before, if this is another level. I’m just not convinced 3D is necessary.

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