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The Challenges of 3D Filmmaking and The Future of 3D: An Academy Masterclass

The Challenges of 3D Filmmaking and The Future of 3D: An Academy Masterclass

No cinematic topic in the last few years has instigated as much — or as intense — debate as 3D. The jury is still out on how it bridges the art and science of motion pictures, or whether it does so at all. In its own way, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) is trying to settle the debate, or at least advance it. Academy member Robert Neuman conducted a Masterclass titled “Getting Perspective: The Art and Science of 3D” at the 15th Mumbai Film Festival.

Neuman heads the Stereoscopic Division at Walt Disney Animation, one studio that has gone full force into the third dimension (their last non-3D theatrical release was four years ago with “The Princess and the Frog.”)  This Masterclass was compiled with the help of the Science and Technology Council at AMPAS, and will travel to other festivals and exhibitions soon.

Here are some of the highlights from the Masterclass:

Making 3D Comfortable:

3D has been on a renaissance lately, but one of the biggest obstacles to its adoption has been the backlash from audiences over viewer discomfort. Animators and filmmakers alike have adopted some guidelines to reduce the effect, and Neuman spoke about the same. Human eyes are parallel to each other and can converge inward. However, they cannot move beyond parallel, i.e. diverge from each other. To avoid this, parallax limits are adopted in camera movements.

3D also does not favor quick cuts, since the eye needs time to adjust to depth. Animators are thus forbidden from going back and forth rapidly between objects at different distances. Coverage of such distance has to be conveyed through gradual cuts.

Tackling the Depth of Field:

When adding an extra dimension to an image, just how deep the resulting scene is evokes much debate. A deeper depth of field always leads to a richer 3D experience. But, the experience is more pronounced when the foreground element is out of focus, such as the first glimpse of Pride Rock during The Circle of Life sequence in “The Lion King” (a clip Neuman screened to substantiate his point).

A common complaint levied against 3D is that it’s barely noticeable in many scenes. Neuman countered this mindset by saying that the amount of depth depicted depends on the scene itself. Comparing the added dimension to a film’s color palette or score, he said the lack of 3D is intentional.

Filmmakers like James Cameron have stated that 3D will change the way a film is made, period. Neuman added weight to this belief by saying that in 3D, the screen is thought of less as a flat surface and more as a stage, complete with a proscenium arch. This arch is the primary outlet for letting audiences “into” the frame. It is vital to the composition of the shot, and works as the “window.”

Read More: Indies Go 3D: How a New Generation of Filmmakers Uses 3D to Enhance the Storytelling

The Challenges of Subtitling 3D:

The problem with adding an extra dimension to images is that some things meant for application to a flat surface have to be approached anew, such as on-screen text. While a film like “Avatar” took the safe route and placed the subtitles in front of all visual elements, “The Great Gatsby” played around with the text and let it dance around on screen. 

Revealing this an issue that received much thought from filmmakers, Neuman listed some rules followed while applying subtitles. Technicians avoid depth conflicts as a rule, and thus there is never a line behind any object on the screen. Ghosting is another simple-but-prominent error that the text is proofed against.  Neuman stated that all options explored so far have been varying degrees of bad solutions. There has been no “good” solution yet.

Where does 3D Go from Here?

Speaking about his upcoming projects with Disney (“Frozen,” “Big Hero 6”), Neuman said that artists and technicians are exploring more options of using multi-rig cameras on a single scene. The most complex scene he has ever worked on had nine separate rigs (“Tangled”). 3D will not be adopted wholeheartedly by cinephiles as long as it darkens films and mutes their color palettes. Studios are aware of this, and Neuman stated that there are projection systems available today that scavenge the light lost and reproject it on to the screen.

However, when talking about the best option, Neuman believed laser projection is the way to go. It’s too expensive right now, but that may not be the case for long. Walking away from the Masterclass, it was apparent that, just like taxes and the Transformers franchise, 3D will not go away — whether you like it or not. However, even the technology’s biggest detractors can take solace in the fact that the people striving for 3D’s propagation are not content with where it is right now. The good news is that they are working hard to improve 3D.

This article was filed from the 15th edition of the Mumbai Film Festival, which took place from October 17 to 24.

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Dave Watro

I love 3D as well. Sadly there is still a lot of bad 3D out there. I do love to read the opinions of those who hate it so much – it makes me wonder why they feel the need to write about their distaste for it. It's not like the days when black and white film switched to color. Perhaps back then you didn't have a choice to see the B&W version, but today, there is always the 2D alternative. If you don't like 3D, don't go see it in 3D – pretty simple. For those of us who enjoy going to see 3D films and appreciate the experience that it gives us, we will live or die by what the studios decide to do. With any luck, the technology will keep evolving, auto-stereoscopic technology will mature and the next generation of movie goers and makers will be more open minded.

Filmguy 3D

I love 3D. I'm a 3D filmmaker and it is just as much a real option as 2D. Each format has its own peculiarities and perks. For me, stereoscopic cinema, has all the potential of being the most exciting story telling device, ever. The illusion of the moving image and stereo depth have been around since the invention of still and motion picture photography. 3D will not go away. And for me, I am thrilled to be able to create in the medium.

J. Sperling Reich

Part of the challenge of 3D filmmaking is in image capture and how content is dealt with through the production (and post-production) workflow. During production, shooting in 3D presently requires additional cameras and equipment making the process very cumbersome.

At the annual SMPTE technical conference, taking place this week in Hollywood, an interesting presentation was given which focused on a new method of capturing stereoscopic content; a three camera system referred to as a Tri-Focal rig. The system, a prototype of which has been designed by Arri, uses one primary camera as the capture mechanism, and two satellite cameras to record depth information. This means a 2D production workflow can be used while allowing 3D to be added to content later in a controlled manner.

As for laser lamps in projectors, it is not only the prohibitive cost that is holding the technology back, but also the regulations (due to radiation) that accompany their use. Based on news coming out of both ShowEast in Florida (also taking place this week) and the SMPTE conference, the issue over regulations is well underway.


"3D will not go away, whether you like it or not." Well, that's an arrogant presumption. I personally don't care if they make all movies in 3D, I'm not going to pay money to see it. I gave it a chance with Hugo, and all the characters looked like flat cardboard cutouts in some sort of diorama of paper dolls. That is not to me what cinema is all about. A non-3D film has more depth in that sense.

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