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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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