Sunday, February 12, 2012

The 3D Scam

The long awaited 3D release of Star Wars - Episode I has hit the theaters, but I won't be going.  Let me explain why.

First off, I love a good 3D movie.  I was that kid who wore the red and blue glasses wherever I went.  In fact, I still have an emergency supply of about 50 of those glasses.  You never know when someone's going to post something cool in 3D on the internet!

I remember watching the original House of Wax when it was re-released in the late 70s.  That movie has some cool 3D effects that were unmatched until Avatar came out.  Here's the iconic paddle-ball scene.  (Make sure to grab your emergency pair of red/blue 3D glasses!)

How do 3D glasses work?  Simple--all you have to do is emulate the natural parallax that our two eyes provide.  What image do you see with your right eye?  And what image do you see with your left eye?  Put those two images together, and the differences in the angles, and what one eye sees that the other doesn't, provide the information the brain needs to judge distances.  This emulation process is so simple to understand, that I was able to produce cool drawings in high school.  The lines come out of the paper, and I impressed many girls.  < I'll post one of these drawings as soon as I find one. >

Okay, so 3D is a simple process.  If you have right-eye info and left-eye info, you have 3D.  To shoot film in 3D, you put two cameras next to each other.

However, once you've shot a 2D movie (using just one camera), you only have info from one eye.  There is simply insufficient data to create a true 3D image.  You can estimate it using focus/out of focus data.  Or you can manually take each frame and judge: "I'll put this guy here, and this gun that he's holding will come out of the screen this much, etc."  Sound familiar?  This is exactly what people went through to colorize old movies.  At the time, people thought it was a good idea, but you know what?  Today, no one admits that anyone ever successfully pulled it off.  The colors always look unnatural.

It's the same with converting 2D movies into 3D.  There just isn't a way to pull it off perfectly, and the results are distracting.  Case in point: Clash of the Titans (2010).  The 3D conversion was so terrible that characters' heads appeared to be detached from their own bodies.  The result was distracting and all the reviewers unanimously warned us viewers NOT to watch the movie in 3D.  I took their word for it and watched it in 2D.  I also remember seeing a preview for the movie Piranha 3-D (2010), and thinking, "This 3D is terrible!  How could any professional producer let this inferior product hit the screens?"

Some 3D conversions are better than others.  I'm sure all the CGI in the Star Wars prequel movies will be awesome, as the 3D information will most likely already be there.  That's how Pixar was able to successfully produce Toy Story 1 and 2 in 3D.  Since the original animation was produced with 3D imaging, the needed information already existed to produce the true 3D image.  This type of info doesn't exist anywhere in the original Star Wars trilogy.  I wonder how they're going to manage that.

But, yeah--if you watch Star Wars I, expect to see some cool 3D effects, but anything that's not CGI will be a toss up, and it would only take one instance of Obi Wan's nose floating in front of his face to ruin it all.

I actually wouldn't mind going to see the movie and judging how well they did the 3D conversion, if it weren't for the "scam" going on right now.  It's not that anyone's doing anything illegal, but like cell phone companies charging exorbitant texting fees and charging for receiving unsolicited texts, it's something the movie industry's doing and will continue doing as long as we, the consumers, let them.

This 2D-to-3D conversion is a recent boon for the movie industry.  3D movies are in, and everyone wants a piece of the action.  If it's cheaper to film in 2D and then convert to 3D, then an inexperienced 3D producer will go for it.

And look what's going on at the box office.  You have to pay an extra $3 fee per ticket "for the glasses."  I once asked if I could use my own pair that I saved from the last movie, and was told that I have to use the glasses specific to that movie.  While that once used to be the case, just about every movie produced in the last few years USES THE SAME 3D GLASSES produced by Real3D.

Also, outside the theater, they ask you to put your glasses into those recycle bins.  Do you ever wonder what happens to them?  If they throw them out, then that's a terrible waste of material.  If they clean them and repackage them, there's still no way that the costs of recycling get anywhere near $3.

We should call it what it really is: a fee to cover the extra costs of producing the 3D.

With that in mind, now you, the consumer, should know which movies deserve to get that extra $3.  Movies like Avatar went out of their way to give us some of the most awesome 3D effects in our generation.  On the other hand, movies like Clash of the Titans decided at the very last minute to convert to 3D, hoping to pull in an extra buck.  Their costs were nowhere near what Avatar spent, and the results were disastrous.  Yet, they pocketed that extra $3 per ticket.

How do you know which movies are really shot in 3D?  You could either do a Google search on the movie's name and add in quotes "shot in 3D," or you can visit this site I found:  It lists which movies have "real" 3D and which ones are "fake."  (The only place I disagree is with Transformers 3D, where most of it actually was shot in 3D, and the only reason to really watch it is the awesome 3D effects.)

So, when you want to see a movie, go check it out.  If it was shot in 3D, go ahead and pay the extra $3.  They deserve it.  If not shot in 3D, watch the movie in 2D and help put an end to this silly 3D conversion scam.

1 comment:

Jill Watts said...

I didn't know the process for 3D movies before now. I've only seen IMAX films and Avatar, and have never had a bad experience, so it's interesting to know that there's a site dedicated to knowing which ones are which. Will check that in the future.

I have wondered about the glasses thing, though. Horribly wasteful, if you ask me.