Famous film editor makes case against 3D


— 5:04 PM on January 25, 2011

Some consider stereoscopic 3D to be the next frontier in movies and games, much like talking pictures and color movies were in the first part of the last century. Others see hard-to-overcome technical shortcomings that make the technology less of a clear step forward. On his blog at the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert has posted an interesting letter from Walter Murch (whom he introduces as "the most respected film editor and sound designer in the modern cinema") that contains some good ammunition for stereoscopic 3D's detractors.

Central to Murch's thesis is the notion that 3D forces viewers to engage in some unnatural gymnastics, sort of like "tapping your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time," that makes the experience far from seamless:

The biggest problem with 3D, though, is the "convergence/focus" issue. A couple of the other issues -- darkness and "smallness" -- are at least theoretically solvable. But the deeper problem is that the audience must focus their eyes at the plane of the screen -- say it is 80 feet away. This is constant no matter what.

But their eyes must converge at perhaps 10 feet away, then 60 feet, then 120 feet, and so on, depending on what the illusion is. So 3D films require us to focus at one distance and converge at another. And 600 million years of evolution has never presented this problem before. All living things with eyes have always focussed and converged at the same point.

Murch also points out additional issues, like more visible strobing with horizontal movement, a darkening of the picture, and the image feeling smaller in scope.

I've expressed my lack of enthusiasm for stereoscopic 3D before, and even after seeing more 3D movies, I think I agree with Murch. 3D enables some neat tricks, but I think it adds little to the immersiveness of the experience, and the various technical problems Murch mentions (along with the fact that I seem to get double-vision much of the time) make the experience less enjoyable. That's why I'll keep trying to avoid 3D screenings of new movies... and it's why I'm probably never going to pony up for a 3D monitor or TV.

   
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