Is 3D a passing fad once again?


This is a copy of a post I made to another newsgroup

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The novelty of 3D has never “worn off”, and it also has never “taken hold”. It has just more or less been “out there” since Victorian times. Technology, quality of content, costs, ease of creation and many other factors have kept it from “going mainstream” in the way that 2D photography has. Since you never will be able to craft a 3D image for all scenes like you can a 2D image I believe it will never replace 2D photography. Even with instantaneous scanning systems and lens arrays and plenoptic cameras or whatever, 3D photography will require some level of skill to achieve quality results far beyond what is required for 2D photography. And it will always be more limited.

Frankly, that’s one of the things that attracts me to it as an expressive art form. You can achieve subtleties and meanings and deeper visual engagement far beyond any other visual medium in my humble opinion. The metaphor was so eloquently expressed in the Matrix movie where the camera transitioned from a view of a TV monitor through the front glass of the TV monitor into the scene. As I understand it, they spent a lot of time trying to get that effect to work and be clear. I submit that there are more than a handful of people that didn’t “get it”. But imagine the same scene where as you crossed the threshold of the glass monitor the scene became three dimensional. That kind of integration – where the 3D component is critical to the storyline is what gets me excited. The movie Pleasantville is another example where they went from color to black and white to move into another “dimensionality”. Integration of 2D to 3D transitions could be orders of magnitude more engaging and effective.

A big area of experimentation for me has been to evaluate our perception of things as they change size. For a two dimensional image everyone perceives an enlarged or reduced image as a referential depiction. A big picture of a ring for example is perceived as an enlargement or a way to see detail. We readily accept the image as reference to a real object. But create a three dimensional picture of a ring that is 24″ in diameter and the brain does not assume referential perception. Most people see it as a real giant ring and not an image to depict detail of a life size ring. A BIG perceptual difference that may not be effective for say signage in a jewelry store. For motion pictures, I believe size differential from scene to scene creates perception confusion. The size of the screen, the distance from the screen to the viewer and the interocular distance that the stereoscopic scene was photographed all interplay and this dynamic creates very different perceptions as compared to traditional 2D motion pictures. It can even alter our take on gimmicks and effects where stuff flies out of the screen. Focus group testing of a movie could be impossible because depending on where one sits in the movie they could have a different experience. And a movie with a different size screen could also change what is perceived. This can be a huge stumbling block for movies to transition to 3D Blu-ray for consumer televisions and is something that I have not seen written about. The simple fact is that the brain processes 3D imagery DIFFERENT than 2D imagery. Indeed, a small percentage of the population can’t effectively merge the views from each eye into a single image. They only perceive 3D through other cues like motion parallax, shadows, depth of field focus, etc.

This brings up another point. If you want 3D to be 3D you can’t only rely upon perspectives. As you change lens focal length you have background foreshortening (I call it the binocular effect) where the stereo image is radically different and we perceive it differently. Motion parallax (dolly moves) dramatically impact perceived depth and when the focal length and motion parallax aren’t familiar to what we see in normal life the brain says HEY what the heck is this I’m looking at! It is an altered reality that can have unintended consequences in terms of people’s reactions. Like, some people get motion sickness when what they see doesn’t match up with what their inner ear is telling them. Well if what you see doesn’t match up to anything you have perceived before – that too can have consequences that could lead to some kind of physical distress manifestation.

So, how weird is all of that? Just the tip of the iceberg my friends. And I haven’t even touched on the mind blowing subliminal messaging you can do with 3D that is freaking scary! It seems that the internal brain processing that occurs when left/right images are merged opens a pathway to all kinds of things. A good analogy is a hacker manipulating software to achieve special results that can do things like destroy your computer or track usage to provide highly desired functionality (evil and good). Yikes! That’s not to suggest that a 3D movie could blow up your brain – but if you think about how meditation can alter body function dramatically and how we manifest stress and so on, then it isn’t necessarily something to dismiss as trivial.

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