“It took only two years for sound movies to become conventional and replace silent films, but 25 years for color to replace black-and-white films after Gone With the Wind in 1939,” said James Cameron in a recent interview with The Korea Times. “The 3D transition won’t take 25 years – too many market forces are involved now.”

The sound/color correlation has been made over and over in regards to 3D technology, but no matter who you are or what side of the issue you come down on, the reality is that 3D is not a fad. For better or for worse, it’s part of the evolution of filmmaking, and after 100 years of doing things pretty much the same way if it wasn’t 3D it’d be something else.

You can try to make jokes about Smell-o-Vision and Feel-Around and D-Box but the truth behind these gimmicks (real or otherwise) is that none of them are critical elements of cinema – they stand apart from the mise-en-scène, pure “movie-ness”, if you will, which is something you absolutely cannot do without in a motion picture. I’d even go so far as to argue that sound is a gimmick and completely unrelated to the language of cinema. If you remove the soundtrack from a film, you still have a film. It adds to the experience and enhances it, but it’s not a
necessary component.* Filmmaking is a visual medium. Stereoscopy is a visual tool, and supersedes sound as a natural element of the visual storytelling process.

Stereoscopy has been around for almost as long as photography, and the technology behind it is only now becoming sophisticated enough to enable filmmakers to really do amazing and subtle things with it. Audiences are ready for something new, and a guy like Cameron should know.

Another guy who knows is Sandy Climan, CEO of 3ality Digital. They’re the folks behind the stereography in U2 3D and in the past two years have cut lucrative 3D production deals with NBC, Fox Sports, and Sky TV.

In the wake of Roger Ebert’s latest anti-3D rant I was curious to hear a second opinion, so I contacted Sandy and asked him straight up: What’s the point of 3D?

That’s like asking why black and white? Why color? It doesn’t matter as long as you’re using technology to elevate the storytelling process.

The real question is whether or not creators will find ways to use 3D in ways that impact the audience. It could be in a narrative film or a documentary or a sports broadcast. That’s the creative element. James Cameron’s just scratched the surface, and now we’re going to have some of the greatest cinematic thinkers like Spielberg, Scorsese, and Herzog bringing you new ways to experience 3D. I say wait until we see what the creators can bring us.

The other thing is that once you see certain things in 3D, you’ll never want to go back to 2D. It’s not just that there’s a more immersive quality to the entertainment, it’s that the actual presentation is different than 2D. You can look at the two side by side and the visual language, the way its been edited and shot, is actually different.

If you’re a purist you can argue about whether or not a piece of entertainment will be enhanced by 3D, but part of that is personal taste, which has nothing to do with the filmmaker’s intent to create a better piece of entertainment.

If we have to complain that conversion does the film a disservice, that’s more a complaint about the quality of the conversion than it is about the fact that its been converted. I’m not a big fan of colorization, but I am a big fan of letting creators re-conceive their films in 3D because ultimately it’s another creative effort on their part, and a lot of the films being converted are being done in conjunction with the artists that made them.

Audiences have put up with so much bad 3D so long, but I think we’re at the point now where the quality is so high that people finally know what good, comfortable 3D looks like.

Maybe that’s why The Clash of the Titans and Alice conversions weren’t received so well. These films weren’t shot or edited with 3D in mind. What you end up with is something that feels like an experiment, and what people seem resentful of is the fact that they have to pay extra money to be experimented on.

Well, no one’s going to hold a gun to your head and tell you to go to the movies. A less than satisfactory experience is a risk you run whenever you go to the movies. On the issue of the audience being experimented on, I think the audience is at the point where they’re able to comment not just on the fact that a film is in 3D but they’ll comment on the quality of the 3D. We now live in a world of social media, and word of mouth is now instantaneous. Whether or not a movie is in 2D or 3D people are going to express their opinions. They can’t be fooled by any kind of studio spin anymore. If the studios over-promise, the audience finds out fairly quickly, and they’ll probably choose another piece of entertainment.

That sounds very democratic.

If the 3D is of a very high quality, like what we saw in Avatar, it can send itself into the stratosphere in a way we’ve never seen. It’s not because it’s new, it’s because the people in the audience interact with each other in a deeper way.

Are detractors being a bit myopic about 3D technology and its potential application in other mediums?

Is 3D for everyone? Probably not. We know it’s for a large number of people but there are always going to be those who question it. When I was a kid, a group of musicians called The Beatles were on the Ed Sullivan Show. I remember my father said, “This isn’t music.” He got up and actually walked out of the house. It’s like people used to think that listening to Elvis Presley would lead to immorality and all rock and roll records should be burned, and later how CD’s would never catch on.

You’re saying that when a process matures it becomes more mainstream.

Every technology has been challenged. The same things being said about 3D now were said about digital cinema technology. Filmmakers used to say – and still do – that you‘ll never get a better picture from a digital source than you could from film, but nowadays when a big movie opens it’s the IMAX and digital screenings that sell out the fastest. People were worried that HD was going to destroy the film industry, that it would take away the magic and prosaic nature of film.  Ultimately the audience will decide for themselves what they want.

*Even traditional editing isn’t always necessary. Feature films like Rope, Russian Ark, Speed Racer and Gaspar Noe’s latest, Enter the Void, all find interesting ways to experiment with the “cut”.


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