Because It’s Been Forever (Since My Last Post): 5 Issues With 3D


Don’t get me wrong, 3D has valuable attributes: it engenders a visual experience absent in that of 2D—a formal, though artificial, depth-space that seems measurable; it may be more immersive, ostensibly bringing the viewer into the picture; it serves as a discourse on the affable yet non physical-like qualities of 2D. Needless to say, it is a spectacle that can be highly entertaining. That said, I find 3D to be markedly less realistic and more artificial than 2D, and suggest that it is only viable—in its current state—as an interesting manipulation of the two dimensional picture. It will only be after these problems are rectified that 3D may be seen as the new and improved medium it implicates.

5. Selective Focus

Selective focus cinematography draws the viewer’s attention to certain areas of the image—whatever is in focus. It is useful in highlighting particular figures within the image; it is concurrently useful in eliding content, such as who or what a figure is. Rack focus, the shifting from one plane to another, draws attention to itself and therefore utilizes form as a means of eliciting content. The shifting of planes changes the formal quality of the image and may reveal who or what a figure is. Andre Bazin claims that selective focus, however, rules out ambiguity and thereby takes away the viewer’s freedom and active mental attitude; in other words, the use of selective focus, as opposed to deep focus, invites a mental appreciation of an image that is unlike that of an image in reality. Selective focus puts a constraint on the freedom we ordinarily enjoy in the perception of physical things.

3D paradoxically suggests that it resembles physical reality while utilizing a film technique that inundates non-physical natural perception. Directors continue to use the technique to reap its benefit of controlling the viewer’s gaze; however, it simultaneously threatens the medium’s claim for physical likeness.

4. Excessive Digitization

There is a strange electrical energy in the three-dimensional image; it is unlike anything in reality aside from holograms. This is caused by the excessive use of digitization. Apart from the strangeness of this process—its unfamiliarity to actual reality—an inordinately  shiny, glossy zeal is retained in the image. This glossiness is further enhanced by the darkness indebted to the 3D shades. What the viewer sees, then, is an obviously unnatural image that continues to insist that it is natural. With 2D, both the viewer and the image know it’s unnatural, yet it doesn’t draw attention to itself in the way that 3D’s excessive digitization does.

3. Phony Physicality/Separate Layers of Flatness

That said, just as holograms are known to be illusory, the digitization of the 3D image is likewise known to phony. The physicality it insists upon is constrained by the viewers knowledge that what is really happening is the manipulation of actual two-dimensional images. These two dimensional images are being projected, and while there is depth-space between separate figures, there is no depth space for particular figures. A person’s head is still a flat surface; the depth of the head is not yet visible, since it belongs to a certain, though projected, two dimensional image. What the viewer knows is that they are seeing a physicality that exists from the conflation of separate, celluloidal, see-through images. The two dimensional shot is fractured into parts, layered, and then separate figures within the shot give it the look of a depth-space not really there.

2. No Size Diminution

In 2D film, size diminution reifies the image; that one figure of equal (actual) size looks smaller than another figure immediately conveys a sense of depth. For this reason, 3D is hardly necessary. However, 3D attests to a create this impression through actual physicality. Depth-space that is ostensibly measurable is created through the projection and layering of images. That said, because a shot is fractured and depth space is constructed between figures, the viewers inherent understanding of size-diminution is confused. In 3D, the amount of size diminution does not seem realistic; the extra space that is put between figures is empty-space. It is a void, and therefore depth is not actually there. However, in thinking that depth is there, the figure in the background intuitively seems much bigger than it should be. Our inherent sense of size diminution is confused by this empty space. For example, in Life of Pi(Lee, 2012), there are times when one animal of equal actual size is simultaneously of equal size in the image, despite being “further” away. The truth is merely that one of the figures has been pulled into the foreground. Incidentally, in the digital pulling forward of this figure, its size remains the same. This is highly problematic.

1. Grid System

As one might surmise from those already described, the essential problem of 3D is that it works on a grid system. There are planes, grids, layers of which two dimensional images are projected. The figures on a particular line of the grid are two dimensional, and the space between figures on separate grids are suggestive of physicality. Between these layers, though, there is nothing. It is a void; it is empty-space (it’s any-space-whatever?). There is no placing of figures between the layers. As 3D has evolved, so has the number of layers within this grid system. As a result, 3D has developed. However, the extra layering further encumbers the physicality of the image; it extra-characterizes issues 1-4. Selective focus, digitization, separate layers of flatness, no size diminution: these things would be even more problematic with extra layering. So, unless 3D can get to a point of nearly atomic layering, how could it ever actualize reality? Will that day ever come?


About Kamran Ahmed

I have a Masters in Cinema Studies from the University of Toronto. I work as a freelance writer and film critic in Vancouver. My writing is primarily distributed through Next Projection, an online film journal based in Toronto.
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