Summer time is blockbuster movie season, with a plethora of 3-D films on deck. As evidenced by Avatar, the most successful motion picture of all time, seamless computer-generated imagery and live-action stereo photography represent the future of cinema. Many would be surprised to learn that this burgeoning hybrid of art and technology has its own rich history as a defining transformation in filmmaking, alongside the development of sound and color.
In 3-D Revolution: The History of Modern Stereoscopic Cinema, author, film maker and historian Ray Zone explores the evolution of 3-D technology from the 1950s boom through the digital age of the twenty-first century, while addressing topics ranging from 3-D theme park rides to IMAX 3-D.
In honor of Embrace Your Geekness Day, we’re featuring an Q & A with author Ray Zone who reveals the ways in which the film industry has evolved from its two-dimensional flatness and how the world of 3-D no longer restricts the cinematic storyteller:
How did you get started in the professional world of 3-D?
As a result of my writing about 3-D, I was hired to write a history of 3-D in the form of a 3-D comic book. After that experience, I worked at 3-D Video Corp., the company that published the comic, and subsequently started my own company to convert flat art to 3-D for comics, advertisements, and videos.
You have published work in more than 130 comic books. How are 3-D comics made, and how does that side of the 3-D industry connect to 3-D film industry?
The art, which is originally flat, or 2-D, is converted to 3-D by producing a second eye view of the art for creation of a stereo pair of images. Comics are very important to movies today since most of the top-grossing films are based on comic book characters. In one specific instance, my 3-D work on Thomas Jane’s Bad Planet comic book convinced Sony Pictures in 2007 to “green light” Thomas’s directorial debut on Dark Country as a 3-D feature film.
In the book, you discuss the invention of Cinerama in the 1950s, pointing out the importance of depth in capturing the feeling of 3-D. Why is 3-D so much more effective when it creates depth as opposed to when it brings things out of the screen?
Well, it’s all depth whether the image is perceived in 3-D space behind or in front of the screen. Some people enjoy looking through the cinema screen as a 3-D window on space. Others, like me, also enjoy the use of the audience space where things come out of the screen. Any 3-D movie can make use of both these spaces for the narrative. Z-space storytelling is very powerful, and filmmakers are still figuring this out.
Many people dislike 3-D cinema. What is it that gets people so heated about 3-D?
Neophobia: fear of the new. Plus, many individuals are already disturbed by the necessity of having to wear glasses in their daily life. These are the ones most resistant to going to movies which require the use, in their case, of an additional pair of glasses. When sound and color were inaugurated in cinema, there were also many people at the time heated up about these innovations. And they felt that these additions to cinema were absolutely unnecessary to the movie going experience, which, they opined, was perfectly fine as it was.
What are some classic films you think would be great if re-released in 3-D?
The obvious answer to that question is Citizen Kane, with its bravura use of deep focus. Also, while watching Antonioni’s L’Avventura recently, I was struck by the dramatic force created by environment and actors moving around within it, making it a perfect film to realize in stereoscopic space. Other filmmakers like Andrei Tarkovsky and Jean-Luc Godard are very aware of the world enclosed within the cinematic frame. Their films would be spectacular in depth. Godard has announced 3-D for his next production.
It seems as if every new movie is being released in 3-D, and some theaters don’t even offer 2-D options of some films. Is Hollywood forcing 3-D at this point, and what does this mean for the future of 3-D cinema?
Hollywood has forced quite a few films converted to bad 3-D on the public, who was compelled to pay a premium price for the disappointment. Tent-pole blockbusters in 3-D have dominated the multiplex up to the present. Indie films are playing 3-D “catch-up” at this point, and nearly every 3-D film has also been released flat in “2-D.” Some films should only be seen in 3-D. These are films like Pina 3-D by Wim Wenders and Hugo in 3-D by Martin Scorsese. If you see these films in 2-D only, you haven’t really seen the film. You haven’t been exposed to their fullest creative expression.
Soon, the premium ticket price moviegoers are paying for 3-D will go away. As 3-D becomes normative in visual culture, it will just be a given on the entertainment landscape. As cinema migrates to smaller displays like TV, cell phones and tablets, 3-D, much of it autostereoscopic, will be a part of this migration.