Cameron on Stereoscopy
by Jon on Saturday, April 12, 2008 file under: Off Topic

John August has linked to a great interview with Jim Cameron discussing 3D. Here's a choice quote from August's blog, "James Cameron is the Steve Jobs of filmmakers". I couldn't agree more. Historically, Steve Jobs has had a longer career of making sure he gets what he wants, but Cameron has never seemed shy about getting in people's faces to make sure things are right*. And in both cases, the results are visionary, compelling, and exist in a class that few others in their domain can match.

The idea of stereoscopic filmmaking has come up time and again in conversations with my friends and there seems to be a mix of trepidation and excitement. Cameron describes the 3-D movies that I would be interested in: 3-D to enhance the story, not for the sake of 3-D.

Unfortunately, I see two downsides to this approach: elegant 3-D movies won't be first to market, meaning gimmicky, poke-you-in-the-eye movies will set audience expectations (50 years later, studios still don't understand) - and - many audiences won't understand the benefits of 3-D if it isn't explicitly in their face.

Cameron describes 3-D in ideas that are reminiscent of the last several years of interface design:

It needs to be firing on all eight cylinders whether it is conceived as a 2-D or a 3-D film. As a result, a 3-D film when screened in 2-D, on a screen of any size, should still deliver. The 3-D should always be thought of as a turbocharger, an enhancer, to a work whose raison d'etre is vested in its story, its characters, its style, etc.

This is how the truly great programs behave as well, just replace story and characters, with functionality and workflow. For example, Flip3D in Windows Vista is analogous to poke-you-in-the-eye 3-D; it serve no purpose other than eye candy. Contrast that to Expose which provides potentially less visual stimulation, but serves a purpose and function that only direct clones have been able to match.

I'm going to say right now: this is what 3-D will be like in movies. When you go see a 3-D classic, you'll walk out and say: "That movie incredible! What an amazing story!" You wont say: "Did you see all that crap flying at your face!" When our children see movies, they'll say, "What do you mean everything was flat?". They won't ask, "What do you mean you never had to duck out of the way of something coming out of the screen."

Don't get me wrong: attempting to get the audience to duck is in itself not bad in the context of a well written story. For example, during the shootout scene at Cyberdyne in Terminator 2, Dyson's breathing slows and the weight of his own creation becomes to much for him to handle. One last breath, the weight drops, click, and BOOM! Cyberdyne's facade explodes showering the police force on the ground in glass and metal. I was on the edge of my seat and now I should be planted firmly at the back of it. 3-D will only intensify such a scene.

But that's the obvious use of 3-D. The masters will take tight shots, and make you feel like you're a third part to a two person conversation. They'll put you in the crowd at a rally of protestors. They'll give you claustrophobia. The revolutionary 3-D won't remind you that its even there. It will slip into your brain and make your experience all the more real and immediate.

I don't think we've seen even a taste of what stereoscopic movies will be able to achieve. I'm look forward to Avatar and hope that 3-D is embraced as a method of story enhancement, not shallow entertainment.

* There's a great scene in an Aliens documentary where Cameron can't get the face hugger operator to get the creature to move as he'd like. Cameron kicks the guy out of his position, and operates the face hugger himself, until he's satisfied with the result.

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