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Is 3-D Here to Stay?

For me the question is not so much a matter of whether 3-D is here to stay; it's more a question of how long will it take to fully mature? I believe the true maturation of 3-D will be evident when, as a storytelling device, it becomes used and 'forgotten' or 'thrown away' much in the same way color is used in contemporary visual storytelling.

When it first became technically possible to make a motion picture in color, a door to a new means of artistic expression was opened for visual storytellers. Whether by the mass acceptance of the technology or by artistic preference, today the prevailing trend is to shoot and finish a film in color rather than black and white. To put it another way, color was introduced as a new technology, that technology was embraced as a storytelling device, and today the question is not simply whether it will be used in a film, but how, and to what degree of minute subtlety will storytellers shape the way an audience will experience a story through the visual design element of color?

As it is with color, so I believe it can (and perhaps will) be with 3-D.

Contemporary films are rarely delineated as color or black and white when speaking generally in conversation. In short, it is most often assumed that films are being shot and finished in color. However, when it comes to 2-D and 3-D films, everything from the extra cost of the ticket to the specific type of glasses used, the particular viewing environment, and even the marketing make it impossible to miss the fact that a film is being displayed in 3-D rather than 2-D.

Yet I believe 3-D will have matured as a storytelling device when films are no longer delineated as 2-D or 3-D. Just as there are still films being shot (or finished) in black and white, so it will likely be that films will always be shot and displayed in 2-D. However, as technology inevitably leads to a more transparent and unencumbered 3-D viewing experience, and as storytellers learn to exercise the same mastery over three dimensions as they do over color, we will learn to 'forget' about 3-D.

Ironically, it is not until we are able to 'forget' about a storytelling device, that its power to transport us is fully realized. I believe 3-D is here to stay, and I look forward to the day when I don't even think about it.

The storyteller who has mastered stereography is the storyteller who not only knows how to make objects 'fly off the screen' but who can also exercise such control over space so as to deny the third dimension at times--even while working with 3-D space--all with the intent of creating a specific experience for an audience in the telling of a story.



Film and Digital as Unique Instruments of Artistic Expression

I have often wondered what motion picture audiences would think of film-acquired images if digital imaging had come first. Would the grain structure, the motion blur, the organic judder, and the characteristic soft shoulder inherent in the celluloid medium be lauded, or would these characteristics be labeled simply as artifacts? Would, for instance, the limited dynamic range and sharpness of the digital format be viewed as necessary characteristics to be duplicated or mimicked in film, or would they have been seen, from the beginning, as an artifact to be eliminated by means of research and development. Would film have even emerged at all?

While digital artifacts are an objective, scientific reality, it is not difficult for me to imagine that some of the characteristics filmmakers and viewers appreciate about celluloid are, in fact, merely artifacts of the medium. The fact that each individual has an affinity for a particular image acquisition format and display is hardly debatable; however, the degree to which that preference is innate and the degree to which it has been nurtured or conditioned as part of our viewing experience may be up for debate.

Consider the relationship between the harpsichord and the piano as it stands in contrast with the relationship between film and digital. Music composers understand the inherent differences in these similar instruments and compose for each instrument specifically. However, at present, websites, blogs, and forums largely indicate that filmmakers tend to desire--maybe even expect--film and digital formats to be used interchangeably while at the same time decrying their obvious differences. I wonder if the disconnect has more to do with the fact that the choice of one format over the other seems to have more to do with comfort, familiarity, budget, and/or workflow preferences than it does with the inherent characteristic expression of each medium. In other words, when is the last time you heard a filmmaker say they chose a particular digital format over a particular film stock because they felt that its characteristic curve more accurately expressed their intended visual design idea?

A music composer specifically calls for a piano or a harpsichord for a particular expression of a musical idea. The composer knows that even though both instruments have strings, a keyboard, and can play musical notes, one instrument plucks the strings while the other hammers the strings. Both express musical ideas, but neither instrument is capable of producing a musical expression equal to that of the other. It is not that one instrument is "better" than the other; each is unique with unique properties and a characteristic expression. Each instrument has its own "advantages" based on the design of that instrument and the characteristics implied by that design and its state of development.

As it is with these musical instruments, I would argue, so it is with film and digital. Each medium is capable of expressing visual ideas, but at this present time neither format can produce an expression identical to that of the other. However, the prevailing approach at present among filmmakers and manufacturers appears to be in the direction of developing digital to the point that it replaces film. Perhaps digital will one day mimic film to the degree that the differences are imperceptible, but I am not convinced that such a development is ultimately necessary or that it will herald the end of film as a viable and important vehicle for artistic expression. However, I do believe that this effort to make digital mimic film is quite possibly distracting, limiting, or at very least delaying us from realizing digital's true potential.



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