Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How's The 3D in 'Bait'?


Bait asks the question none of us were asking: what would happen if you were trapped in a supermarket, after a tsunami... with a great white shark? Any self-respecting fan of B-movies already knows the answer to that question though: death, and lots of blood. Bait 3D caps off a year of 3D films like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Piranha 3DD and Frankenweenie that take the idea of 'high-concept' to ludicrously brilliant extremes. Indeed, Bait went on to become the highest-grossing Australian film released in China, so this type of 3D cinema is likely to continue.

Native 3D:

Bait 3D was filmed in Native 3D, not post-converted
Bait was filmed in Australia by many of the people who shot the Second Unit photography in films like the Matrix trilogy and Superman Returns. Despite its many and varied challenges under-water, they filmed Bait in Native 3D. Until now, shots like the ones they pulled off have been considered one for the 'too hard' basket. Water photography has always been tough on film crews, but to get the right spacing for stereoscopic cameras has been thought to be nigh-on impossible. According to an interview here, they shot glorious footage of a submerged supermarket with the help of a uniquely designed air-cooled camera casing, which allowed the crew the flexibility to capture background depth and emotion from their performers too.

Does the 3D 'pop'?

Yes. Almost for comedic effect. The screen is usually a defined wall between the audience and the action, but every now and then a shark will jump several feet out of the water, directly aiming at the audience. There's really not much more to say about this effect - it's a return to the sort of gimmicky 3D shot we traditionally associate with 3D films made before this century. This ought to not be considered a bad thing, mind. Each time the effect was used in the screening 3Defence attended, the (admittedly very small) audience roared with 'so-bad-it's-good' laughter.

How's the depth of the 3D?

In an interview here, the film's director outlines his view on depth in 3D films: "A common misconception is that having objects really close to camera will make things look great in 3D. In fact the opposite is true – it's far more important to make sure there is a mid-ground as well, rather than just a foreground and a background." Certainly, being confined to two or three rooms for much of the film constrains the action to play out reasonably close to the camera, but every now and then the deep background is used to great effect to show off how far away a shark is at any given moment. This depth is actually the cause of most of the tension in the film, because when the depth narrows... we, the audience, know that the shark is nearing its prey.

Did it make sense to film Bait in 3D?

Bait had enormous success in the 3D format in China
Technically? No. 3Defence never advocates for 3D films set in murky interior locations that lack bright light sources. For business though? Put it this way, Bait was part financed by Singapore investors, who were determined to get a 3D horror film into Chinese cinemas. Their investment has paid gigantic dividends there. Bait was made for $8 million, and has so far grossed over $25 million in China alone. The international market's desire for 3D carnage is something that has yet to be truly capitalised on, but after Bait's success in China, we suspect many more will try their hand at stereoscopic horror there.

If we had to archive one version, should we save the 3D or the 2D?

Shotgun vs Shark in Bait 3D
Realistically, Bait is the sort of film you should share with beer and peers. The purpose of the film is to make you laugh, whoop, holler, and have a visceral reaction caused by the odd jump you weren't expecting. All of these things would happen in 2D too. Though the odd throwback to a time where things jumped out at you in 3D is fun, it's not enough on its own to make the 3D version the 'definitive experience' of Bait. In sum, we're going to side with the 2D version on this one.

The film itself

It's brilliant! The special effects are ropey, the acting is uneven and borderline hammy, but the script hurtles along in a reasonably tight three-act structure that allows most of its characters to have a pay-off moment that makes their role meaningful. Bait has no right to be this entertaining, but it is, and it's sure to become a must-see cult film.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Hobbit Frame Rate... Explained in FAQ Form

If you're reading this site, you're probably savvy enough to understand what it means to watch a film with a higher frame rate. If you're interested in a real discussion about the shift in projection technology represented by the first Hobbit (An Unexpected Subtitle Journey), then read our post on the matter. If, however, you want a corporate-styled explanation, then feel free to read the officially released briefing below (click the image to expand)
Warner Brothers' explanation of 48fps technology in The Hobbit

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Star Wars: Episode VII: In 3D: An Old, New Hope

Breaking news: Disney has bought the rights to produce future films in the Star Wars series. Disney plans to release 'Star Wars: Episode VII' in 2015, likely based on treatments written by George Lucas himself, and they intend on releasing the film in 3D. The film will be produced by one of the most successful producers of all time, Kathleen Kennedy. You can read a fantastic break-down of 'what is known' so far over at Arthouse Cowboy.

We'll have more details on this as news comes to hand. For now, you can watch Lucas explain the deal here:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

How Good Is The 3D in 'Frankenweenie'?


Frankenweenie is one of the more unlikely films to be released this year. Black and white, 3D, stop-motion animated, released by Disney, and an homage to 1930s horror films from Universal... you know, for kids! Bizarrely, this is the second time its director, Tim Burton, has tried to get the film made. Many years ago, the project was canned, after an exec realised that its subject matter might be a little, erm, off-putting. So, why has Frankenweenie been made now? We're inclined to blame Alice In Wonderland; after earning a billion dollars at the global box-office (despite its atrocious 3D effects) Tim Burton was probably in a solid bargaining position to get a few 'personal projects' made. But who cares about all that background info, you're here because you want to know... how good is the 3D in Frankenweenie? Should you see it with, or without, glasses on?

Post-Converted 3D:

Given Burton's history with post-converted 3D, we were worried how Frankenweenie would fare through the process. Luckily, the technology has come a long way since the release of Alice In Wonderland. The conversion was handled by Prime Focus World. Remember our glowing review of Men In Black 3's converted 3D? Prime Focus World were behind most of that gig too; they're fast becoming 3Defence's favourite post-conversion team. For Frankenweenie, they worked on 1500+ shots, and based themselves nearby the shooting locations, so they could confer with Burton and his animation team whenever they needed reference points for their work.

Does the 3D 'pop'?

Yes. Though there's not a lot of shots that use the 'pop out of the screen' effect, the few gags that do are well-timed and designed to capture the audience's attention. Frankenweenie adheres to a common trend in 3D films from 2012: elements like rain and lightning are being brought forward in the 'mix' to seemingly occur in the movie theatre itself, as well as in multiple panes of depth around the film's characters. We're wary the effect could get over-used, but for now we think it works ok, if only because it feels like the real world: rain falls in unpredictable places, so it makes sense that it's allowed to transcend the boundary of 'screen' and 'theatre'.

How's the depth of the 3D?

Frankenweenie's stereographer, Richard Baker, summarises his approach to depth well, so we'll let him speak for himself: "3D for me shouldn’t be a window into the screen. You need to feel surrounded by the movie to become truly immersed in the story. This was central to our planning when designing the 3D and creating the depth script. We had the opportunity to exaggerate the scale and depth much more than we would on a live-action show to really heighten dramatic moments, and we were also able to combat the miniaturisation of the puppets by using depth as a creative tool." We're glad to report that he succeeded in his goals: despite being filmed on small sets, with tiny figurines as actors, Frankenweenie's locations feel cavernous, lived-in, and they reach into the distance in a way that the 1930s films it's riffing on could never have dreamed of doing.

Did it make sense to add 3D to Frankenweenie?

No! Not by any stretch of the imagination did it sound like a good idea to post-convert a Black And White, stop-motion animated, film referencing incredibly flat (the sets were often cardboard, with smoke effects to disguise the lack of a real background) 1930s horror films. Are we glad they did it anyway? Hell yes. This is the first time we've seen a Black And White 3D film in the modern day, and it looks glorious. If you take your glasses off during the film, you'll notice the screen looks fairly harsh, with big contrast ratios between the deep blacks and the bright whites. Put your glasses on again though, and then a world of deep grey is revealed; probably the best greys we've seen in a monochromatic film since the wonderfully shot Schindler's List. Normally 3Defence insists that 3D films need to be brightly lit, and vibrantly colourful... but Tim Burton and his post-conversion team have proven us wrong with Frankenweenie.

If we had to archive one version, should we save the 3D or the 2D?

The 3D version must be considered the 'definitive' version of Frankenweenie. If you're wondering "should I see Frankenweenie in 3D or in 2D" and you can afford the extra dollar or so, you ought to view this film with glasses on. The 3D brings depth that doesn't exist to the shots, and makes the world of our titular re-animated dog come alive (pun intended). The editing deserves mention too: it's cut at a leisurely pace, which is appropriate for the 1930s-style genre, but this has the added benefit of making the 3D experience easier on your eyes than modern-day films that are designed for a 2D screen. We at 3Defence watch a lot of 3D films, and we're quietly confident that Frankenweenie will be considered the gold-standard in post-converted 3D films for a long time. 

The film itself

Make no mistake about it, Frankenweenie is a modern-day Tim Burton film. You can interpret that whichever way you please, but for us here at 3Defence that means; predictable character 'arcs', unusual preoccupation with genre conventions, amazing set design and stylistic flare, fantastically over-orchestrated music, and a rushed / borderline incomprehensible third act. Burton is in the business of world-building, and we'd love to see him work with someone other than screenwriter John August soon. Frankenweenie wreaks of 'pet project' (yes, pun intended) and that usually means "no-one said 'no' to the director at any stage along the way." Frankenweenie is a lesser film in Burton's filmography, but it's a long way from his worst. File this nearer to Mars Attacks than something like Planet of the Apes

Monday, October 8, 2012

How Good Is The 3D In 'Dredd'?


It's 3Defence's mission to chronicle the development of 3D Cinema. Dredd arrives at an interesting time in the medium's modern history: ultra-violent, reverent to the comics it's based on, filmed in native-3D on location in South Africa... it's hardly 'the norm' amongst 3D films in 2012. To make things even more interesting: Dredd was written by Alex Garland, who is fast becoming the 'go-to' writer for dark and semi-believable takes on near-apocalyptic sci-fi tales. Dredd is also probably the most kick-ass English language action film to come out along in a long time. But... how good is the 3D?

Native 3D:

Camera used in Dredd 3D - Paradise FX native 3D rig
The majority of the film was shot using Paradise FX rigs, on location and in sets in South Africa's Johannesburg and Cape Town. Digital extensions were used to transform the city into the post-nuclear-war landscape of Mega-City One, but the original footage was seamlessly integrated into this sprawling urban chaos. In charge of the filming was Anthony Dod Mantle; responsible for the stylised look of films like 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire and The Last King of Scotland. If anyone knows his way around a digital rig, it's going to be Dod Mantle. One gets the impression with Dredd that the idea was to take as much stereoscopic information in as possible, and then use various post-production methods to 'enhance' the experience in every way possible.

Does the 3D 'pop'?

Damn right it does. It's the most 'invasive' 3D we've seen in a live-action film in a very long time. A key plot point of the film revolves around a drug called, imaginatively enough, "slo-mo". The drug makes its participants see the world in a euphoric haze of smoke, stars, and ultra high-definition slow motion footage. Overdone at first, and then used for good reasons later, the shots where we 'see' the effects of the drug remind the viewer of other highly stylised action flicks like The Matrix and 300. While it's not done often, the 3D effects extend beyond the screen and seem to travel through the theatre towards the audience - usually while someone's blood is being splattered behind them. If that's not enough (and really, with Dredd, over-the-top is the preference) the film's hero is paired up with a psychic, who can see people's thoughts in a vivid, and surreal, view that also sends visible shock-waves outwards from the big screen.

How's the depth of the 3D?

Tell you what, watch the video below to find out! It shows you how they extended the sprawl of South Africa "into infinity":

What they don't show you in that clip though, is how often you end up staring down the centre of these cavernous towers, looking down from the top floor through to the lobby below. These gigantic buildings can become tombs when protective blast doors shut around them, effectively trapping the occupants inside. These massive objects quickly take on a claustrophobic quality, despite their hulking size. There's a scene where a character is outside one, looking out across the city, and the loneliness they feel is made palpable by the height and distance of these structures from one another. They may be able to see the world around them, but they are completely and devastatingly alone, separated by hundreds of meters from outside assistance. In sum then? The depth is fantastic, when it needs to be.

Did it make sense to add 3D to Dredd?

Karl Urban as Judge Dredd in the 2012 3D film 'Dredd'
In theory, no, it didn't make sense to add 3D to Dredd. Are we glad they did anyway? Hell yes. The 3D is one of the best parts about an already fantastic action film. But, thinking about it, the comic strip 2000 AD was always fairly dark, Dredd's 'modern-day superhero' costume is fairly muted, and the gritty take they were going for ought not to have worked in 3D. But clearly, the creative team thought the idea through, and delivered one of the most successful stereoscopic films we've seen in a very long time.

If we had to archive one version, should we save the 2D or the 3D?

Particles of dust in slo-mo in the 2012 film Dredd 3D

The 3D version of Dredd has to be considered superior. It's clear that Dredd was designed with 3D in mind, from the ground floor of the film's high-rise building, up to the top floor of slo-mo peddling gangsters. The film is structured much like a theme-park ride; introducing you to key characters and locations, and then proceeding to trap you in them, throw you upside down and over steep drops, while showering you in sparks and smoke. For the sheer 'thrill ride' of it all, the 3D version must be considered the 'definitive' version of Dredd. Get yourself a ticket, and strap yourself in, because you're in for a heck of a ride.

The film itself

Alex Garland quote about his 2012 3D film 'Dredd'
The narrative is the weakest point of Dredd. Its strength (other than the 3D) is its characters. No-one is a throw-away character. Every actor gets to play an arc, from a homeless vagrant who barely speaks, through to a medic who has a few lines, and then the titular down-turned lip hero himself; they all start the film in one place, and are completely changed by the end of the film. The friends that 3Defence saw it with were both keen to spend another 2 hours in Dredd's world, which clearly means we weren't bored by the end! Alex Garland deserves a lot of praise for the work he did on this script: Dredd doesn't deserve to be this good, but we're glad it was!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Life Of Pi - Preview of Ang Lee's first 3D Film

A couple of days ago, Ang Lee unveiled his new film Life of Pi at the New York Film Festival. Though the film's not quite finished (Lee has another fortnight of tweaks to go, apparently) it's amazing that a version of it exists at all. There's an old Hollywood adage, that says "never make a movie about kids, animals or water," yet Ang Lee has somehow managed to make a film about all three. If an 'unfilmable' novel weren't challenge enough for him, Life Of Pi is also Lee's first 3D film. What can we expect from Ang Lee's usage of 3D?

Well, for one thing, the film itself is going to be painterly. If the trailer's anything to go by, the film is a fifty-fifty mixture of real-world footage and digitally-created backdrops. Life Of Pi's crouching tiger is a CGI construction too, though computer-assisted characters have come a long way since Ang Lee attempted one in 2003's Hulk. In sum, with all this digital information available to be fed into the 3D footage, you can be assured that pixels will be where they need to be to make your eye at ease throughout the film. /Film's positive review of the film says: "the 3D enhances the experience by replicating the expansiveness of the ocean — breadth and height may be constrained by the edges of the screen, but the depth seems to stretch out indefinitely"

Ang Lee filmed Life Of Pi in native 3D, so you're not going to be seeing much post-converted footage in the film. It's interesting to see who has the clout to film in this way amongst the Hollywood "A-list" directors. In 2012 we'll have seen native 3D films from the likes of Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Peter Jackson, and Ang Lee. Unlike his peers, Lee's gone for a very impressionistic usage of 3D. Given the allegories that are built into the story's narrative, and the various flash-backs and flash-forwards, this seems appropriate.

So, what are critics saying about the film? Well, The Chicago Tribune suggests that the impressionism becomes nothing more than "pantheistic fairy dust." The website Film School Rejects is more glowing, "It’s a powerful film with a moving performance by Suraj Sharma and one of the finest examples of 3D." Variety was less enthused, but suggested that Lee's team summoned "the most advanced digital filmmaking technology to deliver the most old-fashioned kind of audience satisfaction."

We here at 3Defence can't wait to review it ourselves, so stay tuned for our wrap-up that will inevitably ask, "How Good Is The 3D In Life Of Pi?" You can read other similar reviews here.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

How good is the 3D in 'Katy Perry: Part Of Me'?


Katy Perry now ranks amongst the best of the early-21st Century's pop stars. She ties a record with Michael Jackson for the most number one hit singles from one album, and was the first female to do so. It's been several years since she invaded the airwaves with her hit single, I Kissed A Girl, and now Perry is out to dominate movie theatres with her own quirky take on the doco/concert film. To do this, she's recruited the directing team of Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz. The pair are producers on the wildly popular 'the show must go on' TV series Project Runway, and they made Justin Bieber's 3D film Never Say Never  in 2011. Safe to say they know how to manipulate documentary footage into a narrative! Since Katy Perry: Part Of Me's release last week, critics have been unexpectedly kind to this particular manipulation of Perry's life and recent worldwide tour. It deftly juggles three narratives: Perry's rollercoaster of a personal life (she goes from a honeymoon to a divorce in the course of the film); real-world (likely 2D) footage of fans responding to Perry's music; and her colourful concert tour itself, shot in native 3D.

Native 3D and Post-Converted 3D:

Archival footage of Katy Perry
Archival footage of Katy Perry
Despite our best efforts in researching (and watching a dozen or so "yeah we had a great time making this film" interviews), it's hard to find any solid information on the filming techniques used. From what we can deduce from the footage shown... Katy Perry: Part Of Me was made using a mixture of cameras and technologies. Generally speaking, whenever the star is onstage, it's likely filmed using 3ality Technica camera rigs, all in glorious native 3D. That footage is full-frame, shot wonderfully, featuring deep blacks and brighter-than-bright colours. In the other narrative, where we're backstage, most of the footage seems to have been filmed using 2D HD cameras, and then that footage was later post-converted into 3D. It's possible some of the backstage stuff was filmed with the native-3D rigs, but the muddy quality made us think that wasn't the case. Then we've got 'the rest of the film', which is a mixture of archival footage and home-made clips that were definitely filmed in 2D. In these cases, the film-makers don't even conceal the 2D nature of the footage; they just suspend the square shots over a rectangular animated background to create a sense of depth.


Does the 3D 'pop'?

Put it this way - if you were told to make a 3D film, starring one of the most cartoonish pop stars ever to grace this earth... how would you frame your shots? Would you make the screen an imaginary wall, and limit all action to the background? No. You'd do crazy stuff, like have confetti and glitter shoot out of canons, straight into the theatre. It's a mystery then why the directors didn't do this! The screen is mostly an absolute wall that never allows anything through it. If you're backstage, or watching fan diaries etc, the 3D effect is minimal in general, and definitely confined beyond the screen.

How's the depth of the 3D?

Katy Perry: Part Of Me 3D concert footage
As far as depth goes, this film is real mixed-bag. Most of the stuff backstage is muddy looking and flat. Some of the footage on-stage is marvelous, mind. When the film-makers got the shot they were after, Perry's packed arenas look amazing. Hundreds of cameras and cellphones held aloft help add layer upon layer of depth to Part Of Me's concert footage. Every now and then though, you get the feeling that the camera operators were restricted to locked-down positions, unable to follow the action as you might expect they'd like to. It's very rare to see a close-up shot of Perry onstage; everything's filmed from a distance. While it's admirable to have prioritised the real-world concert-going audience's experience like this, the theatre-going audience are left feeling like they watched a really well shot bootleg of a cool looking concert.

Did it make sense to add to 3D to this film?

Yes... and no. In the 'yes camp', we have the evidence that around 50% of concert films that were released wide and globally since 2009 have been in 3D. Put it this way, Katy Perry's amazing stage shows are ten times more interesting than anything by the likes of the 3D-ified Justin Bieber or The Jonas Brothers. It's a colourful and brightly lit performance, filled with pyrotechnics and glitter, all of which is a joy to watch while wearing glasses. In the 'no camp' though we have the muddy and murky post-converted behind-the-scenes footage, and the aforementioned boring angles and cinematography. On paper, this film seems a natural fit with 3D, but in hindsight... they should've skipped the format altogether.

If we had to archive one version, should we save the 2D or the 3D?

Save the 2D! Half the film basically is in 2D anyway. A cynic - the kind who thinks 3D is a Hollywood devised money-grabbing ploy - would find it easy to argue that Part Of Me is the first gimmicky and pointlessly 3D-ified film of 2012. This makes us here at 3Defence sad, because we love the idea of 3D being a legitimate technique employed for the power of good... not for money-grabbing evil. We hope Perry shoots her next concert tour exclusively in native-3D; gives the film-makers full stage access for a couple of shows so they can get epic close-ups; and just revels in the fact that her music is fun and her fans are loud!

The film itself

It's great! It's a hoot. Critics have been kind to it. Part Of Me is an appropriate title; while you never feel Perry has revealed all of herself to her fans, you do feel like she's been more honest than any of her peers in the pop world. The extraordinary ups and downs of her last two years seem to have taken a toll on her, but her resolute strength and showmanship are demonstrated in this film to be second-to-none. It's an amusing and entertaining film that we recommend hiring on DVD sometime if you're a fan of her music.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Creating a 540m2 silver screen

Britain's BFI IMAX screen, the biggest of its kind in the UK, just had a major overhaul. They documented the process in amazing detail on this site here. The team responsible went to enormous effort to make sure the screen, all 500m2 of it, could take advantage of the latest and greatest in projection systems. The end result will surely look stunning, and - thanks to a laser-guided paint job - will glisten bright silver. The silver coating applied will ensure that light from the projector is reflected in straight lines from the screen, lessening refraction. 
So, why are we writing about this here at 3Defence? Well, firstly because the photos are so damned cool. And secondly, because we love it whenever a cinema goes to great lengths to supply the brightest and clearest image in town. Brighter screens and projector bulbs are key to the ongoing success of the 3D format, and it's nice to see world-class theatres like the BFI London IMAX leading the way forwards for the rest of the world.

PS: Cheers to @DJMC for letting us know about this!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man: How Good Is Its 3D?

We at 3Defence have decided that film critics aren't giving audiences enough information about the usage of 3D in modern-day cinema. As such, we've been working on an ongoing series that can help you decide whether to fork out a few extra dollars or not to see the latest and greatest blockbuster while wearing glasses. Today we're looking at The Amazing Spider-Man, the fourth webslinger film, and the first to get the stereoscopic treatment being heavily pushed by Sony. You'll notice the article below is separated by sections; we've standardised these sections, to help regular readers compare one film's usage of the 3D technique to another. Let us know if you think of anything else that'd be useful in the comments section!

Native 3D:

Like Prometheus, The Amazing Spider-Man was filmed using Red Epic cameras, in 'native' 3D. In 2012, we've seen a string of high-quality post-production conversions, and we were hoping that Spidey webslinging in three-dimensions would blow them all out of the water. Much was made in the lead-up to the film's release of how much real-world filming was completed (see the photo nearby as an example of leaked images from the film's shoot), so in theory we were due to see the most vivid superhero scenes yet seen in 3D. Indeed, whenever Spider-Man has his suit on, the shots are busy, shot from interesting angles and broad in their scope. Bizarrely though, if Peter Parker's at school or home, the 3D footage is some of the most boring we've ever seen. Considering how much Peter Parker features in this film, we were left wondering why they filmed in native 3D at all.

Does the 3D 'pop'?

Incredibly rarely. The odd holographic image in the Oscorp Labs reaches beyond the screen, and every once in a while Spidey's legs break the artificial 'wall' of the theatre's screen, but these are the exceptions to the rule. In comparison to, say, Men In Black 3's 3D, which felt like there was no plane of depth left unexplored, The Amazing Spider-Man's action takes place well beyond your seat. Until the last shot, you're not going to see webs fly out at the audience, or Lizard tails flaying about over the front row's seats. Check out the image nearby as a wasted example, where a key scene involves the Lizard... behind a shuttered door. If it were us making the film, we'd have had the Lizard stalking his prey in a way where you were terrified his head would jump out at you without warning. Instead, in this scene, he was overtly restricted from doing so! Boring.

How's the depth of the 3D?

As mentioned above, when Spider-Man's swinging like a pendulum over the New York city skyline, the depth is fantastic. It's the most vivid depiction of Manhattan we've ever seen on the screen. Much of the action is shot at night-time though, so it's hard to visualise the gaps between individual skyscrapers. Instead, we see the differences of city blocks, or long avenues that culminate in a gigantic building like Oscorp's tower. Mostly though, the film is set in a fairly bland looking suburbia, and the frame is focused on the foreground and midground, with an out of focus background. This means that depth is restricted to the first couple of metres, with a universal background of blurriness that lacks any sort of visual interest (or reason to have glasses on). In comparison to the deep-focus of Avatar, or the intensely layered shots of Hugo, Spider-Man's interior scenes utterly failed to justify the extra admission fees that 3D cost. Check out the image nearby as an example of a wasted shot composition: two characters in the foreground and a blurred background.

Did it make sense to add 3D to this film?

Sure. On paper, it sounds like a done deal. Spider-Man is the 'daylight hero', wearing bright blue and red colours, framed against brownstone buildings, hundreds of feet in the air above the world's most dynamic city. For some bizarre reason though, the studio (I'm loathe to blame the film's director) set the majority of the film at night-time, darkened the suit, and adjusted the physics to be so realistic that Spider-Man needs the assistance of the city's engineer-folk to swing a few metres at a time. So, if brightness and depth are the priorities, they compromised both in favour of a "more realistic" Spider-Man that feels untrue to the comic's roots.

If we had to archive one version, should we save the 2D or the 3D?

The 2D. Without a doubt. Bear in mind that we here at 3Defence are massive fans of the Spider-Man books, the 3D technique, native 3D films, director Marc Webb, and many of the key creatives who made The Amazing Spider-Man. So when we say the 2D version of this film is the only one to keep, we mean it, and it hurts to say it. Bummer!

Monday, July 2, 2012

How good is the 3D in MIB3?

Men In Black 3, in 3D. Too much e-ink has been spilled over the fact this is the second needless sequel in a series that should have remained in the 90s. Very little ink has been spent discussing the film's post-converted 3D job, and even less has been spent talking about how it was implemented. MIB3 just never attained 'event film' status this year, but we're keen to ask the hard questions anyway: how good is the 3D? Is it worth seeing the 3D version?


Shots of Barry Levinson's career using wide lenses for close-ups
The film-makers made a conscious decision to film in 2D, and then convert it after the fact. It seems they could have filmed in native 3D, had the key creatives preferred to do so. Ultimately they settled on post-conversion for a number of reasons. The most compelling is that the director, Barry Levinson, has always shot with really wide lenses, and usually frames the 'hero moments' dead-centre, just like the images you see to your right (Levinson is the dude in the right-hand corner). If you'd like to hear MIB3's director argue a bunch of well thought through reasons for post-conversion, then click this link here. As far as what's on screen is concerned, this is surely one of the best conversion jobs we've seen. We'll stick our necks out and say we preferred it to the work performed on The Avengers from a few months ago. Simply put, studios and the pros working for them are getting better and better at this technique.

Does the 3D 'pop'?

Boris in MIB3 3D
Yes. Often. Men In Black 3's director, said that films like Hugo and Avatar "put a lot of the depth behind the screen and put the convergence at the screen. I find that actually more distancing for the audience than if they’d actually released it in 2-D. What we did with convergence and depth is bring it much closer to the audience. So I loved the process—loved it—and what I’ve always visualized in 3-D was very easy for me." What he's saying is; he wanted things to jump out at you. He wanted debris to fly out in explosions; he wanted light to fill the theatre when Will Smith fires his neuralyzer; and he wanted lots of bugs to crawl out of things to disgusting effect. There is no screen!

How's the depth of the 3D?

Apollo mission in Men In Black 3
Put it this way; the biggest set-pieces are set atop massive structures, hundreds of feet in the air. If the Agents aren't battling bad guys atop a building or a crane, then the villains are on the moon itself... looking at Earth far away in the distance. In the first two Men In Black films, the series had a lot of fun with the idea of depth, zooming from something the size of a marble outwards to the edge of the universe itself. The third film is a lot more earth-bound, but it revels in the opportunity to give us (and the characters) vertigo. Without wanting to reveal too many spoilers, there's a sequence set around the launch of an Apollo mission that took 3Defence's breath away. To visualise the enormous size of those rockets for the first time was a real treat for space-nerds like us. You can read a bit about how they did it hereSo, the depth is great, well handled and executed!

Does it make sense to have added 3D to MIB3?

Will Smith atop the Chrysler Building
When we think back to the colour palette of the first two films, we think of a lot of brightly lit images set at night time. Typically, we'd not advocate for a 3D film in that type of environment (at least not until projectors get brighter). For Men In Black 3 though, much of the action is set during the day. Interesting stylistic choices have been made that give this film a bright and contrast-laden sepia quality, and this suits the tinted colours that 3D glasses offer. As a bonus, this film has many guns and aliens in the extreme foreground, and has a ton of interesting chameos and Rick Baker-created awesomeness in the background; it's worked out perfect that it's in 3D.

If we had to archive one version, should we save the 3D or the 2D?

Men In Black 3-D poster
The 3D version. The first two MIB movies already have 2D well covered. The third film seems to have deliberately changed locations, eras and colour-schemes to make this an enjoyable 3D experience. Ultimately, this series is meant to please, and the usage of 3D in this film adds to its 'theme park ride' quality. You're going to be places where you need not be, and see things that you need not see... so you might as well have fun doing it. The 3D version is just plain fun. Archive it!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Can we compare 2012's 3D movies to early (2D) Technicolor classics?

Over the weekend I bought the Blu Ray for the gorgeous film The Red Shoes. Since its restoration in 2009, it has grown in its reputation amongst cinephiles, so the movie's remembered as a Technicolor gem. The colour used is painterly in tone, with vibrant reds that seem to pirouette off the screen. Glorious hues and fluid movement in a film like The Red Shoes remind us that 3D isn't needed to make movies seem 'alive'.

I mention this, because regular reader Andy tipped us about a great Tumblr post written by Rian Johnson. The post is partially about the "polarised polemic" being used in the 3D "debate". Johnson's opinions are worth considering, because he's a good director and writer (he made indie-hit Brick, followed it up with the under-seen Brothers Bloom, and he's about to kick our asses with the upcoming Bruce Willis / Joseph Gordon-Levitt time-travel thriller, Looper). Anyway, Johnson suggests that we should frame the discussion on 3D by looking back in time at the development of... colour.

Johnson recalls that, in the early days of cinema, we were happy enough to see colour hand-painted onto black-and-white images. As time went on though, we ditched that particular technique, but we didn't ditch the intent it represented. We came up with new tools and better applications of the technique - like The Red Shoes' gorgeous usage of Technicolor - but we never forgot the core goal was to provide beautiful images in colour to rapt audiences. It took us until 2001 to finally get full control over the tone of a feature film, when The Coen Brothers unleashed the computer-assisted O Brother Where Art Thou. That movie will be long remembered for its stunning, autumnal, yellow glow:

The Tumblr post by Johnson starts pessimistically about the way we're collectively discussing 3D, but he ends his post with the optimism of a gleeful fan-boy. The reason for his newfound enthusiasm is the realisation that we've got a long way to go. If we can agree that, in principle, 3D is something that most people agree is visually arresting... then we're going to have a wild ride in the next few decades. Johnson's comparison to colour allows us to compare where we're at with our usage of 3D in 2012. He suggests we might be at a point where our 3D is as blunt as the hand-painted films of the early 20th Century. If that's true, then the next stage in the development for 3D is likely to be as ground-breaking a shift forward as the difference between the image of Charlie Chaplin above and those around it from The Red Shoes. To Johnson, this upcoming evolution seems like a reason to be darned excited about the future of 3D cinema. To us here at 3Defence, it just makes us glad we live in an age where we can have our cake and eat it too. We can watch Men In Black 3-D in the multiplexes, and then return home to Blu Ray images like this as well:

Just in case you missed it the first time, you should read Johnson's full post here: http://rcjohnso.tumblr.com/post/24693276556/some-thoughts-on-3d

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

How good is the 3D in Prometheus? (spoiler-free!)

Prometheus is the most eagerly awaited sci-fi film since Inception. Geeks around the world have been losing their mind with the release of each new trailer, and it's subsequently taken on "Event Film" status. Despite all this, Prometheus is saddled with a lot of baggage. It's Ridley Scott's first science fiction film since Blade Runner; it may-or-may-not-be a prequel to Alien; it's Fox's biggest film since Avatar; it's Scott's first 3D movie; it's hopefully Michael Fassbender's home-run performance and.... well. You get the picture. Let's put that all aside, and focus on the 3D. Because this article's aimed at people who haven't seen the film yet, I'll try and keep it relatively spoiler-free. If you want the experience to be completely pure though, disconnect the internet, and run to the nearest big screen you can find!

Native 3D:

Ridley Scott on the set of Prometheus
3Defence has already written an article about how Prometheus was shot in native 3D. What we've learned since though has been - pun intended - illuminating. The biggest problem for the crew was that the wider Alien series is famous for it's dark shadows, and 3D 's infamously low light levels don't play particularly well with that aesthetic. The team apparently solved this problem in a cunning way: they filmed the sets quite brightly, and dialled that brightness back down again in post production. As Scott himself put it, it's better this way so that, "when I grade it, the digital grading will have something to pick up. If there’s nothing to pick up, there’s nothing to pick up." After all, it's easier to add darkness to movies than it is to add light. So, when you see sinister black hallways in Prometheus, they're the darkest shade of it you've yet seen in a 3D film. The good news is, where there's meant to be light (this, after all, being a thrill-ride of a movie; you're only meant to see what Ridley Scott wants you to see), you'll see it, and it'll look glorious. The better news is, this film was shot by the gifted cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, who is most famous for his pioneering work in native 3D done for the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean film. He's taken his previous work to a whole new level with Prometheus though!

Does the 3D 'pop'?

Rarely. There are a few moments where debris breaks through the imagined wall of the screen, but not with the intent of 'coming out at the audience'. If anything, this technique is used to show as much depth as possible in one frame, usually helping heighten the story in a meaningful way. If anything 'pops' from the screen it's likely an interactive hologram, jet exhaust, flames or falling pieces of removed to make sure I don't reveal spoilers.

How's the depth of the 3D?

Immersive. Wonderous. Cavernous! Hallways stretch for miles into the background. The planet the crew land on is a barren and wide-open wasteland, the likes of which we've not yet seen in 3D. Some shots set in space are superior to the opening minutes of similar footage in Avatar. The humans in this film are often dwarved by removed to make sure I don't reveal spoilers objects that are gigantically bigger than themselves, and the 3D effect helps heighten a bizarre sense of claustrophobic agoraphobia. It's like you're terrifingly confined in a massive space. Meanwhile, the ship Prometheus itself is brightly lit - to contrast the claustoagrophobicnes, no doubt - but the ship hides many darkened spaces inside that constantly make you aware there's more to it than meets the eye. All in all, the added depth to this film makes you really feel like you've been to a real place in a distant and faraway land. What more could you ask for from a science-fiction film?

Does it make sense to add 3D to this film?

No. At least, not on paper. If anything, making this film in 3D could have been seen as a ruthless money-grabbing ploy. In hindsight though, it was a genius decision. After a long few months of post-converted 3D films being released to our multiplexes, it's refreshing to finally see a film of Prometheus' quality, planned to be shot in the format from the start, and delivered to us by a cinematic master. Somewhat ironically - considering the film itself is about the cycle of creation, and a will to survive - Ridley's delivered a movie that re-writes the rule-book of how a 3D film can look. For a long time I thought a 3D movie needed either over-saturated colours (Avatar / Tron: Legacy) or brightly lit interiors (Hugo) to look great... turns out it can look good in relentlessly dark hallways, filled with dark shadowy removed to make I don't reveal spoilers things too .

If we had to archive only one version, should we save the 3D or the 2D?

I'm going to go with the 2D option on this one. Perhaps that's a controversial choice, given I've just raved about the 3D for several paragraphs. Allow me to explain: the images of Prometheus are so crisp, so pristine, that you don't need to add glasses to make them perfect. Each shot is so well framed that depth is implied, and when things explode (and they do, frequently) you will be covering your eyes with your hands anyway. So, in a hypothetical "the house is on fire, you can only save one version of the film" moment, I'd grab the 2D print and hope I could come back to save the 3D one afterwards. In this case, the overall strength of Dariusz Wolski's cinematography is so striking that I think the film will continue to be remembered as a defining moment in sci-fi/horror history, regardless of the medium used to screen it.