After years of 3D being relegated to documentary films at the IMAX theatre, it suddenly seems like every movie this summer was taken into the third dimension. From Toy Story 3 (perhaps the best movie I saw this summer and the newest addition to my top five all time favourite movies) to Avatar to this fall’s Piranha 3D, the 3D graphics spanned genres and demographics. But why the sudden re-emergence of this 50 year old cinematic styling? And how does 3D work? Put on your 3D picture glasses and sit back because… I can explain!
Movies that are in well-done 3D are supposed to appear to jump out of the screen at you. Regularly, you may see people reach out towards the screen to try and grab a hold of whatever seems to be immediately in front of their face. Mediocre 3D will just seem to have another dimension… more depth. However, in general, I find one often gets used to it within the first few minutes and it doesn’t make a significant difference.
So how does it work? Well, most people have two eyes. This is what gives us depth perception. Looking at an apple on a table in front of you, your left eye sees part of the left side of the apple and your right eye sees the apple from a different perspective (around 2 inches over). Since your two eyes then merge these two images into your sight, the apple appears to be three dimensional. Movies in 3D work in a similar way. If you’ve ever taken off your 3D glasses in a 3D movie, you’ll notice the film looks like its showing itself twice: once and then a second time overlapped and slightly to the right. That’s because the film is being shown on top of itself. The glasses make it so that you see each film in only one of your eyes. Thus your mind believes that there exists that depth. Just like the apple.
Three-dimensional photography has been around since the mid-1930s, but it was in the early 1950s when 3D films became popular. At the time, the process involved using two projectors to show the same film side-by-side. In the 1960s, the process made a comeback with an array of B-horror-movies including Amityville 3D and Jaws 3D. This did little to progress the styling. It was actually a Canadian company called the IMAX Corporation that re-launched 3D in the mid-1980s with its non-fiction films.
Finally in 2003, James Cameron, the man who would later bring you Avatar, reinvented 3D film-making with a new system called the Reality Camera System, which he used to film Ghosts of the Abyss. Since this film, 3D has progressively grown in popularity until this summer when it felt like there were more 3D than 2D movies. Some would argue that the popularity coincides with a time when the technology is ready for it, while others would say that 3D is a novelty only being used to get bums in seats. Only time will tell.
Until we see if 3D is the new norm or if it’s a passing fad (2011 is expected to also see an abundance of 3D movies), the stores are being filled with new gadgets to appease our longing for 3D. There are 3D plasma screen TVs, 3D digital cameras, and personal rechargeable 3D glasses. And if you’re blind in one eye or don’t know what all the fuss is about, well… I can explain!