me on mr. murch on 3d

Pat C started a great thread over at Reduser.net to discuss Walter Murch’s letter to Roger Ebert.  If you haven’t read it yet, click the pic or go here.  My humble response and analysis:

I think the point that Mr. Murch makes, that “…if the film story has really gripped an audience they are ‘in’ the picture in a kind of dreamlike ‘spaceless’ space. So a good story will give you more dimensionality than you can ever cope with” is one of the most informed observations I’ve read concerning 2D or 3D storytelling.  And I believe at the heart of his letter is an emphatic critique of 3D storytelling, not on the technical aptitude of the filmmaker or the perceptive capabilities of the audience.

What a 3D filmmaker might take away from this significant observation is that Mr. Murch believes the audience is most comfortable when it’s convergence point is fixed for the duration of the film and then to let themselves be surrounded by the story.  Perhaps 3D could be most successfully deployed as a storytelling tool in films like Cube or maybe an adaptation of the video game Portal: stories where the sets are repetitive, inherently three dimensional in design and fundamentally understood by the audience.  Stories where the concept of watching action unfold in a shoebox, stage, auditorium or what have you is easily understood from the offset.  Then the story that happens inside the established 3D space engrosses them; the 3D becomes a feature of the story, not a distraction or technical achievement with no direct contribution to the story’s telling.

Again, to quote Mr. Murch, “…the editing of 3D films cannot be as rapid as for 2D films, because of this shifting of convergence: it takes a number of milliseconds for the brain/eye to ‘get’ what the space of each shot is and adjust.”  So as 3D storytellers, if we limit the need for these constant adjustments in the brains of the audience, then we allow them to be more fully enveloped by the dimensionality of the story within the 3D space of the film.  Therefore, limiting set changes and quick cuts between multiple camera angles would be a must.  Revealing a three dimensional set to an audience should be done politely, perhaps with a simple fade from black or jump cut.  And pacing should allow for plenty of time for their brains to (literally) adjust and understand the new three dimensional space.

Additionally, 3D depth should be matched from cut to cut.  We’re no longer interacting with a 2D plane, depth of field and focus are combining with 3D depth.  The audience’s brain is literally more attuned to specific areas and depths of the screen.  Is anyone else out there deaffened by the sucking sound a lack of a sophisticated NLE with built in 3D tools in our current market?  Shouldn’t it be the job of the editor to make cuts based on convergence points, to tweak convergence as necessary, etc?  Final Cut Studio 3D anyone?  But, I digress.

At the end of the day, would I have gone to see Avatar if it hadn’t been in 3D?  Yes.  Did seeing it in 3D fundamentally change my understanding of the story?  No.  And I think that concept is at the heart of Mr. Murch’s critique: until 3D comfortably enhances the audience’s understanding and appreciation of a story it will continue to be perceived as a gimmicky marketing tactic bundled with a hot technical mess by established Hollywood storytellers like Mr. Murch.
Obviously, 3D is a viable production quality studios are happy to build in to a budget so that they can market the added value and increase a film’s revenue.  As 3D storytellers it should be our mission to write or find stories that 3D production will fundamentally enhance the audience’s appreciation of the film and the story it is sharing with them.

A storytelling success combined with a box office hit is what it will take for 3D to finally arrive.  IMHO.

proactively • slowly 3-dimensionalizing myself • peter


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