AVATAR: THE 3D WAS ANNOYING


I just got home after seeing Avatar with my son.  Was it the best film I’ve ever seen?  No. Will I see it again?  Very much yes.

I can’t stop thinking about this film – and that, for me, is a sign I’ve seen something meaningful.  With minor exception, it is honest and deeply experienced emotion that separates Cameron’s science fiction/fantasy films from every other film within that quasi-genre.  Avatar’s main character is a shattered man, a soldier who lost his legs in battle and really has nothing to live for.  Something that cannot be described in words happens when we see him wake up in his avatar for the first time.

No animated characters – computer generated or otherwise – have ever expressed so much honest emotion or engendered so much audience identification as the creations Cameron has given us.  As I said, I can’t stop thinking about the film, and I am anxious to see it again.

But, even so, the 3D was really, really annoying and was a gimmick the film could have done without.   It has to do with how human binocular vision works to focus on things close and far away.

In the real world, everything is in focus. We shift our focus continually by moving our eyes back and forth – closer together for objects close to us, and farther apart to focus on objects farther away.  Try it yourself. Hold up a pen a foot from your face. Look at it, and notice that, while the pen is in focus, everything else behind it is blurry. If you shift your focus to something farther away, the pen in front of you will become blurry.


To work successfully, 3D movies must show everything in focus. We, the viewers, shift our focus, creating the illusion of depth.

2D films don’t do that.  The camera replaces our eyes and focuses on whatever objects the director wants us to see, leaving the rest blurry and out of focus.

Foreground, clear; background, blurry.


Accomplishing clear, universal focus in any shot takes a whole lot light – which cost money – and special lenses – which cost even more money.  Sometimes a really clever director shows off by creating clear focus for all objects within a certain shot, but it is so rare that every time it happens it is noticed as exceptional.

Orson Wells did it in Citizen Kane. In a very famous scene  Charlie Kane is typing in the foreground – his form totally in sharp focus; in the background – far off in the distance – Hezekiah (Joseph Cotton) enters through a door, and he is in sharp focus, and stays in focus as he walk forward towards the camera.


The technology to accomplish this did not, at that time, exist. Wells did it using a split screen. He shot himself typing using perfect light and sharp focus. After that, Wells shot Joseph Cotton walking towards the camara. Then Wells joined both pieces of footage side by side to make it look like it was happening in one shot.

An even more spectacular example is this scene from Citizen Kane showing three different people at three different distances from the camera – all in sharp focus:



But, as already pointed out, this sort of sharp focus throughout a shot is hard to do and is rare, so rare and expensive that even James Cameron couldn’t do it. It is apparent that Avatar was shot like a conventional 2D movie and that converting it to 3D was clearly an after thought.  The scenes devoid of computer magic were shot like any other movie – which means focus shifts within shots. Close things are clear, the background is blurry, unless it comes into focus because someone enters the room, or for some other reason.

Close, in focus; background, blurry.

When 2D is converted to 3D, the viewer keeps trying to shift focus from close to far like they would do in the real world, but the blurry backgrounds stay blurry, and that can be – and was – really annoying.

But most of the movie is fully computer animated, and that means everything can be in focus to allow the viewer to shift from object to object enough so that the 3D is far less annoying, and even enjoyable, enhancing the experience.

Was Avatar the best movie ever made? No.  Will it change the way movies are made?  Not likely. Was the story original? No, but it was a story worth telling and wonderful to watch being told in such spectacular fashion. I am definitely going to see it again.

But when I do I am going to see it in 2D.

I’ll let you know what happens.

.

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22 Responses to “AVATAR: THE 3D WAS ANNOYING”

  1. But, I heard it has space chicks…

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  2. Also fear Leona Lewis’ “I Will See You”

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  3. drej – It does, but it offers much more. I really enjoyed this movie.

    Barnes – I believe it is “I See You” and it is actually pretty good.

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  4. […] This post was Twitted by danvanderster […]

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  5. I saw the movie yesterday. I have been thinking since on what was the point of 3D if I could not focus on whatever I wanted to (just like in 2D). I wondered if anyone else thought about the same thing… and yes, here it is, I just read exactly my thoughts !

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  6. paulboylan Says:

    Thanks, Zed, I appreciate it. I thought long and hard about why the 3D bugged me so much. I’m glad you enjoyed my attempt at an explanation.

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  7. I tend to get motion sickness in 3D movies – I’m far sighted and need to be able to focus on things in the background to get perspective so I think that’s why anything with a hand held camera or the 3D effect gets to me.

    We saw it twice in 3D and both times I had to take off the glasses/and or look away in order to get my perspective back and settle my stomach. I would have preferred not to see it in 3D.

    having said that, the first time we saw it the cinema technicians screwed up and forgot to turn off the lights in the cinema. So I got the pleasure of seeing an entire cinema full of buffoons yelling creative abuse at the FKWIT in charge of the tech room.

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  8. darkeyes9090 Says:

    I agree with you on all except it will change the way movies are made. Have you seen how many 3d releases are coming? The 3d tvs are available this year with stations providing programming for them already in the pipeline.

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  9. Michael Mirabile Says:

    I just walked out of Avatar in 3D. I wanted to see it in 2D as I refuse to be hoodwinked by this technology. I even asked the manager if there have been any complaints about the 3d. He said there have been none. Early in its release the local critic in The Boston Globe warned that if the projectionist wasn’t trained well, the 3D version was a mess — Fox had to fly in a projectionist after the first showing TO CRITICS looked terrible! Once again I was tricked by 3D. The movie was blurry and dim. I just couldn’t take it. And considering it costs more than a regular release I can’t believe that people readily accept that this is the way the movie is supposed to look. Like you, I will see the movie in 2d. That is if they are playing it anywhere!

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  10. Of course they are showing it in 2D. And you are right – it is a gimmick. All the talk about 3D television is a gimmick, too. It may be offered to extract a few bucks from suckers, but it isn’t going to last, at least not until they figure out how to do it without the need to wear special glasses.

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  11. I watched the movie in Bangalore Jayanagar INOX theatre. It was disgusting till the first half of the movie. (Mind I’m not complaining about the movie). They gave me and my wife totally screwed up 3d glasses. The movie was blurred the letters in the subtitles were blurred and seen double. Matter of fact they collected a deposit of RS 200 for these insane pair of glasses (The movie tickets were Rs 250/head). At the interval I got the glasses replaced. Atleast a minute testing in the beginning of the movie could have helped us audience and there should have been some way of replacing the glasses would have been great. We could appreciate the movie only in the second half when the 3D effect was actually visible.

    So people if you see the background images blurred and see the letters doulbled then its an indication of bad glasses. And with bad glasses not only is your viewing bad, it causes pain and irritation to the eyes.

    Theatres should be held responsible. They made their money and we ended up losing the fun.

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  12. Anony, I agree. It is that kind of bungling that is inexcusable. If an audience member pays their money, they should expect the experience to be reasonably flawless.

    Here in t he United States, if the same thing happened, the audience would have demanded – and received – a full refund of the price of their tickets.

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  13. I had been thinking the very same thing, having just saw the movie.

    You are FORCED to focus on what the director wants you to be looking at.

    If it was made for 3D only, would it be possible to use a camera lens which keeps the whole shot in focus, so we can choose where to look ?
    For ‘real’ video scenes with landscapes and people etc – not just animations.

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  14. Yes, but it would be extremely expensive, requiring special lenses and complex and extensive lighting – or, it can be done through computer generated images, which are in focus or not depending on the whim of the director. The closer CGI gets to mimicking actual film, the more likely it will be used for 3D.

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  15. I watched the movie in Bangalore Jayanagar INOX theatre. It was disgusting till the first half of the movie. (Mind I’m not complaining about the movie). They gave me and my wife totally screwed up 3d glasses. The movie was blurred the letters in the subtitles were blurred and seen double. Matter of fact they collected a deposit of RS 200 for these insane pair of glasses (The movie tickets were Rs 250/head). At the interval I got the glasses replaced. Atleast a minute testing in the beginning of the movie could have helped us audience and there should have been some way of replacing the glasses would have been great. We could appreciate the movie only in the second half when the 3D effect was actually visible.

    So people if you see the background images blurred and see the letters doulbled then its an indication of bad glasses. And with bad glasses not only is your viewing bad, it causes pain and irritation to the eyes.

    Theatres should be held responsible. They made their money and we ended up losing the fun.

    I just walked out of Avatar in 3D. I wanted to see it in 2D as I refuse to be hoodwinked by this technology. I even asked the manager if there have been any complaints about the 3d. He said there have been none. Early in its release the local critic in The Boston Globe warned that if the projectionist wasn’t trained well, the 3D version was a mess — Fox had to fly in a projectionist after the first showing TO CRITICS looked terrible! Once again I was tricked by 3D. The movie was blurry and dim. I just couldn’t take it. And considering it costs more than a regular release I can’t believe that people readily accept that this is the way the movie is supposed to look. Like you, I will see the movie in 2d. That is if they are playing it anywhere!

    Thanks, Zed, I appreciate it. I thought long and hard about why the 3D bugged me so much. I’m glad you enjoyed my attempt at an explanation

    Like

  16. I stand behind my opinion that 3D is still a gimmick designed to extract cash from stupid people.

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  17. Good article. Thank you.

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  18. paulboylan Says:

    Glad you liked it.

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  19. edu backlinks Says:

    nice post bro. waiting for the next part to show up

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  20. My friend recommended I may like this web site. He was

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  21. Nice write up! Thanks for this. I thought I was totally alone on thinking that 3D movies should NEVER have any blurred parts.

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  22. Not alone at all; it is a common demand that is ignored because 2D film cannot really be converted to 3D without the out of focus quality inherent in low light/shifting focus filming.

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