Editor's Note
Issue: Volume 34 Issue 5: (May 2011)

Editor's Note

While “mobile” was the new buzzword at NAB last month, this growing medium by no means loosened the grip that stereo 3D has on the industry. Presently, there are still those who question whether stereo 3D is a fad that will soon wane. Indeed, there are many who find the added cost of a ticket to a stereo 3D movie too steep. Truth be told, this seems to be more of an issue for bad stereo films than those that do a great job of integrating the technology into the story line. In 2010, we saw the good (Alice in Wonderland, How to Train Your Dragon) and the bad ( Clash of the Titans) in terms of 3D movies. When stereo is done well, it is exceptional. So, what is the key to making a great stereo 3D film?

Back in 2007, DreamWorks Animation gave the industry a new perspective on the medium when the facility announced its intention to produce all of its films in stereoscopic 3D starting in 2009. (Remember, in 2007, there was not much in the way of stereo 3D films.) The studio already knew that to get the most out of the medium, the stereo would become part of the creative process from the start of the project, as opposed to a post-process afterthought. The studio’s first film to use this new workflow was 2009’s Monsters vs. Aliens—a monster hit, if you will. Since then, DreamWorks has rolled out a string of stereo hits (How to Train Your Dragon, Shrek Forever After, and Megamind). Most likely Kung Fu Panda 2 (see “Kicking Back,” pg. 8), released this month, followed by Puss in Boots later in the year, will find similar success. Leading DreamWorks on this endeavor is 3D animation guru Phil McNally, known throughout the industry by the moniker “Captain 3D,” and deservedly so. McNally was an early 3D convert, having been the stereo supervisor on Disney’s Chicken Little and Meet the Robinsons prior to landing at DreamWorks. Here, McNally provides some perspective on this trend.

Do you feel that people are still embracing stereo 3D as much as they did a year ago?
At DreamWorks Animation, 3D is a part of our pipeline. We don’t question 3D’s validity. We use it to enhance the stories we want to tell. Our techniques are fine-tuned and at our command. I sense many filmmakers who are new to 3D may find it a scary prospect. If I had to guess audiences’ opinions, I would say they really enjoy 3D, when it is treated with skill and creativity.

What hurdles still remain when it comes to audience appreciation of stereo 3D?
The hurdle is with the filmmakers to create the content.

Does stereo 3D lend itself better to a live-action film or a CG film, or is there no difference?
It’s currently easier to control in CG and, therefore, a better result can be achieved technically, but live action has the real world to capture, and that is a big advantage compared to creating everything from scratch in our world. Ultimately, I would say the real-world complexity is a great thing for 3D, but so far, few live-action movies have captured the spatial beauty seen in some of the jungle scenes of Avatar. They were real, weren’t they? You have to remember that traditional 2D cinema is the art of 3D-to-2D conversion, and directors of photography are some of the world’s experts in seeing the world as a flat art. This is not the best starting point for 3D filmmaking. It may take a while.

Are there any types of films that do not lend themselves well to stereo 3D?

I suppose the question should really be: Are there any types of stories that do not lend themselves to 3D? To that I would say ‘no,’ because you can tell a story in many different ways suitable for a campfire, radio, stage, cinema, or so forth. 3D provides the perception of depth. To make a good 3D movie, you must tell a story in a way that uses interesting depth alongside and in sync with all our other movie dials of sound, color, editing, acting….

What are the key aspects to achieving a successful stereo 3D film?

Think spatially. Stop closing one eye when you think of composition. In practical terms, on a production, the answer is to force everyone—yes, force—to look at the work in 3D. It’s the only way to see the opportunities and understand the limits. The more you look, the more you learn. If you want to become a sculptor, you have to work in clay. You can’t keep painting the subject and expect a sculpture to appear out of nothing.

Are we seeing better stereo films now than we did two years ago, or are most people still just getting the hang of it?

In general, live action is still getting started and has a long way to catch up with the CG world. But it is exciting to see a more diverse range going into production. The audience is getting an education, as well. It is still very early days. The more movies that are made, the better we all become.

As an audience member, I want to go and see something that makes me think, or dream, or be scared, or fall in love. Many types of storytelling can do that. 3D can greatly enhance it.