Thursday, April 5, 2012

Sketched Discussion: 7 good uses of 3D

After watching Wrath of the Titans and The Avengers trailer, I got to thinking what makes good 3D and what are some techniques to best use it.  Whether you see 3D as the big new thing like color TV or a flash gimmick like 80's 3D, there's no denying there are some great ways to incorporate it effectively into the movie experience. Here are seven great uses of 3D(with mock storyboards from The Avengers trailer)!

1) Throwing stuff at the audience
The easiest cash in on 3D and probably the most used by far is hurling stuff at your audience.  Sure it's cheap, but it's also incredibly effective.  Like the first time people saw a train barreling towards them on the big screen during the turn of last century, you never get over the shock of seeing a spear thrown directly at your face.  Of course the trouble in this is not making it too obvious that you're about to do it.  You need to have a good set-up in order to get the biggest shock. Wrath actually got this right when lava and rocks spurted at the audience after a big explosion, causing a nice jump.

2) Epic action sequences
Why aren't more romantic comedies in 3D? Because there's nothing happening! Giant monsters, robots, explosions and car chases are the perfect vehicle for 3D.  Do it wrong, and it will feel as flat as if it were in regular 2D, but do it right, and it will feel like the audience is actually in the action.  It's tough to pull this off, filmmakers have to engineer the scene to be made with 3D in mind.  They have to consider foreground, middle, and background, and how the cameras and actors will spin around to change that to best use the illusion.  Michael Bay, if anything, knows how to make a good 3D fight in Transformers 3. And from the trailer, it looks like The Avengers is going to use it effectively as well.

3) Animated menus/interfaces and effects
You may not think it, but animated menus are a huge draw for 3D.  People already want to have futuristic interfaces like that in real life, why not put them in your 3D movie?  Full disclosure, the interfaces in Avatar were my favorite thing about the 3D in that movie.  They just looked so cool and so real!  This is also a great excuse to throw effects like laser blasts, explosions, and fire at your audience.  They're already unnatural, but hurling them at the audience will make them think they're in a videogame!  And don't forget particle effects. Who doesn't love seeing snow in their face?

4) Chase or flying sequences
This is why 3D was created, to make you feel like you're actually there, experiencing it. When filmmakers do a flying sequence well in 3D, it actually feels like flying. Say what you will about the flightsuit sequence in Transformers 3, it was exhilarating.  Wrath even has a few fly-throughs going through the earth, passing perilously over and around rocks.  Or does anyone remember the roller-coaster sequence in Despicable Me? Because it felt exactly like a roller coaster.

5) First person view
This is somewhat a combination of 1, 2 and 4, but it's still a technique I'd like to see more of. You take the reigns of the main character as he or she battles the bad guy, shoots an arrow, has debris chucked at her or jumps off a ledge.  If done effectively the audience will fell like they are the hero. Imagine what this could do for videogames too! Remember the last ten minutes of the Doom movie that was in first person? Or think about how cool it would be to play Mirror's Edge in 3D?

6) Foreground, Middle-ground, Background
This seems like a simple enough concept; you see many a movie try to do it, but very few pull it off. If done sloppily or incorrectly, you'll have two normal characters talking with a blurry background, with little thought that you're actually in 3D. To do it right, a shot has to be staged correctly, with a visible foreground, your characters talking in the middle, and things going on in the background.  A minimum of 3 layers gives the illusion it's a living breathing world. I remember being amazed at this when I saw it in Up and wish I had seen it in Wrath. Sadly, it seems many a filmmaker either don't have the money to spend on every shot in 3D if it's just two characters speaking, or don't want to put the time into doing it right.

7) A living breathing environment
These are movies that make you say Wow. This is what made Avatar so good. They put so much life into the environment with every little detail and multiple levels moving in space you actually feel like you're there. Many filmmakers use this as a great establishing shot and move on, but great filmmakers use it throughout the film, seemingly turning the setting itself into a character. Hugo also got this right, creating the beautiful shimmering world of the French train station.

Many of these techniques aren't just about 3D, they're also about design, staging and pacing.  So really, in order to make a movie with great 3D effects, you first need to make a great movie.  What are some techniques that you think make good 3D? What movies do you think really took advantage of the 3D? And what movies didn't?

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