In a moment which I believe almost certainly portends the Apocalypse, I
find myself in complete agreement with Michael Bay about something. What
is it? That it’s really easy to make 3D really badly.
Bay’s comments on the matter come as part of his studio’s push to make
the next Transformers film a 3D affair using the “3D conversion” method,
in which a film shot in a traditional two-dimensional manner is then
fiddled with inside computers to give it a 3D look and feel. It’s the
process most recently used for Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, and
audiences will see it again in the upcoming Clash of the Titans, which
was hastily processed into 3D after the runaway success of Avatar (which
was shot natively in 3D). Here’s what Michael Bay had to say on turning
2D movies into 3D:
I shoot complicated stuff, I put real
elements into action scenes and honestly, I am not sold right now on the
conversion process… Right now, it looks like fake 3D, with layers
that are very apparent. You go to the screening room, you are hoping to
be thrilled, and you’re thinking, huh, this kind of sucks. People can
say whatever they want about my movies, but they are technically
precise, and if this isn’t going to be excellent, I don’t want to do it.
I never once imagined a situation in which I would say something like
this, but — you go, Michael Bay! Because Michael Bay is right.
you’re going to do 3D, you need to do it well, and you need to do it
from the start: Natively filmed in 3D, so that your production is
designed to have it as a part of the process, not tacked on as an
afterthought for a quick hit of cash. This is a point driven home
to me a couple of weeks ago when I saw Alice in Wonderland in 3D
local movie theater. The “layering” aspect of the 3D process in that
film was pretty obvious; distant backgrounds looked like the
back-projected images you’d see in ’50s and ’60s movies, and the planes of
imagery reminded me less of the real world and more of the “multi-plane
camera” animation technique Disney pioneered in Fantasia,
70 years ago.
In one sense, Alice in Wonderland was a fine film in which to get away
with this, because the setting is meant to be surreal; the paper-thin
planes of depth could arguably add to the sense of unreality. But in
another sense, I’m going to bet no one at Disney said “Hey! These
paper-thin planes of depth would add to the surreal nature of the film!
Let’s do it!” Which is to say from an artistic sense, Disney dodged a
Other films won’t be as lucky — and movie studios, who
are very quickly becoming addicted to the extra $3 a ticket that the 3D
process allows them to charge, are going to find that out sooner than
Audiences like to be wowed, but they don’t like to be played for chumps.
Squirting on an extra dimension in post-production isn’t going to save a
dodgy film, especially if the end result is that the 3D process makes
it look worse, not better. Very quickly this fake 3D won’t be all that
attractive for filmgoers who know anything about the 3D process, and
whether films were designed for 3D.
I’m likely to see Clash of
the Titans, because I have a professional obligation (heh heh heh)
also because my wife, unaccountably a fan of the
goofy 1980s original,
gets a big grin on her face anytime she hears the phrase “Release the
Kraken!” Nevertheless, neither she nor I are particularly interested in
seeing it in 3D; it doesn’t really add any value for us as moviegoers,
and indeed if I see it in 3D, at least part of my time is likely going
to spent being annoyed that the process isn’t as good as it was in
Avatar. Which means that the 3D process is going to pull me out of
movie, which really is the wrong sort of 3D effect. Better to see it in
2D and not have that problem at all.
One more quote from Michael
Bay: “Studios might be willing to sacrifice the look, and use the
gimmick to make $3 more a ticket, but I’m not.” Good on him, and I hope
more directors will say the same thing. If you’re going to sell me a 3D
film, make it 3D from the ground up: Plan it for 3D, design it for 3D
and shoot it in 3D. Otherwise it’s just the 21st century version of
colorizing black and white films: Obviously fake, and certainly not