Monday, September 27, 2010

Imax for the Home?

Supposedly the best 3-D motion picture format available, will a Blu-Ray based 3-D Imax movie format for domestic use result in a nystagmus-free 3-D movie viewing for the home?

By: Ringo Bones

Claimed as the best 3-D motion picture format yet to provide long-term nystagmus-free viewing – and the results speak for itself - Imax have delighted its share of curious viewers lucky enough to see 15-to-20-minute visual extravaganzas of virtually life-like moving pictures. Even existing Imax theatres’ umbrella-like screens have been used to provide better ”stereopsis” for the latest 3-D movies. Given the current Blu-Ray disc's versatility when it comes to high capacity data storage, will a true Imax move – like multi-channel home theatre - ever become a domestic reality?

Born out of the advances in computer graphics, liquid-crystal technology and extra-wide-format films of the late 1980s, a Canadian company had developed a new technique that makes objects pop out of the screen with unprecedented clarity and brilliance and causes no eyestrain. The new technology called Imax Solido, was created by Imax Systems, the Toronto-based company that makes movies to be shown on screens the size of six-story buildings.

The first Solido film, a largely computer-generated extravaganza called Echoes of the Sun that was co-produced by the Japanese firm Fujitsu, was first shown at the Fujitsu Pavilion at Expo’90, an international fair in Osaka. Showgoers queued up for a chance to park in front of a huge wrap-around screen, strap on a pair of battery-powered goggles and enter a startingly realistic 3-D world.

The goggles are the key to the Solido system. Taking place of the funny cardboard-frame glasses used to watch old-style 3-D movies, the eyewear creates a stereoscopic effect by using lenses filled with liquid-crystal diodes, the same material that forms the numerals on the face of a digital wristwatch. When jolted by an electric current, an LCD lens can instantly switch from being essentially transparent to being totally opaque – like an efficient electronic shutter.

Controlled by an infrared signal broadcasted from the projection booth, the goggles’ left and right lenses open and close 24 times a second, in synchronization with a pair of Imax projectors showing first the left-eye view and then the right-eye view of the scene. The 3-D effect unusually crisp because the projectors are extremely stable, the separation of right-and-left-eye views is precise. And the movie frames are ten times as large as those of a typical 35-mm film.

But it is the wide, umbrella-shaped screen that provides the real breakthrough in Solido. When the brain combines the left-and right-eye images in a conventional 3-D movie, it creates a process known as stereopsis - an artificial three-dimensional space that seems to jut out from the screen. As an object in that space approaches the viewer, it becomes larger and larger. If it gets big enough to reach the outer edges of the picture, however, it will appear to snap back to the plane of the screen, sending conflicting depth cues to the brain and destroying the 3-D illusion.

The advantage of the wraparound Solido theatre is that the edges of the screen are beyond the audience’s field of view. “The screen seems to disappear in the peripheral vision”, says Imax producer Roman Kroitor. “The picture stays right there; you can reach out and touch it”.

Given the current advances in artefact-free digital data compression of visual data, existing DVD Blu-Ray discs can be used to store the large throughput of data required to achieve true Imax viewing in a domestic setting. Our existing Blu-Ray ready home theatre systems will probably need just a minimal upgrade to make it capable of showing true-blue Imax motion pictures at feature film lengths, and hopefully a nystagmus – a rapid involuntary oscillation of the eyeballs as from dizziness – free viewing of 3-D feature films for 2-hours or more.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

3-D TV Broadcasts: Desperately Seeking Content?

With 3-D capable high-definition widescreen TVs for domestic use already out on the market since June 2010, will quality content shows shot in 3-D ever be available for broadcast in network TV anytime soon?

By: Ringo Bones

LG, Samsung and Sony had already put out on the market their incarnation of the 3-D capable high-definition widescreen TV for domestic use ever since notable 3-D movies – like James Cameron’s Avatar and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland had recently become blockbuster successes. But what about 3-D TV broadcasts on network TV? Sadly, none is yet available – but Sky networks recently promised to provide their very first 3-D TV broadcasts by October 2010. Given that the intended demographic for shows shot in 3-D for network TV broadcasts are already weaned on free – but of questionable legality – content on Pirate Bay during the first decade of the 21st Century, will network broadcasted 3-D TV shows ever be economically viable from the TV networks’ perspective?

Early adapters fortunate enough to afford those first-generation of 3-D capable high-definition widescreen TV are already sold on the idea of 3-D movies in the home despite of the minor inconvenience of those cinema-style 3-D viewing goggles. With titles now widely available via 3-D capable Blu-Ray DVDs like Avatar and Alice in Wonderland, positive word-of-mouth reviews on 3-D ready hi-def widescreen TVs had become the only excuse for buying one. But will the same people who brought 3-D Blu-Ray DVDs embrace the “potentially” free shows broadcasted on 3-D TV networks?

Given that most of us had been weaned on Napsterization and Pirate Bay style utter disregard to copyright laws when it comes to getting on-demand TV shows for free during the first decade of the 21st Century, TV network executives are probably reluctant to invest into a new “gimmick” of questionable economic viability. Most of us will probably resort to the advertisement-free 3-D shows if it ever becomes available on Internet sites despite of the copyright violations involved. Not to mention the expense of 3-D viewing goggles – which the cheapest ones sell at 10 to 15 US dollars per pair – might be to expensive for some weaned on free stuff from Napster and Pirate Bay.

On the bright side, it could potentially increase the demand for studio stylists and make-up artists given the inherent “vanity” of Hollywood stars who not only wants to look good on high-definition TV broadcasts but also good on 3-D high-definition TV broadcasts. Fashion consultants and make-up artists currently unemployed might find themselves working for big stars - and the odd news presenter and talk-show host - who desperately wants to look good in front of a 3-D capable HDTV in a few months time.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Can Persons with Compromised Vision Still Watch 3-D Movies?

The current resurgence of 3-D movies may be a thrill-a-minute ride to us with “normal” 20/20 vision, but can those with compromised vision still enjoy them?

By: Ringo Bones

The on-going and supposedly still economically-viable-from-the-media-providers’-perspective resurgence of 3-D movies and related on-line visual content may seem like a thrill-a-minute fairground ride for us folks with “normal” 20/20 vision. But are the concerns of those who wear prescription glasses or those with only one eye being set aside on the wayside in our current 3-D boom?

For sometime now, it is recommended that for people who wear prescription glasses, the 3-D viewing goggles can be placed or worn over their specs. It may be an uncomfortable and unwieldy way to watch 3-D at your local cinema – especially since most features last two hours or a bit longer. At present, it seems to be the only practical solution to speck wearers, unless your optometrist can fabricate a pair of 3-D viewing goggles with optical properties matching your prescription eyeglasses.

Another not-so-often-discussed conundrum encountered in 3-D movie viewing is for persons with only one working eye. Though given that those viewers with only one eye defeats the necessity of watching 3-D movies since they physiologically lack the ability of binocular depth perception. It might be safe to assume in the near future that over 90% of movies might be shot in 3-D so suggestions for those viewers with one working eye can be helpful. Unfortunately persons with one eye still have to wear those “unwieldy” 3-D viewing glasses because if they don’t they’ll see a double-image mess since image intended for both left and right eyes are there in the screen unfiltered by the 3-D goggles. Even if they wear the 3-D viewing goggles, they still can’t see the depth and layering as intended by the cinematographer – which is somewhat unfortunate.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

StreetDance: First Hip-Hop Themed 3-D Movie Ever?

Touted by the BBC as the first European film that’s entirely shot in 3-D, will StreetDance have the potential to join the roster of financially successful 3-D movies of 2010?

By: Ringo Bones

Film critics seem to have reached a consensus when they are now starting to blame James Cameron’s Avatar on the now de rigueur practice that big-budget movie releases should have a 3-D version in order to qualify as being a big-budget movie. When the BBC coverage on StreetDance back in May 11, 2010 – which it called the first ever European film to be entirely shot in 3-D - for its slated release in May 21. It seems that the Beeb is yet again trying their damnedest to convince the whole world that the African culture behind hip-hop is not just an exclusively American inner-city cultural phenomenon. As if the Brits – with the help of the Beeb - have ever manage to tout their very own version of Grandmaster Flash or Afrika Bambaataa. Anyway, the movie is primarily based on the nitty-gritty reality behind the hardships faced by your typical dance crew participants of Britain’s Got Talent.

Even though I haven’t seen the movie yet and the following synopsis is based on the various trailers that had been aired so far making my accounts a non-spoiler. Much of the bulk of StreetDance revolves around a very talented but financially impoverished street dance crew training for the UK championships who find themselves being forced to work with ballet dancers in return for rehearsal space. With no common ground given the well-established Kultur Kampf between such differing artforms and passions riding high. The two groups of dancers soon realize that they need to find a way of working together to be able to compete at the championships.

While the supposedly first European dance-based film to be shot in 3-D when it came to light back in March 2010. Namely, the collaboration between Pina Bausch and Wim Wenders on Bausch’s avant-garde ballet choreography – unfortunately failed to register in the consciousness of 3-D movie enthusiasts that it could end up going straight to 3-D capable Blu-Ray DVD. While StreetDance 3-D has a more popular subject matter – namely rap and hip-hop-themed dance contest of Britain’s Got Talent – that it is very likely be shown in packed 3-D capable movie houses in May 21 as opposed to a cozy home theatre set-up. Just be hopeful that your local movie house’s sound system can handle the energetic soundtrack that is more at home in your nearest discotheque.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Will 3-D Cinematography Renew Ballet Appreciation in the 21st Century?

As ballet no longer registers in the consciousness of most moviegoers, will a Pina Bausch biography shot in 3-D renew public interest in ballet?

By: Ringo Bones

As one of the most beautiful fineries of Western Civilization, it is somewhat unfair that ballet had been hastily consigned to the dung-heap of contemporary Western pop culture. Despite of a brief renaissance in the 1980s – remember famed premier danseur Mikhail Baryshnikov appearing in the movie White Nights? My first-hand memories of how young women perceived the art of ballet during the 1980s was its uselessness against fending off attacking muggers and rapists. Making them more interested (or does prioritize seem more apt?) in types of martial arts that guarantee “attacker neutralization” and concealed small-arms proficiency. While the hi-fi revival of the 1990s got me going to live ballet shows for the live orchestral accompaniment, it does seem that Western interest in ballet has been slowly on the wan.

Will the biographical film of famed ballet choreographer Pina Bausch shot in 3-D by famed director Wim Wenders ever renew the public’s waning interest of the beautiful art of ballet? After all famed German modern dance choreographer Philippine “Pina” Bausch did became a leading influence of the development of the Tanztheater (Dance Theatre) style of dance and spread Classical Ballet awareness of audiophiles during the Golden Age of Stereo. But first, here’s a brief history of ballet.

Ballet comes from the Italian word ballare, meaning to dance. The word ballet is used in two ways. In one sense it means a form of theatrical presentation in which a story or mood is depicted by means of dancing – usually accompanied by music – in a production with scenery and costumes. In the second sense, ballet means a complex, highly refined technique of dancing in which the Western World calls Classical Ballet. This technique gives the dancer great physical strength and control. A style characterized by dignity, simplicity and elegance.

The history of ballet, as we know in the form today, begins in the 16th Century when the Italian Catherine de Médicis married the heir to the throne of France in 1533. In her new homeland, she was said to have introduced gelato (Italian ice cream), lettuce, artichokes and the art of ballet. At first, only men took dancing seriously; women did not appear on the stage. But in 1681, Le Triomphe de l’amour a ballet by Jean Baptiste de Lully featured the first ever professional female dancer – Mademoiselle Lafontaine. So great was her success that others soon followed. Like their male colleagues, they were trained at the Académie. Their schooling was not nearly so rigorous as it is today, but it was based on the same fundamental techniques that are now taught throughout the world.

Given that I have a few young Ukrainian ladies currently enrolled in my vacuum tube electronics class – i.e. a class mostly about electric guitar amplifier construction and maintenance – I have now first hand close up experience on the beauty of Classical Ballet. Their renditions of the five positions, the pirouette and the soubresaut are the best that I’ve seen so far live and in close up. Even though I’ve no idea what a perfectly executed pirouette and soubresaut looks like live without being limited by the 24-frame per second delivery of the medium of film.

According to my ballerina pals, the frame-rate limitations of film does put a damper on the grace and beauty of ballet in comparison to seeing one performed live. But they – like me – are also curious on how much of the dimension and beauty the upcoming 3-D film biography of Pina Bausch and her ballet choreography is captured by famed director Wim Wenders. I mean the proper location and arrangement of the dance performers that can be captured via good 3-D cinematography is an integral part of good ballet choreography, right? By the way, Wim Wenders first became famous to us who have yet to turn 40 from his work in the U2 music video “Stay (Far Away…So Close!)”.

Will Wim Wenders’ 3-D cinematography of Pina Bausch’s film biography ever renew the waning interest of Classical Ballet? Well, if you ask me, I have even doubts that this particular 3-D biography of Pina Bausch will ever be shown in the 3-D cinema of our local mall. Or if it did manage to become as popular as James Cameron’s Avatar, I’ll be very surprise. And if it does become as popular, will Avatar the Musical be not so very far behind?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Why Alice in Wonderland Should Be Done In 3-D?

Though the rework of this Lewis Carroll classic seem like a merger between Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking glass, but is there a need for it to be done in 3-D?

By: Ringo Bones

Though the 21st Century incarnation of 3-D cinematography is here to stay because it manages to sell itself effortlessly, Über-director Tim Burton might had his own reasons for why should Alice in Wonderland be done in 3-D cinematography. But shouldn’t we be first try to explore what compelled the Oxford mathematician named Charles Dodgson a.k.a. Lewis Carroll to write the two adventures of Alice in the first place and why should it be done under 3-D cinematography?

When Lewis Carroll wrote Alice Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass around the early 1860s, the stereoscope – an instrument that became an extremely popular parlor toy during the Victorian era and 3-D cinematography’s great grandfather – started to gain inroads into English households. Stereoscopes require two separate photographs of a scene – known as a “stereo pair” – taken from slightly different angles. These photographs are placed in a small viewer, which permits one to be seen by the right eye and the other by the left. The brain accepts the disparity between the pictures as normal and blends them into a three-dimensional or 3-D view.

Though the stuffiness of “polite” Victorian era society is well known – just ask Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Friedrich Nietzsche among others – the 2010 remake of Alice in Wonderland didn’t forgot to point it out. It was also at this point in time when many mathematicians – like Lewis Carroll / Charles Dodgson – now see themselves as formulators of possibilities, rather than as “mere” discoverers of truth. Which lead to his development of symbolic logic – an attempt to reduce all human reasoning into a mathematical notation.

Lewis Carroll was the pen name of the serious Oxford mathematics lecturer named Charles Lutwidge Dodgson – author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and famed for being the finest photographer of children in Victorian England. Most (?) readers today know that the story was invented for a little girl named Alice Liddell, and that it was told to her out loud one summer’s day before it was written down on paper. While the 2010 remake circles around a 19-year old young lady named Alice Kingsley who was doing her best to go to the hoops and conventions of the “polite” society of Victorian England. What everyone now accepts as to what Alice looks like first came from the illustrations done by Sir John Tenniel, when Lewis Carroll’s Alice Adventures in Wonderland was first published in 1865.

Though Charles Dodgson signed his real name to only his “serious” mathematical works, mathematicians for decades have been intrigued by the rich skein of symbolic logic that is woven into fantasies like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. It is very likely that Charles Dodgson – a.k.a. Lewis Carroll – influenced Albert Einstein in using familiar situations of his “thought experiments” to explain the unfamiliar ideas of higher mathematics. Thus making Dodgson’s less serious fantasy literature as a “thought experiment” set in prose form. Even contemporary science fiction like Star Trek has inspired Professor Miguel Alcubierre to formulate his now famous Alcubierre Equation.

Lewis Carroll’s famous Alice often gets entangled in many a verbal jungle in the wonderland on the other side of the looking glass, but much of that tangled verbiage can be hacked away via the sharp blade of symbolic logic. The mathematical symbolism of symbolic logic might seem incomprehensible to the layperson, but it ahs a clear and precise meaning to the logician which plain words just won’t do. In the rigmarole of logical jungles much thicker than that encountered by Alice, symbolic logic has been used successfully to blaze a trail to the heart of the meaning of vague or complex arguments in law and metaphysics.

To those in the know, symbolic logic is the most introspective of the Victorian era supermaths. It is a notation for stating and manipulating all sorts of propositions so as to bring both sequiturs and non-sequiturs into mercilessly sharp relief. Through symbolic logic, mathematicians have undertaken a Sisyphean task in which to classify and analyze the thoughts involved in every branch of mathematics. With the aim of identifying the axioms and procedures at the base of each and of reducing all possible proofs to the barest skeletons.

Symbolic logic has produced one of the most curious and influential theorems in all modern mathematics. This is Gödel’s Proof – an extremely abstract line of reasoning which shows that no useful branch of mathematics can be constructed on a consistent set of axioms without raising questions unanswerable within the framework of the axioms themselves.

Now that we know how the fantastic mind of Charles Dodgson / Lewis Carroll works at work and at play, it is now safe to assume that the “inherent weirdness” of the 2010 remake of Alice in Wonderland is as predictable as several impossible things happening right before breakfast. The conflict between the Red Queen and the White Queen may appear to some to be influenced by the conflict between Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. But I just can’t help myself thinking that Helena Bonham Carter’s portrayal of the Red Queen poke’s fun at the North Korean dear leader Kim Jong Il.

Alice in Wonderland – especially the 3-D version – is nothing less than a contemporary cinematographic extravaganza, director Tim Burton should be praised for having an eye for detail for the little things. That Martin Scorsese like eye for detain in the scene where the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) and Alice (Mia Wasikowska) are in the Quite Queen’s somewhat over-lit kitchen / apothecary. Where Alice’s tiny and delicately blonde arm hairs got iridescently emphasized by the overly lit atmosphere of the White Queen’s kitchen / apothecary. Not to mention Mia Wasikowska’s brilliant make-up team that allowed her delicate blonde lashes to shine through. Probably reminding everyone that there is a G-Rated way to tell if the carpet matches the drapes – or is it making us movie geeks with Y-chromosomes nostalgic about our middle-school era Swedish exchange student crushes.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Revolutionary Idealism Sells: But Who’s Buying?

Used to be freely and spontaneously expressed by pioneering filmmakers for whom it has profound meaning, but has revolutionary idealism recently became nothing more that Madison Avenue’s Latest marketing ploy?

By: Ringo Bones

Maybe its just I got just a little fed up back in the 1990s about those clueless-about-Marxist-Leninist-socialism souls who thought those cute Che Guevara T-shirts were very snazzy just because they were promoted by Rage Against the Machine. But is this phenomenon returning in a much more insidious form, especially of the recent blockbuster success of the anti-imperialism and revolutionary idealism sentiment of James Cameron’s Avatar being used to peddle 3-D capable wide-screen TVs for the home?

Maybe the big four TV makers, namely LG, Panasonic, Samsung and Sony, simply resorted to the next logical step in marketing when they decided to use the runaway 3-D success of Avatar. Let’s just hope that these “new generation” of 3-D capable wide-screen TVs to be launched by June 2010 are budget friendly enough for those who want to bring the Avatar experience into a domestic setting. But I also have reservations when it comes to a medium’s predictability – whether film or other mass media outlet – utilized as a moneymaking scheme by major entertainment corporations.

When George Lucas toned down the jingoism of Star Wars via the now famous line: “ A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” in order to tailor it to a post Vietnam War weary America, it did insure financial success for his masterful trilogy - Cold War-era cynicism notwithstanding. But mediums can be unpredictable too despite of how much an artist’s creativity attempts to manipulate it. When Exene Cervenka and Lydia Lunch lambasted the Internet in their satire titled Rude Hieroglyphics back in 1995 as a waste of both time and money. Little did they know that the Internet is probably the only media outlet where Rude Hieroglyphics and the rest of their music exists without being molested by US government censorship.

Some say bestowing the Oscar Best Director to Kathryn Bigelow for the sheer brilliance of The Hurt Locker is probably the best way to mark the 2010 International Women’s Day because no woman has ever received the accolade since. And a growing number even suggested that there should be a 3-D remake of Sergei M. Eisenstein’s Potemkin, though this remains to be seen. But to me bestowing the Best Director accolade to Kathryn Bigelow is probably this year’s most interesting way to mark International Women’s Day by breaking the “Glass Ceiling” that’s been haunting this accolade for far too long. I just hope that LG, Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony doesn’t forget to preach about revolutionary idealism when they sell those 3-D capable wide-screen TVs. Or subject us lowly consumers into another BETAMAX versus VHS battle when it comes to domestic 3-D capable widescreen displays.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A 3-D Movie Remake of Potemkin

Given that James Cameron managed to achieve both commercial and critical success of his Avatar, will a remake of Eisenstein’s Potemkin manage to achieve the same results?

By: Ringo Bones

With the recent failure of the Copenhagen Climate Conference held last December 2009, it seems that the prevailing policies governing on how the finite resources of our planet now mirror that of the prevailing social conditions that led into the looming shipboard mutiny in Odessa. Given that the White Anglo-Saxon Christian elite seems to have the final say on how our planet’s finite resource extraction should be appropriated, will a planet-wide Potemkin-like mutiny be not so farfetched?

To the uninitiated – especially those who are the White-bred children of avid Tea Party 21st Century version advocates – Potemkin is a silent movie classic directed by the great Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein back in 1925. The movie is an account of a shipyard mutiny in Odessa. Potemkin wasn’t only one of the great “montage” films of Soviet-era Russia but also is considered as one of the masterpieces of the silent screen.

During the Golden Age of the Russian silent film era of 1924 to 1930, leading directors of the time – such as Vesevolod I. Pudovkin, Dziga Vertov, Lev Kurleshov, Alexander Dovzhenko and of course Sergei M. Eisenstein – started a movement in cinematography that would forever change it. Revolutionary idealism – freely and spontaneously expressed by artists for whom it had profound meaning – produced such outstanding works as Potemkin (1925), Mother (1925), The End of St. Petersburg (1927), Ten Days That shook the World (1928) and Earth (1930).

Despite of Cold War era censorship – remember the Red Menace tirade of Senator McCarthy of commies hiding in Hollywood? A fortunate few Americans still manage to see these films because Sergei M. Eisenstein has a reverence for the Hollywood film industry. Eisenstein visited Hollywood in 1930 and under the sponsorship of Upton Sinclair, later went on to Mexico to shoot a panoramic study of Mexican history and culture.

In the here and now, it seems that real life is almost imitating art. With the recent runaway success of James Cameron’s Avatar, the anti-imperialism theme of the movie seems to have been forcibly dragged kicking and screaming to become the fashionable ideology of the moment due to the recent failure of the Copenhagen Climate Conference. Add to that the way multinational corporations managed to swindle indigenous communities from their sustainably utilized natural resources while polluting their environment over the years that it is now save to assume that planet Earth is now set up to become one big Battleship Potemkin. Where you don’t even need those 3-D glasses to get engaged for the fight of you’re very own survival.

Given that the politics behind James Cameron’s Avatar mimic that of the revolutionary idealism of Sergei Eisenstein and his compatriots to create silent film classics, a remake of Potemkin – especially an up to date 3-D version – would probably be accepted by today’s moviegoers with open arms. More urgently so, especially when global warming skepticism and a renewed White Anglo-Saxon Protestant apologetic embrace of neo-NAZI ideology in order to counter Islamic extremism has become intellectually fashionable at the moment. And it should be in 3-D format given that Sergei Eisenstein – after seeing his first ever 3-D movie in the late 1920s – said that the future of cinematography was the 3-D motion picture. And given his newly earned clout in the Hollywood film industry due to the Oscar-worthiness of Avatar, maybe James Cameron should direct it.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Can Optical Refinements Be Used To Improve 3-D Movie Cinematography?

First used by the ancient Greeks to make the architectural layout of the Parthenon appear “visually perfect”, can optical refinements be used to minimize the exaggerated depth disparity in 3-D movies?

By: Ringo Bones

Ever since the first school-kid began to obsess about the correctness of the aspect ratio of their first perfectly crafted school project diorama, cinematographers also noticed that they too need an artistically refined way to present their newly discovered craft in order to achieve some form of legitimacy. Thus the filmmakers’ attempt at presenting the world as a stage as if they are shooting an actual stage play – which believe it or not – is still a proven formula of cinematography till this day. But with the advent of supposedly pixel perfect 3-D movie cameras, will cinematographers need to upgrade their art in order to make 3-D movies that look “natural” to our eyes?

Since their invention, 3-D movie cameras are based on the way our two eyes look in the same direction at once. And also the way they are laid out at roughly two and a half inches apart from center to center and therefore are not aimed in exactly the same line. While different technologies are used throughout the years to coordinate and harmonize those two distinct left and right field pictures – and we are getting better at it. A problem still exists – often referred to as the diorama effect – where an exaggerated depth disparity in the 3-D camera’s visual field plagues 3-D movie cinematographers for some time now in their quest for a natural looking 3-D movie. But can optical refinements be used to solve this somewhat intransigent cinematographical dilemma?

When referring to reliable historical documentation, optical refinements were first introduced by the ancient Greek architects of the Parthenon supposedly to “loosen up the mathematical strictness” of the “shapely thinking” of the ancient Greeks. Though it was probably done more to counteract our eyes’ inherent propensity for optical illusions. For without the introduction of optical refinements in the form of slight curves to the whole structure that is hardly visible to the unaided eye. The architects of the Parthenon could have created a building that looks “crooked” – i.e. a visual impression of the building’s visual field sagging towards the center - even though the long horizontal lines and perfectly perpendicular vertical intersections are plumb-bob perfect straight.

Optical illusions are commonly defined as physiologically perceived visual images that don’t correspond to objective reality. Does the diorama-effect or exaggerated depth disparity between objects or subjects in a 3-D movie’s visual field nothing more than an optical illusion? Toeing-in the two lenses would probably rectify this problem. Or digital video software that automatically compensates for the aspect ratio of the scene being shot could be a solution.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Avatar: First Oscar Worthy 3-D Movie?

The inherent technical difficulties in the production and distribution of 3-D movies notwithstanding, will James Cameron’s Avatar be the first ever Oscar-worthy 3-D movie?

By: Ringo Bones

Ever since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences got started back in 1927 with 2,075 members. This cultural organization composed of producers, actors, technicians and others associated with the film industry had never considered 3-D movies to be Oscar-worthy enough to receive one of their prestigious annually dispensed awards. But will it be eventually changed when the first ever Oscar-worthy 3-D movie called Avatar could win this year’s Oscars?

As a whole, 3-D movies are not known historically to be big box office draws or Academy Award-worthy. When one looks into the 1950s – were most movie buffs believe to be the Golden Age of 3-D movies – its very hard to miss that 3-D cinema usually means B-Movie science fiction and creature feature horror flicks. Even the 3-D version of Jaws – probably the highest grossing 3-D movie before Avatar came along – fall into this category.

Sometimes I wonder if James Cameron’s high statistical probability of box office success was down to his flirtations with Marxist-Leninist socialism. I mean the salient feature of his 1998 remake of Titanic was about class struggle, right? If it worked for Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein’s Potemkin – you know, that 1925 silent film classic about a shipboard mutiny in Odessa – surely, something like it would be a success in today’s capitalism weary post credit crunch world.

Thus came Avatar, a 400 million-dollar anti-imperialism Marxist-Leninist socialism leaning science fiction epic that has been touted as this year’s main Oscar Best Picture contender. Not only because of the technically brilliant use of contemporary state-of-the-art visual effects, but also a story line reminiscent of Sergei Eisenstein’s vision of revolutionary idealism set in the backdrop of everyone’s contemporary weariness of capitalism by the masses disenfranchised by the empty promises of the Protestant Work Ethic.

Though the movie Avatar leans more in reminding us on the environmentalist leaning ideals of Friedrich Engels, the salient feature of the movie has always been the critique on where our current “Imperialistic Organized Christianity” is heading. The 2003 invasion of Iraq is just a foreshadowing of the up and coming excesses of the good old days of the Inquisition. The movie – as a morality tale for the supposed present day arbiters of morality – may not be perfect. Nonetheless, it might just prove on what the Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing used to day about science fiction – that they are more social, rather than science, driven stories.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

3-D Movies: Future Prolix?

Given that our current cinematic knowledge is now over a century old, will 3-D ever become a cinematic standard due to the recently renewed interest?

By: Ringo Bones

Did academia’s early foray into experimental psychology – especially on how the visual aspect of our mind works - was probably more influential to the art and science of movie making than once previously thought? A hundred years ago, a young psychologist named Max Wertheimer took a train bound for the Rhineland for a summer holiday back in 1910. Unexpectedly, he was suddenly struck with an inspiration that led him to get off the train at Frankfurt. While there, he went to a local toy-shop and bought a stroboscope, which later made him borrow a little space at the University of Frankfurt for his experiments – which lasted for six years. By the way, a toy stroboscope is a device that shows a series of still pictures in rapid succession, thus giving the illusion of movement to the observer.

The decision for Wertheimer to buy that toy stroboscope came about due to his speculations about the phenomena that had puzzled psychologists for some time back then. That humans thought they saw motion when two similar objects appeared in quick succession. The most obvious example, of course, is the appearance of motion given by a succession of discrete photographs that make up motion picture frames, which we see as “moving pictures”. A similar effect can be achieved by placing two lights side by side in a dark room, switching them on and off alternately. To the observer, one light seems to dance to and fro. To Max Wertheimer these phenomena, and the effects produced by the toy stroboscope, were convincing proof that sensation alone could not account for our perception of motion; Wertheimer was sure that something more than the five senses was involved in perception.

For the next 30 years, Max Wertheimer and two colleagues, Wolfgang Köhler and Kurt Koffka, became the principal spokesmen for what became known as the Gestalt School of Psychology. Gestalt – which mean “shape” or “form” – has come in psychological terminology to mean “whole”. The “gestalt experiments” – i.e. those experiments done by Wertheimer and colleagues as they are now known – were designed to prove that perception is a more extraordinary phenomenon than the combination of the separate elements of sensation. Wertheimer and team argued, rather, that perception operates, so to speak, in reverse by concluding that we tend to perceive a whole configuration first and then the separate elements. The “Gestalt School” believed that immediate, meaningful perception is arrived at by our mental ability to create relationships.

If the preceding topic is deemed too pedantic and too clinical for your average film school graduate, be reminded that the “gestalt school” probably influenced the pioneers of “movie making” the now familiar aspects of cinematography and film scene editing. Not to mention pointing to the proper direction on how film / motion picture medium can be used to tell a meaningful story, while still retaining a broad scope of cinematic artistic license. Thanks to the insights gained by the founders of the Gestalt School of Psychology when it comes to our own visual perception.

This is why if our current renewed interest in 3-D movies ever becomes economically viable enough to become an industry standard – rather than a mere gimmicky fad during the previous decades of the 20th Century. The new generation of cinematographers interested in 3-D movie making should reexamine the Gestalt School for inspiration. This 100-year-old or so “old school” thinking will probably inspire a generation of young cinematographers to create a 3-D movie that’s even better than James Cameron’s 400 million dollar anti-imperialist epic called Avatar.

Stereoscopic Vision: More Than Just for Mere Entertainment?

Given that all of our senses are there mainly for our species’ survival, is our eyes’ binocular / stereoscopic vision capability more that just an under-exploited sensory target niche for the entertainment industry?

By: Ringo Bones

It has been a long known fact that the left and right ear-pieces of a physician’s stethoscope allows for better early diagnosis for symptoms of an impending heart problem compared to older types that send sound to only one ear. But this had not hindered the music and hi-fi industry from using it in marketing stereo sound. And given the recent renaissance of 3-D movies, is our eyes’ ability for stereoscopic vision more than just an under-exploited target market for the ailing entertainment industry?

If your keeping track on the evolution of the marketing / moneymaking side of the entertainment industry since the end of World War II. You’ll notice that movies and still images aimed at our eyes’ stereoscopic vision capability was ironically left behind during the Golden Age of Stereo when stereo sound gained more popularity and commercial success than its 3-D movie cousin. More ironic still, 3-D imaging technology dates back from the Victorian era, a few decades before Thomas Edison and others invented our technical ability to record the sound of speech and music. But stereoscopic vision / 3-D vision’s finest hour is yet to come.

Cameras for taking “stereo pairs” were used extensively by photo-reconnaissance aircraft during World War II and then studied in detail by photo interpreters in an effort to learn the secrets of enemy airfields and factories. One such stereo pair revealed to a sharp-eyed examiner the presence on a German airfield of a V-2 rocket – the first visual proof to the British intelligence that such a weapon existed. If this WW II-era WMD had then been pictured only in a single conventional aerial photograph – without the three-dimensional effect of stereoscopic photography – its identification as a rocket would have been much more difficult.

Biologist had known for awhile that binocular vision / stereoscopic vision is not the sole preserve of humans, diurnal (daylight active) meat eating predatory creatures rely on binocular / stereoscopic vision to effectively hunt their prey. Although it is only humans who can verbally describe this physiological quirk of how we visually perceive our world. Ever since the time of the Gestalt school of Psychology, scientist had now reached a consensus that the phenomena of binocular vision / stereoscopic vision / spatial vision is no longer a paradox of philosophy – like the religious-leaning humanists used to think – but rather a factual result of physiological stimulation.

How binocular or stereoscopic vision physiologically works remained a mystery for such a long time because the receptive surface of the eye – the retina – is for all intents and purposes a flat surface. Yet we humans do not see the world as a flat photograph or an etched windowpane, we see it in all its dimensions - Which enables us humans to make visually sound judgments – which can be a matter of life and death – about the position, distance, shape, and size of objects with security and exactness that enabled our species to survive for more than a million years.

Our ability to perceive depth - via our two eyes spaced two and a half inches apart from center to center - had even the great 19th Century German scientist Herman von Helmholtz to point out that binocular vision “ is the necessary foundation for all our actions. From threading a needle through a tangled skein of silk to leaping from cliff to cliff when life itself depends on the right measurement of distance.” Binocular / stereoscopic vision even allows NASA space shuttle pilots to perform a dead stick landing – an indispensable feat of survival in our contemporary technological world.

3-D Imaging Technologies: Completely Compatible to How We See?

Given our on again – off again fascination with various 3-D imaging technologies, including 3-D movies, are these imaging technologies completely compatible with our visual physiology's ability to perceive depth?

By: Ringo Bones

The now famous 3ality Digital Systems, Inc. – thanks to James Cameron’s Avatar movie – had come a long way since the company presented their “White Paper” describing their flat-panel auto stereoscopic technology at the Stereoscopic Displays and Applications Conference in Santa Clara, California back in January 2003. The company’s widely technologically compatible to current movie theaters – not to mention economically viable – 3-D imaging system had added the “third dimension” to the previously 99.99% of all images that are monocular in nature. But, is this latest incarnation of the 3D movie really physiologically compatible to the way our eye-brain system perceive binocular / stereoscopic images – or even reality?

Most previous 3-D movie imaging systems that had managed to gain commercial viability include those red / green, red / green 3-D glasses for viewing monochromatic / black and white 3-D movies made during the 1950s. Improved colored 3-D movies made during the 1970s and the 1980s that require Polarized 3-D glasses to view them, LCD shutter IMAX technology, experimental holography exhibited in various consumer electronic trade shows during the early 1990s. And some more esoteric 3D imaging systems that work on the principle of density delta / persistence of vision. Not to mention jiggle-vision, which is a 3-D movie system where the camera constantly moves up and down a small amount to give the brain what needs to construct a 3-D world as long as proper moving cues exist in the film.

On the 3-D still picture front, we had the now rare “stereo” photos that need those 1950s era red / blue and red / green 3-D glasses to perceive the “depth” of the third dimension. Much improve ones that use polarized 3-D glasses to direct the left and right images to the “right” eye to impart a perception of depth. The old stereoscopes from the Victorian era, really expensive still holograms and zography – 3-D still pictures whose depth dimension is imparted via a vertical lenticular surface. Although in terms of bang for the buck performance, nothing beats the good old 1970s era (even though it was first marketed way back in 1939) View-Master 3-D slide show device. During my exploration of still 3-D imaging systems since childhood, only the Victorian era stereoscope and the View-Master 3-D are the most likely still image 3-D viewing systems one would encounter this day and age.

When it comes to the matter of whether these systems are truly physiologically compatible to the way our ear-brain system perceives depth, most of these visual cues can be supplied by either our left or right eye. Unfortunately, there are certain cues to depth and distance that can be obtained only when both of our left and right eyes are working together. By focusing both eyes on the same object, our eyes register images that vary slightly because our eyes themselves are on average two and a half inches apart. In fusing the two images, our brain notes the slight disparity between them and uses it as a cue to a composite three-dimensional image.

The ability to combine two different images is called stereoscopic vision, and is the principle behind how a stereoscope works. Stereoscopes were as popular in Victorian-era living rooms as TV is in our present living rooms. A typical stereoscope requires two separate of a scene – known as a “stereo pair” – taken from slightly different angles. These photographs are put into a small viewer, which permits one photograph to be seen by the left eye and the other by the right eye. The brain accepts the disparity between the pictures as normal and blends them into a three-dimensional or 3-D view. The much improved 1970s era View-Master works the same way as a Victorian-era stereoscope, except that the View-Master uses color film slides instead of photographs.

The curious disparity exaggeration - or the “Diorama Effect” I noted when watching the 3-D version of the movie Avatar – was mainly caused by the muscular action of our eyes that also play a role in depth perception. This remarkable but still little understood range-finding process of our eyes enables us to estimate both the distance to various objects and the distance between the objects themselves. The process – most efficient at distances up to 20 feet – depends for its cue on the on the muscular convergence of our eyes – i.e. their inward movement as they turn to focus. Since our eyes must turn more to see a near object than a far one our brain automatically “measures” the amount of convergence and adjust its stereoscopic depth perception accordingly. Thus making scenes in the 3-D version of the movie Avatar that fall within the 20 to 30-foot scale seem to have the most seamless sense of depth and dimensionality. Especially the shots where the 3ality 3-D cameras are only 10 to 20 feet away from those Bell UH-1 Huey / Iroquois type transports.

The disparity exaggeration / Diorama Effect of our eyes depth perception is not only the preserve of stereoscopes, View-Masters, and 3-D movies, but also of us looking though a pair of binoculars. This phenomenon is very noticeable when you find yourself lucky enough to use one of those “pay-per-view” binoculars on the observation platform of the Empire State Building, or by peering through a medium powered – 12 X 50 – binoculars while riding on a helicopter in a scenic flight / aerial tour over the Manhattan skyline or over Dubai. This disparity exaggeration that produces the stark cardboard cut out Diorama Effect – a very curious stereoscopic effect that draws the viewer to the scene. Thus giving him or her the erroneous impression that he or she is looking at a highly detailed scale model, rather than a real skyline of a real city. Like those moderately distant trees and rock outcroppings in the movie Avatar. Maybe the tech guys at 3ality Digital Systems who designed the proprietary software that runs their 3-D cameras should take note of this curious visual effect and find ways to compensate for it to make their 3-D system more physiologically compatible to how our eyes perceive depth.