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.