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.