3D by Hewson Hayes

As of 2012, approximately 60% of the world’s cinema screens have been converted from film to digital projectors[1]. Over half of these screens are also outfitted with stereoscopic (or 3D) projectors with the numbers of these screens reaching well over 70,000 worldwide by the end of 2015[2]. The current popularity and power of home entertainment systems and the nature and ease of video on demand have forced cinemas into creating ‘spectacles’, 3D being one of the biggest draws to exhibitions for a modern audience. The digital revolution dragged 3D out of obscurity to be used as a gimmick to fill cinema seats in an attempt to halt the decline in cinema ticket sales.

Three-dimensional stereoscopic film (referred to simply as ‘3D’ or ‘3D film’) is a method of filming that enhances and exploits the illusion of depth perception, hence adding the appearance of a third dimension[3]. This technology is by no means new, having existed in much simpler forms than its modern counterpart as early as 1915, however, being a complicated and rather expensive medium, it was relegated to a small niche in motion picture history. Nonetheless, 3D film went on to have a golden era in the early 1950’s, aided in part, by the advent of colour feature films and the release of the first 3D colour film, Bwana Devil (1952). While many film companies experimented with and released 3D films during this time period, its popularity quickly dwindled due to many factors. Many of the factors that caused 3D to fail in this early stage of its development are problems easily solved when using a digital medium.

Early 3D required an extremely attentive projectionist – the nature of stereoscopic film meant that two reels would have to played simultaneously. These two reels would have to be perfectly synchronised, sometimes requiring multiple projectionists; if the reels were out of sync by one frame, the film was rendered virtually unwatchable; both reels must be kept in the same condition even after repair or maintenance, or this synchronisation is lost and again the film is unwatchable[4]. In short, the difficulty in exhibiting 3D film lead to the waning in its popularity and its return to the obscure. Despite this difficulty in using 3D on a film medium, it managed to cling on and many features were released as slight improvements were made to the technology as a whole, Jaws 3-D (1983) and Friday the 13th Part III (1982) are notable examples of possible blockbuster movies giving 3D a go, perhaps early evidence of film makers attempts to fill cinema seats. In 1986, The Walt Disney Company began more prominent use of 3D film in special venues in order to impress and attract large audiences[5]Captain E0 (Francis Ford Coppola, 1986) starring Michael Jackson is one such example that started the trend of 3D being used as a tool to impress, 3D at this point is completely inaccessible except to cinema goers and Disney, along with film makers, use this to their advantage. In the years that follow, various companies begin to use 3D for this same reason – in order to impress audiences with special features that only get played at certain venues. This marks 3D film’s transition from a filmic technique to a gimmick used to compete with other forms of entertainment, all it needed at this point was a reliable and efficient means of exhibition. Enter digital technology which coupled with the increasingly desperate need for cinemas to beat competition from home entertainment re-ignited interest in 3D technology.

Digital technology began a quick rise to power in the late ‘90s, rapidly becoming the dominant medium in the industry in terms of both production and distribution with the BFI approximating 90% of UK screens are now digital. Film makers such as George Lucas and Danny Boyle captured breath taking film that rivalled its film medium competition, while the debate is still out as to whether digital is truly better than film, digital is beginning to dominate the film industry. The digital revolution also happened to solve a lot of the early issues found within 3D film, making the exhibition of digital 3D so easy it is now utilised commercially in home entertainment systems. James Cameron arguably heralded the resurgence of 3D technology in 2009 with his release of Avatar, the first feature film shot in digital 3D to win Academy Award for Best Cinematography[6]. 2011 saw a record breaking influx of 3D films hitting the screens with 47 (BFI) and it wasn’t difficult to see why[7]. There are now more 3D capable screens across the world and 3D films such as Avatar and Polar Express set the precedent for dramatic 3D films. In short, the technology is much more mature, shooting in 3D is easier and the result is much more reliable than its earlier iterations, modern film makers were building on 3D’s foundation as a tool to create spectacle, giving audiences a reason to go to a cinema rather than resort to piracy or simply waiting till they can watch it on 42 inch widescreen plasmas in the comfort of their own home. The fact that 2D ticket sales are in an overall state of decline in the US[8] while revenues from 3D tickets saw a marked growth is just the added incentive needed to fuel the 3D resurgence[9]. Polar Express (2004) rode the increased interest in 3D, releasing a 2D screen in 3,584 theatres worldwide with only 66 3D releases, surprisingly, the revenue from these 66 screens contributed 25% of the film’s total return with the average 3D screen earning around 14 times as much as its average 2D counterpart[10]. It’s clear to see why 3D saw such a massive resurgence accompanying the advent of digital technology entering the film industry.

In short, digital technology brought 3D film technology back into the mainstream as a gimmick to try and halt the decline of cinema ticket sales in general. 3D instantly established itself as a niche spectacle, unique to cinema and something that the general public had yet to see – almost creating its own sub-genre of ‘Event’ cinema. It’s why Disney integrated 3D films into his venues worldwide and it’s why 3D films stormed the screens when digital technology perfected its earlier flaws. While the 3D film hype is quickly being outpaced as 3D capable products become increasing available commercially, its brief stint in the limelight is a testament to the power of digital technology in film and its ability to change the landscape of the film industry. While 3D slowly returns to the background in film, what will digital technology bring into the foreground of the film industry next?

 

 

Bibliography

Anwar Brett, ‘Digital Impact- Technology and the cinema going experience’, MovieScopeMag, http://www.moviescopemag.com/market-news/featured-editorial/digital-impact-technology-and-the-cinema-viewing-experience/ (Accessed on 01/05/2016)

‘Awards given to Avatar’, IMDB. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0499549/awards (Accessed on 01/05/2016)

David Lieberman, ‘2014 Box Offices hurt by diminishing popularity of 3D’, Deadline. http://deadline.com/2014/02/2014-box-office-will-be-hurt-by-diminishing-popularity-of-3d-movies-analyst-676253/ (Accessed on 01/05/2016)

 

‘Digital 3D’ , Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_3D (Accessed on 01/05/2016)

‘Domestic movie theatrical market summary 1995 to 2016’, TheNumbers, http://www.the-numbers.com/market/ (Accessed on 01/05/2016)

 

Jeff Otto, ‘A tour through the history of 3D movies’, Reelz. http://www.reelz.com/article/816/a-tour-through-the-history-of-3-d-movies/. (Accessed on 01/05/2016)

 

John Patterson, ‘A History of the 3D Cinema’, TheGuardian (2009). http://www.theguardian.com/film/2009/aug/20/3d-film-history (Accessed on 01/05/2016)

 

Justin Slick, ‘3D ticket shares for all wide releases’, 3D-About, http://3d.about.com/od/3d-at-the-Movies/tp/3d-Ticket-Sales-By-Percentage.html (Accessed on 01/05/2016)

Lauren Davidson, ‘The Charts that show why Hollywood should just forget about 3D’, Telegraph (Sept 2014), http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/mediatechnologyandtelecoms/11076908/The-charts-that-show-why-Hollywood-needs-to-forget-about-3D-movies.html (Accessed on 01/05/2016)

 

Sebastian Anthony, ‘How Digital Technology is reinventing Cinema’, Extremetech (2008). http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/128963-how-digital-technology-is-reinventing-cinema. (Accessed on 01/05/2016)

 

‘The number of 3D cinema screens worldwide from 2006 to 2015’, Statista (2015). http://www.statista.com/statistics/271863/number-of-3d-cinema-screens-worldwide/. (Accessed on 01/05/2016).

 

Wade Sampson, ‘The Original Disney’, MousePlanet (2009). https://www.mouseplanet.com/8968/The_Original_Disney_3D, (Accessed on 01/05/2016)

 

 

 

 

[1] Sebastian Anthony, ‘How Digital Technology is reinventing Cinema’, Extremetech (2008). http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/128963-how-digital-technology-is-reinventing-cinema. (Accessed on 01/05/2016)

[2] ‘The number of 3D cinema screens worldwide from 2006 to 2015’, Statista (2015). http://www.statista.com/statistics/271863/number-of-3d-cinema-screens-worldwide/. (Accessed on 01/05/2016).

[3] Jeff Otto, ‘A tour through the history of 3D movies’, Reelz. http://www.reelz.com/article/816/a-tour-through-the-history-of-3-d-movies/. (Accessed on 01/05/2016)

[4] John Patterson, ‘A History of the 3D Cinema’, TheGuardian (2009). http://www.theguardian.com/film/2009/aug/20/3d-film-history (Accessed on 01/05/2016)

[5] Wade Sampson, ‘The Original Disney’, MousePlanet (2009). https://www.mouseplanet.com/8968/The_Original_Disney_3D, (Accessed on 01/05/2016)

[6] ‘Awards given to Avatar’, IMDB. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0499549/awards (Accessed on 01/05/2016)

[7] David Lieberman, ‘2014 Box Offices hurt by diminishing popularity of 3D’, Deadline. http://deadline.com/2014/02/2014-box-office-will-be-hurt-by-diminishing-popularity-of-3d-movies-analyst-676253/ (Accessed on 01/05/2016)

[8] ‘Domestic movie theatrical market summary 1995 to 2016’, TheNumbers, http://www.the-numbers.com/market/ (Accessed on 01/05/2016)

[9] Lauren Davidson, ‘The Charts that show why Hollywood should just forget about 3D’, Telegraph (Sept 2014), http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/mediatechnologyandtelecoms/11076908/The-charts-that-show-why-Hollywood-needs-to-forget-about-3D-movies.html (Accessed on 01/05/2016)

[10] Digital 3D’ , Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_3D (Accessed on 01/05/2016)

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