What is 3D Filmmaking: What makes it look so appealing?

Remember watching Avatar wearing those 3D glasses and feeling that you are a part of their world? The adrenaline rush you got when you thought you were actually in Pandora? You could feel everything around you, even smell it, and for those hours, you are actually a part of the Avatar journey?

It was indeed a masterpiece with a great stereoscopic boom. What took you on an adventurous ride while watching Avatar was the 3D effect and the art of 3D filmmaking. Helmed by James Cameron, this visual treat was nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award, and not many know that it was also the first movie to be shot with 3D cameras. 

What inspired the highly acclaimed filmmaker to make a big-budget 3D film was his experience while directing Ghosts of the Abyss, a 3D documentary about RMS Titanic. It also helped him understand the techniques and technology needed to make a 3D movie on a larger scale.

The impact of Avatar 3D and 3D filmmaking was such that it led to a massive surge in the popularity of 3D films. The world then witnessed a wave of some stupefying 3D movies like Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, Toy Story 3D, Hugo, Life of Pi, and many more.

Gravity movie 3d filmmaking

One of the main reasons why 3D movies became so appealing to the audiences was because we movie buffs want a cinematic experience and not just a movie we can watch from the bare eyes. This is where 3D filmmaking overtakes. 

It is the art of giving viewers a third-dimensional illusion. In fact, it makes you feel like you are in a different universe altogether, and all those characters in the movie feel a lot closer than they actually are.

Apart from the technology used, it is the art of 3D filmmaking that makes a movie a feast for the eyes. Directors helming a 3D film have a great responsibility to carry. From selecting a story that would expand into the three-dimensional space to building surreal scenes with astonishing visuals and powerful effects, 3D films involve dynamic elements.

It takes a true filmmaker to understand these elements and create a world of fantasy that almost seems real. The whole idea of 3D filmmaking is to give a cinematic experience to viewers that they cannot forget. Let’s take a deep dive into the world of 3D filmmaking and understand what makes them such a treat for the eyes!

What is 3D Filmmaking?

3D filmmaking is the art of making a three-dimensional film where viewers feel that they are a part of the cinematic experience that you have created for them using technology.

We live in the 3D world, and 3D filmmaking or Stereoscopic cinematography attempts to bring that world to life on the silver screen. It is a motion-picture process that generates a three-dimensional quality to film images.  

3D filmmaking involves a different set of creative techniques, rules, and editing practices. The one behind the camera must understand the 3D techniques to edit 3D videos to put life into the characters with visual and audio elements. The storytelling technique and screenwriting also play a major role. 

This is achieved by several techniques, 3D technology, and above all, illusion. We create an illusion in the viewers’ minds through the special 3D glasses that they have to wear while watching a 3D film. The next segment will explain how it works.

How does 3D Filmmaking work?

How does 3D filmmaking work
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The 3D filmmaking process involves using a twin-lensed camera for filming, and images from both lenses are projected into the screens by two different projectors. 3D films work by delivering a different image to each eye, so your brain perceives depth to the picture. 

This way, the viewers perceive it to be a three-dimensional picture, whereas it is actually a blend of two similar two-dimensional pictures that tricks your brain into thinking it’s one big three-dimensional picture. 

To make this happen, the viewers also need to wear colored glasses, so the images are only visible to the eyes for which they are intended. 

But don’t be surprised. This is exactly what your eyes and brain do in the real world too. It is called stereoscopic vision and is based on the fact that humans perceive depth by viewing with both eyes. 

Remember those colored spectacles we wore as a child with one red and one blue lens? The red lens only lets the red light through, and the blue lens only lets the blue light through.

Similarly, the film contains red images and blue images of the same scene but are shot through two different lenses, just how your eyes work, and your brain quickly reassembles the two pictures into one with depth. 

In 3D filmmaking, polarised light is used instead of colors as it has an orientation, so glasses with two different polarising lenses can divide the picture as before.

Another version is an active shutter system where the glasses block the eyes alternatively while the unblocked eyes receive alternate frames in the film. 

As long as the frames change quickly enough, your brain doesn’t notice that it is happening. It is because of the persistence of vision. The way an image remains in your brain for a fraction of a second, even after it’s gone.

Rise of 3D filmmaking

rise of 3D filmmaking
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Although many of us think that the release of Avatar in 2009 commenced the rise of 3D filmmaking. However, that is not true. In fact, 3D filmmaking or stereoscopic cinematography go back to the time of the American Civil War. 

However, it was during the 1950s when 3D cinema shot to fame with movies like Bwana Devil, followed by The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder. It was also known as the ‘golden era’ of 3D. 

The first 3D feature films, House of Wax and Man in the Dark, were released in the year 1953, which was another milestone for 3D film technology. 

These movies were made using stereophonic sound and made Vincent Price (the lead actor of House of Wax) a 3D movie king for starring in the maximum number of 3D films such as The Mad Magician, Dangerous Mission, and Son of Sinbad.  

One of the biggest hits of 1953, Melody, marked The Walt Disney Studios’ 3D debut along with the first 3D western, Columbia’s Fort Ti. Another movie that was highlighted during the golden era of 3D in the 1950s was Phil Tucker’s Robot Monster. 

After almost 20 years post the golden 3D era, films like Joe Alves’ Jaws 3-D, Richard Fleischer’s Amityville 3-D, and Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part III helped in resuscitating 3D cinema in commercial films. 

History of 3D industry

history of 3D filmmaking
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The invention of 3D technology (then known as Stereoscopic 3D) can be traced down to the early 1890s when it was first introduced by William Friese-Greene, also known as the pioneer of motion pictures. 

His invention involved placing two equal strips of a movie together, allowing the audience to view the screen through a stereoscope that would merge both the screens, creating a 3D illusion. The first-ever Stereoscopic 3D movie to be viewed on the silver screen was The Power of Love, which premiered on September 27, 1922.

After a long gap, the release of Bwana Devil in 1952 revived the 3D industry by being the first-ever color film to use the technology. The film, directed by Arch Oboler, was the beginning of an era named “Golden Age of 3D.”

The second world war was over. The economy was booming, giving production houses a chance to invest in the 3D technology that resulted in classics like Dial M for Murder by the legendary Alfred Hitchcock, House of Wax, and many others.

The glorious success of Avatar in 2009 changed the world’s perspective towards 3D cinema forever. All production houses were intrigued by the film’s response and intended to reproduce the same magic for their audience on the silver screen. 

We then witnessed back-to-back blockbuster 3D movies like How To Train Your Dragon, The Adventures Of Tintin, Gravity, Life of Pi, among others.

3D technology has evolved drastically in the past many years. From viewing the screens via stereoscope to enjoying a true 3D experience from the comfort of your homes without any need for glasses, 3D has come a long, long way.

The Technology used in 3D Movies

This is the tech-driven era, and technology is evolving with each passing day, giving us experiences we never thought we would have, especially in the world of movies. Modern technology has transformed the movie world with evolved 3D systems, giving the audience an astonishing cinematic experience.

Although the techniques are almost the same, different types of 3D software are used in different kinds of 3D filmmaking, such as animated commercials or animated films. For the silver screen, there are mainly three types of technologies that are used in 3D cinema that enable us to go on an adventurous ride in the world of 3D films.

RealD:

One of the most popularly used technologies in the 3D industry is RealD technology. In RealD technology, a light-based technique known as circular polarization is used to create a stereoscopic image-type projection of the movie.

Along with the digital stereoscopic projection technique, it depends on special glasses used to view the screens. Given that it can be used for 2D and 3D projection, filmmakers prefer this technique over others, reducing cost. The movie is actually shot in 2D but is projected as 3D. The glasses for both versions are different as well.

The high-resolution video projector alternately projects the right and left eye frames to provide an optical illusion to the human eye. Sony’s reflective liquid crystal on silicon (LCOS) or a Texas Instruments Digital Light Processing device is mainly used as a projector. Each frame is projected three times to reduce the flicker by using a triple flash system.

MasterImage 3D

Unlike RealD, this technology sends different images to each viewer’s eyes by alternately flashing images for each eye. 

What also makes this technology unique is that the audience can enjoy the 3D experience without wearing special glasses.

Dolby 3D

Best known for providing the best-quality audio elements; the Dolby 3D technology is also used in 3D filmmaking. Here, an alternate color wheel is placed in the projector in conjunction with the main color wheel, causing both wheels to produce the same color range while the alternate wheel produces different wavelengths. 

These are then intercepted by the special 3D glasses that the viewers are wearing. However, since this technology is costly and not easily available, it is seldom used by movie theatres across the world. 

May it be any technology, software, or technique, as the world witnesses a tech evolution, there will be more innovation in the 3D technology and we will soon experience more of 3D than we can imagine. 

How is 3D used as a Storytelling Tool?

Storytelling is one of the most important aspects of filmmaking. The strong and engaging narrative makes the audience connect with the film, its characters, and its plot. The power of good storytelling is such that it enables people to create their own connection with the film that lasts for a lifetime.

Good storytelling involves many elements. From the camera motion, lighting, lens type, use of color to the action and direction, a lot depends on creating a film that has a strong storytelling foundation. 

An expert 3D cinematographer understands the importance of arranging objects and movements in a different frame to communicate and build a connection with the audience. 

3D is one such technology that has been used as a storytelling tool to make some great films that are now classics. One such example is Ang Lee’s Life of Pi. 

The film proved to be an astonishing masterclass in 3D storytelling and the brilliant filmmaker used the technology to bring life into Yann Martel’s ‘unfilmable’ book by turning it into a visual masterpiece for the audience. 

The sea sequences, the flying fish attack, or simply the scenes where Pi is sitting in that boat, in the middle of the sea, reminiscing his life, everything connected so well with viewers. Now that’s what we call good storytelling.

Because when Pi tries to save the tiger from drowning, one can easily establish a connection with him, with the story, and the emotions. 

Shot types used for good storytelling in 3D films:

  • Extreme long shot: Captures an entire scene.
  • Long shots: Capture a whole character or figure
  • Deep focus shots: A consistent variation of a long shot that allows the audience to scan the image to bring meaning out of it and form a connection. 
  • Point-of-view shot: A kind of shot that is used by filmmakers to make the audience believe that they are looking from the character’s point of view.

Why does 3D appeal to a mass audience? 

What attracts people to 3D cinema

What makes 3D so appealing is the fact that it’s the native and the most fun way to watch movies. The popularity of 3D movies is unmatchable to date. The world has seen the era of silent movies, black and white films, films with VFX, and much more. However, the trend that never truly died was that of 3D movies.

And the latest success of Spider-Man No Way Home is proof of how much the audience loves to watch a 3D film in the theatres.

Coming to the question, why wouldn’t they appeal to the mass audience? Wouldn’t it be too boring to watch Gravity without all those 3D effects that will make you feel that you are literally in space and not sitting on that chair in the movie hall? 

Will the experience of watching Avatar or Life of Pi be the same if not for the 3D effects? I guess not. We movie buffs go to the theatres to watch a film that distracts us from everything else, and what can be a better distraction than feeling that you are not a part of this universe?

Talking about the effect 3D has on people, James Cameron, director of the iconic movie Avatar, once said, 

We experience the world through stereoscopic system…visual system (we all have two eyes) and when you see stereo, it triggers regions at the brain that make you feel that you are really there.

– James Cameron

Future of 3D technology in Films

When 3D technology was first introduced, it was called the second-biggest advance in cinema since color films. However, with the evolving technology, it is believed that we are yet to witness the best cinematic 3D experience in the history of films.

We have already witnessed the popularity of 3D movies and the audience’s appetite for 3D films after the conversion of classic films like Titanic, Star Wars, Jurassic Park, among others to 3D. The 3D versions were huge crowd pullers and dismissed the predictions stating that the 3D era was declining.

With current cinema tech trends like LED screens, 3D technology is no longer a luxury that can be enjoyed only in theatres. As technology becomes more advanced, we will soon witness a transition from theatres to our homes. 

Today, 3D is being used in video games, mobile phones, tablets, and so much more. We can watch a 3D movie at home given the proper connection and installation of 3D screens. 3D is here to stay and for a very, very long time.

Conclusion

In the world of cinema and technology, nothing is permanent, because everything is evolving. The future of cinema may lie in 4D or IMAX movies, but 3D technology is still relatively young for anyone to say that it has died. 

Once the pandemic is over and theatres once again welcome the audience, it is possible that 3D technology surprises us with new elements that will change our perspective towards 3D films forever. Until then, we can enjoy the 3D experiences at our homes or through video games, courtesy: technology. 

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About the Author

Sarang Padhye

Being an avid film buff and a content marketer, I started this blog to provide the best information on screenwriting and filmmaking. Screenplays is certainly where it all begins. However, I also provide writing and advertising tips regularly through my articles.

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