Why 3D Doesn't Work

Roger Ebert has been somewhat of a whipping boy for fans of video games, but he is an incredibly intelligent guy, and a critic who deserves our respect. So when he speaks out against 3D, and has arguably the greatest film editor arguing in his corner, maybe it's time to listen.

As we head towards a 3D future, with the 3DS and the PlayStation 3 in particular, the problems with 3D become increasingly important. This concept that 3D is an important feature we must pay a premium for is an idea that has become infused with video gaming - and not everyone agrees with the sentiment.

Least of all Walter Murch, an esteemed Film Editor whose work on movies like Apocalypse Now and Cold Mountain has earned him four academy awards. He claims that 3D, as it exists today, is problematic. The issue is that our eyes - and brains - simply can't cope with the effect over long periods of time. As he explains in a letter sent directly to Roger Ebert.

The biggest problem with 3D, though, is the "convergence/focus" issue. A couple of the other issues — darkness and "smallness" — are at least theoretically solvable. But the deeper problem is that the audience must focus their eyes at the plane of the screen — say it is 80 feet away. This is constant no matter what.

But their eyes must converge at perhaps 10 feet away, then 60 feet, then 120 feet, and so on, depending on what the illusion is. So 3D films require us to focus at one distance and converge at another. And 600 million years of evolution has never presented this problem before. All living things with eyes have always focussed and converged at the same point.

Murch accepts that 3D works, from a technical standpoint, but the work we have to do causes an inordinate amount of strain.

We can do this. 3D films would not work if we couldn't. But it is like tapping your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time, difficult. So the "CPU" of our perceptual brain has to work extra hard, which is why after 20 minutes or so many people get headaches. They are doing something that 600 million years of evolution never prepared them for. This is a deep problem, which no amount of technical tweaking can fix. Nothing will fix it short of producing true "holographic" images.

With the 3DS months from release, and Nintendo stressing that they don't want children playing for extended periods, will we start to see an increasing amount of problems with the 3D effect? Time will tell, but there is a growing opposition to 3D and an indication from consumers that not everyone wants this tech to become ubiquitous. We've had no problems with it personally, but know plenty of people that struggle - and this may prevent the tech from properly hitting the mainstream.

Why 3D doesn't work and never will. Case closed. [Chicago Sun-Times]


Comments

    I always found that I forgot I was watching 3D after 20 mins so I never saw the point.
    My imagination wa sdoing a good enough job by itself.

    I am so over 3D and i haven't even been exposed to much of it.
    I've seen a few movies in 3d and played a couple of games in 3d and it was pretty 'meh' to me... like there are always a couple of cool points... but otherwise...

    What i sick of is movies tacking on 3D - and it's alost every single god damned movie!!

    Biggest case and Point is Green Hornet. That looks awesome.. but i don't want to go watch it to see scenes that look bloody stupid because they were made for 3D.

    God, everytime i hear an announcer say "3D" after a movie title, i want to punch something!!!

      In regards to what you say, I saw Tangled recently (in 2d), and there was a scene in it that looked like it was designed specifically for 3d, but it had so much depth of field use on it that it probably would have caused eye bleeding if you tried to look at anything outside the centre.

      Still, I think in general, animated movies are far more appropriate for the 3d effects than live action ones.

      I didn't mind the 3D for Green Hornet that much. They certainly didn't abuse it in any way that I could tell.

        They didn't abuse it and it looked like it was done okay, my issue is that it didn't really add anything to the movie. All these movies coming out in 3D nowadays seems to be for the cinemas to have an extra selling point.

        I actually work with a guy who only has one eye. He is complaining that sometimes it is really hard to find a cinema which isn't showing a movie in 3D

    I don't agree. My eyes adjust without strain on the screen. I just don't like how they blur things out completely, blocking me from viewing them.

    As to Roger Ebert. He's a model tw*t (figure-out-the-vowel, kids!). Anyone who can completely rule out an entire medium from being art is not somebody to be trusted as a "critic".

    Still. Each to their own.

      The blurring is because you don't get to decide what to focus on. Using focus to guide the audience is a great tool in traditional films, in 3D films it causes a lot of problems.

      So because some peoples brains cannot handle the effect it sucks. Kinda like how some people need glasses to do their jobs or recreation ie wanting to read a book, watch a regular 2d movie.

      Just because a few haven't "evolved" to the point of being able to handle a 3D movie does not mean you can rule the medium out. He'll be wrong. 3D is going too strong to die. Too much investment has been made. He'll look the fool.

      Either way I get what, I want some better 3D movies.

    I enjoy 3d movies, and I really appreciate the effect. I don't get headaches from them, and I think it really adds to the experience if done well.

    That said, the price hike is ridiculous, and I'm part of a very small group who has no ill effects. I've taught myself to alter my focus depth without changing my convergence, so doing so in a movie, where I have something to actually focus on is really no problem.

    Still, one in four people (apparently) find 3d things unwatchable, so it's an interesting topic.

      I'm one of the 25% and it sucks.

      I don't get the dizziness but I do get headaches start to kick in after about 30 minutes. Avatar wasn't too bad but I had to walk out of Alice about halfway through.

      It'll be interesting to see if they lick the problem for gaming cause I regularly play for sessions longer than any film and getting eyestrain headaches after 30 minutes would just flat out kill it for me.

        You could try bringing your own glasses that have identical filters, so you could view the left-eye version of the film with both eyes. :-)

    As someone with a lazy eye, I have issues seeing 3D. Its a bit irritating when everyone else can see an image in 3D, but I get very little effect.

    So obviously, I'd like to see less of it. I hate missing out.

      I've got the same problem, and I don't like 3d either.

      I see this a lot in comments, "I don't see/enjoy 3D so I hope it fails" (many are worded that way which is a bit stronger than your comment).
      If you were colour blind, would you like to see less colour movies being made, so that you don't miss out? I don't fully understand that concern, that if I don't enjoy something, that I hope it's not successful. There are tonnes of forms of entertainment that I get nothing out of (Films like the SAW series for instance) but I'm glad they are made and that others get a kick out of them.

        Colour movies don't give colour-blind people headaches. I'm happy for 3d movies to keep being made, the issue is if they are exclusively shown in 3d. I recently tried to see tron in 2d in brisbane and there was one session at one cinema on the other side of town every day at 10am. If you're one of the 25% like I am you'll know why this is frustrating.

    Wait, WHY does Roger Ebert deserve our respect? He watches movies and then reviews them. Anybody can do that.

    I guess those fat food critics on Master Chef "deserve our respect" as well. /sarcasm

      Several things....

      3D is a lame gimmick designed to enhance profits for film companies faced with declining revenue due to out-dated business models. It also has significant colour loss - i'd take IMAX anyday over it.

      Ebert's a Master Critic... i've read his reviews since i've been a kiddie, and the man has an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema and filmcraft.

      Another grand high master is BBC4's Mark Kermode, who actually has reverse 3D glasses, to allow him to watch a 3D film in 2D.

      Besides all of the above, anyone who likes 3D is an absolute tool.

        Call me a tool then. No offence, but IMHO the real tools are the ones calling for all 3D filmmaking to be shut down just because *they* happen to dislike it. Go see a 2D screening instead.

        Ebert knows his stuff, but he's a lot weaker on anything outside that (e.g. games). Declaring "case closed" over the issue of focal/convergence disparity is ridiculous, it's like declaring "talkie" movies dead because some cinema-goers don't like loud noises.

        Here's a very different perspective on 3D storytelling - this guy clearly gets it, and explains very simply how (used sensibly) 3D is a valuable emotive tool in a filmmaker's toolkit.

        Oh, and instead of IMAX or 3D, I'd really like to see more of IMAX HD, or MaxiVision, or some other 48-60fps film standard.

        Blurry, juddery 24fps film annoys me far more than 3D. It's a holdover from the days of optical soundtracks, and should've been fixed decades ago.

        Can be said he is quite the opposite. Ebert has no educational background in film criticism. Does he have ANY educational background? He was just a guy in the right place and the right time, doesn't make him effective at what he does.

        Actually it can be said he actually dumbed down film criticism, just ask Armond White. I don't like him one bit personally, his reviews are fluff.

      You're a freaking idiot.

      Ebert is respected because he's the pre-eminent film critic of the United States, and hosted the best, most respected film critique program with his long-time friend and contributor Gene Siskel (who has sadly died).

      He's incredibly professional, reviews films based on their merits, isn't a snob and is a voice that people can trust when it comes to reviewing mainstream films. There are some things about gamers which piss me off.

      1) Gamers are so goddamn insecure about their favourite hobby they'd actively attack and sabotage anyone who claims games aren't art. They simultaneously want their medium taken seriously, but are willing to stoop to juvenile lows to ensure it. They seek the vindication of Ebert, otherwise they wouldn't care.

      2) Ebert isn't totally against 3D (this title is misleading), after all, he gave Avatar 4/4 stars. He's just very cynical regarding gimmicks. He acknowledged that 3D films can be engaging, but is concerned that there are technical problems that need to be ironed out (which anyone would agree with).

      Go back under your bridge.

    3D is such a gimmick. I just hope the technology never leads to studios doing 3D remakes of classic films. Just imagine: The Godfather 3D. Scarface 3D. Pulp Fiction 3D. I hope I could count on a massive protest and call to arms against this kind of cultural homicide.

    I mean - what would it feel like if Nintendo started remaking some of their already perfect masterpieces in trashy 3D? Obviously it would never happen, but it's something worth thinking about. 3D is the silicon and botox of an appearance obsessed media/cultural generation. A cosmetic and superficial makeover.

      You mean like how George Lucas is converting Star Wars to 3D?

        Sure thing & right on. Star Wars is a perfect example!
        But Star Wars has always been for sale so i'm not really surprised to see George Lucas continue to exploit what was once something beautiful. You're exactly right though, Star Wars is the perfect example of killing an important cultural product with horrendous spin-offs and bad taste exploitation. Princess Leia toothpaste, anyone?
        And Star Wars has never been too proud to dance for quarters:
        http://28.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_l1uv6nyfee1qb7evco1_400.gif
        so 3D is just kind of just the next logical step in this case.

          "I’m not really surprised to see George Lucas continue to exploit what was once something beautiful. You’re exactly right though, Star Wars is the perfect example of killing an important cultural product with horrendous spin-offs and bad taste exploitation"

          Why is he 'killing' it? Aren't the original films still important and well-loved, regardless of the horrendous merchandise and shitty prequels? If you don't like the extra crap that's been produced, just ignore it.

          You don't have to take those into consideration when you're looking at Episodes IV, V and VI. I believe that the Star Wars films - all films, really - differ and can be separated from the cultural phenomenon and marketing buzz.

            That is so true. You just need to keep on trying to remember the good times. Not like denial. But just really concentrating and remembering what used to be. I can appreciate that.

            "Why is he ‘killing’ it? Aren’t the original films still important and well-loved, regardless of the horrendous merchandise and shitty prequels?"

            Well, the fact you can't actually *get* the original films anymore, for one thing. The original, non-special-edition versions of the movies don't exist outside of VHS and Laserdisc collections- Lucas claims the original film itself is goe. So it's not like we have a choice to ignore anything new he's done, it's changed versions or nothing at all...

              Ummm, I have the original pre-1997 Special Edition versions on DVD. How does Lucas not??

                Key word: The original *FILM* doesn't exist. Your DVD is not the original film, believe it or not.

        NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

          Search your feelings you know it to be true.

      I don't know if it'd be 'cultural homicide' to make Scarface or Pulp Fiction into 3D. It's a lazy grab for cash because it's not going to add anything new to the film in terms of story. I wouldn't go and see them, but I think a number of people would.

      Regarding your comments about Nintendo, are you being sarcastic, or unintentionally ironic? Have you heard that one of the 3DS launch titles is Ocarina of Time? It's about 13 years old, and although it has an improved inventory system and better graphics, this is a title many people have played and loved before. Does anybody know if there's going to be anything that's substantially new added in terms of story, characters, gameplay?

      Going off track for a second, give Ninty some time and they'll make something innovative (or at least damned entertaining) using the 3D functionality in one of their games.

        From what I've seen, there will be no major changes to Ocarina other than the cosmetic and functional changes you mentioned above. Certainly no new dungeons/temples or anything like that.

        Perhaps read the cultural homicide as just another of my many dalliances with hyperbole.
        However, enough about me.
        Yes -
        Splendidly observed and a sad indictment against modern times: People would pay to see Pulp Fiction 3D.
        And um? I know it's not one of your options, but can i go with: intentionally ironic? If not i will just have to stick with "sarcastic".

      "I mean – what would it feel like if Nintendo started remaking some of their already perfect masterpieces in trashy 3D?"

      It would feel like owning a 3DS.

    I get crippling migraines from #D movies.
    After Avatar i couldn't believe the headaches.
    the annoying thing with 3d, is if you have any sort of hiccup to your eyes it becomes a huge pain.
    For example, i wear glasses so i have to wear #D ones over it which is a hassle and also stuffs the effect somewhat, I carnt take my glasses off o the only 3d thing i will see is a blurry blob.

    Also my eyes do not work together further lessening the effect as i have literally no depth perception (which sucks big time let me tell you. so i rather wait to see it somewhere non 3d like i did with Tron

    Please refer to my champagne analogy commet @: http://www.kotaku.com.au/2011/01/psp2-has-3g-support-touch-screen/
    3D is . . . bad-d.
    Sorry about that; sometimes i have trouble expressing myself.
    At least 3DS want be as nauseating as Virtual Boy?? Right?

    ...I can't disagree, but at the same time I feel like I should point something out:

    I'm not buying a 3DS because of this 3D fad (in fact, I'll probably have it off most of the time), I'll be buying it because the games set for release in the first year or so are as good, or better, than anything we've seen on the DS in the last 3 years.

    Nintendo have been very forthright about any issues, probably to avoid backlash, and... *shrug*

    It's worth publicising, but I dare suggest the film industry is scared of losing revenue to these "gimmicky" 3D games (yeah, I'm putting words in their mouths... but it seems implied)

    Recently saw Tron in 3D Imax with a friend.

    Seems like directors are struggling to balance vertigo/nausea thrill rides versus story telling.

    There is a section of the movie near the beginning shot from a helicopter - which made me feel like I was on a rollercoaster. This was then followed by normal indoor scenes which hardly felt 3D at all. The cuts between scenes become very jarring when that sort of change happens.

    Hopefully games will start to standardise on how HUD and menus work in 3D. Tron used 3D well in the credits.

      you do realise that all of the "real world" scenes in tron are in 2D? so unless it was from a "light-helicopter" you shouldn't have felt sick xD

    The problem with 3D movies at the is simple...our 3d tech has no changed one bit since the 1950's when 3d first came out.

    I start getting worked up about 3d movies the moment i dont have to wear crappy little red and blue/green glasses, and when 3d movies are like what we saw in back to the future part 2.

      That's complete rubbish. The technology has changed dramatically.

    I don't think the film industry is running scared or necessarily trying to compete with the games industry on this as some have mentioned.

    The main reason I believe they are jumping on this and touting 3D as fantastic is that piracy is reduced exponentially.

    3D has done for now, reduced the amount of pirated screeners etc coming out. Oh and make a visit to the movies alot more expensive.

    Has anyone else how "3D" always seems to make movies at least look more two-dimensional than ever?
    I mean sure, things may "pop" out of the screen at you, but most of the time they look like cardboard cutouts.

      This is true of movies converted to 3D (like Clash of the Titans) but certainly not of films shot in 3D (Like Avatar) or created in 3D (How To Train Your Dragon)

    Backlit keyboards with macro-able keys and mice with adjustable weights and adjustable 5000dpi settings and analogue sticks and gaming headphones all came about because it was necessary to make the experience better and developed by people who heard people asking for it.

    3D and motion controls are basically being forced on us not by fellow consumers and lovers of the genre, but by the publishers and producers. It's not something we asked for, it's something we're just having to deal with.

    That's my biggest issue with all this hullabaloo and gosh I feel older now.

      Being "forced" on you how? Every 3D movie I've noticed has also been screened in 2D. If you don't like 3D, vote with your dollars, go watch the 2D version, and send the distributors a message. All 3D TVs, 3D blu-rays, 3D broadcasts etc can also be watched in 2D.

      Nobody is "forced" to watch 3D - but judging from the numbers, there's a lot of people that *do* freely enjoy it. Why would you want to spoil those people's fun by denying them the option of what is a potentially rich new aspect of entertainment?

      I have great respect for Ebert's opinions on movies, but as with his opinions on games, I disagree here. I feel he just doesn't grok anything too far outside his own experience, so he derides it as pointless or faddish. The depth disparity issue raised by Murch is real, but largely negligible for cinemas - the screen is far enough away that the difference between focal distance and convergence distance is barely detectable by the eye (home cinema and gaming is another matter).

      Given 3D cinema's popularity, clearly much of the population are fine with it - and the rest are free to watch the 2D screening instead.

    as a person who works at a cinema, i believe i have some say in this 3D debate

    now i'm completely fine with 3D, even though it gives me extra work to do because i'm the guy that cleans the glasses after you people give it back, but i'm fine with a movie being in 3D as long it they also release a 2D version as well.

    as long as i don't have to watch 3D if i don't want too, but for example, i really want to see green hornet, but it is only showing in 3D in cinemas, and it's really quite annoying as i don't particularly want to watch it in 3D, although, i do get cheap tickets, so i guess none of this matters for me :D

    I'm with Ambrose. I am not getting 3DS for the 3D, especially if framerates are cut in half when 3D is on and you get headaches

    it's the new DS, people will stop making DS games and you will need it to get the good stuff

    i don't care if i keep the 3DS in 2d mode the entire life of the unit.

    This guy seems to have the answer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uef17zOCDb8&feature=player_embedded

    3d is still just a gimmick to well more tv's and more monitors

    The 3ds annoys me(even though I'll be buying one) because I feel that the effort put towards it could be better utilized not to mention should have longer battery life not powering the extra refresh rates necessary to provide the 3d effect

    3d is the wrong step IMO it's a technology that leads no where it's not gonna natural be upgraded to hologram type viewing.

    And the other way to go is a form of virtual reality which it also provides nothing too

    It's a shame that tech will be so far away though

    Movie cinemas need to stop orgasming over 3D so badly

    i mean the only reason 99% of films are 3D these days is to stop piracy (as its near impossible to record and pirate a 3d film)

    they dont care about the tech, they care about piracy.

      i meant movie studios

    Clash of the titans was a horror show in 3d. At one point the focus is meant to be a through the gap in someone's arm so the arm in the foreground was blurred and your eyes just continue to try and focus on it. That movie is the only one that gave me headaches but it did so quite badly.

    I may be out of the loop but can anyone answer this question? I've yet to experience high-resolution, stereoscopic 3D for games. How big of a difference is high res 3D for games compared with IMAX/shitty cinema 3D?

      I've played full 1080p stereo clips on a 22" 3D monitor, and they look really crisp and impressive (far better than the cinema IMHO). Does depend a lot on the material though.

      I've not really played any games designed with 3D in mind (yet). The games I've played were forced into in 3D, and have had a pretty average effect - generally more fatiguing too.

    I've only seen two 3D movies (Avatar and Jackass 3D). It was nifty in a "well that's novel" in Avatar, and it was amusing in Jackass (eg a 3D dildo shooting at the screen). But I don't really want to have it in my home any time soon...

    Speaking of which, my current TV is starting to be a bit weird so I might need to replace it, and 3D will be at the bottom of the list as far as features are concerned. It's not "avoid at all costs" like the 200hz gimmick (ugh, so awful), but it's not something I'll pay extra for either.

    Has anything thats ever made a point of saying its in 3D ever been good? I can't say I've seen a 3D film that worked (though I've not seen anything from this latest fad-wave of 3d stuff) and look at all the games that had 3D in the title, every one of them I can think of sucked

      That's a bit harsh, isn't it? If you'd said that in, say, 18 months to two years time and there hadn't been anything of note I'd agree with you, but the 3D wave has only just begun; give it time and something incredible might happen.

    I think 3d should stick to movies and keep away from my games. I get headaches and my eyes start twitching after 20mins of trying to watch a 3D movie.

    I hope it fails soon and devs focus more on the game and not the 3D.

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