What’s Right and Wrong with 3D Today: An Interview with 3D Imaging Consultant, Nick Constable
Explore3DTV's Matt Whitlock got a chance to speak to Nick Constable, stereoscopic 3D imaging consultant and guest Explore3DTV contributor, for fascinating one-on-one chat covering a wide variety of 3D topics.
March 09, 2011 by Matt Whitlock
NC: For example, many 120 Hz HDTV’s have an auto-motion or smooth motion effect in the picture settings menu. This effect takes out the flicker by calculating frame rates to a higher variable. Just try watching one of your favorite movies with this effect turned on and you’ll notice a big difference. What was once engaging and believable now looks like behind the scenes video footage of the actors acting out a scene.

The suspension of disbelief is also shattered when viewing films that rely on miniature model sets; no matter how good the lighting was, the set will appear to be more noticeably faked when it is displayed at a higher frame.

MW: So what you’re saying is that by enhancing the realism of a film [using higher display rates] you’re actually destroying the realism of the experience or its believability?

NC: Yes. By enhancing the realism in motion, you’re shattering the suspension of disbelief. So basically, everything will have a video look, like a game show or soap opera, and computer-animated films will look more like a video game.

MW: Some would say that people are getting used to that look, though.

NC: Maybe, and this is where it gets really interesting. Studies have shown that people who grew up between the 1960s and the year 2000 in countries where British television programming dominated the airwaves are more likely to accept dramatic works at a higher frame rate compared to other countries like the United States. The reason for this is that many British television dramas and TV movies were shot on videotape at a higher frame rate. Only a few [dramatic] shows did this in the United States. One of them was called “Dark Shadows,” and it was shot on videotape. Then, we had British shows like “Dr. Who” that was pretty big, but a lot of people couldn’t get into those in the United States. American television shows in the US, like one-hour dramas and movies, were shot on film at 24 frames per second, while most sitcoms, soap operas, local news, and game shows were shot on tape at 30 frames per second or 29.97 in the United States. Today, most sitcoms and “dramadies” in the US are filmed at 24 frames per second. Past sitcoms were accepted at the higher frame rate because there was more of a live feel to them from being taped in front of a studio audience or with an audible laugh track. Soap operas were mostly shot live in the early days of television so the standard continued to be acceptable.

I can totally see why James Cameron [pictured right] would want to film Avatar 2 in 48 or 60 frames per second because of the limitations when shooting 3D at 24 frames per second; motion judder is even more apparent in 3D. Now, one thing I haven’t covered with you is that whether it’s live action or computer animation, 24 frames is 24 frames. However, with what he wants to do; I think further tests are needed. Who knows? Maybe James Cameron will come up with different concepts to incorporate believability with higher frame rates, such as in the point of view of the video camera. Maybe he’ll incorporate variable frame rates, with some high action scenes in higher frame rates and some with lower, provided that someday projectors will allow for it. One thing is for sure, it will be exciting to see how things play out and what he’ll do.

MW: You’re saying there is a chance his plan will work well if the slower scenes, where people are talking…

NC: Yeah, but it would have to be incorporated into the story. Again, certain scenes could be done in the point of view of the camera or a head-mounted camera on an actor where we see their point of view. That could be really cool if done properly. There’s lots of things you can do, but my fear is that a dramatic movie displayed completely in a higher frame rate will appear extremely fake to an audience, and they won’t get sucked into the movie.

MW: More fake than an extraterrestrial planet with a race of blue people would appear to be?

NC: Right. You can get a focus group of people together and ask them what looks more real and they will always pick the one with the higher frame rate. But, that’s not the right question to ask. The right question to ask is, “Which was the better movie?” Of course, you can’t just show one clip. You need to show a complete dramatic sequence. When it comes to sports or news coverage and things like that, of course higher frame rates are great. It’s on the dramatic action… the suspension of disbelief must stay intact when watching actors acting out a scene otherwise you’ll be watching people just acting. That’s where the flicker comes in, and what makes for the greatest grand illusion of all.

MW: Let’s talk about movies today, in general, and about 3D in movies. Clearly anyone who comes to a site like ours and reads the various opinions will notice that 3D is a mixed bag. On one side you have a lot of love and on the other a lot of hate. It seems to be a very polarizing thing, and that’s because it seems that a lot of 3D is done, well, kind of half-assed. You’ve got last-minute conversions, movies where parts of it are 3D in parts of it are not, and often what is in 3D is terribly done. You have Avatar, which is also a very polarizing movie, but you can’t say the James Cameron didn’t at least try to make a great 3D movie, and I think in some ways he did. He, at the very least, brought 3D back into the forefront.

NC: I agree.

MW: What do you think about the current state of 3D movies? What’s going right and what’s going wrong in 3D today?

NC: Well, what’s going right is what James Cameron did by putting 3D on the minds of a lot of people and forcing the industry to take notice of it. As far as projection goes in the theater, believe it or not, that’s being done well. Yes, James Cameron is asking for brighter projection lamps, and if that technology can come into place with polarized, passive glasses like in RealD cinemas, that would be incredible. Brighter projection lamps are always needed for 3D. However, compared to general cinema as in the 1950s, we have to realize that two projectors were used for passive 3D viewing back of then. It was up to the projectionist to make sure that the two projectors were aligned properly, and a lot of times they weren’t. So, what’s going good is that because of the RealD [digital projection] system and others, they’re using single digital projectors to project a 3D movie. Therefore, we don’t have the problems of misalignment of projectors, which really do give people a headache. Going to a single projection system really helps in that effort, so they’re doing the right thing as far as the way 3D movies are projected in theaters.

MW: So the hardware is going right, but what about the way movies are being made?

NC: Well there are problems. What I call it is a “lack of 3D” is happening. This can open up a giant can of worms, but it’s hard to talk about this in a way that wouldn’t take forever to explain it. Basically, you have a few different groups of people that perceive what 3D is supposed to be. Unfortunately, right now in Hollywood most movies are not being planned for 3D from the beginning, and sometimes 3D is often considered an afterthought so it’s being converted after the fact.

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Matt Whitlock manages several technology-focused community websites, including Explore3DTV.com, TechLore.com, and several others. With almost 15 years in the consumer electronics industry to draw from, his writings span a wide range of technology categories, from home entertainment systems to electronic gaming and everything in between.

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