Over the past couple of weeks, it’s become fashionable for western entertainment media and analysts to bash 3D movies. I keep waiting for the writer or analyst interested in taking a longer-term view of the format and what it bodes, but so far, none have emerged. So, I’m going to expound on this subject myself. And if someone wants to hire me as a writer or analyst as a result, well my contact info’s on my website.
Help Me, Obi-Wan Kenobi!
As human beings, we are driven to seek ever-more immersive forms of entertainment. What started with shadow puppets and cave paintings has spawned an industry that is now a key driver of the world’s economic activity. It’s an often-expressed sentiment on Interwebs comment boards that “I’m skipping the 3D movie, wake me up when we get to the Holodeck!.” But the mere statement begs the question: How exactly are we getting to that Holodeck? Stereoscopic movies, and the coming wave of products that are going to put their production in the hands of consumers, are another step in that direction … a step that’s already driving display innovation (the glasses-free 3D displays available on smartphones and tablets; the forthcoming LED versions on cinema-size screens; Sony’s Playstation 3D TV that provides two separate simultaneous POV’s for gamers); innovation in image acquisition (integrated stereo cameras, multi-view camera arrays; increased recording frame rates); and ever-more rich audio environments (“3D” positional audio systems; multi-track , customizable soundtracks).
Many of us remember the wave of experimental virtual reality technologies that emerged in the 90’s. Most of them, at least in their original incarnations, have apparently gone by the wayside. But the truth is, another generation of innovators has been hard at work, modifying the original DNA into training, collaboration and research--as well as entertainment--applications. Many of these applications use stereo imagery and 3D user interfaces. (Today is the deadline for submitting your poster, demo or industrial paper to the 2011 Joint Virtual Reality Conference, if you’re interested.)
And watch out for companies like Fourth Wall Studios, who promise to take today’s concept of “alternate reality game” to a whole new dimension (pun intended). I’d be very surprised if stereo imagery isn’t a part of their near-term game plan.
None of this innovation would occur if the creatives didn’t help kick-start the process. So, for all the hue and cry over how the “studios have milked and wrecked the format,” it’s that very alleged milking and wrecking that has driven heavyweights like Cameron, Jackson, Spielberg, Scorcese, Scott, and Luhrmann into the medium: to prove what they can do with it.
Does anyone remember the Newton? Without it, there would be no iPad. Without stereo movies, there will be no Holodeck.
(I still can’t get over the irony that iconoclast Werner Herzog used entertainment’s newest innovation tell a story about one of its oldest innovations: cave paintings. But them, Mr. Herzog has always had a delicious sense of humor, despite claims to the contrary. )
Movies are sexy, teachers, researchers and doctors are not.
Entertainment has become the poster child for stereoscopic imagery, but the reality is that there are also vast advancements in knowledge and economic riches bound up in its use in other fields. Take education, for instance. Studies have repeatedly shown that children who are taught with the aid of 3D imagery retain more information and understand it better than their counterparts who are taught with traditional educational tools. Just think what we could to if we cared enough to arm teachers with these resources, rather than spending time dotting message boards with polemics about how much we hate 3D?
On the medical front, stereo imagery has been aiding difficult surgeries for years. The same technology that propelled Avatar has driven innovations like the O-Arm and improved visibility in laparoscopic surgeries. It even allows doctors to access medical records, X-rays and CAT scans, Minority Report-style, using gesture controls during operations.
Even NASA has gotten into the 3D game, and is sending up a Panasonic 3D-A1 camera and accompanying recording gear to capture 3D images in space when the final shuttle Atlantis launches next month.
And of course, there is always national defense. 3D technologies are already being implemented in training simulations and product development, as well as to relieve the burden of full-time human surveillance and to power unmanned vehicles and flights.
But teachers, researchers, doctors and aerospace technicians don’t draw headlines the way Michael Bay can. And despite the fact that 3D applications extend way beyond the bounds of the box office, Michael Bay’s star power generates silly headlines like this one. Transformers may indeed feature rockin’ 3D imagery, but 3D doesn’t need a savior. It merely needs context, and an understanding that, without the hopeful experimentation and risk-taking driving the format, we would still be stuck in the age of cave paintings.