Musings on 3D, Douglas Trumbull Interview

The interview itself below is pretty goofball, but Trumbull is a genius as always, and he echos what I've been quietly thinking for a while now. The 24fps, 2D nature of cinema has always created a sense of "non-reality" on the screen, an intrinsic sense of detachment with its lack of temporal resolution and depth, a sort of "gauze". This is where you get the feeling of immersion into another plane, a separate ephemeral world of experience, not a separate physical world.

Over the history of film, the language of cinema and visual storytelling has not just been adapted to cater to this, but it has been completely designed around it. Reverse angles, coverage shots, over the shoulder, these were crafted and are used with the notion that you will experience film in this detached ephemeral manner, and it works.

So here's the problem - When you suddenly remove this gauze, this sense of detachment, and jump to 48 frames, 60, or even 120, let alone jump to stereoscopic 3D, but continue to tell stories using the same cinematic language designed specifically for this lack of physical realness and this ephemeral detachment, of course it's going to make no sense, and it's going to look and feel bad. My thought for a while now has been that with these new technologies allowing a complete removal of this gauze, and a complete sense of physical realness on the screen, we need to adapt, perhaps even create, a new visual language for narrative storytelling, catered to this innate realness.

This has already been done in the past by a few very talented filmmakers, IE Kubrick with 2001. 2001 was shot on 70mm, and was meant to be seen projected in arguably the highest resolution format to date. Kubrick realized this sense of realness and physical attachment the viewer would experience in a 70mm theater, and crafted the films visual language around this. The lack of constant dialog, the single shots lasting 5 minutes that everyone complains about - these were meant to be experienced in a theater with a total sense of realness, no plane detachment. Without this detachment, there is no need for constant dialog, constant cutting and coverage shots to establish a physical understanding of the films spatial parameters, etc - You're already really there, experiencing another physical world, not another ephemeral world.

My argument is that we need to begin experimenting with visual language catering to an intrinsic sense of presence and realness in your medium, because this is what 4k/120p/stereoscopic is going to bring us. We can stick to our 100+ year old methods of visual language and complain about how it doesn't work with a new medium, or we can adapt our trade and take advantage of an amazing new level of immersion. People rarely take a step back and acknowledge how much of a baby cinema still is compared to almost all other artforms, and it's growing and changing so fast right before our eyes. This very same scenario happened with the jump from monochrome to color. Cinematographers had adapted their visual language to working only in greyscale, and were appalled at the idea of introducing color, something that would instantly have the audience feel like they were looking through a window, not at a piece of art. But look at how well we've adapted our visual language and taken advantage of this! I can't wait to see the same thing happen with high framerate, high resolution, digital stereoscopic imaging.

I could write equally as much about how long it's going to take our brains to release their preconceived notion of how narrative immersion should work and accept a new visual language, and probably even more on how important proper spatial design and consistency is when working with 3D (the importance of close collaboration with your stereographer!) - But on the whole, I can't describe how excited I am that this trade is going through so many amazing changes, and the best part is we're all around for it.