3D – How and when it works

There's been many types of 3D films, but recently they've become more sophisticated

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 2 years, you’d have noticed a massive boom in the rise of 3D movies and games. There’s a lot of criticism out there about it – It doesn’t really work, it’s a gimmick being pushed down our throats, it’s simply not good enough, etc… Well, I prefer to take a more constructive approach when it comes to film criticism, so here I’m going to list both when it works and how it should be done.

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CGI films and the uncanny valley

The logo for Autodesk's 3D Max. - I want one!

There’s been a lot of CGI films over the past decade. You have dedicated studios such as Pixar that make them. But then there’s also the hyper-realistic types of films as well. I remember being astounded by the computer generated imagery of Final Fantasy the Spirits Within. It was an amazing film in terms of graphics, but it was often panned for its story.

But the closer we get to realism, the freakier CGI can become (hence the uncanny valley). Of course, with new technologies available, the more realistic we can make things, and we’ve seen that with live action integration with animated computer generated imagery. It still occasionally alludes us, this sense of realism though, mostly because it tries to be (but not quite makes it) realistic – some bits can be lifelike, other bits make you realise it’s just an illusion.

Things like art style also play a factor. Final Fantasy VII Advent Children for example had amazing graphics (also impossible physics, but heck it’s sci-fi/fantasy). The reason uncanny valley didn’t crop up then was because a, the characters were established as sprites and not as real and b, the art style meant that the faces, eyes, structure etc… were not realistic.

But how do you get realism in computer graphics? Have a gander at this video:

But even though we have the possibility at least of hyper-realistic computer generated characters, do we still empathise with them in the same way? Well, I personally think we empathise more with cartoon, stylised and misshapen characters because they’re accentuated in certain respects. And why are even their performances are accentuated? Because it’s not going for realism. Here’s what I mean:

FInal Flight of the Osiris - part of the Animatrix series

Take a look at this shot. It’s from the Final Flight of the Osiris. It had hyper-realistic graphics. Every movement was based upon what real actors do, with the artwork and movements imitating as close to reality as possible. Meanwhile:

Woody and Jessie - even though they're only meant to be toys, they're so expressive!

Toy Story’s style not only necessitated that it be different from reality, but that freedom meant that every part of the image, from body language, colouration, expressions are all purposeful. What do I mean by that?

It basically boils down to expression of the character. With hyper-realism we have to know that the world is realistic, that the character lives inside that world. Without hyper-realism we instead concentrate on the character’s feelings, reactions and motivations. The thing that draws us in with a pixar film (for example) are the characters. With other hyper-realistic animations, it’s actually the story and the world.

That’s not to say that hyper-realism is bad because of it. I appreciate the effort to get to hyper-realism and find it a unique storytelling tool. It even has the advantage over cartoon style CG which is that it can be placed into live action films without too much hassle.

I think sometimes we forget that film isn’t just trying to be one thing. All art forms are dynamic and we should appreciate all the beauty in films.


Green Lantern – or why we need a tad more “exposition” in our films

Highly enjoyable, but.......

Again, for the fourth time this year, I found myself in my local cinema watching a comic book movie – this time round Green Lantern was stealing one of my Wednesday evenings. Of the four comic movies (The Green Hornet, Thor and X-Men: First Class are the other three) that I’ve watched in the cinema this year, this was the third to utilize 3D tech and it won’t be the last.

I wanna get my opinions on the 3D out of the way first: it wasn’t utilized enough, as I’ve previously said with the use of 3D in Hollywood films – the way things were directed didn’t play with the fact that stuff could be jumping out of the screen. Even my Mum, who saw the film with Paul, my Brother and I, said this.

Onto the execution of what I tend to pay the most attention to: script, story and plot. Because this film has an issue that three of these four comic book films have had this year: a fear of exposition and build up.

Now, maybe it’s due to the amount of money that the addition of roughly twenty extra minutes of screen time would represent, but The Green Hornet, Thor and now Green Lantern have all felt like they were rushed. Events on screen weren’t given the time needed to slowly come to the boil, simmer and then explode absolutely everywhere.

If budget isn’t an issue, then it feels like the writers behind these three films, have been taking Robert McKee’s Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting and how it preaches against the over use of exposition and kind of gone and not used it enough. Like a dieter being told that too much dairy will make them fat and then forgetting that they need calcium from milk to help give them strong bones and teeth.

Sure, Green Lantern has an impressive opening with an easy to understand introduction about the Green Lantern Corps and the Guardians, but it didn’t feel like it properly used subplots to help progress the main plot along. This was a film that needed to get its origin straight, but we never really feel like we properly come to grips with Hal Jordan or Hector Hammond – they’re not given enough time to simmer once their new unique circumstances come into focus and to therefore be properly characterised.

Hell, even Parallax didn’t get quite enough screen time to properly build up. Not that he needed any kind of love story to help move things along.

(And I will try and ignore how Hal’s anti-fear speech to Sinestro and the Guardians didn’t make too much sense – how did he know what was going on? Bit of a plot hole there or something that’s going to land in the Blu-ray’s extras.)

We had flashes of conflict (personal stuff, not saving the world) that the main characters needed to deal with, but they were flashes, often too brief and fleeting to give you a feel for the characters. These were mainly subplots – such as Hector and Hal’s father issues – which were thrown at us, but didn’t go far enough. Though I will say that its Hector and Carol’s characterisation elements that suffered the most. Hal was almost there.

With this exposition free diet going on, the film did feel a tad rushed in terms of the pacing. You kind of ended up with the sensation that you were jumping all over the place without getting a proper understanding of the circumstances.

This also meant that the film’s final confrontation was (if I’m allowed to use a videogame analogy here) akin to prepping for what you think will be the nastiest end boss you have ever faced, only to find that you can kill it in about two moves (the last final boss to make me feel like that was Final Fantasy XIII’s). You’re never quite convinced that Hal is in true peril.

Oh, and Sinestro – you knew that was going to happen. Firstly due to the name, secondly… he was being played by Mark Strong.


Went to see Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides last night – it was okay…. (via My Not So Fictional Life)

Em’s take on Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. I thought it was going back to the semi-light heartedness of the Curse of the Black Pearl, rather than the later films. Certainly enjoyable, although I thought having Captain Jack not a captain for a while was perhaps not in the films best interests.

Went to see Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides last night - it was okay.... The fourth Pirates of the Caribbean film was not what I wanted to watch last night at my local cinema. Some of you may be surprised by such a claim. However, all the seats for X-Men: First Class had sold out… So Paul and I decided to see Pirates 4… in 3D. Yes, I know I have a slightly against 3D attitude, but after being bombarded by ads in 3D for the film every time we went to see a 3D film, this past year, we wanted to see what all the fuss … Read More

via My Not So Fictional Life


Thor

The movie poster. It's Thor-some. *cough* Okay, I'll leave now...

The blockbusters for the summer have come around again and Thor is now in cinemas. The Avengers movie is coming ever closer.

Firstly, the special effects are fairly attractive. The city of Asgard is both beautiful and large. The city earns the whole ‘mixture of magic and science’ philosophy that the film suggests. Visual wise, Asgard is awesome, in many ways.

One of the complaints that I had with the film is actually about the 3D element. I’m not sure if it’s just me, but the fighting sequences between the Frost Giants of Jotunheim and the Asgardians, it seemed to blur slightly, meaning you had the Transformers effect – not really knowing what’s going on beyond ‘They’re fighting’, due to the colouration and lack of distinction between characters (although in this case, it was the combination of 3D and colouration).

There is quite a lot of humour in the film, although none of it really breaks that story. In fact, it actually supports the characters, giving humour only when the character would naturally encounter/provoke it. Without going into spoilers, I don’t want to give examples, but lets just say that it doesn’t break verisimilitude. What’s verisimilitude you ask?

Verisimilitude is the ability to believe in the filmic world. Without it, we would just see things as unconnected from us. It allows us to care about the story we’re being told and provides emotional investment for which we hope will pay off. Breaking verisimilitude can happen in two ways. Either breaking the fourth wall – illustrating that the characters are knowingly inside a film, thus making everything that happens superfluous (arguably – breaking the fourth wall is often used in creating humour from which an audience may enjoy the knowing antics of the breakee) or by having some type of plot hole that was very apparent making the film broken by its own logistics. In this way, we separate ourselves from the story and thus the emotional investment in it.

Verisimilitude - could be considered to mean 'Truth'

But I re-iterate, Thor does not break verisimilitude with its humour.

The origins story (which is always told, often in different ways – as title credits in The Hulk for example) could have been a film in of itself. I did feel that although most of the details were needed for the main story arc, I felt it was either too long or way too short. But that could be just me.

As for keeping to the main plot of the comic basis – I don’t know. I never read the original comics for Thor. While I do enjoy the ever-so-slightly more casual dabblings with both the Marvel and DC universes (DC’s favourite though), Thor was never really something I encountered (apart from Civil War – which I won’t go into because I wouldn’t want to spoil that one). Needless to say, much like any other adaptation, there’s going to be people complaining that they’ve got things wrong. I mean, if people can complain because the original comic origins of Iron Man were set in Vietnam war (and later in the Gulf war) and the film is set in the Afghanistan war, you’re obviously going to get people complaining about SOMETHING.

A comic book cover - even has that one move on the cover...

If you’re not one of those people, go out, see Thor. You’ll like it. And it’ll get you hyped for the Avenger’s movie, although before that we’ve got Xmen First Class and Captain America. Then on the DC side, we’ve got the Green Lantern film coming. It’s turning out to be a super-hero summer.

Oh, and Joss Whedon is directing The Avenger’s movie. Squeee—!!


Is there any point to making 3D versions of films?

Paul looking surprised to be wearing 3D glasses?

Tomorrow, Paul, my mum, my middle brother and I will be off to see Thor… in 3D. Now apart from the issue that everyone in our party of cinema goers, except for me, does not have stellar eyesight and has to wear glasses or contact lenses in order to watch anything (and in the case of my mum, can’t see a thing without her glasses) – I will ignore what I have been told about how annoying it is to wear 3D glasses over regular glasses.

This post is about whether there really is much point in making 3D versions of films. ‘Cause you know what, there are plenty of people who don’t think there is and I’m one of them.

I’ve seen a few 3D films over the last year or so; of the ones that I remember: Avatar, Up, The Final Destination and The Green Hornet – only The Final Destination has struck me as one that played with 3D in terms of how the direction of the cinematography was led. The other three failed to go beyond “making things look pretty” (especially Avatar).

According to a blog post from earlier this year by Scott Mendelson, there are at least thirty-two films being released in 3D this year. He also examined how much 3D films amp up the cost of going to the cinema – not something the industry should be doing too much of in these uncertain financial times. And with so many films out in 3D this year, just where are the none 3D loving crowd meant to go and watch their 2D flicks? After all, who’s going to have space for a 2D version when cinemas that keep up with major releases are going to have at least one 3D film on at all times.

Paul and mine’s local cinema (Truro Plaza) has two 3D films on this week. It’s not showing any 2D versions of either Rio or Thor. And Rio is a film aimed at kids who shouldn’t be watching films in 3D, because they’re either too young to do so or will probably find it uncomfortable to wear the glasses.

But it’s not just small children or people with health problems who have problems watching 3D… we all do. Earlier this year Walter Murch, a sound editor responsible for such iconic films such as Apocalypse Now, wrote to Roger Ebert about “Why 3D doesn’t work and never will“. It makes for some interesting reading. Basically, 3D tech can work to a certain extent, but it’s more hassle on our eyes and brains than is worth the hassle of actually watching films in 3D.

And so why are Hollywood studios seemingly rolling out the 3D bandwagon left right and centre? It’s probably down to marketing. There’s a bunch of marketing busy bodies lurking about, who keep saying that films need 3D in order to have a USP (unique selling point). Because obviously having a decent story, direction and acting isn’t what makes a film great /sarcasm.

The late, great Bill Hicks has something to say about people in marketing, which is entirely relevant at this point (if you are easily offended, best not to watch the clip):

Now, if there’s no marketing budget involved, then it’s probably safe…