Friday, November 18, 2011

A Couple Of Reasons To Be Optimistic

I recently attended two 3-D movie screenings on the same day. They were two very different movies, and two very different audiences, but they did share something in common - well known directors who have just made their first 3-D films, and are very enthusiastic about using stereo.
Martin Scorsese discusses Hugo
First, I went to a film industry screening of Hugo, the new narrative feature by Martin Scorsese. The movie itself is a stunningly beautiful love letter to early cinema, and in particular to the films of French silent film pioneer Georges Méliès. The production design by Scorsese's longtime collaborator Dante Ferretti is just gorgeous, combining the dreamlike period look of 1920's Paris with recurring themes of clockwork gears and steam powered machinery. And the film makes great use of stereoscopic depth to create atmosphere and bring the imagery to life in a way that totally supports the story. A highlight of the screening was the Q&A that followed with Scorsese and his principal crew. When an audience member asked Scorsese whether he thought 3-D had a future, or was just a fad, Scorsese answered with a brief lesson in film history. He reminded us that from the time pictures started to move, people wanted color, sound, big screens and depth. He explained that while Technicolor was perfected in 1935, it still took another 30 years for color to become the standard for use in more than just musicals and comedies (apparently, in the 40s and 50s, the studios felt that color wasn't appropriate for drama). He said that 3-D is regarded in a similar way now, but that filmmakers and people working in 3-D will get more inventive with it, and that ultimately he sees 3-D as another element he can use to tell a story. He pointed out that he was looking out at all of us in the theater in 3-D, that we all see the world in three dimensions, and that he looks forward to an eventual future where holographic actors can actually walk into the audience.
Wim Wenders introduces Pina
Right after the Hugo screening, I rushed over to the AFI Fest showing of Pina, director Wim Wenders 3-D documentary about the work of choreographer Pina Bausch. Bausch was a vanguard of modern dance, who died unexpectedly in 2009, and Wenders' film is a tribute to her vision and inspiration, as presented in dance by the members of her company. The film is truly amazing, and in my opinion is one of the finest examples of immersive stereoscopic filmmaking to date. Wenders' camera captures the dancers’ motion and puts us there with them, both on the stage and out in the world, allowing the audience to be more than simply observers. We share the dancers emotions, their yearning, and their love through their movements and through a brilliant use of space. Wenders was asked why he chose to make his film in 3-D, and he explained that he actually spent 20 years trying to make a film with Pina Bausch, but felt that he was never able to properly capture a true representation of her dancing, that it never looked the way he wanted it to on the screen. He said that he had given up until, in 2008, he saw U2 3D in a theater and realized that stereoscopic 3-D would give him the language he was missing. 3-D would allow a level of engagement that he couldn't get in 2-D. Pina could only be made in 3-D. And the audience at the screening seemed to agree. Even a self-proclaimed 3-D hater in the crowd stood up and told the director that this was the one film that should be 3-D. Personally, I was so moved by Pina, that I went to see it a second time two days later.

I came away from these two films with several thoughts. First, I have been suggesting for some time that while there has been a lot of discussions and industry workshops on 3-D technology, there needs to be more education on 3-D aesthetics. I strongly believe that good stereo is as much about the composition of objects in the frame and the volume of the empty space between them, as it is about setting proper interaxial and convergence. And these two films are great examples of that concept. Second, having shot several dance related music videos myself, I have been advocating that filmmakers wanting to work in 3-D should consult with choreographers to develop their blocking, because choreographers "get it" - they compose movement in space, they think in depth and volume, they understand the language of 3-D (architects also "get it", and would probably make good 3-D filmmakers). And third, I have a renewed hope that we will finally start to see 3-D films coming from Hollywood that are designed for stereo, where the depth is so integral to the storytelling that audiences will finally see stereo not as a gimmick, but as a necessity. It was great to hear Martin Scorsese embracing 3-D as another tool in his filmmaking palette. And after my second viewing of Pina, I approached Wim Wenders and thanked him for making a film with the potential to show a very wide audience that stereoscopic 3-D film is an artistic medium. He high-fived me.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

From the Make: Blog

I was featured on the Make: blog! This video is from the May 2011 Maker Faire.