Thursday, February 7, 2013

Intimacy vs. Immersion

I think that calling stereo 3-D content immersive is something of a misnomer. Immersion is the sensation of being inside an image, being surrounded by the "real" world of the content. 3-D can be an immersive experience in the right venue - a CAVE environment, a large format slide viewer, or an 80' Imax screen that fills the peripheral vision, for instance, all immerse the viewer. But a 2-D Imax experience is also immersive, as is A 2-D dome projection or head-mounted display. But this feeling of immersion is not inherent in the 3-D content itself - watching the same Imax 3-D content on a 3DTV or the small screen of a 3-D handheld device does not create the same feeling of immersion.

But 3-D does have the ability to create an experience for the audience, regardless of screen size, that is unique from all other media. Stereography can create an intimacy with the content - for EACH individual audience member - that can only be experienced via 3-D. Consider the moment in 'Muppet Vision 3D' when the character Waldo emerges deeply into negative space, seemingly inches from your face, and tells you directly that "Everyone thinks I'm talking to them, but I'm really talking to you!" At that moment you, and each other individual audience member, are having the singular experience of having the on screen character address you directly - and each audience member feels that they are the ONLY ONE having that
experience. Anything in positive space appears to exist beyond the confines of the viewing venue or device, and objects in negative space become personally intimate regardless of screen size. I suppose it could be looked at as the inverse of immersion in that the on screen image is able to emerge and exist in the real world of the viewer.

I see, in this individual connection between viewer and content, the tool for creating a heightened emotional experience. Wim Wenders' 'Pina' is a great example of this in practice. In the film, the testimonial of each dancer is presented as a living portrait, their gaze breaking the fourth wall and connecting with each audience member one-to-one. And the dance pieces themselves utilize the proscenium of the stereo window to create a 'best-seat-in-the-house' experience. Wender's explains that he chose to shoot in stereo after seeing U23D, and coming to the conclusion that 3-D created a closeness to the content and "brought it to life", while his 2-D tests always felt lifeless and distant.

And using the example of U23D, consider the moment in the film when Bono comes to the foot of the stage, reaches out to the audience, and makes eye contact with the camera. He makes an intimate connection with EVERY member of the audience that is unique to the 3-D viewing experience. In 2-D, Bono would simply be addressing the entire theater at once from the flat screen, with no personal connection. And at a live U2 concert, that moment is only meaningful to the one person in the front row of the arena who Bono actually makes eye contact with. But in 3-D, each person in the auditorium is the ONE person that Bono chooses, and every audience member gets a heightened sense of connection and intimacy.

There has been a trend among studio pictures to treat 3-D as spectacle, allowing the action in a scene to drive the amount of depth. I call this choice the "technical approach" to 3-D, and while it can be effective in enhancing FX heavy action sequences, I often find it lacking, or even distractingly flat, when applied across the board to the storytelling. I prefer the 'intimate/emotional approach" to 3-D in narrative story, with the above outlined heightened level of personal intimacy, and I think that it is 3-D content that has successfully utilized this tool, both intentionally and accidentally that has resonated well with audiences.

I am planning to publish a comprehensive piece on the potential for 3-D to create intimate personal connections and would love to hear your thoughts and feedback on the subject.