Disney 3D Filmmakers: ‘Glasses Off’ 3D Measurement Test is ‘Inaccurate’

Published 2 years ago by , Updated September 22nd, 2012 at 7:48 pm,

Nemo 3D Glasses Off Test Disney 3D Filmmakers: Glasses Off 3D Measurement Test is Inaccurate

When moviegoers first heard that Pixar’s decade-old underwater adventure, Finding Nemo, was getting a post-conversion rerelease in 3D, even fans of the film were quick to accuse Disney of a shameless cash grab. However, as indicated in our Finding Nemo 3D review, insight into the Disney/Pixar 3D conversion process reveals a lengthy and multifaceted approach for transitioning the computer animated film into the third dimension – an approach that ultimately delivered a worthwhile rerelease.

Bob Whitehill, Disney’s Stereoscopic Supervisor, describes the effort as “recreation” instead of post-conversion – since reformatting the computer generated assets from a 2D plane into a 3D sandbox creates glitches and even reveals oversights in the original production. As a result, how does Disney’s 3D guru feel about the often utilized “glasses off” test – which qualifies a 3D film by the amount of movie that is still watchable scene to scene sans third dimension eye wear? Unsurprisingly, the filmmaker asserts that glasses off is “not an accurate measurement.

We recently had a chance to sit down with Whitehill, as well as Disney’s Director of 3D Production, Josh Hollander, to discuss their 3D methodology. The pair openly admit that a number of shoddy post-conversions have created a stigma against 3D – and that the industry, as a whole, is still trying to decide on what types of 3D experiences to offer and how to effectively use the format in each respective case. We’ve seen in-your-face 3D heighten the gross-out set pieces in Final Destination 5 and more subtle uses of the format have helped films like Hugo and Avatar deliver unparalleled sense of immersion – Whitehill even champions the U2 3D concert film as one the most interesting and satisfying uses of the tech.

However, with so many different 3D experiences available at the theater, why do so many moviegoers revert to the basic glasses off method of determining whether or not they are getting their money’s worth? Whitehill might consider glasses off to be “problematic” but, before we get started, it’s important to note that he feels for moviegoers:

“I want to be generous to those folks because they’re thinking about 3D and they’re trying to evaluate it and God bless them. We need people to be critically looking at 3D.”

Dory Marlin Finding Nemo 3D Disney 3D Filmmakers: Glasses Off 3D Measurement Test is Inaccurate

However, in spite of that goodwill, Whitehill and Hollander consider glasses off to be an extremely limited measurement that dismisses intentional artistic choices, not to mention the comfort of diverse viewers around the world, in favor of a notion that the majority of a film should include a noticeable 3D effect:

It’s a measure that is really problematic. Our philosophy is trying to keep things around screen – the same philosophy James Cameron has. If you watch Avatar, he actually racks that point of convergence like you would rack focus. So if I was going through [Finding Nemo 3D director] Josh to the door behind him, he actually purposefully has Josh right at the screen and the door right at the screen as I panned up. So, if he did that [glasses off] test with Avatar, he could almost be watching the entire movie in 2D. Because that point of entrance is always at screen. So, [glasses off] is a faulty measure of how good the 3D is.

In fact, I would almost argue that [more aggressive 3D] is adverse in many ways to a good 3D experience. For us, it’s really about the composition, the lighting, and does it feel comfortable?

Of course, 3D (like any aspect of moviegoing) is subjective and certain audience members are free to prioritize in-your-face experiences with noticeable 3D effects – since there’s room for a variety of tastes at the box office. That said, when it comes to measuring the quality of a 3D offering, the problem rests in public perception – specifically the assumption that the value of a 3D experience is directly correlated to the amount of depth visible on screen at any given moment. Many moviegoers assume this point to be true; however, the best directors and filmmakers are making frame by frame decisions about how the 3D effect can be used to enhance the emotion or action in a scene (dialing it down might actually be in service to the onscreen drama) – all while providing a comfortable viewing instead of attempting to satisfy an arbitrary (and entirely subjective) scale.

In an effort to help audiences think about why glasses off undermines the available variety of 3D film choices, Whitehill relayed how Disney approaches 3D in each one of their films (and, in many cases, scene to scene).

I would say the main thing to think about [as filmmakers], and this might sound obvious but I think people miss it, is ‘how does 3D really play in your movie – in your story? Is it a fun kind of romp where you can play more with the 3D and have more 3D moments or is it a more reflective and you know thoughtful or serious movie in which case you’d want to dial it down. In a case like Nemo, where you have this amazing environment, where you get so much of that reward for free in a way, because of the camera movement in the environment, you don’t need to perhaps push it as far as you otherwise might – so I think it really is a lot like a composer would look at a film and compose different scores. You need to take a deep breath and step back and really recognize how 3D is going to best serve individual projects [or scenes] and make decisions based on that. There is no one size fits all. So if you look at the 3D as supporting the story and moving with the story arc, you know, you can see maybe how to use in that way.

Supporting the emotion of the story (as well as the action in certain cases) is the chief priority for the Disney/Pixar 3D team as they rerelease prior projects (Finding Nemo 3D and Monsters, Inc. 3D) as well as collaborate with directors on upcoming features (Monsters University and the new film from Nemo co-director, Lee Unkrich, Día de los Muertos, to name a few). According to the Whitehill and Hollander, all future Pixar projects will be produced for 3D viewing – grounded in the studio’s aforementioned focus on both audience comfort and supporting on-screen emotion.

monsters university trailer Disney 3D Filmmakers: Glasses Off 3D Measurement Test is Inaccurate

However, the approach wasn’t just an arbitrary decision and it’s clear that a lot of thought has been put into 3D methodology at Pixar. Next to the glasses off cost/benefit complaints, eye strain is one of the bigger problems that casual moviegoers often mention after a 3D viewing. For Whitehill and Holland, the team’s approach comes down to basic anatomy – and their job then becomes getting the largest emotional payoff for their 3D choices without compromising comfort.

This vision scientist, 100 years ago named Archibald Stanley Percival, he was a British guy. In 1913, he published ‘Geometrical Optics’ and had this idea called the ‘zone of comfort’ and basically it means your vision system has two major muscles: one is to focus and one is to converge. So if I’m looking at this bottle and focused at a certain distance, just like a camera lens is always focused at a distance, my eyes are converging on that spot. And you do that your entire life – you converge and focus at the same distance so those muscle systems are working together.

When you watch a 3D movie, your focus is always going to be the same distance – because your chair is not moving and the screen is not moving. You’re twenty feet away but you’re asking your eyes to converge and go in and out. So you’ve now dislodged those two muscles – and you can do that a little bit for a long period of time or you can do it a lot for a short period of time. But you can’t do that a lot for a long period of time – that’s where a lot of the eye fatigue and strain comes from in watching 3D. So with that in mind, we try to keep things [specifically: emotion] relatively close to the screen. If it’s not important than it’s not going to be near the screen. So that ‘glasses off’ test is not a great measure that’s able to communicate actual quality effectively.

Moviegoers are free to disagree with Whitehill and Holland about glasses off – since some viewers may not see enough value in subtle uses of the format or 3D for the purpose of enhancing emotional impact. Ultimately, it is audience members who are shelling out money for the added 3D upcharge – and, for some, glasses off viewing might help them qualify their experience and offer recommendations to like-minded friends.

However, as a general guideline for the now extensive variety of 3D approaches and experimentation, it’s hard to argue with Whitehill’s claim that the glasses off measurement is “problematic” (at the very least) and, in most cases, “not an accurate way of measuring 3D quality.”

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Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future interviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

Finding Nemo 3D is Rated G. Now playing in 3D theaters.

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TAGS: Finding Nemo

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  1. 3D is getting lame. Look at the box office this year for example, prices are just too high nowadays its no wonder why people are reverting to watching the bootlegs free online or just seeing a movie once.

    I remember when the original Spider-man came out, i saw that 3 times in theaters and I was only a high school student at the time. Now as a working adult there is no way i’d see the new Spiderman 3 times because, while it was good, it still is not worth spending 60 bucks on a movie (3D spiderman showings in NYC were about 20 bux each!)

    To add to the 3D stupidity, it is really getting lame going to theaters and throwing on those cheap glasses.
    I’ll get back into 3D maybe when they do it wiithout the glasses and get rid of this nonsense 3D in movies alltogether, like in Toy STory 3

    • You, americans REALLY live an expensive life.

      I live in Hungary where 2D is only 5 bucks and 3D only cost 6 bucks.

  2. if a movie is good, i like to see it several times. when the studios make a 3d version of it, i’m glad to see it. so they will make al lot of people happy by adding something new to movies people like.
    Nemo isnt a good example for me. i lwatched it once, it was nice, but i dont need to see it again.

  3. I never understood what the “glasses off” test was supposed to accomplish. Either you see 3D effects when you have the glasses on or you don’t. It’s like putting a fish in a bowl of water to see if it’s liquid when all you have to do is put your hand in it.

  4. If its not in 3d, then don’t charge 3d prices, sounds like this director is making excuses for Nemo not being 100% 3D…. Really??

  5. I’m pretty sure Bob meant “rack”, not “wrap”, as in “rack focus”. That’s the film term for changing the focus point during a shot, and comes from the geared rack that lenses used to be mounted on.

    • You’re right. Our transcriber slipped up. I’ll get that fixed!

  6. 3D stinks. The only film I have watched in 3D that was worth watching in 3D was Avatar. All these terrible post-conversion 3D films are nothing more than a cash grab for mediocre product. It’s like the studios KNOW their movies are cr*p and use 3D to try and make their money back. I will ALWAYS choose the 2D version over the 3D version (and not because of eye strain), and if it’s not going to be released in 2D I will wait until the DVD or Blu-Ray is released in 2D.

  7. It would be nice to have subtle 3D if they don’t charge much extra for it. If people are paying more for 3D, then they expect something for that extra cash. At the same time I don’t want to see a movie I’ve already seen for subtle 3D the second time around.

    I think if 3D is done subtlely from the get-go then it can be great (e.g. Prometheus), but that should just be the default and we shouldn’t have to pay extra for that. I don’t have to pay extra for a movie that cost $200 Million to make as opposed to $25 million, so why do I have to pay extra for 3D? I understand that it costs the theatres to invest in extra hardware, but they don’t have to do that each time they show a movie, it’s a one-time investment, and should be more of an enticement to get me to the cinema rather that waiting for it to come out on Blu-Ray.

    It’s the greed of the theatre owners and film studios that’s giving 3D a bad name, not the film makers who care to do 3D “right”.

  8. When people think of 3D they think of “Mickey’s Philharmagic” at Magic Kingdom, the reach out and touch the picture coming off the screen. Subtle 3D is not worth the extra money or the silly glasses.

    Take a family of five to a 3D movie, throw in a drink and popcorn for each and you are at $100 bucks. Film industry have been stealing from the public since the dawn of time,people making 10s of millions of dollars each, living ridiculous lifestyles while close to 15% of the country cant even get a job.

    But the public allows it and keep paying for it.

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