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The great Walter Murch makes the most academic and compelling case yet on why 3D will never work

01.25.2011

If you're anti-3D, then you may have just found your biggest and most important ally yet in the battle against the dreaded x-axis in modern film.

Editor and sound designer Walter Murch (APOCALYPSE NOW), considered by and large the godfather of modern sound in movies, is a man that's discovered and defined how audiences perceive what they see and hear in films. His only book, In the Blink of an Eye, is an essential for any serious aspiring filmmaker or fan of cinema as an artform.

So what does the man that so intimately understands the basic physiology behind how we perceive moving images think of 3D? Murch says it goes against our very evolution. Here he is a letter written to Roger Ebert:

The biggest problem with 3D, though, is the "convergence/focus" issue. A couple of the other issues -- darkness and "smallness" -- are at least theoretically solvable. But the deeper problem is that the audience must focus their eyes at the plane of the screen -- say it is 80 feet away. This is constant no matter what.

But their eyes must converge at perhaps 10 feet away, then 60 feet, then 120 feet, and so on, depending on what the illusion is. So 3D films require us to focus at one distance and converge at another. And 600 million years of evolution has never presented this problem before. All living things with eyes have always focused and converged at the same point.

If we look at the salt shaker on the table, close to us, we focus at six feet and our eyeballs converge (tilt in) at six feet. Imagine the base of a triangle between your eyes and the apex of the triangle resting on the thing you are looking at. But then look out the window and you focus at sixty feet and converge also at sixty feet. That imaginary triangle has now "opened up" so that your lines of sight are almost -- almost -- parallel to each other.

We can do this. 3D films would not work if we couldn't. But it is like tapping your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time, difficult. So the "CPU" of our perceptual brain has to work extra hard, which is why after 20 minutes or so many people get headaches. They are doing something that 600 million years of evolution never prepared them for. This is a deep problem, which no amount of technical tweaking can fix. Nothing will fix it short of producing true "holographic" images.

Consequently, the editing of 3D films cannot be as rapid as for 2D films, because of this shifting of convergence: it takes a number of milliseconds for the brain/eye to "get" what the space of each shot is and adjust.

And lastly, the question of immersion. 3D films remind the audience that they are in a certain "perspective" relationship to the image. It is almost a Brechtian trick. Whereas if the film story has really gripped an audience they are "in" the picture in a kind of dreamlike "spaceless" space. So a good story will give you more dimensionality than you can ever cope with.

So: dark, small, stroby, headache inducing, alienating. And expensive. The question is: how long will it take people to realize and get fed up?


You can read the full article over at Roger Ebert's Journal.

Extra Tidbit: How you like them apples, Jim?!
Source: Roger Ebert

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2:17AM on 01/26/2011
Can't We All Just Get Along???? *Sad Face*
Can't We All Just Get Along???? *Sad Face*
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1:05AM on 01/26/2011
all you internet fanboys keep scrambling for reasons why 3D sucks and it won't succeed are starting to sound more and more pathetic.
AVATAR MADE OVER 2 BILLION DOLLARS, IT HAS SUCCEEDED AND IT WILL CONTINUE TO DO SO! MOVE ON ALREADY.
Once Nintendo's 3DS is out, there will be no arguing it anymore
all you internet fanboys keep scrambling for reasons why 3D sucks and it won't succeed are starting to sound more and more pathetic.
AVATAR MADE OVER 2 BILLION DOLLARS, IT HAS SUCCEEDED AND IT WILL CONTINUE TO DO SO! MOVE ON ALREADY.
Once Nintendo's 3DS is out, there will be no arguing it anymore
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+0
8:25PM on 01/25/2011

What James Cameron didn't tell you...

A gimmick? Until you've sat on your own couch stoned out of your eyeballs watching Avatar 3D on a 120" projector you can't appreciate how "necessary" the 3D experience is... :)

Admittedly, the colouring book at the time was pretty engaging too...
A gimmick? Until you've sat on your own couch stoned out of your eyeballs watching Avatar 3D on a 120" projector you can't appreciate how "necessary" the 3D experience is... :)

Admittedly, the colouring book at the time was pretty engaging too...
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+2
8:10PM on 01/25/2011

Why is it an all-or-nothing argument?

The issues he brings up like editing clearly show that 3D films need to be approached differently from a traditional one...

There is enough interest from people to have 3D films exist, so can't we just have a select number of films a year in 3D?

It's not the death of cinema, every film can't be in 3D so why does it have to fail *absolutely*? Can't we have options?
The issues he brings up like editing clearly show that 3D films need to be approached differently from a traditional one...

There is enough interest from people to have 3D films exist, so can't we just have a select number of films a year in 3D?

It's not the death of cinema, every film can't be in 3D so why does it have to fail *absolutely*? Can't we have options?
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7:52PM on 01/25/2011
Um, anybody who says you have a choice of 3D or not is full of it. Every theater in my area was only playing Green Hornet in 3D. I had to drive all the way to the outskirts of the city to find a whole in the wall theater playing it in 2D.
Um, anybody who says you have a choice of 3D or not is full of it. Every theater in my area was only playing Green Hornet in 3D. I had to drive all the way to the outskirts of the city to find a whole in the wall theater playing it in 2D.
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3:59PM on 01/25/2011
It's a shame my 76yo Dad can enjoy 3D but other old coots can't. Yes there are some techncal issues, as there are with EVERY new technology that comes along, but for me those few issues are nowhere near enough to ruin a movie for me when the upside is immersive depth.
Honestly, if we abandon CG cause the original Tron looked so crap we'd be so far behind technologically now it's embarassing. 3D will improve,as did sound, CG etc.
I find it offensive that people want 3D to fail, I mean it's
It's a shame my 76yo Dad can enjoy 3D but other old coots can't. Yes there are some techncal issues, as there are with EVERY new technology that comes along, but for me those few issues are nowhere near enough to ruin a movie for me when the upside is immersive depth.
Honestly, if we abandon CG cause the original Tron looked so crap we'd be so far behind technologically now it's embarassing. 3D will improve,as did sound, CG etc.
I find it offensive that people want 3D to fail, I mean it's attempting to bring something new to cinemas and all so many want to do s tear it down. Is it really so offensive to be given an option to see a film in a certain format? People don't whine endlessly about IMAX, despite the fact you have to pay extra simply for a bigger image, espite the fact the are so limited in their locations, but that's fine, but 3D get raked over the coals?
Grow up.
And of course a great story will be immersive, but itsnot the same immersion you're talking about in 3D , he jsut muddies his point with that stupid comment. They are two different things.The immersion in a great film is one thing, 3D provides a visual immersion, regardless of story. Of course if the story is immersive too all the better.
While we're at it, lets start a campaign to abolish CG, surround sound and music scores, none of which are 'real' or 'needed' to tell a story and can totally take you out of a movie if done wrong. Pisses me off when people say 'unnessesary 3D'. Well yes it is unnessesary, as is CG, music, sound, colour. Hell why not jsut film a play on stage for the 'pure' experience!!!
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3:47PM on 01/25/2011

Problems I have...

People take 3D to serious, like it fucks up thier hole day when a movie is coming out in 3D. You have the option to watch it in 2D or 3D, so why complain, they have not taken that option away from you.

This guy is getting to technical about it, isn't evolution a good thing? The more we watch 3D movies, the better we adjust to it right?

I'm not going to go out of my way to not watch a movie in 3D, if its playing at the time I'm in the theater, I'll watch it. Some movies are made for 3D
People take 3D to serious, like it fucks up thier hole day when a movie is coming out in 3D. You have the option to watch it in 2D or 3D, so why complain, they have not taken that option away from you.

This guy is getting to technical about it, isn't evolution a good thing? The more we watch 3D movies, the better we adjust to it right?

I'm not going to go out of my way to not watch a movie in 3D, if its playing at the time I'm in the theater, I'll watch it. Some movies are made for 3D and some are just cash grabs studios use to make more money.

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3:50PM on 01/25/2011
From what I've read on IMDb, a lot of theaters are only carrying the 3D version now, such as The Green Hornet.
From what I've read on IMDb, a lot of theaters are only carrying the 3D version now, such as The Green Hornet.
7:28PM on 01/25/2011
Where I live everything still plays in 2D....Where do you live, James Cameron'Land?
Where I live everything still plays in 2D....Where do you live, James Cameron'Land?
8:39PM on 01/25/2011
My theater and many others in my area play both. Like I said, it's what I read on IMDb boards.
My theater and many others in my area play both. Like I said, it's what I read on IMDb boards.
3:02PM on 01/25/2011
I haven't had a problem with headaches or any other physical affects from 3D. My issue is that it doesn't really make a difference. They haven't found a way to incorporate it in such a way that the movie would be negatively affected by its absence.

Until they can figure out a way to make 3D an integral part of a film, it will be nothing more than a inconsequential enhancement.
I haven't had a problem with headaches or any other physical affects from 3D. My issue is that it doesn't really make a difference. They haven't found a way to incorporate it in such a way that the movie would be negatively affected by its absence.

Until they can figure out a way to make 3D an integral part of a film, it will be nothing more than a inconsequential enhancement.
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2:51PM on 01/25/2011

I disagree with Walter Murch

Convergence is where the audience will be looking, like the actor's eyes. It doesn't bounce them around the plane.
Convergence is where the audience will be looking, like the actor's eyes. It doesn't bounce them around the plane.
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12:20PM on 01/25/2011

Great read

Does anyone else's blood boil when it says, "In 3D... 2D in select theaters,"? No. Just no. 3D is NOT the standard. It never has been and it never will be.

And if it is, then it's the death of cinema to me and I need to seek out a new career.
Does anyone else's blood boil when it says, "In 3D... 2D in select theaters,"? No. Just no. 3D is NOT the standard. It never has been and it never will be.

And if it is, then it's the death of cinema to me and I need to seek out a new career.
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10:17AM on 01/25/2011

Don't you mean

Did you mean battle against the z-axis and not the x-axis? Regardless though, as much as I hated 3d when I saw avatar, I'm not really against it anymore. I have a 3d tv and it's fun to see something in 3d once in a while. But holllywood is pumping too many 3d movies nowadays which is getting annoying. They should work harder on perfecting the technology as I agree, it does have its drawbacks. Don't be hating guys !!!
Did you mean battle against the z-axis and not the x-axis? Regardless though, as much as I hated 3d when I saw avatar, I'm not really against it anymore. I have a 3d tv and it's fun to see something in 3d once in a while. But holllywood is pumping too many 3d movies nowadays which is getting annoying. They should work harder on perfecting the technology as I agree, it does have its drawbacks. Don't be hating guys !!!
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1:09PM on 01/25/2011
Enjoy your crappy ploy that the industry forced you into basically...It's not even 3d, it's just LAYERS, nothing POPS out. SO yeah, you've been suckered, or are just stupid....I'm going with the latter.
Enjoy your crappy ploy that the industry forced you into basically...It's not even 3d, it's just LAYERS, nothing POPS out. SO yeah, you've been suckered, or are just stupid....I'm going with the latter.
11:26PM on 01/26/2011
When my 50 inch 3d plasma tv only cost $500 with 4 pairs of glasses, I'd hardly call that stupid. It's retards like you that just talk shit but are first in line when a 3d movie comes out. I feel bad for you son.
When my 50 inch 3d plasma tv only cost $500 with 4 pairs of glasses, I'd hardly call that stupid. It's retards like you that just talk shit but are first in line when a 3d movie comes out. I feel bad for you son.
9:50AM on 01/25/2011

Bags of Shit

It's big business for Hollywood right now, and it's a way to get movies past piracy in their point of view. So it ain't goin' nowhere. That said, Hollywood is like any other business; if we stop paying to see it, they won't make it. Bottom line. All the discussion of evolution in the world won't change that fact.
It's big business for Hollywood right now, and it's a way to get movies past piracy in their point of view. So it ain't goin' nowhere. That said, Hollywood is like any other business; if we stop paying to see it, they won't make it. Bottom line. All the discussion of evolution in the world won't change that fact.
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9:32AM on 01/25/2011
I'm already fed up
I'm already fed up
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9:00PM on 01/26/2011
[link] I could give a crap about the science, 3D looks like crap compared to 2D...period.
[link] I could give a crap about the science, 3D looks like crap compared to 2D...period.
-2
8:53AM on 01/25/2011

Murch knows his stuff

Check out the excellent book "The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film"

He knows what he is talking about.
Check out the excellent book "The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film"

He knows what he is talking about.
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8:51AM on 01/25/2011

F**k you Katzenberg!

And besides, this guy also directed the wonderful and never enough praised "Return to OZ", one of my favourite movies!
And besides, this guy also directed the wonderful and never enough praised "Return to OZ", one of my favourite movies!
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8:20AM on 01/25/2011

Gimmick?

I think so.

Every 3D film I've been to so far its taken my eyes like 10 or 15 minutes to adjust to the screen. Once it happens its fine and I don't notice it again, but its irritating to keep thinking theres something wrong with your eyes when you're trying to watch a movie. I remember seeing Avatar and I kept on taking off the 3D glasses, which I have to wear over my normal glasses, and rubbing my eyes.

And I've never really been sold on how "immersive" it is. I mean, the story faults
I think so.

Every 3D film I've been to so far its taken my eyes like 10 or 15 minutes to adjust to the screen. Once it happens its fine and I don't notice it again, but its irritating to keep thinking theres something wrong with your eyes when you're trying to watch a movie. I remember seeing Avatar and I kept on taking off the 3D glasses, which I have to wear over my normal glasses, and rubbing my eyes.

And I've never really been sold on how "immersive" it is. I mean, the story faults with Avatar took me out of the film enough, and no amount of 3D was going to take me back into it. To hear Jim Cammeron bashing Piranha for mis-using 3D just made me goggle, from a guy who neither invented or re-invented, but rather rehashed, a cinema gimmick that didn't work 50 years ago. Thank goodness Nolan refuses to use it.

I've converted films and watched them on my ipod before I go to bed sometimes, and despite watching them on the smallest possible screen, in no way am I not able to be "immersed" in the picture. To reiterate what Gary Oldman was saying, story matters above all else.
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7:21AM on 01/25/2011
3-D: The Once and Future Gimmick.

Please go away.
3-D: The Once and Future Gimmick.

Please go away.
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7:06AM on 01/25/2011
[This is a long one (again) but I hope you guys will give it a read. Thank You :)]

His second to last paragraph is exactly my problem with this whole 3D affair and I'm glad someone of his caliber and experience agrees.

If the story, acting, directing etc. is in top form, you will find yourself completely immersed in the world.

It's similar to when you watch a widescreen film. For the first few seconds, you'll sit there and can't help but notice that there are black bars at the top and
[This is a long one (again) but I hope you guys will give it a read. Thank You :)]

His second to last paragraph is exactly my problem with this whole 3D affair and I'm glad someone of his caliber and experience agrees.

If the story, acting, directing etc. is in top form, you will find yourself completely immersed in the world.

It's similar to when you watch a widescreen film. For the first few seconds, you'll sit there and can't help but notice that there are black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. But soon after the movie has begun, you don't notice them anymore, do you? Nor do you notice the dvd's you may have stacked in front of the tv or whatever stand your tv is on or even the fact that you're even watching tv. The immersion is at such a level that you feel you are in the world with the characters.

When you read a book, you are not constantly aware that you are looking at words on a page. Those words become images in your head and you SEE the characters as opposed to the words describing them. You don't need a pop up book to immerse you while reading, do you?

I've seen so called "good" 3D and "bad" 3D but the end result is the same. 3D has the opposite effect than what it is supposed to do in that you are constantly aware you are watching something in 3D. Every time an image pops out of the screen, it only serves as a constant reminder that you are in fact watching a screen. It's very subtle but I'm sure many of you have been watching a 3D movie, completely immersed, only to have a sword or something come poking out of the screen, and suddenly realize you are sitting in a chair, in a theater.

The fact that it darkens the image, gives people headaches, is a hassle for people who already wear glasses, and is more expensive would seem to be the final nails in this gimmicky formats coffin yet it persists. I simply can't fathom why.

For me, and apparently Roger Ebert and Walter Murch, 2D films were more than satisfactory, if not superior, in giving us a 3D experience. I didn't need water droplets floating in my face to know that I was in a fully realized and engrossing world when I was watching Inception. The story, characters, performances, direction, editing, music and all the other elements necessary in the film medium did that job for me.

The same 3D experience was available for me when I saw The Social Network, The King's Speech, Black Swan etc. I didn't need 3D glasses for a full immersion. All I needed was a good story, told well.

This method has served the film viewing community well for over a hundred years and although 3D seems to crop up every twenty years or so, it always goes away. Perhaps people today are even more gullible today than they were back then, but I don't think that's the case.

We live in a technologically competitive time and people feel that they need to have the newest and "best" technology right now. People are told 3D is superior. They're told that it offers more immersion but have you ever wondered what you did before 3D? Did you not relate to characters before 3D? Did you not imagine yourself in the world of the film before 3D? When the dinosaurs chased the heroes in Jurassic Park, did you not feel a rush of fear and adrenaline?

Our minds are capable of so much and it is my opinion that instead of expanding this potential, 3D actually limits it.

3D is a fun ride for short while. Watching the Terminator and Honey I Shrunk the Audience, Shrek 4d etc. shows are fun but we aren't required to be immersed in that world. We sit in the audience for 5 to 10 minutes, have a few laughs and move on. We don't attach ourselves emotionally to the characters nor do we feel any dramatic weight.

For that sort of immersion, all that's necessary is a good script with a good cast and crew with the talent to take us there. No glasses necessary.
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7:50AM on 01/25/2011
I swear to you that as I read what you wrote, I heard random shouts of "Yes sir!-Tell it!-Testify! and even a few hallelujahs!" Preach on Brother Oldman! You speak the truth.
I swear to you that as I read what you wrote, I heard random shouts of "Yes sir!-Tell it!-Testify! and even a few hallelujahs!" Preach on Brother Oldman! You speak the truth.
8:24AM on 01/25/2011
Perfectly said. I couldn't agree more.
Perfectly said. I couldn't agree more.
11:03AM on 01/25/2011
Well done, sir!

And to add: the last bit of technology that actually added a sense of immersion to movies was the addition of surround sound, which does create a feeling that the events of the film occupy a 3D space.

Sound is a powerful sense, though a lot of people don't realize how much good sound design adds to their movie (and gaming) experience.
Well done, sir!

And to add: the last bit of technology that actually added a sense of immersion to movies was the addition of surround sound, which does create a feeling that the events of the film occupy a 3D space.

Sound is a powerful sense, though a lot of people don't realize how much good sound design adds to their movie (and gaming) experience.
12:13PM on 01/25/2011
Well audio is the most important thing when making a film. Audiences will forgive bad video, but they'll never forgive bad audio.
Well audio is the most important thing when making a film. Audiences will forgive bad video, but they'll never forgive bad audio.
10:24PM on 01/25/2011
I think you make quite a compelling argument. It's quite refreshing to hear a case against 3D without resorting to, "Hollywood is just greedy" or "3D sucks (because it's hip to think so)." Thanks for taking the time to post this. As for my experiences with 3D, I've never dealt with a headache or eye strain as a result of it. But I have noticed that after 30 minutes or so into the film, the 3D effect loses it's novelty and I stop noticing it. The immersion that you mentioned begins to take
I think you make quite a compelling argument. It's quite refreshing to hear a case against 3D without resorting to, "Hollywood is just greedy" or "3D sucks (because it's hip to think so)." Thanks for taking the time to post this. As for my experiences with 3D, I've never dealt with a headache or eye strain as a result of it. But I have noticed that after 30 minutes or so into the film, the 3D effect loses it's novelty and I stop noticing it. The immersion that you mentioned begins to take place and 3D doesn't really add much to it.
6:46AM on 01/25/2011
Good for Murch. The more people who actually know what they are doing that come out against 3D will hopefully help this fad go away again as soon as possible.
Good for Murch. The more people who actually know what they are doing that come out against 3D will hopefully help this fad go away again as soon as possible.
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6:21AM on 01/25/2011
I've seen bad 3-D and hated it and I've seen good 3-D and enjoyed it. I'm not interested in seeing 3-D go away at all, just used correctly.
I've seen bad 3-D and hated it and I've seen good 3-D and enjoyed it. I'm not interested in seeing 3-D go away at all, just used correctly.
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8:55AM on 01/25/2011
Agreed completely. Toy Story 3, Avatar and Tangled were fantastic in 3D, and I think it works particularly well in animation.
Agreed completely. Toy Story 3, Avatar and Tangled were fantastic in 3D, and I think it works particularly well in animation.
10:01AM on 01/25/2011
That comment just makes too much sense. Apparently we're supposed to love it or hate it to death. No in between . . .
That comment just makes too much sense. Apparently we're supposed to love it or hate it to death. No in between . . .
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