By Stefano Virgilli — After the success of James Cameron’s Avatar in 2009, which was filmed in 3D — and the increased production of 3D TV on the market — people seemed more than excited to enjoy the gadget of the future in the comfort of their homes. Unfortunately, for many, excitement turned into a disappointment as 3D did not fulfil the expectations. By definition, a three-dimensional stereoscopic film is a motion picture that enhances the illusion of depth perception, hence adding a third dimension. The most common approach to the production of 3D films is derived from stereoscopic photography.
The first patent for a 3D film process was filed in the late 1890s by William Friese-Greene, a British film pioneer. The method required for the viewer to look in the projection of two films, placed side by side, through a stereoscope that converged the two images — which made it unpractical for theatres. In the years that followed, the development of stereo cameras emerged and film-makers started improving the process of watching 3D.
Back in 1922, at the Ambassador Hotel Theatre in Los Angeles, premiered The Power of Love, which is considered the first 3D film that was shown to an out-of-house audience. From 1952 to 1954, also referred to as the “golden era” of 3D, major movie premieres were displayed and had great acceptance from the audience. From 2003, 3D became mainstream.
In recent years, the film industry noted a decrease in earnings right at the peak of the modern 3D popularity. In 2011, a record number of 47 3D films were released and decreased the box office receipts for 18 per cent. Compared to 2010, it was a drop from $2.2 billion to $1.8 billion. In addition, famous directors criticised the process of creating a 3D film after its making in 2D, which affected the quality of the movie and contributed to the disappointment of the users.
Namely, studios have found a cheap way to generate additional income from 3D, by re-releasing the movies that are already successful — and initially filmed in 2D — in a 3D version as well. This is mainly because the 3D equipment is expensive, and creating a film with it would take a longer period. So, initially filming it in 2D and then converting it to 3D is less expensive and faster, but it spoils the experience for the viewers, making it less enjoyable.
There are some exceptions with re-released 3D film projects. For instance, Titanic has been modified in 3D and the final result came quite good. Initially, the director Cameron criticised the post-production 3D movie, so it was expected to release quality when converting his movie in 3D. He spent more than a year and $18 million, which cannot be noticed with other projects.
There is also the Director Michael Bay, who converted a significant part of Transformers: Dark of the Moon in 3D but managed to make it a success by offering quality.
Most of the critics about 3D failure have been on the field of quality, as well as health side effects experienced by the users, including headaches, motion sickness, nausea, disorientation and eyestrain. There are also the brightness issues since most of the 3D systems reduce the brightness of the picture up to 88 per cent.
The Director Christopher Nolan criticised the improper notion about 2D not delivering depth perception, saying “I think it’s a misnomer to call it 3D versus 2D. The whole point of cinematic imagery is it’s three-dimensional... You know 95 per cent of our depth cues come from occlusion, resolution, colour and so forth, so the idea of calling a 2D movie a ‘2D movie’ is a little misleading.”
It took five years for the manufacturers to deliver quality 3D TV, from the Avatar boom to 2014. In the same year, the satellite broadcaster Sky stopped filming and transmitting football matches of UK’s Premier League. The reason was because there were not enough viewers of 3D matches, which made the transmission unprofitable.
Overall, there are several factors in play when talking about the failure of the 3D, including:
1. Economic: 3D technology comes with a high cost, which instantly increases the cost of movie theatres tickets. When creating Avatar, Cameron invested into the best 3D technology, some of it made specifically for the project.
2. Limited content available: The 3D content available is mostly post-production, made with limited time and budget. Also, the expense of 3D technology has reverted directors from creating movies in 3D.
3. User’s experience: The low quality of the movies, the low quality of the 3D TV’s and the use of 3D glasses that are uncomfortable contributed for a bad user experience.
4. Smart TV: Manufacturers saw the situation on the market and started incorporating other prime features in TV’s, such as Internet, enabling connection with other devices, and more. The rise of Smart TV changed the overall production of 3D TV’s, leading to stagnation of 3D.
5. Lack of analysis: When 3D TV’s emerged the market, aside from the quality, there was a lack of significant analysis. If we deeply analyse the way people use TV’s and the time they watch TV — also based on the content available — we will conclude that 3D can be used only when watching movies and sports. People are not able to watch regular TV programme in 3D. So, it was necessary to let 3D reach its maturity spot without being pushed into the market as an only feature. Maybe if it was initially presented as an additional feature, since it’s a cool gadget, it might have stood better chances with the new concept of Smart TV.