“Dark, small, stroby, headache inducing, alienating. And expensive.”

Over at his Sun Times blog, Roger Ebert has the latest in his ongoing obsession with the question of 3-D — an obsession that I share, since I seem to be in the business of collecting as many obsessions as possible.

This particular time around, he posts a letter he recently received from the legendary editor and sound engineer Walter Murch. (My favorite example of Murch’s work is on display in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, which depends on its sound more than any film I’ve ever seen.)

Murch offers a physiological explanation for why he believes that 3-D films will never truly catch on, no matter how hard Hollywood might try:

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.

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. 

I wonder if the recent surge in “3-D TV” activity would change Murch’s thinking at all? Perhaps it could speed the evolutionary process along a bit. Because it seems to me like we’re still a long way from a “natural” solution:

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uef17zOCDb8&feature=player_embedded 635×355]


Joseph Susanka has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since his graduation from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. Currently residing in Lander, Wyoming -- "where Stetsons meet Birkenstocks" -- he is a columnist for Crisis Magazine and the Patheos Catholic portal.

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