Lauren Payne Calls A Spade A Spade

Via: Technique

Lauren Payne at the Gergia Tech student newspaper “Techniquesums up the 3-D release of Beauty and the Beast and doesn’t pull a lot of punches with this quote:

The marriage of hand-drawn animation and computer-generated imagery seen in the iconic ballroom sequence undoubtedly stirs a pleasant sense of nostalgia, but it also serves as a reminder of the artistic experimentation that has more or less taken leave of Disney’s recent animated features—the fact that the Walt Disney Company has resurrected this piece of work for an additional run conjures an image of a has-been high school football star sipping whisky before a case of old trophies.

I can’t help but agree with her insofar that there is re-releasing a film on the big screen, and re-releasing a film and promoting it as a new release. Disney appears to be doing the latter with this film and the Lion King.

Why they couldn’t simply re-release them as 2-D and avoid the cost of “conversion” is beyond me.

It Wasn’t The 3-D That Pushed The Lion King To The Top

Yes indeedy, hot on the heels of it’s fortnight at the top of the US box office (which doesn’t mean much by the way), Disney announced that they would be re-releasing a host of (randomly chosen?) films from the past 20 or so years in 3-D.

Filmophilia has a decent post that breaks down why it wasn’t the 3-D that helped it get there. I’ve already discussed the topic so there’s not much point rehashing it now.

Just go and read the Filmophilia link, it’s worth it.

So The Lion King Topped the Box Office Again

What does this prove? That a 17 year old movie is better than the current offerings? That it’s actually better in 3-D than we ever thought possible? Or is it that because it’s aimed at families, you know they’re selling more than two tickets at a time?

It’s hard to say. It would be nice to think that The Lion King succeeded because it is a really good movie that outshines whatever was offered this past weekend. However, the truth is probably not near as exciting.

First of all, at 17 years, The Lion King is bordering on nostalgia at this point. I was 10 when it came out and I’m 26 now (thanks to the ever-present international delay, the numbers don’t quite add up). So it is surely ripe for claiming a whole new generation of kids and re-capturing their parents.

Secondly, the box office really does mean squat in the grand scheme of things. Saying that such and such a film is top of the box office is really only saying that it sold more tickets than the others. It is not a reliable indicator of tastes or indeed quality as The Smurfs so perfectly illustrated.

Naturally this will be trumpeted by various marketing departments as a sign of the Lion King’s strength and quality as a film. Yes, this might be true, however it is alarming that we are not seeing a re-issue of other films from the same period. While they obviously do not meet the same lofty status of The Lion King, they were certainly just as popular at the time and have not dated as badly as other films the same age.

Couldn’t all the effort that was put into 3-D-izing The Lion King have been better used to clean up and re-issue some other films?

The point is that the Disney Renaissance films were all spectacular when they were released and they are still spectacular now. Making them 3-D is not going to increase their appeal. I’m willing to hazard a guess a that most people simply wanted to see it on the big screen again and nothing more.


Here’s How Digital Projectors Will Ruin Animated Films

Via: Nina Paley’s Blog

Last August, I wrote about the wonderful analogue nature of going to the cinema and how the industry has been more resistant than most to the move to digital. Since then, there has apparently been a massive shift to digital projection after the technology finally improved enough to the point that it could rival traditional celluloid and since Sony began giving away their projectors in exchange for promotion rights.

What’s interesting though, has been the coincidental and simultaneous shift to 3-D projection. Naturally projecting in 3-D is a bit trickier and with new projectors are necessary, it seems only advantageous to also move to digital distribution as well, whereby films are downloaded directly from the internet rather than shipped in cans.

However, it occurred to me yesterday (as I read the Cartoon Brew post and the article) that the advent of digital projection, while ushering in a whole new era for cinematic entertainment, is not without its teething troubles.

For starters, the claim that cinemas are short-changing patrons by leaving 3-D lens in for 2-D films is disheartening, but also how projector companies like Sony are using DRM in their projectors (yes, projectors) because they don’t want anyone to open them. So the end result is a dull picture projected onto the screen because the 3-D filter lens absorbs so much light.

That’s the first way digital projection can harm animation. If 3-D lens are not switched out, the picture is utterly ruined. In a live-action film this may not be so much of an issue due to the greater detail being projected, but for animation, there are often some very vivid and lively colours that will not ‘pop’ near as much as they should. Animation has been a traditionally very colourful artform and whose appeal rests largely on its creative use of colour.

The second way is resolution.

My computer monitor is a 22″ widescreen with 1920 x 1080 pixels. It’s nice and big, sure, but it’s resolution is lower than my mobile phone at about 72dpi. What does this have to do with film? Well, I remember when digital cameras first came out and how atrocious their resolution was compared to traditional film cameras. Now in fairness, they’ve improved a lot but only in the perceptive sense. A good quality SLR film camera will absolutely trump a digital camera when it comes to image quality simply because film has the capacity for storing images at much higher resolution than current digital technology.

My point? While digital projectors have improved greatly over the last decade, they are still at that early stage that digital cameras were at all those years ago. They represent a sufficient substitute for 35mm film, but only in the sense that the human eye cannot immediately detect the differences.

Personally, I would (and do) feel short-changed for paying extra to see a 3-D film and in return see a lower quality film in both colour and resolution.

What are your thoughts? Am I right or reading far too much into this for a Tuesday morning?

Technological Advances in Cinema: The Similarities Between Fantasia and 3-D

Via: Trond Lossius (Norwegian sound guy)

Yes, I know, 3-D, ugh,it almost makes you want to puke just thinking about it doesn’t it? It does have its proponents though, and it seems that there is no stopping Hollywood in it’s unending quest to convince us that 3-D really is the latest and greatest advance in cinema technology (again).

Yesterday I was listening to the Fantasia soundtrack, which is really just a collection of the likes of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice with classical pieces thrown in between, and it struck me just how badly they wanted people to realise that they were listening to a stereo, yes, stereo recording.

In this day and age, we take stereo for granted, it’s second nature, heck, I can listen to stereo music on my phone! Back then of course, people could still remember when Al Jolson told them that movies could have sound, so it was still a relatively new phenomenon.

So Fantasia was the first film to be released with stereo sound that was so new, there was no method for actually playing it in many cinemas, so a new system, called Fantasound was created but only installed in a couple of the large picture houses.

However, it is only on listening to the original, remastered score that you realise that the mixing is honestly, almost atrocious. Sounds pop up all over the place with little regard to their location in the orchestra. Today, recordings are mixed very much faithfully to the original recording session. In Fantasia, it looks like they hadn’t figured that out yet, so sounds whizz back and forth from one ear to the other so often that it nearly makes you dizzy.

Which is interesting because, you’d would almost swear that the sound engineers were trying to pound us over the head with the fact that the recording is in stereo. It’s as if they decided to use the extremes of their new discovery to tell us in a not-so-subtle way that we have two ears.

That sounds kinda familiar doesn’t it? What else do we have two of? Oh yeah, eyes! Is there a way of seeing two images with them as well? Why yes, yes there is! it’s called 3-D! OMG!!!! [The preceding paragraph may have contained sarcasm]

Can you think of any films today that seem to trumpet 3-D imagery as if it’s the latest and greatest thing ever invented? I’m sure you can, they’re all at it these days. The question is, why do they see fit to beat us over the head with the achievement when in reality, like Fantasia, it ends up being a whitewash of 3-D effects that are in reality, gimmicks that add nothing to the film.

With Fantasia, Walt Disney was not merely trying to beat it into everyone’s skull that his film had stereo, rather that was just part of his constant searching for the next technological advancement. Stereo in films is taken for granted now, heck, surround sound is taken almost mandatory for cinemas at this point.

The point is that the sound in films today is used in much more subtle ways than in Fantasia and it’s high time 3-D was handled the same way. There is no need to parade it from the rooftops. At this point, plenty of people have seen a 3-D films and are aware of it’s benefits and limitations, why not use 3-D in the way it is supposed to, add depth to every shot, not just the one of the missile flying towards the audience.

TV Cartoons in 3-D: It Would Be Awesome.

I’ve made my thoughts known on 3-D before, but that is in relation to movies, not TV. I’ve come to relize that three is a huge difference between the two. Whereas one is a waste of money, the other can be a tru benefit to audiences.

To begin with, 3-D in the movies is something that has been traditionally wheeled out to give people a reason to go to the cinema rather than stay at home on the couch. With the growth of HD TVs and home theatre setups that, when done right, can give a proper cinema a serious run for the money, Hollywood needed something that TV couldn’t offer. That was 3-D, a gimmick introduced in the 1950s that didn’t particularly work then and it doesn’t work now.

The reason? Higher ticket prices for one. Does the extra couple of bucks on top of a regular ticket price done justice by the added dimension? Not really, in my opinion, the market is still very much in the growth stage. That means we will continue to see growth in the market for the forseeable future but it will eventually level out. Don’t expect every screen in a cinema to be 3-D for at least 5 more years, and maybe longer.

So if 3-D doesn’t really work for cinema, why can it work for TV, specifically cartoons?

TV is the archetypical model for entertainment consumption. It’s 24 hours, 500+ channels (if you aren’t a tightwad like myself) and more hours of entertainment in a day than you could handle in a year. Since people watch so much TV, it makes much more sense from an economic standpoint to introduce 3-D technology in order to boost demand.

However, much the same as HD, it will take a long time for the technology to become widespread. Firstly, people who just dumped $1,000+ for a HD set are not about to go and buy a 3-D one soon. With about ~60% market penetration in the US, that’s a lot of people who probably aren’t in the market for a new TV in the next 5 years or so. Besides that, it has taken 13 years for HD to get to this point, so, at the dawn of 3-D, expect a similar timeline.

Enough beating about the bush, why could cartoons benefit the most? My one and only experience with 3-D cartoons (not CGI movies, BTW) was a 10 minute Spongebob Squarepants experience at Kings Dominion in Virginia a couple of years ago. It was fun and obviously geared up to throw as much 3-D at the audience as possible but it was tolerable for the most part.

Animation, and TV cartoons in particular, with their relatively simple lines would be ideal for 3-D. The technology is already there. I’m pretty sure ToonBoom can tweak their software to allow for dual camera positions of something like that. Seeing as their software already creates a virtual 3-D environment, this wouldn’t be too much of a stretch.

The best part? Imagine an anvil or something like that shooting our of the screen at you. Squash and stretch will never be the same again! Again, the nature of animation lends itself perfectly to 3-D compared to live-action. Personally, live-action faces an uphill struggle if only because to make things truly stand out, there is a reliance on SFX and the like.

The future is bright for cartoons at the dawn of the 3-D TV age. Only two things can upset the apple cart. Firstly, the fact that everything produced until this point is in 2-D and thus renders the new TVs useless. Secondly, people have a dislike for wearing the glasses. There are two camps, those that never wear glasses and hate wearing them and those of use that do use glasses and have a hard time putting 3-D glasses over out regular ones. Perhaps someday someone will come up with a solution, until then, cartoons will have to remain in 2-D.