So why will 3D content never take off? It’s not the silly glasses or the lack of content. It’s not even that we all kinda hate it. According to Academy Award-winning editor Walter Murch: it’s evolution, baby.
Murch, writing to renowned film critic (and prominent 3D antagonist) Roger Ebert, says that 3D’s primary failure is our own eyeballs. Specifically, how millions of years of human development have taught them to focus:
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 focussed and converged at the same point.
It’s not that we’re incapable of this optical trick – which Murch likens to patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time. It’s that it’s hard. It gives us headaches. It makes us queasy. Every time we encounter a 3D effect, our brains need a few milliseconds to figure out the dimensions of each shot. Repeated for every edit over the course of a 90-minute film, and our eyes and brains tire out.
If anyone would know, it’s Murch; he’s the only film editor in history to be nominated for an Academy Award for work done on four different editing systems, and he counts Apocalypse Now and The English Patient among his credits. He’s even edited a 3D film! So if his final takeaway is that the technology is “dark, small, stroby, headache inducing, alienating”? I’m gonna listen. Especially when he’s got evolution on his side. [Ebert]