3D Movies: Now With Fewer Headaches (Finally)

Just last year, it seemed 3D movies might’ve been on their way toward extinction, or at least an irrelevant corner of Hollywood. Ticket sales for 3D screenings were down — the lowest in seven years. Their cheesy pop-out effects gave us headaches, to say nothing of the markup on tickets.

Now, it suddenly looks like they’re here to stay. “Jurassic World” was a hit in 3D, earning nearly half its massive opening weekend revenue through 3D tickets, and a number of other big-budget films — J.J. Abrams’ “Star Wars” and Ridley Scott’s “The Martian,” among others — are set to be screened in 3D this fall.

Hold your groans. Hollywood knows you think 3D is just a novelty gimmick, but it wants you to know it’s working on it. You may not even hate some of the 3D movies coming out these days — if only because the technology is less headache-inducing. 

The Huffington Post chatted with RealD executive Anthony Marcoly, whose company’s screening tech is used in about 80 percent of 3D screens in the U.S. The format, he said, is at its best when it helps to immerse an audience in some fantastical location, like Pandora, Mars or Neverland.

Creating that sense of immersion requires careful consideration from the outset for how to take advantage of the technology without creating the clumsy pop-out effects that strain our eyes and give us headaches.

The goal now is not to jolt you out of your seat, à la the 3D rendition of “Jurassic Park,” but to create an experience that is more organic and comfortable. James Cameron’s 2009 “Avatar” is still held up as a prime of this new style of 3D filmmaking. Cameron put time and care into the movie’s production, layering wisps of flora and fauna to add texture to the fabric of the story. And, more recently, did you notice how none of the dinosaurs in “Jurassic World” wanted to eat your face? 

Planning is a significant improvement, Cinema Blend’s Kristy Puchko told Business Insider last year, but so is kicking off filming with the right equipment.

There are two ways to make a 3D movie: film with 3D cameras, or film in 2D and convert to 3D after. Conversion is cheaper, but leaves room for human error — lag time between frames that our eyes pick up. And less-than-seamless results can leave us with headaches. 

“You are forcing a square peg into a round hole, essentially,” Puchko said of the process. This fall’s “The Martian,” “The Walk,” “Pan” and others were filmed with 3D cameras.

Even screening 3D films requires special care, as they need a lot more light than regular 2D reels. Polarizers and 3D glasses dampen light, requiring more efficient digital projectors to make up the difference. If not, guess what, it’s harder on the eyes. But theaters have been updating equipment for a few years now. And they’re working on perfecting something even better: laser projectors. IMAX has started using lasers to provide brighter, sharper colors and more detail than even digital projectors can, making the picture easier to watch. (Seriously, laser projectors are gonna be awesome.) There’s also talk of glasses-free projectors, now in very early stages, for people who are turned off by 3D specs. 

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