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Frank Vitz’s Golden Rules of S-3D

By March 25, 2010Editorial

By Frank Vitz

Meant to be Seen is very honored to accept this editorial written by Frank Vitz, Senior Art Director and CG Supervisor for Electronic Arts.  Frank has earned a name for himself at every stage of his career. He cut his teeth on the first Tron movie, worked on the special effects for the first two X-Men movies, and is a respected pioneer and inventor in the gaming industry. Just about everyone has been touched by Frank’s work – including Spider-Man in stereoscopic 3D.  Take it away, Frank!

Frank Vitz, CG Supervisor Electronic Arts

I read an interesting article on 3D and decided to share my take on it.  While the focus of it was on movies, it is relevant to 3D video games as well. While the initial impression I got was that the author thinks 3D is a bad idea, it turns out that what he is mainly against is 3D that is not done properly. I totally agree with this.

Here are some rules that I stand by:

1. Do 3D right, or don’t do it at all!

Lots of movies have done 3D poorly and have given it a bad rap.  Fortunately, Avatar did it right with a great movie and a great 3D design. This is what truly enabled the improved technology.

Video games have an opportunity to work just as well because our data is inherently 3D, and the technology has improved a great deal.

2. Success is not a given! It requires the right technology, knowledge, and talent.

Working with 3D is a cinematic discipline that involves composition, timing, choice of lens, lighting, editing conventions, and more.  Everything from camera angles, field of view, focus, and rendering techniques must all be considered in 3D up front.

The rules of 3D cinematography that will ensure audience engagement are still evolving, and the same holds true for video games. In fact, while the rules are similar, they are even less well defined.

3. Fake 3D is usually bad.

Neil tells me I may get some flak for this, but I think 2D/3D conversion, or adding stereo to a film that was originally in 2D is a bad idea. I compare this to colorizing an old black and white movie. We can do it, but should we? While it might sound snobbish, I think that movies should be preserved in their original form as their creators intended them to be seen.  I am sure there are some exceptions, but  it’s not usually a good idea in my opinion. Maybe my opinion will change when I see something really impressive.

4. 2D movies and video games have a language, stereoscopic 3D content is no different.

I like to compare 3D to color in the movies. Color is an inherent aspect of the human visual system, and when it first became possible to shoot movies in color, it opened up a whole new level of visual richness.

Binocular stereoscopy is also inherent in the human visual system, and like color, it can add an additional dimension of immersive realism for the filmmakers and game makers to exploit! The question is how to do it well.

I think that the discomfort we sometimes feel when watching even technically correct 3D is due to the fact that as story tellers, we don’t yet have a common visual language to guide our audience’s perceptions. We don’t know where to focus, and transitions can be jarring.

In retrospect, today’s audiences know how to look at traditional flat movies because of the well established and shared grammar of camera angles, cuts, zooms, editing rules and so on that has evolved over the past century. We are accustomed to it. The way a movie shows us things is not how we see things in real life, but we know the rules and accept them. The equivalent rules for 3D are still being developed.

5. Stereoscopic 3D technology is ready TODAY!

The bottom line is that 3D has finally reached the point where it is now technically possible to get awesome results in film and in video games.  I think that this is a great time for developers to be on the leading edge, to participate in the creation of this new 3D visual grammar, and to sell even more games along the way!

It is true that some people have complained about the brightness of the 3D television screens and the quality of the glasses. However, it’s important to remember that the development of display technology is an ongoing thing. A top of the line Sony television from ten years ago looks like dim, low resolution crap today.

Brightness is just one aspect of display technology that is taking leaps and bounds. With LED back lights, the new generation of HDTV’s offer much greater dynamic range that feature deep blacks, and whites so bright that you have to squint. Being bright enough for 3D won’t be a problem.

Excellent glasses are available today, and they are getting better with less ghosting and crosstalk problems. They are also getting cheaper all the time. Of course, today’s 3D HDTV’s will also look primitive in ten years compared to the full field of view no-glasses-required holographic displays that we will likely have by then!

This evolution is never going to stop, so I am not going to miss out by waiting for holodisplays to arrive. I am planning to personally buy a 3D HDTV, play 3D games, and watch Avatar in its full 3D glory at home THIS year.

Thank you, Frank!  If you wish to meet the EA team in person, Frank Vitz and Alan Price will also be speaking at the upcoming 3D Gaming Summit, and will be participating with The S-3D Gaming Alliance meeting right after the conference on April 22nd in Los Angeles.  Further details will be announced shortly.

In the meantime, do you agree with what Mr. Vitz has to say?  Share your thoughts in our discussion forums.  Our comments engine is getting fixed up, so please post directly in the forums.

If additional game developers and industry members wish to share their thoughts on stereoscopic 3D gaming and its future, please contact us with submission ideas.

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