I will now take you, reader, on a journey involving both technology and aesthetics intermingled with projection practices that are a century old and how the stereoscopic electronic cinema evolution impacts this. Stick with me and it hopefully will all make sense by the last sentence. Along the way I’ll inform you about some engineering choices, and how this has impacted not only digital cinema projection, but stereoscopic projection.
Archive for March, 2008
It was Christmas vacation in 1952. The snow was falling in Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan, but I was warm and dry as I stood in the queue with Harvey, Morty, Jeffrey and Robby, waiting to see ourselves on closed-circuit color TV in the storefront RCA Exhibition Hall. We inched along, mingling with the holiday crowd, until we came into the field of view of the lens of the refrigerator-sized color camera and at last saw ourselves on a nearly circular color tube, in bright “living colors.” Only there were too many living colors. The picture was out of alignment, or more properly, convergence. No such shortcoming could dim my enthusiasm, but when I got home to tell my mom how much I wanted a color TV, she wisely said: “We’ll buy one once it’s perfected.” It turns out we never had a color TV in our living room (but I bought her one years later). And neither did our Brooklyn neighbors, for it took more than twenty years and a fortune in research and development and marketing before RCA and its licensees achieved a fifty percent penetration for color TV sets. By that time the image quality had improved, but the system, named after a standards body empowered by The Radio Corporation of America, was mocked in engineering circles and NTSC came to be known as Never Twice the Same Color.
In the last couple of years, with my wife and kids, I’ve visited many of the theme parks in Southern California and have been in their 3-D theaters because of my interest in stereoscopic imaging. I’m going to report on my experience, which is anecdotal and not a scientific survey. All the theaters were projecting stereoscopic movies using linear polarized light for image selection.
Depending upon how you look at life Robot Monster is either depressingly bad or so bad it’s fun. Robot Monster is the kind of film that makes a reviewer reach for hyperbole like: like this is the worst film ever made, but to say that you’d have to have seen every film ever made. The movie was shot in what was billed as TRU-3 Dimension (so low budget they couldn’t afford the plural) and released in 1953. I recently saw it at the Egyptian in Hollywood as part of the 3D Expo so I had a chance to compare its stereoscopic cinematography with that of the other films shown, like Miss Sadie Thompson and Kiss Me Kate. Notably the stereo photography of Robot Monster was as good as the photography of the big budget pictures.
I got an email from a friend of mine who’s a movie editor here in L.A., who suggested that we get together and take a trip over to the UCLA Visualization Portal. The UCLA campus is in Westwood and I’ve passed it a number of times, but I haven’t been out of the car to walk around on the grounds.
A change has taken place in the way some stereographers look at the most basic aspect of stereoscopic composition. This change made its appearance only a few years ago. It provides what could well be described by that tired cliché as a paradigm shift. It’s a new way of looking at the world of stereoscopic composition.
The history of western art, of painting and then photography, has been informed by the rectangle. Virtually all painting and photography exists within the confines of a rectangular frame, and it is the edges of the rectangle that create the compositional boundaries and structure. You don’t look through a rectangle when you’re seeing the visual world but the rectangle abruptly limits the visual field in a painting, or a photograph, or a projected motion picture image. The placement of objects in space within the limits of the rectangle determines the composition. Up until now visual artists have had to deal with the rectangle.
I will now take you, reader, on a journey involving both technology and aesthetics intermingled with projection practices that are a century old and how the ways that the digital cinema revolution impacts this, combined with concerns about stereoscopy. Stick with me and it may all make sense by the end. Along the way I’ll inform you about some engineering choices, and how this has impacted not only digital cinema projection, but stereoscopic projection.
(or struggling to find meaning in the world of stereoscopic filmmaking)
One of the most confusing and misused terms in the field of stereoscopic cinematography is the word convergence. In common usage the word means a coming together. Marketing people in consumer electronics like to use it to refer to the coming together of PC and TV technology. It’s also a technical term that is used in the jargon of displays. For example, for projection of displays that use three image engines–red, blue and green–the term is used to describe how well the three optical paths are combined into one image. If they don’t combine nicely you’ll get color fringing.
The revival of the stereoscopic theatrical cinema is intimately linked to the rise of digital technology for the production and projection of motion pictures. The term “digital” when applied to cinema means many things. Most people would assume a strong linkage with computers; and indeed computers play an important part in the digital cinema, from image capture or generation to projection. Whether the computers are servers or in projectors, the digital cinema depends not only on this technology but on modern display technology, including the Texas Instruments DLP light engines. My purpose is to acquaint the reader with some understanding of how the stereoscopic medium and the digital medium work together nicely for the capture or the creation of stereoscopic images.