On Saturday, I watched my very first “modern” 3D movie in the theatres as I attended a showing of Toy Story 3 in RealD 3D. 3D entertainment has been around for decades. I remember watching my very first 3D movie with the old school blue and red glasses. I also had comic books that were printed in 3D, these also required the blue and red glasses. Back then, all you needed was some properly coloured cellophane pieces and you could make your own 3D glasses.

The problem with those old techniques was that everything turned out to be this weird blend of blue and red. Movies shown in 3D were more gimmicky one-offs rather than a format that was seen as the “future”. In the mid-1980s, I remember that 3D made a slight return. At Expo 86, which was held in my hometown of Vancouver, I saw a new way of seeing movies in 3D. Instead of relying on blue and red glasses, this method of 3D used polarizing filters to achieve the effect. These polarized glasses had lenses that resembled sunglasses with a very slight tint. Colours were now more faithfully reproduced but with the loss of some screen brightness due to the filters. The one drawback was that if you tilted your head to the side slightly, the 3D effect would be lost as this method used linear polarization.

Fast-forward to the present, where technology has once again tried to bring 3D back. Theatres now use a combination digital projectors, special screens, and various filtering methods to achieve the 3D effect. For example RealD 3D uses a digital projector, a special silver screen, and circular polarization to bring images out in three dimensions. The circular polarization allows viewers to the tilt their heads at any angle, without ruining the 3D magic.

Despite all the new tech, I’m not entirely convinced that Hollywood has 3D figured out yet. During the screening of the trailers for Toy Story 3, I saw several examples of where it appeared film makers were really exploiting the 3D effect and not in a good way either. The worst offender was a movie called Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, a CG animated movie about owls. Every part of that trailer featured some scene with a very pronounced 3D depth of field. It seemed very unnatural, as objects appeared to be either too far in front or too far behind other objects in a scene. For example, there was a shot where three owls were in behind each other. They were close enough to be talking to each other, so one part of my brain is telling me the distance between these owls can’t be that great. Yet, my eyes and another part of my brain are processing the 3D effect and it’s telling me the owls are really far apart depth-wise. The owl closest to me, seems like it’s right in front of my face while the farthest owl seems sunken into the screen.

There are a lot of sucky 3D movies out there who have no business being in 3D because they just look terrible. Interestingly though, not once during my screening of Toy Story 3 was I ever distracted by a jarring 3D effect. Good old Pixar.

Well, in the last month I’ve got a new cell phone and now I’ve watched my very first 3D movie. I might even try that Internet I keep hearing about.

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