I’m often asked what my favorite 3D films are. There are so many, some of them classics from the 30’s and 50’s, but the following selection really tugs at my heartstrings. Not all of them are stereoscopic and I’ll explain why when necessary.
5. The American Adventure (Walt Disney Imagineering/WED Enterprises, 1982)/Horizons Omnisphere (Walt Disney Imagineering/WED Enterprises, 1984):
A must-see at EPCOT, many believe The American Adventure to be one of the greatest audio-animatronic productions of all time. In fact, the robotic actors and the physical sets are merely supporting characters to the true star of the production – a 28-minute 70mm film that works as both backdrop and kinetic bridge to the varied events illustrated in the show. By its very nature, the film acts as a 3D portal through time, pioneering many of the same techniques that would later be used to create a seamless interface between reality in front of the screen and fantasy behind in such attractions as Terminator 2 3D: Battle Across Time and Star Trek The Experience: Borg Invasion.
Two years after EPCOT opened, Horizons went online. Bridging the world between the tomorrow of yesterday and the tomorrow of the future was a look at the technological wonders of today. Presented on the Omnisphere, two Omnimax domes seamed together, the IMAX film directed by Eddie Garrick included micro-photographic shots of crystals and microchips, and some of the first computer animation featured on an IMAX screen. Garrick would also direct The Magic Egg, a 15-minute computer animated compendium for Omnimax screens the same year. What transitioned the Omnisphere from a typical IMAX or Omnimax experience to a 3D experience were the ride vehicles. Suspended from the top, each vehicle was enclosed, including a roof, with only a single side open as the vehicle moved sideways through the attraction. Once inside the Omnisphere, the track moved through the center of the structure, lining up the vehicle directly with the sweet spot in the center of each dome. With a roof and two walls, it was impossible to see borders and the Omnisphere experience completely enveloped its guests.
4. Facing Champlain (National Film Board of Canada/Musée de la civilisation, Québec, 2008)
A poetic mix of live action and a variety of computer animation techniques, including IMAX SANDDE, Facing Champlain explores the myths and realities of Samuel Champlain and the founding of Quebec. Giant screen veterans Marty and Barbara Mueller, Sean MacLeod Philips, and Munro Ferguson were among those who worked with director Jean-Francois Pouliot to make this vision a reality. Facing Champlain is available for free download in its entirety on the PlayStation Network in 3D. The film also plays in 2D if you don’t have a 3D monitor. Click on the link below to view behind the scenes featurettes.
3. Race for Atlantis (IMAX Corporation, 1998)
Although having opened at Parc Futuroscope in Poitiers, France and having replaced Asteroid Adventure at Phantasialand, Bruhl, Germany, it is the original incarnation of this ridefilm that showcased one of the most technologically advanced 3D presentations ever devised. Located in the Forum Shops at Las Vegas’ Caesar’s Palace in a space that would eventually house an exotic car dealership, the centerpiece of the attraction was a four-minute film by visual effects house Rhythm & Hues, who also animated Walt Disney Parks’ It’s Tough to Be a Bug and Paramount Parks’ Star Trek The Experience: Klingon Encounter the same year. The IMAX Solido film was projected at 48fps onto a reduced-angle dome, allowing for greater visibility and reduced image stretch while all riders on their motion platforms viewed it from the sweet spot. Although the storyline was run-of-the-mill textbook ridefilm, the experience was enhanced by IMAX’s E3D headsets, using liquid crystal active technology and PSE binaural sound. At this year’s Stereoscopic Displays and Applications conference, Amy Turner and Nicolas Hoffman of Durham University presented evidence that 3D sound can influence the perception of stereoscopic images. This was certainly the case when PSE was combined with IMAX’s powerful surround sound system to help pull the viewer into this dynamic adventure.
2. My Dream 3D (HWY 3D, 2011)
A poetic masterpiece of stereography, Joy Park’s My Dream is a 3D visualization of the renowned dance made famous by the China Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe (CDPPAT). All of the performers are deaf which makes it even more amazing. The camera is locked in place, centering the action in the middle of the screen, which would make the film just as much at home on a dome as in the third dimension. It is lyrical and moving and a film that makes you rethink the possibilities of stereoscopic storytelling in much the same way as John Weiley’s Imagine or Keith Melton’s Cirque du Soleil: Journey of Man. Below is a video explaining the troupe and the performance.
1. Shichinin no samurai (Toho, 1954)
The third dimension only exists in the real world. On the screen, it is an illusion, a facsimile. There are a number of ways of tricking the eyes into seeing depth. The most common is to use polarized or anaglyph glasses to separate left eye images from right eye. As illustrated above, the use of physical props or the absence of borders can be used as well. But filmmakers can also compose a film in such a way as to give a forced perspective to their scenes. One such film is Kurosawa’s masterpiece Shichinin no samurai, known in the West as Seven Samurai. By staging his actors from front to back rather than side to side, as is the traditional stage method, and by having his characters appear between foreground and background, this master of cinema creates a perspective as to the depth and layout of the landscape and the characters’ relationships to the environment they inhabit. Kurosawa even goes as far as to have swords and spears aim toward the camera, creating the illusion of positive z (or in front of the screen appearance) in a much more effective manner than the forced theme park caliber attempt that appeared in the latest Pirates of the Caribbean film. Seven Samurai is available on dvd and blu-ray from the Criterion Collection and is also available for streaming on computer, iPhone/iPad, PlayStation 3, XBOX, and other compatible devices from Netflix and huluplus.