Pushing the Boundaries of 3D Technology Brings Fantasy to Life

Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox
March 27th, 2012

It's impossible to visit a movie theater without seeing at least one ad for a 3D film of some kind. 3D technology is far more advanced than when it first emerged, and rather than simply shocking the viewer, it can now breathe life into imaginary characters and settings. This changes the movie viewing experience considerably. There is still room for error, however, and many films fall short of the experience they're trying to achieve. But for some films, filming in any format other than 3D would have been unacceptable.

This is true for two successful and innovative 3D films, which were filmed within the past decade. "Avatar" and "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" both use revolutionary technology to enhance 3D filming beyond what most films can offer moviegoers. Of course, these films also came with a steep price tag, but the box office success of these films proves that the cost was more than worth it. What many viewers may not know is that the successful filming of "Avatar" influenced the way in which Michael Bay filmed "Transformers 3."

"Avatar" was released in 2009, but James Cameron began development of "Avatar" in 1994, and filming was to take place after the completion of "Titanic." However, Cameron had a definite vision for how he wanted the viewer's experience to be, and he felt the technology necessary to film "Avatar" to suit that vision wasn't available yet, so he postponed its development. In 2005, Cameron began work on the language of the film's extraterrestrial beings, and in 2006, work began on the Pandora, the fictional world that provides the backdrop for "Avatar's" story. Cameron decided to use his own Reality Camera System to film "Avatar" in 3D, using two high-definition cameras in a single camera body to create the depth perception that makes you feel as though you're walking through the jungles of Pandora with the characters. Without his innovative 3D enhancement, "Avatar" might have come off as cheesy and cartoonish, but in 3D, the alien Na'vi characters are as real and believable as their human counterparts. Because they're so life-like, the viewer easily empathizes with their plight, which is essential to "Avatar's" success.

In 2011 "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," the third and most recent Transformers film, was released. This successful 3D film wasn't initially intended to be filmed in 3D. Director James Cameron had to lobby Michael Bay to use 3D in the film, and even during filming, it's said that Bay himself still wasn't convinced it would work. Once the decision was made to go 3D with "Transformers 3," James Cameron's 3D team from "Avatar," along with his Reality Camera System, was brought in to film the movie. That team, having created one revolutionary film success, pushed the boundaries of 3D film technology even further this time. This resulted in new rigs and camera designs that gave "Transformers 3" Michael Bay's unique take on action and then some.

Had "Transformers 3" been filmed without this technology, it may have achieved the same success as previous films, but 3D provides the viewer with the kind of visuals that induce intense chills and an experience beyond the typical movie realm. 3D technology makes the Transformers themselves leap off the screen and gives them life in a way that the previous films could not. In the first two "Transformer" films, it was difficult to believe the robots were real. CGI enhancement made them look fake when filmed with their human counterparts.

While 3D doesn't work for every film, despite some filmmakers' insistence on using it, "Transformers 3" and "Avatar" prove that, in some cases, 3D enhancement is the only way movies like these should be filmed.

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