I caught the live concert video U2 3D in Dolby 3D last night at Reading cinema in Wellington and was pleased to see the technology complemented the content extremely well. After seeing some of the U2 3D footage at Dolby's headquarters in San Francisco last year and finding it a bit flat and lifeless I was a little dubious about the ability of 3D to hold up well over the space of a couple of hours for a complete live action feature.
It's true, this is no Beowulf 3D, with the exaggeration and screen-splitting action that's allowed with 3D animation. The 3D effect in U2 3D is much more subtle, but used repeatedly with brilliant effect to bring out the true concert experience. It definitely brought me back to that fantastic Vertigo show in Auckland in December 2006. The recording was virtually a carbon copy of it, with the New Zealand references replaced with some complimentary words for Argentina.
The 3D was at its best in the crowd scenes, where waving hands and bobbing heads dip in through the screen at you. At one point Bono's head hovers in front of you in brilliant detail as he sings the band's anthem Sunday Bloody Sunday. The cymbals and microphones bristling around drummer Larry Mullen form a 3D barrier that looks particularly effective. The numerous graphics and text that are overlaid on the video benefit well from the 3D effect where they look static and out of place on previous 2D U2 concert videos where the effect is also used.
As the extremely long credits rolled at the end (the 3D concert was seamlessly spliced together from several shows in South America and one in Melbourne) it was interesting to see the name Vince Pace credited as camera operator. Pace is basically the pioneer of the Fusion 3D camera technology getting an airing in Hollywood at the moment. As a matter of fact, the cameras are down here at the moment for the shooting of James Cameron's sci-fi epic, Avatar.
If you're interested in the workings of 3D and its future potential for the movie industry, you need to read this lengthy Q&A in Variety with James Cameron, himself a 3D pioneer.
Here's a taster, where Cameron explains how he comes to decide how just how 3D a shot should look:
"The new cameras allow complete control over the stereospace. You should think of interocular like volume. You can turn the 3-D up or down, and do it smoothly on the fly during a shot. So if you know you're in a scene which will require very fast cuts, you turn the stereo down (reduce the interocular distance) and you can cut fast and smoothly.
"The point here is that just because you're making a stereo movie doesn't mean that stereo is the most important thing in every shot or sequence. If you choose to do rapid cutting, then the motion of the subject from shot to shot to shot is more important than the perception of stereospace at that moment in the film. So sacrifice the stereospace and enjoy the fast cutting."
Film geeks will also find his comments about image resolution and frame rates interesting:
"People have been asking the wrong question for years. They have been so focused on resolution, and counting pixels and lines that they have forgotten about frame rate. Perceived resolution = pixels x replacement rate. A 2K image at 48 frames per second looks as sharp as a 4K image at 24 frames per second," said Cameron.
I'm really hanging out to see Avatar. The experience of wearing the 3D glasses seems to have gone down well enough with moviegoers so I think the technology is here to stay. Interestingly, National Geographic helped make U2 3D. It would be great to see the 3D cameras used on some of their wildlife documentaries. I can just see the lion's massive snout nudging through the screen at me now.