Sunday, January 15, 2012

Finding Depth in Film Re-Releases

I'm a pretty big fan of re-releases of movies I love. I first started going to see them when everyone else my age started going to see them: the Star Wars: Special Edition re-releases. I must have seen Empire in theaters three or four times. Either that or I've just seen that movie so many times it all runs together. Now a days the big thing is to re-release classic movies in 3-D, and we've already seen The Lion King done that way and the entire Star Wars franchise is being done in 3-D as well. I'm completely on the fence about whether or not I'll go see the Star Wars movies again, but one thing is certain for me: As long as Disney keeps putting out their movies in 3-D they can count on me being in the audience to watch it.

That's me right there. The one in the glasses.

Now I'm not talking about any of that Pixar computer animated crap (I use the term "crap" here loosely, because they have made some movies that I did enjoy). I'm sure when The Incredibles or Finding Nemo or Monsters, Inc. get released in 3-D as they inevitably will (Editor's note: The Walt Disney Company likes money) that those movies will be visually stunning. No, what I'm talking about are the old hand-animated classics. Those are the movies I will flock to the theater to see in 3-D.

For example, I went and caught Beauty and the Beast in 3-D, and it blew me away by how incredible it looked. The depth was a very welcome addition to the whole film and it almost convinced me that it was re-released in 3-D because Disney thought it was artistically significant and not just because Disney wanted more money (Spoiler alert: the movie was re-released because Disney wanted more money).

In general, I find myself hating the 3-D phenomenon. I think that most of the time its gimmicky, poorly done, and meant to distract you from fundamentally poor stories and characters. So then why do I love Disney hand-animation in 3-D? Because the depth is already there in the original movie, even though nobody noticed it. That makes it easy to convert the whole thing into 3-D, and since it's a cartoon and visually simpler than actual live-action footage you won't get grotesquely sick watching it.

Okay okay okay. Perhaps I should go back a ways and explain about the depth thing in traditional animation. I can already hear my straw man shouting at me "BUT ANIMATED THINGS CAN'T HAVE DEPTH. THAT'S WHY COMPUTER ANIMATION IS BETTER BLARG." First off I'd like to apologize because my straw man is a blubbering idiot, unlike all of you dear readers. I'm sure none of you are like that. Secondly, traditional animation is capable of incredible depth, and has been since the 1920's and that's all thanks to an invention called the multiplane camera.

The multiplane camera is an incredible piece of technology that allows various segments of art to move past the camera at different speeds and at different distances from one another. Basically, you take a traditionally animated background image, split it up into layers according to the distance each part of the image is from the camera, and photograph it that way, frame by frame, until depth is achieved in a traditionally animated segment. If that isn't explained well enough for you, then I think Mr. Walt Disney himself can do a better job than I can.

A variation of the camera had been used all the way back in 1926, but it wasn't fully developed until animation legend Ub Iwerks (the creator of Mickey Mouse) built one himself out of parts from an old Chevy in 1933. After that, the most famous version of the multiplane camera was developed by William Garity for use on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. What does all this have to do with 3-D Disney movies? Well, hold onto your hat because I'm about to do this thing later on where I blow your mind.


In Beauty and the Beast 3-D, you can really see the depth that was already a highlight of the ground breaking animation done on the film way back in 1991. You can tell when looking out at a landscape on screen in 2-D the depth that is supposed to be there. You can especially tell in sequences involving the wolves in the woods. There are trees that are clearly way off in the background while snow is clearly falling in the immediate foreground as well as all over. The wolves are moving over hills that separate the various levels of the image as a whole, and you can see them COMING TOWARD YOU even though they are flat characters on a flat screen. This was achieved without stupid looking computer animation, without super expensive special cameras, and without a lengthy and shitty conversion process that darkens everything onscreen. When Lumiere, Cogsworth, and Mrs. Potts are sitting in a windowsill watching the Beast and Belle outside, you can see the palpable distance between the characters, even though there is no physical distance at all.

The illusion is lost without movement

Actually, that last part was partially a lie. Beauty and the Beast is notable as being one of the first animated films to extensively use computer animation (think of the ballroom sequence). What was great about it was that it was subdued, only used in one scene, and not used on any of the character animation whatsoever. Also, The Little Mermaid was the last Disney film to use a physical multiplane camera. The physical camera was made obsolete by the Disney-Pixar developed Computer Animation Production System, which had a digital multiplane camera systems.

Beauty and the Beast 3-D is a great example of the point I'm going to make, which is: I will go out and pay 150% of the price of a regular movie ticket to see a Disney traditionally animated classic in 3-D because the depth already exists on-screen through the use of the multiplane camera and similar technologies. All that's actually being done in the conversion process is going back and making the original elements and layers show their depth through the glasses. Disney has proven to me that they know how this is done right through 80 years of work, which is why they have dibs on my 3-D money.

What I will not do is go out and spend 150% of the price of a regular movie ticket to go see any other movie in 3-D. It has not been around long enough to be done right by most studios because the whole process is incredibly expensive. The only person that has convinced me that they know how to do 3-D movies right is James Cameron, and that's because the man invented his own 3-D technologies to make Avatar, which was a visually impressive festering turd. I won't go out and spend that money on other movies because with other movies I am not getting 150% more movie. It isn't worth it to me financially. Disney has convinced me that it is worth it for them.

There are minor complaints I have specifically about the Beauty and the Beast 3-D. The sequences that included snowfall had the snow as the top layer, but each snowflake was so fleeting and moved so quickly that it made my vision quickly get blurry and was the only time through the film where I felt nauseous. Other than that every breathtaking sequence you remember from the movie is just as breathtaking in 3-D, especially the various musical numbers. The ballroom sequence and "Be Our Guest" made me feel like I was seeing them for the first time. That is the great thing about Disney 3-D, it breathes a new kind of life into these movies that we've all seen a billion times and keeps them fresh. And all of that is due to the depth that was already a significant part of those films from the very beginning. These movies look great in 3-D because they were intended to be in 3-D. Simple as that. Technology just had to catch up to them.

No comments:

Post a Comment