Walter Murch Says It’s Evolution That Makes 3D Suck

Legendary editor and sound designer Walter Murch speaks out against 3D and makes the most compelling argument yet.

Walter Murch is no dummy. In fact the guy is one of the titans of cinema; not only one of the great film editors, Murch is the guy who invented sound design as we know it today. He’s written what is probably THE book on film editing, In The Blink Of An Eye: A Perspective On Film Editing. And he’s not afraid of innovation - he edited Cold Mountain on an off-the-shelf Mac using Final Cut Pro. And got an Oscar nom for it.

Now Murch is speaking out against 3D. He wrote a letter to Roger Ebert that calmly, rationally explains why 3D just isn’t viable as anything more than a gimmick. And it turns out he has 600 million years of evolution on his side.

Some excerpts:

The biggest problem with 3D, though, is the “convergence/focus” issue. A couple of the other issues—darkness and “smallness”—are at least theoretically solvable. But the deeper problem is that the audience must focus their eyes at the plane of the screen—say it is 80 feet away. This is constant no matter what.

But their eyes must converge at perhaps 10 feet away, then 60 feet, then 120 feet, and so on, depending on what the illusion is. So 3D films require us to focus at one distance and converge at another. And 600 million years of evolution has never presented this problem before. All living things with eyes have always focussed and converged at the same point.

We can do this. 3D films would not work if we couldn’t. But it is like tapping your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time, difficult. So the “CPU” of our perceptual brain has to work extra hard, which is why after 20 minutes or so many people get headaches. They are doing something that 600 million years of evolution never prepared them for. This is a deep problem, which no amount of technical tweaking can fix. Nothing will fix it short of producing true “holographic” images.

Consequently, the editing of 3D films cannot be as rapid as for 2D films, because of this shifting of convergence: it takes a number of milliseconds for the brain/eye to “get” what the space of each shot is and adjust.

And lastly, the question of immersion. 3D films remind the audience that they are in a certain “perspective” relationship to the image. It is almost a Brechtian trick. Whereas if the film story has really gripped an audience they are “in” the picture in a kind of dreamlike “spaceless” space. So a good story will give you more dimensionality than you can ever cope with.

So: dark, small, stroby, headache inducing, alienating. And expensive. The question is: how long will it take people to realize and get fed up?

Read the rest of the letter at Ebert’s site.