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Multidimensional market

May 30, 2011

A wave of 3D movies hit cinemas after the success of the science fiction blockbuster Avatar in 2009. But a recent festival in Germany showcased many other faces of 3D imaging - some of them surprising.

child wearing 3-d glasses
If experts have their way, 3D will soon go beyond the gimmick stageImage: DW

The three-day Beyond Festival, which took place in Karlsruhe, Germany, focused on the multifaceted world of 3D imaging. Whether they were used used to entertain, stimulate, or educate, the festival featured an eclectic mix of 3D works in an array of genres. In addition to animated, action and documentary films, these included computer games, still photography, artworks, and even medical simulations.

The festival was the brainwave of Ludger Pfanz, a professor and filmmaker at the Karlsruhe University of Art and Design. Last year, Pfanz opened up the Expanded 3Digital Cinema Laboratory, an institute attached to the university that is dedicated to studying the uses of 3D and training people to work in the field.

'A hyper, bonanza market'

At the same time, Pfanz set up an alliance of organisations in Karlsruhe, a city renowned for its IT and gaming industries, hoping to optimize the connections between art, science and technology in the region. The Beyond Festival, which took place from May 27 to 29, was the result of this alliance.

“It is such a hyper, bonanza market,” Pfanz said, taking a break before speaking at one of the festival's many seminars.

The technology is already entering into homes via 3D TV screens, 3D laptops, 3D mobile phones and 3D home video cameras, and YouTube even has a dedicated 3D channel; all of these diverse platforms will need not only need content but trained professionals, said Pfanz.

“The first thing is to relearn this art,” he said, explaining that everyone involved in producing 3D film - from screenwriters to editors and even actors - need to be trained to think in the new medium.

According to Pfanz, 3D technology is a true case of the medium being the message - or at least, seriously affecting it. It may sound obvious, but because a 3D film has an added dimension of depth, people need to learn to use that depth in a more theatrical and metaphorical way, Pfanz says.

“I really think we can tell stories yet untold in 3D,” Pfanz said.

Slow down

Someone looking through a Viewmaster
The interest in 3D goes back decadesImage: DW

Editing styles also need to change to make the best use of 3D, Pfanz and other experts claim. It is estimated that 12 percent of the population has a visual impairment which make it difficult for the eyes to adjust to 3D, which results in a range of problems from headaches to nausea.

3D movies that jump quickly from one scene to the next can exacerbate these symptoms, so a new, slower type of filmmaking might be required for 3D movies, experts say.

“In my opinion, it is good to do slow 3D because you need time for the illusion to build up,” said Nikolai Vialkowitsch. He's the director of the first 3D documentary film made entirely in Germany, called The Eye 3D, an extremely slow film with a limited number of shots.

Experiencing The Eye 3D at the Beyond Festival was completely different than watching faster-paced movies that featured figures running, weaving and spinning around - and which caused at least one audience member to leave the theaters due to nausea.

According to Vialkowitsch, the difference has to do with the number of shots and edits a 3D filmmaker chooses to use.

“If you are editing too quickly, you don't have the time to jump into the space. If we had done (The Eye) for 2D, we would have had double the amount of shots,” he said.

But for media artist and game creator Jens Stober, who is attracted to the immersive nature of the medium, 3D's extreme-motion effects can - at times - be used deliberately.

“In an art context you can .. turn some weird effects on and your brain hurts or you get a bit queasy. So you can use these effects to make the player more affected by the game,” he said.

Show and tell

Screen showing a city simulation
Simulating air currents is one modern use for 3D technologyImage: DW

For Sebastian Ritterbusch, a mathematician at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, one of the members of the 3D Alliance, modelling in three dimensions provides a new way of visualising complex data.

“You can imagine the large amount of data we produce,” he said. “We still need to know what is the best way for humans to extract the information from this data.”

For example, he said while pointing at a 3D computer simulation of the city of Karlsruhe, when his team crunches numbers on urban air flow, they can project it onto the 3D model of the city. This is a much more effective visual tool than a table of data.

And so the passion for 3D is forming unusual alliances. Ritterbusch is working together closely with filmmakers and artists in his research.

“They have a lot of knowledge about how to best communicate with people, and how to best show things using images,” Ritterbusch said.

Combined with scientific data, then, expressive 3D technology may someday lose its image as a gee-whiz film gimmick, and become an important method for disseminating information.

Author: Kate Hairsine
Editor: Jennifer Abramsohn