Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Future of Art and Entertainment - Part 2

In "Part 1" I talked about how a new virtual reality technology could potentially change the way we experience videogames, film, and "online" activities such as shopping or talking with friends. I think this current drive towards ever more "3D" and "immersive" and "real" entertainment experiences is the symptom of a cultural desire to blur the line between the tangibility of everyday life and the excitement and wonder of our digital lives.

In "Part 3" I'll talk about how this ever-increasing technology relates to art production - but today I thought I'd just share a few examples of art that blurs the line between 2D and 3D in really interesting ways.

3D movies are obviously big right now, but they've been around for a while. I remember going to see the 3D Muppet movie in Disneyworld when I was 5 years old.

"Did someone say cheap 3-D tricks?"

In actuality, 3D movies have existed for almost as long as film itself - the first 3D projection system and viewing mechanism was patented in the late 1890s by British film pioneer William Friese-Greene, and the first 3D camera rig was patented in 1900 by Frederic Eugene Ives. The trend was actually very popular in the early 1950s, and then enjoyed a revival in the 80's and 90's (mostly as an amusement park gimmick) before growing into the big-budget filmmaking technique we are enjoying (or not, depending on your point of view) at the moment. We can buy our own home 3D televisions, sports games and concerts are broadcast in 3D, and filmmakers like Peter Jackson and James Cameron are reportedly never going back to 2D, touting it as "the way forward for film."

For me, working within the tv/film industry, it's cool to hate on 3D as a gimmick used mainly to drive up prices. Generally, if a movie is available in both 2D and 3D, I'll see the 2D version. But in my personal opinion, 3D looks best in animated films. I remember the first really great 3D experience I had was going to see the movie Coraline in 2009.

At one point early on in the movie, Coraline finds a secret passageway to a parallel universe. As she peeks into the hole, that tunnel (pictured above) expands out in front of her, away from the audience, into the distance. I remember gasping out loud when I saw it. It looked like I could walk right into it.

The other really great 3D experience I've had was seeing one of my favorite films, How To Train Your Dragon, in IMAX 3D. The flight sequences were absolutely unreal.

3D film has become almost the norm now. And a new trend is just starting - with December's release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, we've seen the debut of Peter Jackson's now-infamous 48-frame-per-second high frame rate which critics have derided as looking "sped up" at best, and some combination of a soap opera and a videogame at worst. But the main argument FOR this technology is that it looks more "real" - that it's like you're looking through a window at the scene.

Jackson says: "As a filmmaker, I try to make my movies immersive. I want to draw the audience out of their seats, and pull them into the adventure. We live in a rapidly advancing digital age. Technology is being continually developed that can enhance and enrich the cinema-going experience. High Frame Rate shooting for a mainstream feature film has only become viable in the last year or two, and yet we live in an age of increasing home entertainment. I started shooting The Hobbit films in HFR because I wanted film audiences to experience just how remarkably immersive the theatrical cinema experience can be."

This speaks to the main point that I'm getting at here, which is that the 3D drive in film, the increasing realism of videogame graphics, and the creation of the Oculus device I talked about in my last post are all symptoms of our desire as a culture - and probably, species - to be able to step into another world, to be transported out of the drudgery of our daily lives. We want to be able to live out our dreams and fantasies as if they were real. And our technology is getting closer to doing that every day.

Three-dimensionality and realism is a coveted quality in art as well. In my first art class, VisComm 1, we were taught to approach any object with its full form in mind, drawing "through" the shapes to create a sketch with weight and substance. Now I'm taking Perspective, which is completely based on how we see the world in three dimensions, with vanishing points, horizon lines, foreshortening of planes. Having a drawing look "flat" or "un-lifelike" means you've failed. It takes a rudimentary understanding of geometry and physics to make a sketch look "right."

Recently there's been a bit of a blowback to the 3D movement, at least as far as film goes - people have nostalgia for the days when films weren't so tricked out with flashy upgrades and, in animation, the golden era of traditionally hand-drawn Disney films, before Pixar came along and changed the game with CG animation. A few things I've seen lately have attempted to bring the two together in a way that appeals to everyone. The most obvious example of this is Disney's short film Paperman, which I wrote about back in October, and which was actually just posted online in full a few days ago.

A similar-looking technology is being used in a new videogame called Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, developed by LEVEL-5 in collaboration with Studio Ghibli, the film company of the legendary director Hayao Miyazaki. The game looks like his gorgeous trademark 2D anime films - yet the characters and objects operate in three-dimensional space.

(I couldn't find a great gameplay demo video on youtube, but this one on Amazon gives you an idea of how it looks while playing.)

This last example isn't experienced through a screen - an artist called Shintaro Ohata is both a painter and a sculptor, and presents both as part of a whole piece, the sculpture being an extension of the painting and vice versa. His own website says: "He is known for his characteristic style; placing sculptures in front of paintings, and shows them as one work, a combination of 2-D and 3-D world."

I think all this experimenting, this merging of 2D and 3D worlds is a good thing. I personally love what's come from it so far. And I'm excited to see where we go from here.

(Part 3 will be the last in this series and then we can return to our regularly scheduled programming. I'll post a big old sketchdump this weekend.)

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