April 2, 2011

Depth of Field Differences Between Tangled in 3D and 2D

Thanks to Mrkazador of AVS Forum for the excellent find and screen caps.

James Cameron, amongst other headline proponents of 3D, laud the format for giving a feeling of "looking out the window." Part of this is forsaking one of the oldest cinematography tricks in the book - depth of field. Directors and directors of photography commonly use shallow depth of field, that means having things at a specific distance in focus while the rest is out of focus, to highlight an actor or object that they wish you to pay attention to. This cannot be done if you want to achieve the window effect because things in the distance are required to be in focus along with the things that truly require our attention. Up to now there really hasn't been a movie that allows you to analyze the artistic decision between an infinite or shallow depth of field because it's a decision that is made as the camera is filming. Tangled has been rendered differently in 2D and 3D so that the 2D version looks and feels more like a traditional film while the 3D version is able to take advantage of its format. This is the first time that I've been depressed to not have a 3D TV on hand.

Note: It can be difficult to tell the difference at this resolution, so click on the pictures to see the difference at 1920x1080(1080p)

Disclosure: I saw this movie twice in theaters in 3D, once in November and once in December. I've watched it at home twice three times many times in 2D 1080p via Blu-ray.


  1. So what's your verdict? Do you have a preference? I only saw it once in 3D, and I thought it was lovely, but it was the first time, so my memory of it is not very clear. I was focusing on the story and music and stuff, too, so I don't feel like I can compare them.

    I've got to say, I'm a fan of the filmmakers who use 2D as their medium to create art---you know, the Orson Welles(es?) who aren't just trying to make what you see Real Life, but to use the tools at hand to their best creative advantage to tell the story. I can look out a window anytime. Is there a reason that 3D is the best creative choice for telling your story?

    That being said, 3D is pretty cool.

    Also, I'm showing Tangled to a friend tonight who hasn't seen it yet. Tangled virgin! Yay!

  2. You ask a question that isn't so easy for me to answer. I've been an unabashed hater of 3D since going to see a documentary about the Galapagos in IMAX 3D when I was in 5th grade. In my opinion, it rarely lives up to the promise and usually feels like a gimmick. On the other hand, who am I to begrudge a filmmaker a tool at their disposal? Tangled was designed from its earliest days to be 3D and was storyboarded with 3D in mind. Animation has traditionally had backgrounds in focus, which effectively equates to unlimited depth. So I suppose I do prefer the 3D version.

    I completely agree with you about preferring filmmakers who exploit the constraints of the medium to the benefit of the story that they are telling.

    Good luck with the screening tonight. Sharing a good movie is always fun.

  3. I was going to mention Orson Wells too. He developed a method of deep focus, most notably used in Citizen Cane on this scene: http://loubega33.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/citizen_kane_2.jpg
    The people closest to the camera have the most impact on Charles Foster Kane's life, his mother and the lawyer making decisions for him, then his father, then Kane himself. And they're all in focus because they all have equal levels of importance.

    Personally, I dislike 3D movies. If you can tell a story in 2D, then using 3D is just a cop out. It's gimmicky and the colors are always desaturated because you have to wear those glasses. Directors should learn to work within their medium. But that's just my opinion.

  4. Ahh, Citizen Kane, the film that made me realize that movies can be Art.

    I guess what it comes down to for me is that I have yet to see a 3D film where the 3D feels NECESSARY to the story. For all the planning that may have happened for Tangled, I still feel the same impact of the lantern scenes as strongly in the 2D viewings as I did in my first 3D viewing. And it's because of the story: the queen wiping the king's tear away, the lanterns lighting up and floating into the air, and (your favorite, Ned) Rapunzel placing the flowers in the water while Eugene watches---I'm affected because of my attachment to the characters and their actions, not because I think I can touch them. But it sure is pretty.

    My friend really enjoyed it---he's been having a rough time lately, so beer, pizza and a good movie was just the thing. He especially loved Maximus and the little drunken Cupid thug. (He's a graphic artist, so he spent some time look through my Art of Tangled book afterward.)

  5. It's worse than just colors, you lose contrast between light and dark. No one has been able to leverage 3D to aid story in any real way. However, all of the completely legitimate practical and artistic reasons that we may discus here are insignificant next to the real reason 3D is being pushed so hard: ticket prices. Theaters and studios are desperate to raise prices faster than they would otherwise be able to justify to consumers.

    I still have to give Tangled its due regarding 3D. Before Tangled I was a militant and passionate hater of 3D, now I'm merely ambivalent. Both versions have their place, even if the story is told just as well either way.

  6. Wow, that's fascinating. I had no idea. I always find 3D annoying, it gives me a headache. This makes me reconsider... but only a little.