The Psychology of 3D and Movies


When we watch a 2D movie, the camera is our eyes and we are a third party to the moving images as we watch the story and images unfold on a flat screen. In a sense we are both within the 2D film and distanced from it due to the very mechanics of what we are watching. At times you can lose yourself in a film totally and forget that there is a screen between you and the actual movie itself. This is where 3D comes in. 3D has the power to immerse us into a movie even more, to make us feel closer to, or even a part of, the on-screen action. The camera is our eyes and draws us into a movie whether it's 2D or 3D. With 3D though, we are drawn into the movie more and our eyes can be fooled into believing that we are both within and outside of the screen at varying times. Outside and inside the screen with negative parallax (pop-out) and within the screen for positive parallax (depth). Either way, with a correctly shot 3D movie we feel more a part of the onscreen action. When we are immersed, not only is the camera our eyes but we can actually believe that we are there, within the movie, standing next to the characters and sharing their experiences. How cool is that? With regards pop-out, that is a moment where a character or object comes towards us, or towards an on-screen character within the film, making us feel even closer to the action. Of course, it can also appear to come out of the screen, hence the term pop-out effect.

So in summary, when 3D is used correctly, with regards to depth, pop-out, camera positioning and motion and speed of editing, the resulting effect can be that we are there, within the movie world experiencing a heightened emotional reaction to the environment. For sure its an illusion, but then cinema always has been an illusion.


After watching dozens and dozens of 3D movies, both old and new, over the years, I have realised that movie-makers (who embrace 3D) are currently going through a learning curve and trying to discover the best ways to utilize it. Sadly, not everyone is getting it right. My biggest objective to the current use of 3D is that movie-makers are still thinking in 2D and still filming using 2D techniques. What they end up with is a 2D movie + depth. So many modern movies seem to be going down this route. Personally, I believe that if you are going to shoot a movie the traditional way, then just shoot it in 2D. I am very adamant about that because if you shoot a movie normally, but then just chuck on the 3D as an afterthought, you are calling essentially a 2D movie + depth, 3D, making the audience think that that's all there is to it, that 3D is "just like a 2D movie but with a bit of depth". Now that's hardly worth shelling out more money and putting a pair of glasses on for, is it?


For a 3D movie to work, it has to be conceived from start to finish with 3D in mind. 3D is such a powerful tool (as much as colour, sound or even visiual perception itself) that I feel a whole new approach to movie-making is needed. This approach relates not only to movie-makers but to the audience too. For a 3D movie to succeed, the audience need to change the way they watch movies.

Here is my blueprint for making a successful movie in 3D. Firstly, the story and narrative is unnaffected by the 3D element. No, 3D is a purely visual tool to draw us deeper into the environment. Of course, having a well written story with good characters will also add to the whole 3D experience. It goes without saying that a balance of all these parts will be needed to create a totally successful 3D movie.

1) The 3D depth must be deep, immersive and consistent throughout the movie
2) Every single shot needs to be conceived with 3D in mind with the idea that the audience is the camera and a part of the environment.
3) The 3D camera should be thought of as an invisible character moving within the movie. Therefore it is more important than ever that the camera is seen to be the audience's eyes.
4) The composition of each shot is more important in 3D and there should be an obvious sense of background, middle and foreground so that we remain "within" the movie.
5) Fast MTV style editing has no place in a 3D movie but may be used fleetingly for effect e.g. for flashbacks or if a character is watching a 2D monitor or similar etc.
6) A slow tracking camera that moves within the world, especially going down tunnels or roads would work well in 3D and should be used to good effect.
7)The camera should always make us feel a part of the world, so positioning of the camera and its movement is crucial to make us always feel immersed.
8) The 3D depth must never change. Sudden changes of 3D depth will draw the audience out of the movie. A constant 3D depth will allow the audience to settle within the 3D world and stay within that space throughout the duration of the movie.


For 3D movies to be successful in the future, a whole new approach to both making and viewing a 3D movie is needed. For this reason, personally I don't want all future movies to be shot in 3D because 2D movies still have their place and importance. No, instead, 3D movies should be made sparingly and with a totally different approach to that of making a 2D movie. I believe that if a 3D movie is done well and gives the audience a real sense of being immersed in the environment, the audience will be willing to sacrifice certain elements that they are used to in 2D movies...i.e. fast editing between scenes. When making a 2D movie, the 3D element can't just be "added on" as an afterthought, it should be as important an element as the storyline and characters because essentially the audience becomes the 3D camera and we become an invisible character sharing the onscreen space of the world that we are watching. A whole new approach is needed for this to work.

My advice to future movie-makers is to only make a 3D movie because you feel that you want to and have an affinity for the medium. For those movie-makers who prefer 2D and want to shoot in a traditional 2D fashion, then keep making movies that way. 2D movies will be around for a long time yet. I hope that consistently good 3D movies will too.