March 12, 2012

In Méliès Shadow: A Gripping Story, a Hidden Allegory

Hugo (see the previous post) is the tale of a young lad trying to find purpose in his life following the untimely death of his father. But nestled within the plot is a unique story-within-a-story, a look at the budding history of early cinematography.

The view is through the eyes of Georges Méliès, a “special effects” cinematographer who was immensely popular and productive, producing well over 500 films in his day. A performing magician turned cinematographer, Méliès somehow never left behind his gift for magic, invention, and imagination as he pursued making movies. “I was convinced it was a new kind of magic,” he said of cinema.

Now, here’s where DLP-based stereo 3D comes in. This enchanting tale of the inchoate history of cinema creates a softly hidden allegory of today’s emerging 3D educational marketplace. The parallels are striking. Much like early film, 3D today seems like a “new kind of magic” to consumers and schools alike. “Movies are like seeing dreams in the middle of the day.”  I can’t think of a better way to describe 3D in the theater or the classroom. ”It was a gift!” Méliès voiced with delight about moving pictures. I see 3D in the same role—it’s a gift for learning and for healthy vision.

Moreover, viewer reactions to these early films then (and 3D movies or classrooms now) are eerily similar. In Méliès’ day, people responded with the same “it’s like being there” delight and physical reactions. One of the scenes depicted in Hugo involves a famous moment in film-going history, the brief screening of the Lumière brothers' Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat. Here’s a second YouTube version of the same film clip. Frankly, the visual surprise reenacted when the audience in Hugo saw this short video is no different than the reactions repeatedly evidenced in classrooms of elementary school students as 3D asteroids whizz by their heads on a simulated journey to the solar system. And it’s really not much different than the delight and connection demonstrated recently in Colorado and again in Austin by groups of adult K-12 educators at one of my 3D workshops. I guess there is one difference. The surprise and cognitive delight of viewing 3D does not seem to go away over time.

Méliès Shadow 
The similarities between the first years of moving pictures and our early experiences with stereo 3D don’t stop there. We see in both counterparts the struggles of the early years of making quality productions, the challenges of making a living on the basis of selling something as silly as imagination and wonderment, and the highs and lows of convincing others as to the true potential of the tool.

In Hugo, the magnificent and enthralling “world of imagination” created by Georges Méliès and others was driven away when World War I came. “Youth and hope were at an end,” lamented Georges. “The world had no time for magic tricks and movie shows… no one wanted my movies anymore.” “Happy endings only happen in the movies,” he added hurtfully. Due to the lack of demand for movies, he sold his company. Crushed and demoralized he invested all that he had left in a small toy shop. He felt that, in many ways, movies were just a fad. And the fad was over. 

Sometimes I feel the same way about 3D in education. What has become known as our ‘great recession” has hit manufacturer, software designer, and educational customer alike. At times, it seems like the economy has inopportunely slowed one of the most brilliant innovations of our time. Schools and universities that should be investing heavily in 3D learning technologies are instead focusing on keeping staff on the payroll. The critics of 3D are calling it either another fad or a luxury that cannot be afforded during tough times. Although I don’t want to ruin the movie, let me suggest that, in the end, Georges finds fresh legs. And in the 3D educational marketplace, there is reason for hope as well. You see, the educational market is resilient. It will bounce back. No, the message for DLP 3D’s potential in the classroom is not going to wither away. It will soon find fresh legs.


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