March 5, 2012

In Scorsese’s Shadow

3D again earned a noticeable presence at the 84th annual Academy Awards. Five awards (for best cinematography, art direction, visual effects, sound mixing, and  sound editing) went to the movie Hugo, the best breakthrough 3D movie I have seen since Avatar. This peculiar and enchanting film, based on the Caldecott award winning book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, is even better than Avatar. (That’s also the opinion of James Cameron, Avatar’s director.) The film’s director was Martin Scorsese. I can only suggest you see this film before it leaves the theaters again.

Martin Scorsese embraced the 3D medium with every fiber of creative passion in his possession. But Scorsese’s work also casts a long and meaningful shadow on what we need to see in 3D within education settings.

Many of my friends and relatives recently have stopped going to 3D movies, citing visual dullness, drab conversions, and minimal negative parallax, but this powerful film demonstrates the type of creativity that will certainly bring the doubters back.  Hugo employs 3D for distinct artistic and visual advantage, a remarkable feat. It features extraordinary 3D portal views, the appearance of multiple layers of positive parallax, and positive parallax that is almost as good as negative parallax. During an interview with, Scorsese spoke of the initial challenges he faced shooting in 3D, saying, "Everything changed every shot. Every shot. The placement of the actor. The nature of the performance...” The same attention to detail will be needed to support the continued development of educational 3D content. For the education market, simple 2D to 3D video conversion will not be sufficient in itself. Running comfortable 3D cartoons for educational customers in exhibit hall booths will not be enough.

And one more thing about Hugo. The movie successfully revives, after an uncomfortable drought, the beauty and importance of negative parallax.  Negative parallax is critically important in educational content. In Hugo, we see bountiful negative parallax: snow… ashes… dogs… tools… pendulums… guitar necks… hurting feet… hat brims… spit… devices… and tools. All with a specific purpose and message to convey.

In planning a party for her godfather, Georges, the spirited Isobel declares in the Hugo film: “We need to have some… panache!” Negative parallax in 3D is like panache. When panache matters, it matters. Educational 3D needs more panache (translated, negative parallax). Think of it in this way: educational customers will come when content has panache


  1. I use slightly different terms; poke 3D vs explore 3d. Sort of says it all now doesn't it?


    1. That's quite funny! Actually, it is a very apt saying for poorly constructed and gimmicky commercial 3D. On the other hand, in educational technology and the area of educational 3D, a more fitting expression would be:
      "'It's like being there' 3D versus 'it's like it's here with me' 3D."

      Both views are necessary, however, in educational applications. There is no 'versus.'

      It is quite common for folks who have never seen great educational content--who have only viewed entertainment content produced hastily to make a quick buck--to dismiss negative parallax as 'gimmicky.'

      Scorsese broke ground in the thoughtful, purposeful, slow, and extended use of negative parallax in cinema. No pokes here. Just presence.

      In cinema, Poke 3D shows inexperience: presence 3D shows maturity or mastery.
      In education, presence 3D is what matters most.)

  2. Hi,

    My name is Helio A G Souza, brazilian 3D researcher and documentarist.

    Please consider a difference between negative parallax and popout images. An image with negative parallax does not need to popout to the audience. Although an popout image necessarily have negative parallax. Please see my educational film "The 3D Lake" where there are a lot of examples of negative parallax without popout effect. Even there are some with popout effect also.

    Using negative parallax without popout images, allow you to improve your z space, getting a more impressive depth to the film. It's interesting and necessary when you work with volumes in geography, anatomy, architecture, etc. Not necessarily the popout image will become the film more interesting, to children may be...