A Christmas Carol… Making 3D Magic

Given the extensive 3D projection lineup offered by DP, it is not surprising that we have some serious 3D enthusiasts... and critics here. That being the case, and with the holiday season upon us, a number of our 3D golden eyes jumped at the opportunity to see A Christmas Carol, Disney’s latest 3D release. This review presents our take on the 3D animated remake of this holiday classic.


Given the extensive 3D projection lineup offered by DP, it is not surprising that we have some serious 3D enthusiasts... and critics here. That being the case, and with the holiday season upon us, a number of our 3D golden eyes jumped at the opportunity to see A Christmas Carol, Disney’s latest 3D release. This review presents our take on the 3D animated remake of this holiday classic.

Sitting in a packed, 300-seat theater with every movie-goer wearing 3D glasses should have been a slightly surreal experience, but it was not in the least. Everyone seemed very comfortable wearing the passive 3D glasses. When 3D content commenced, it was obvious that all eyes were seeing surprisingly good 3D. About half the film trailers that preceded the feature were in 3D, and if those trailers are any indication, many of the near-term 3D releases are going to be exceptional. One in particular, Avatar, looks to be spectacular.

Having screened a fair amount of 3D content over the years, we feel compelled to state, many of the Hollywood Studios are learning very quickly how to create GREAT 3D films. Using our screening of A Christmas Carol as an example, it was not simply the fact that the 3D effects were impressive (which they were), or that A Christmas Carol is such a good story, or even that Jim Carrey is quite an entertaining actor. Indeed, the reason the film worked so well is that, rather than 3D technology simply being tossed on top of the story as an interesting effect wherever it could fit, the creators of A Christmas Carol 3D artfully employed the 3rd dimension to improve both the story and the impact of the cinematography. It was an engaging, immersive and occasionally breathtaking film. In fact, it was so well done and comfortable to view, we often forgot we were watching 3D.

At numerous points during the film, we found ourselves shutting one eye to remind our brains what 2D film looked like. When doing so, we were always surprised to see a remarkable difference between the 2D and 3D experience – in nearly every type of scene. That just proves how comfortably our eyes and brains settled into the 3D trick. In every case, our eyes and minds told us the 3D version presented a vastly superior visual and entertainment experience.

So the film was wonderful, the story a classic, and the 3rd dimension employed tastefully and with excellent results. We all resoundingly recommend seeing A Christmas Carol 3D.

However, setting the very high technical and entertainment qualities of the movie aside, the venues DP’s viewers attended were not perfect for maximizing the 3D experience. None of us watched A Christmas Carol 3D in an IMAX theater, but in the more traditional commercial cinemas we attended, we found that achieving the optimum 3D viewing experience was restrained by two primary factors.

The first relates to theater geometry. Any 3D viewing experience is enhanced when the majority of the viewer’s field of vision is encompassed by the screen. The goal is to immerse our senses in the media. While a small percentage of commercial cinema auditoriums boast very wide screens, capable of presenting a majority of the seats to a visually immersed experience, those venues, and IMAX screens, are the exception. The vast majority of seats / screens in commercial cinemas do not provide that level of visual immersion, as the screens are too small, or most of the seats are simply too far away from the screen. There is no easy solution to this problem, as upgrading thousands of commercial cinemas to create optimum 3D geometry is probably impossible from a financial and logistics perspective – at least in the reasonable future. That being the case, we present some important 3D viewing advice: If you find yourself in one of those auditoriums, plan on sitting as close to the screen as is physically and visually comfortable.

The next restraint relates to projector brightness. Screens in commercial cinemas are often served by projectors that produce just enough lumens to place 12-14 foot-candles on the screen. Depending on the age of the lamp, the brightness can be lower. This luminance level, plus or minus any screen gain, is what our eyes see. In a theatrically dark theater, 12-14 foot-candles is adequate for a very good viewing experience of 2D content, as all of the light reflecting off of the screen reaches our eyes. Unfortunately, when viewing 3D content, 60-70% of the projector’s brightness never reaches our eyes, regardless of the 3D technology employed. The majority of the projector’s brightness is lost to the rapidly switching electronic shutters and/ or polarizing filters that are the heart of 3D systems and 3D glasses. The result: in an exceptional theater that normally presents 2D films at 14 foot lamberts, our eyes will only see 3D films at 5-6 foot lamberts. That is insufficient brightness to convey the dynamic impact of bright and colorful scenes. Furthermore, it presents an even bigger problem for darker scenes, which can look muddy, making the dark area detail difficult to see. As a case in point, A Christmas Carol 3D employed a lot of very dark scenes, and many of us were disappointed that we were not able to enjoy the subtleties of those scenes. In short, the image looked dim, because it was.

There is an easy solution – bring more lumens to the cinema! For sure, all the blockbuster 3D films, concerts and sporting events that are coming our way justify an upgrade in projector brightness. However, that is tough to do in a commercial cinema for two primary reasons. First, there is a limit to lamp and projector brightness, and for commercial cinema auditoriums with larger screens, doubling the projector’s brightness is just not a realistic possibility.

The second reason is simpler. Brighter projectors are more expensive to purchase, consume far more power (kilowatts more power), and higher power lamps are more expensive and typically have to be replaced more often. In the high-use, multiple-projector business that commercial cinemas represent, where tens of thousands of projectors are each running thousands of hours a year, a significant upgrade to projector brightness presents an equally significant increase in both capital expenditure, and even more importantly, operational costs.

While all is not perfect for the optimum 3D viewing experience in the commercial cinema world, creating immersive theater geometry and delivering more screen brightness for corporate, public, private and home screening venues is very possible. Given the design guidance DP’s application experts can provide, and all the efficient 3D displays we offer, designing and equipping these optimized 3D venues does not demand a significant upgrade in cost. The reason is simple – corporate, public and home screening venues employ smaller screens, typically from 10’ – 30’ wide. DP offers such an extensive range of 3D capable TITAN, LIGHTNING and Reference Displays that, regardless of the screen size your application requires, we can select the perfect solution to deliver powerful and dynamic 2D and 3D entertainment.

Given the quality of the 3D movies, concerts and sporting events that will soon become ubiquitous in our lives, we know the most powerful 3D experiences will be presented in theaters that have been optimized for 3D media. Without a doubt, expertly designed home cinemas and corporate, public and private screening venues, when equipped with DP 3D displays, will deliver the most immersive 3D entertainment available.

Want to learn more about 3D? We suggest the following articles:
3D Blu-ray on the Horizon: http://www.highdefdigest.com/news/show/Blu-con/Michael_S._Palmer/Industry_Trends/3D/3D_Blu-ray_Coming_Next_Year/3752

Excellent Wired article on James Cameron’s Avatar: http://www.wired.com/magazine/2009/11/ff_avatar_cameron/

Active, Passive and Active/Passive 3D – a Primer: https://www.digitalprojection.com/NewsMedia/ArticlesRegardingProjectionandVideoDisplays/tabid/110/mid/476/newsid476/161/Default.aspx

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