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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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The 'Clash of the Titans' conundrum: Why animated films look better in 3-D

April 8, 2010 |  2:52 pm

Why was the 3-D in "Clash of the Titans" so awful?

Slate's Daniel Engber offers some pretty darn intriguing theories about the issue in a recent post, taking us way past the most obvious explanation -- that the effects were simply done on the cheap. As he explains, if you want to add depth to a flat image, you need skilled 3-D artisans, and skilled artisans cost moolah.

But more important, he argues that the biggest problem with "Clash of the Titans" is that it's largely a live-action film. And when it comes to 3-D, computer animators are farther along the learning curve than conventional cinematographers. As he put it:

"'Alice in Wonderland,' by contrast, is mostly animated, as are all the other recent 3-D blockbusters, like 'Up,' 'Monsters vs. Aliens,' 'Ice Age 3,' 'A Christmas Carol,' and 'Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.' Even big-daddy 'Avatar,' which some took as a test-case for live-action 3-D, was more animated than not. There are plenty of reasons why animated films might have a leg up when it comes to 3-D. For one, the movie-makers have full control over all the pixels on the screen, which allows for precise correction of every optical artifact. They also have access to a set of 3-D tricks that haven't yet migrated into live cinema. One nifty innovation, called the 'dynamic floating window,' tilts the edges of the frame forward and backward in space as the movie goes along. Those adjustments -- invisible to the audience -- let the director add depth to a scene without resorting to awkward, pop-out effects."

He also argues that a fundamental drawback to the 3-D conversion gimmick is that it essentially undermines the 3-D storytelling process. "'Clash of the Titans' appears to suffer for being shot with a flat image in mind," he wrote. "Stereo cinema has its own rules for visual storytelling, and some tried-and-true flat-film techniques are a liability in three dimensions. Quick cuts and fast-paced action scenes, for example, can be hard to follow in a 3-D movie."

In other words, Michael Bay -- my new 3-D guru -- is right. If you're going make a movie in 3-D, you have to do it from the very beginning, not at the end, when it looks like it will help you score big-time at the box office. If you don't want moviegoers to end up seeing 3-D as a marketing gimmick, it's time to give it the respect it deserves.

Recent and related:

Michael Bay on 3-D conversion: 'Right now, it looks like fake 3-D'

Photo: Sam Worthington in "Clash of the Titans." Credit: Warner Bros.