Holography, Stereoscopic 3D & the Struggle to be Taken Seriously as Art Forms.

Written By: Wendy S. Whaley

Within moments of embarking on my journey to become a legitimate artist, by attending what was then known as the Ontario College of Art (now OCADU), I discovered Holography. “Wow” I thought, “Art and Science together, a perfect pair. I can paint in space with pure light.”

I studied the works of Margaret Benyon, Bruce Evans, Al Razutis, Claudette Abrams, Michael Page, the massive full scale bar of Paula Dawson (she actually made a full scale holographic neighborhood pub). These are some truly inspiring artists. As I became more involved with this world of holography, it became quickly evident that there was snobbery when it came to the holographic medium. As the school was going through restructuring, at every stage, there was a constant struggle to keep the Holography lab and courses available to students. The idea that holography is not really art, it’s a science, spread like an infection.  Michael Page should be commended for his Herculean efforts to keep it alive.  I suppose this concept stems from the large amount of purely industrial or trinket holograms in existence, but the same can be said of any medium. As a Rembrandt that stares back at you with emotion and meaning, and the wall of your apartment painted blue, are, at their core, different creatures, so too, are a Margaret Benyon and a rotating hologram of a car. So long as there is meaning behind the medium used, art is not about the medium, but about the message one wants to convey through that medium and the connection the artist can form with the viewer.

After Graduating OCA, I met Noel Archambault (A pioneer IMAX DOP and Stereographer) who adapted my knowledge of holography to stereo 3D and I became deeply embroiled in the resurgence of stereoscopic cinema.

As holography and stereoscopic 3D have been accused of being 'gimmicky' and 'passing fads', there has been a stronghold of artists, DOP's and Directors who have held fast to the knowledge that these are great tools with which to connect with the viewer on a primal level.

Stereoscopic cinema found its popularity in the wonderfully campy science fiction films of the 50's but took a dive in popularity due to technical standards not being strong enough to keep the experience comfortable for audiences. The resurgence of stereoscopic cinema in the 21st century has solved many of the technical issues revolving around projection, but with the majority of studios not willing to pay for true stereo productions and not willing to pay to do 3D conversion to real world standards, the industry in North America is again shrinking due to technical and artistic insufficiency. Only fully 3D animated films take advantage of stereo 3D and many children are uncomfortable wearing 3D glasses.

This industry suffers from the same snobbery as the holographic industry but more from the perspective that the 3D is a nuisance that does nothing to contribute to the experience. This is partly due to the aforementioned issues but also due to the fact that very few productions actually use 3D depth as an artistic means of connecting with the audience. Whether it is gimmicky or not, the 'Despicable Me' films are some the only ones in recent years to successfully use 3D to help connect with the audience, by means of using it to accentuate comedic punctuation. Back in the day, Andy Warhol's “Frankenstein” stands out for the final scene, when Udo Kier is stabbed and his liver is poking out on a spear. Parallax and convergence are pulled simultaneously to emphasis the moment.

In an over enthusiastic effort to keep the experience comfortable for the audience, the modern 3D cinema revolution has really missed the boat on the usefulness of stereo 3D. The industry's fear of losing a profitable revenue stream by pushing the 3D too far has left them with a shallow, minimally effective product that has little appeal to anyone truly interested in an immersive experience.

For 3D to be used effectively in cinema, it needs to be treated like the number one supporting actor. It is a tool with which to more deeply connect with the viewer. Imagine that you are a film maker. As you show a close up on an actor, consider the scale and space between you. You the film maker, now have a tool with which to enter the viewer's personal space. Before filming it is important to do a complete script and storyboard analysis and tweak to determine when to call upon the tools of enhanced perception afforded to you by stereo 3D. These tools include:

  • Scale. The ability to make the viewer seem small or large in a scene through interocular distance adjustments.

  • Distance. The ability to enter the viewer's personal space.

  • P.O.V. is more effective in stereo 3D.

  • The use of Stereo Window can enhance the feeling of objects entering the theatre space. Through use of the false frame that separates objects behind the screen from those in the theatre space.

  • 2D and 3D depth cues are symbiotic and enhance each other. So be liberal with linear and aerial perspective, texture, parallax and occlusion.

  • Stereo Pyramid. By keeping objects from breaking frame, keep them inside the pyramid between the back of the viewer’s head and the screen for more effective stereo.

  • Limitation: Infinite Depth of Field (this is a bone of contention with most DOP's. To effectively and comfortably create 3D, it is best to adhere to infinite depth of field for all shots that have significant depth and minimal camera moves. Use light and motion to steer the viewer’s eye rather than focus. This is due to the simple fact that in order to view stereo 3D our natural mechanism of having our focus and our convergence connected is unnaturally forced apart, it hurts less if everything is in focus.

In conclusion, both Holography and Stereo 3D are effective tools for connecting with the viewer at a more primal level. If they are to be taken seriously as artist media, then artists need to use them effectively toward accentuating moments of impact and occupying the space directly around the viewer, with specific artistic intent. These tools are not effective in a vacuum and must work in conjunction with two dimensional depth cues such as linear and aerial perspective, texture, parallax and occlusion. Most importantly of all, to be effective, there must be motivation for their use, through depth of story and meaning.

I am a part of the stronghold who believes in the power of 3D because it immediately makes the viewer integral to the work, which inherently creates a greater connection to it. I look forward to what artists might do with Google Glass and other examples of exciting, emerging technologies.