[caption id="attachment_936" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Walter Murch"]Walter Murch[/caption]

Film sound and editing legend, Walter Murch, recently expounded on the virtues, challenges and future of 3-D technology in the entertainment industry. Murch, who is respected for his Academy Award-winning work on “Apocalypse Now” and Oscar-winning editing and sound mixing work on “The English Patient,” recently wrote a letter to film critic Roger Ebert about the world of 3-D.

Murch’s own history with 3-D technology started back in 1986 when he edited the 3-D version of Michael Jackson’s “Captain Eo,” which was directed by Francis Ford Coppola and shown at Disney theme parks. Many actually claim this film was “4-D” since it incorporated so many in-theater effects (lasers, smoke, etc.) synched to the film’s narrative.

In the letter he wrote to Ebert, Murch explains that the biggest obstacle in producing 3-D films is the “convergence/focus issue.” As a viewer watches a 3-D film, different “planes” are apparent to the viewer, and though the viewer him or herself is not changing their location in relation to the stationary TV or movie screen (ie. they are constant), 3-D images must have an appearance of moving not only left and right, up and down, but closer and further away from the viewer. This can be problematic as a film that will be shown to a movie theater audience, viewing it in planes 10, 60 and 120 feet away, depending on the where one sits in the theater and what the effect is, will not need the same convergence points when watching it at home in one’s living room in front of a stationary TV lift cabinet.

Other small issues with 3-D, according to Murch, include darkness and “smallness” issues, but those can be overcome he says. Convergence, however, is not something technology can simply fix. Murch points to the fact that humans have been evolving their eyesight for 600 million years; people know how to focus on an image at 6 feet and how to focus on something at 60 feet, but their brains aren’t quite sure how to be tricked into focusing (at least virtually) on both of those distances at the same time. This is why some people get headaches after only watching about 20 minutes of a 3-D film.

3-D films, therefore, take much more time to edit and produce than a 2-D film. If all the pieces aren’t exactly in the right place at the right time, the 3-D effect is lost. However, Murch also believes that the movie’s story is something that can create a dimensionality as strong as or stronger than what a 2-D or 3-D film can produce, and that, in the end, is what it boils down to for Murch.