Stereoscopic Media


This article was updated on 10 Apr 2012, and is filed under Uncategorized.

Current Research in 3D Media

Current Research in 3D media (2012)


There has been a recent surge in innovative and challenging scholarly approaches to the field of 3D media. From discussions of well-known films such as Avatar (2009) to explorations of lesser released works such as Pina (2011) and Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2011), the industrial, aesthetic and storytelling capacities of stereoscopic imaging have been examined in detail and with fresh insight. The following abstracts represent some of the scholarly work at the forefront of this trend and were all developed in papers at recent conferences. Much of this work will be developed further in forthcoming articles, chapters and future conference papers.


2 – 5 December 2012: Film and History Association of Australia and New Zealand Conference (FHAANZ) in Melbourne


Kevin Fisher

3-D Cinema and the Positing of ‘Things’ in Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010) is distinguished by its use of 3-D cinematography to explore the contours of a natural environment rather than to generate visible spectacle in any conventional sense. However, in this presentation I will describe how the film’s use of 3-D relates to another abiding concern within Herzog’s oeuvre: the imagining of a pre or post human consciousness and world. In contrast to prevailing critical commentary on the film, I will focus primarily on the sequences outside the cave in conjunction with Herzog’s narrated musings on how the artists and early inhabitants of the region might have perceived their physical surroundings. Drawing upon Georges Bataille’s account of the co-emergence of tool use, language, representation and reflective consciousness in his Theory of Religion and his writings on prehistoric art and culture, I will argue that the film’s ecstatic gestalt of 3-D imagery evokes what he describes as the startling eruption of a discontinuous world of things from the continuous order of animal experience. As such, I will suggest that The Cave of Forgotten Dreams quite literally extends the speculative phenomenology that characterizes Herzog’s recent works, such as Encounters at the End of the World (2007) and Grizzly Man (2005) as well as earlier films like Land of Silence and Darkness (1971), into a novel figural dimension. In this respect, I will also argue that the film hyperbolically exemplifies what Yvette Biró identifies in Profane Mythology: The Savage Mind of Cinema as the special affinity between cinematic signification and Levi-Strauss’s notions of concrete logic and magical thinking. As such, Herzog’s film permits indirect access to dreams that must otherwise be forgotten precisely because they are equiprimordial with the very capacity for signification and reflection.


Biography: Kevin Fisher is a senior lecturer in the department of Media, Film and Communication at the University of Otago, New Zealand.



2012 Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference (SCMS) in Boston

Bruce Bennett

 An eye-watering aesthetic: Avatar and the technological fantasies of 3-D cinema

Discussing T2 3-D: Battle Across Time (1996), a Terminator-themed ride at a Universal Studios theme park, which incorporates a short 3-D film directed by James Cameron, the director explained that the challenge of 3-D cinema is the ‘organic’ narrative and stylistic integration of 3-D effects. As he noted, ‘For me, the trick to doing 3-D is […] that the audience doesn’t feel like they’re just getting poked in the eye one time after another, even though the goal is to poke them in the eye one time after another.’ Although referring specifically to 3-D cinema, this description of a cinema that employs its aesthetic and technical resources to produce the sensation that the viewer is repeatedly jabbed in the eye also describes well the spectacular, tactile experience of cinema more generally from confrontational avant-garde films through to industrial blockbusters. The disorienting and sensational illusion of objects emerging from the screen to assault the spectator has been exploited from the inception of cinema; Cameron’s comment inevitably invokes the first commercial film screenings by the Lumière brothers in the 1890s in which the film of a passenger train pulling into La Ciotat station apocryphally prompted the panicked audience to duck and cower, thus constituting, for Christian Metz, cinema’s mythic primal scene. Situating Cameron’s three 3-D films, the documentaries Ghosts of the Abyss (2003), and Aliens of the Deep (2005), and the science fiction allegory Avatar in this historical context, this paper will outline the key aesthetic strategies employed in Cameron’s cinema, and will reflect upon the claims made for the transformative significance of his latest feature film, Avatar. All three films are concerned with the narrative and illusionistic transgression of (physical or temporal) boundaries and the immersive exploration of spaces inaccessible to humans. This paper will examine the relationship between the themes of contemporary and historical racism, colonialist exploitation and environmental destruction explored in Avatar and the film’s narrative and stylistic configuration. What is the relationship between the eye-watering aesthetic of 3-D cinema and the neo-liberal, post-human and post-colonial fantasies of Avatar?



Bennett is lecturer in Film Studies in the Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts at Lancaster University, UK. Publications include articles on film theory, James Cameron and Georges Bataille, cinema and the war on terror, and the co-edited collection, Cinema and Technology: Cultures, Theories, Practices (Palgrave, 2008).  He is currently completing a monograph entitled, The Cinema of Michael Winterbottom: Borders, Intimacy, Terror (Wallflower Press/Columbia University).


Lindsey Dolich

Performing the “Avatar” Body: Motion-Capture and Haptic Visuality

While the critical consensus avers that the “posthuman body” has become disembodied, fragmented and networked beyond the somatic, I’m interested in the ways in which technology re-naturalizes a kinesthetic awareness to the performer and the audience. Recent developments in motion capture technology allow us to challenge performance as a purely visual spectacle bound by space and time. We often view films as finished products, but James Cameron’s film Avatar (2009) stages the trajectory of digital performance from pre-production to post-production. This paper explores how the film’s cutting-edge special effects applications, specifically haptic interfaces such as performance capture, become embedded in actors’ bodies and the narrative arc.

Using an approach that expands Laura Mark’s definition of “haptic visuality” for the information age, I theorize a model of embodied communication based on the technological mediation of touch. The Na’vian expression “I See you” in Avatar actually corresponds to tactile perception, in which the Na’vi “plug in” their neural braids (“queues”) to commune with other organisms, and exchange somatic experiences. This expression of haptic visuality not only shapes the subjective realities of human and Na’vi characters, and spectators viewing the film in 3D, but also constitutes the motion capture performances of the actors behind Avatar’s computer-generated Na’vi. Cameron’s film poses a significant question for film and media studies scholars: how do interfaces that call for tactile engagement become remediated by the bodies and software behind them? I explore this question by investigating scenarios that reveal hitches in the motion capture apparatus, that is, the ways in which the interface can “sabotage” the actor’s body, and vice versa. Finally, this discussion will examine how touch and proprioceptive awareness govern the epistemology of Avatar’s visual environment, expanding index of 3D media to accommodate the kinesthetic and the gestural.


Leon Gurevitch

 The Stereoscopic Attraction: 3D Imaging and the Spectacular Paradigm 1850 – 2011

In 1851, at the Crystal Palace World Fair Exhibition in London one of David Brewster’s first mass produced lenticular stereoscopes was presented to Queen Victoria. Though the technique was not new (having been presented publicly some thirteen years earlier by Charles Wheatstone) the viewing apparatus and its use of photography was. While this apparatus caused a storm of publicity, it was only one of many viewing technologies emerging at the time that challenged the previously solid foundations upon which notions of empiricism and vision that underpinned the ‘scopic regimes of modernity’ (Schiavo, Maxwell, Jay, Crary). A number of theorists who have written about the role of the stereograph in the emergence of early photographic culture (Darrah, Jenkins, Zone) have described the rapid and pervasive rise to popularity of the stereoscope during the 19th century. Intriguingly (though seldom discussed) there is compelling evidence to suggest that the stereograph laid some groundwork for the ‘cinema of attractions’ (including great quantities of stereocards containing infamous oncoming trains). In the current context, in which not just 3D cinema but also 3D television and gaming is afforded a resurgence based upon the rationalisation of all audio-visual culture under the logic of the computer, (Manovich, Rodowick) the content of early spectacular stereocards offers a wealth of early source material. 19th century stereoscopy was both the result of, and a key driving force behind, a newly emergent paradigm in which the mechanically reproduced image served simultaneously as spectacular and commercial attraction. Against this background this paper considers the parallels and divergences between early stereocard content and consumption, and contemporary spectacular 3D content and consumption of cinema, television and handheld media.



Leon Gurevitch is Programme Director and Senior Lecturer in the School of Design at Victoria University of Wellington. He has published extensively on the relationship between historical media forms and new media parallels in, among others, Television and New Media, Senses of Cinema and the New Zealand Journal of Media Studies. His research on 3D media has been ongoing since 2006 and has lead to the article ‘Birth of a Stereoscopic Nation: 3D Media and the Cinemas of Transactions Through the Looking Glass’ currently in submission.


Bella Honess Roe

 3D Documentary: the spectacular space of reality

The return of 3D technology to cinema screens has been accompanied by commercial hype and critical backlash.  From “Avatar” (2009) to “StreetDance 3D” (2010) stereoscopic technology has been used to entice audiences away from their home entertainment systems, Xboxes and high speed internet connections and back into the theatres, with an invitation to marvel at what cinema, and only cinema, can do.  Somewhat curiously, documentary, a genre not usually motivated by box office-led returns, has thumbed a ride on the 3D bandwagon.  2011 saw the release of two 3D documentaries into art house theatres: Werner Herzog’s lyrical and awe-filled film about the prehistoric Chauvet cave paintings in France, Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Wim Wenders’ homage to German choreographer Pina Bausch, Pina.  This marks a new departure for documentary, as previously 3D has only been used in IMAX theatres or in concert movies (e.g. “U2 3D” (2007) and “Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience” (2009)).

Promises of access and immersion are emphasised in the publicity surrounding both films.  The Pina website offers us a “journey of discovery into a new dimension: straight onto the stage” and, according to the Cave of Forgotten Dreams site, Herzog will take us “deep behind the frontier of an extraordinary place.”  3D technology, these films suggest, will afford us an embodied insight into restricted spaces – the stage of the professional dancer and ancient caves closed to the general public.  At the same time, these films use 3D technology to make the worlds they present spectacular and we are invited to wow at the visuals as well as the technological ability to create the spatial experience of reality within the movie theatre.  Just as the filmmakers in question venerate their subject matter, so are we invited to laud the films’ images and their means of construction.

This paper will explore the use of 3D technology in these two recent art house documentaries.  In particular, the seemingly contradictory notion of these films inviting us to marvel at the spectacle of enhanced realism will be interrogated.  Does the use of stereoscopic film offer a new frontier for documentary production, allowing audiences an even greater access to the reality of the profilmic?  If so, how is this reconciled with the spectacular nature of 3D presentation – in terms of both the film text and the contextual material surrounding it such as websites and reviews?



Bella Honess Roe teaches film studies in the School of Arts at the University of Surrey, UK.  She received her PhD (2009) and MA (2005) in Critical Studies from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts.  Her primary research areas are documentary, animation and the film and media industries.  Her work appears in Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal and The Journal of British Cinema and Television.  She is currently working on a book on animated documentary.


Bruce Isaacs

The Paradox of 3D: Between Depth and Surface in James Cameron’s Avatar

Hollywood appears to wage a perpetual war against its own obsolescence. The rhetoric of newness is couched also in the rhetoric of survival in an ever-expanding, and increasingly discursive, film industry. The current rhetoric of obsolescence addresses new technologies, new aesthetic systems and new modes of spectatorship. What becomes of cinema when the theatre is outmoded as a social and aesthetic space, as celluloid gives over to digital technology? Avatar is a landmark film for a number of reasons: an unprecedented production budget, the highest grossing film in history, certainly the most advanced 3D aesthetic system yet brought to mainstream cinema. Cameron’s own claims of an evolutionary leap in technology and aesthetics preceded the film’s release by a year. This paper addresses the concept of depth cinematography and depth perception, and its application in Avatar. In what sense is Avatar an evolution in cinematic spectacle? What might constitute such an evolutionary leap in film aesthetics and spectatorship?



Bruce Isaacs is a Lecturer in Film Studies at the University of Sydney, Australia. His research and teaching focuses on film aesthetics and history, as well as various intersections of film and popular cultural practices. He has published widely in the field, including the monograph Toward a New Film Aesthetic (New York: Continuum Press, 2008). He is contracted to publish a second book with Continuum in 2012, examining the aesthetic evolution of American High Concept Cinema.


Dr Keith M. Johnston

 Reclaiming the British Pioneers: Misrepresenting Britain’s Stereoscopic Past in The Queen in 3-D (2009)

In November 2009, the British television broadcaster Channel 4 presented a week of 3-D programming, built around a new 2 hour documentary, The Queen in 3-D. Taking the 3-D filming of Queen Elizabeth’s 1952 Coronation as its starting point, the programme claimed to offer ‘good old fashioned fun’ in its introduction to the history of British stereoscopic production. The opening section of the programme suggests a narrative of lost treasure, a rediscovery of buried film canisters, and the possibility of a revelatory moment in British film history.

Yet after outlining this potential intervention, The Queen in 3-D actually operates as a misrepresentation and dismissal of the innovations made by the British filmmakers who produced stereoscopic short films between 1951 and 1955. Instead of the technologically advanced and potentially world-leading technicians such as Raymond Spottiswoode or Charles A. Smith, the programme opts for that most clichéd and enduring image of British engineers, the accidental boffin.

This article aims to reclaim the pioneers of 1950s British stereoscopy in the face of implied primitivism, and to position them as artists as much as technicians. Although conscious of not producing a ‘great man’ version of history, the article will argue that these two men were at the forefront of a moment where Britain, if only briefly, led the world in stereoscopic production and technology. Using their own words (through published interviews with Spottiswoode and a BECTU interview with Smith) and contemporary trade and popular press reports, the article will cover the early disputes with Leslie Dudley over 3-D camera rigs, the creation of Stereo Techniques, the failure to ‘break America’ and the way that The Queen in 3-D writes these figures out of British film history.


Barbara Klinger

 From Cave of Forgotten Dreams to Fright Night: The Summer Movies of 2011 and Emerging 3D Styles

The summer of 2011 saw the largest crop to date of 3D feature-length films released in the US. Eighteen animated and live-action films appeared in 3D, the increase supported by theaters that had converted more screens to 3D capability since the 2010 holiday “crunch” had complicated release patterns for these films. With the summer exhibition of titles such as Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Thor, Cars 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the final Harry Potter film, Captain America, and Fright Night, multiple 3D films were available to the US public at all times. Although 3D is still evolving, my paper takes the opportunity provided by summer 2011’s unparalleled profusion of and access to 3D cinema to examine dominant, emerging aspects of 3D style. Evaluations of contemporary 3D cinema often hinge on whether a film originated in 3D or was converted from 2D in post-production. Critics consider the former group as superior since films are “true” 3D, while the latter group, referred to as “fake” 3D, represents Hollywood’s desire to exploit the novelty, post-Avatar popularity, and higher ticket prices of 3D films without respect to aesthetics.

While acknowledging that this dichotomy has aesthetic implications, I will move beyond its overly schematic understanding of 3D to produce a more finely grained analysis of an emerging set of stylistic traits that marked last summer’s diverse fare. What constitutes 3D aesthetics, that is, stylistic choices that address the technology’s ability to produce the illusion of depth as spectacle? How is 3D style bound to existing modes of cinematic expression, generic conventions, and other traditions? To explore these questions, I will concentrate on cinematography, particularly the use of deep focus, mobile camera, and other devices that dramatize depth. I will also situate my analysis in relation to how certain deployments of 3D are motivated by genre. For example, though both Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Fright Night were shot in 3D, the documentary traditions from which Herzog works and the horror conventions that inform the remake of Fright Night, help to explain their different uses of 3D, while revealing a spectrum of stylistic and aesthetic possibilities. Thus, I am more interested in revealing contemporary practices of 3D filmmaking than in establishing a canon or a set of prescriptive norms.


Maya Manojlovic

 The Space-Time of 3D: In the Intervals/Interstices of The Cave of Forgotten Dreams

“Magical. It’s almost like watching the reinvention of the cinematic medium,” says Werner Herzog in his most recent documentary The Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2011), in which he explores the Chauvet cave in southern France, discovered in 1994. With a small crew and equipped with most recent 3D digital camera, Herzog films the interior of the cave with so far the oldest known prehistoric paintings.

Enfolded into the oneiric spatiality and temporality of the cave, with its stalactites, stalagmites and undulating walls covered with layers of accomplished paintings dating over 30,000 years ago, we have entered an unusual space-time, shaped by the forces and movements of nature instead of anthropocentric measurements and planning. The growth of stalactites from the ceiling “downwards” and of the stalagmites from the floor “upwards” implies the reversibility inherent to the cave’s spatio-temporality characterized by its disproportionate voluminousness and internal rhythms, amplified by the irregular undulations of its walls. It’s impossible to “frame” the experience we have “in” the cave into the parameters of our modern experience of angular urban spaces dominated by the predictable directionality of the vertical and horizontal, where temporality is now digitally measured and regulated. Having filmed the cave in 3D, Herzog enables us to not only see its paintings of prehistoric animals in movement and experience its dreamlike space-time evocative of cinema, but also lets us slip in-between conventional experiential and cognitive spatio-temporality to experience the force of creative impulse behind the draw of contemporary 3D cinema. Indeed, Herzog’s 3D “rendering” of Chauvet cave offers glimpses of the experiences constitutive of cinema as well as its recent developments of 3D technology.

My presentation explores how Herzog’s documentary opens up an alternative to the conventional spectacular 3D experience as it allows us to enter what Henri Lefebvre would call absolute space of the cave. I suggest this natural absolute space of the cave with its “non-frameable” spatiality evokes an experience of entering “into” a 3D space. Indeed, unlike most of 3D feature films, which emphasize the “outside” shapes of 3D as special effects popping “out” of the screen, 3D space of the Chauvet cave is experienced as “interiority.” This 3D interiority resists chronology and, like the interiority of the dark cave, dissolves the external rhythms of day and night into a paradoxical durée, characteristic of our contemporary experience in the context of our digitally mediated world. I thus suggest Herzog’s use of 3D in the cave generates what I here call an intervallic/interstitial space-time that allows for an interrelatedness of conventionally incompatible absolute space-time of nature and the contradictory space-time of digital technology. This intervallic/interstitial space-time emerges from the disorienting effects produced by the unpredictable directionality, disproportionate voluminousness and the paradoxical durée of the cave eliciting an experiential and cognitive “suspension” and “gap” or, interval/interstice, in the viewer. Indeed, I suggest such experience could possibly actualize a novel way of approaching and using 3D technology in cinema.


Miriam Ross

 3D’s experimental visuality: From Nazi propaganda to independent Colombian filmmaking

This paper examines an international history of 3D filmmaking that experiments with stereoscopic visuality. Critics have often associated the 3D cinema booms in the US during the 1950s and the twenty-first century with attempts at greater mimesis and new forms of realism, a continuation of André Bazin’s route towards total cinema. They assume that stereoscopic depth cues provide an immersive experience in which the audience is given greater access to the pro-filmic and can experience an audiovisual world akin to their own daily experience. Less attention has been paid to the way that 3D cinema produces new forms of visuality that are markedly distinct from both 2D visuality and traditional human perception. These new forms of visuality are most apparent in experimental filmmaking which goes beyond re-presenting the pro-filmic. Using case studies from Nazi filmmaking in the 1930s to independent shorts made by Colombian director, Santiago Caicedo, I will explore the different ways in which stereoscopic visuality is configured on screen and the distinct intentions and effects that are produced. In particular, this paper uncovers the international scope of these experiments and, in this way, reduces the assumed hegemony of US 3D production. These case studies are the result of research conducted at the Federal Archives in Berlin and Timbo Studio in Colombia in 2010 and 2011.



Dr. Miriam Ross is a Lecturer in the Film Programme at Victoria University of Wellington. She is the author of South American Cinematic Culture: Policy, Production, Distribution and Exhibition (2010) which takes in to account the interplay between national, regional and global film networks. Her published work also includes articles on film festivals, cultural policy and alternative exhibition. She has recently been awarded a grant by Victoria Unversity of Wellington to significantly expand her overseas research on 3D cinema.


Chuck Tyron

 After Avatar: Digital 3D, Cinematic Revolution, and Digital Projection

This essay will look at the role of Digital 3D in promoting new forms of audience engagement in the era of digital delivery. James Cameron’s Avatar has become a watershed film for illustrating the shift to 3D production and digital projection. Contemporary 3D projection technologies were promoted through two primary techniques: First, references to James Cameron emphasized his status as a technological auteur, as someone who expanded the language of cinematic storytelling through the development of new technologies, in this case the special cameras that were developed over the course of the decade. Second, Cameron’s emphasis on technological perfection helped to reinforce narratives about the artistic potential of digital 3D as potentially revolutionizing cinema.

However, despite Avatar’s notable achievements at the box office, the status of 3D movies, both at the level of production and exhibition, is a little more ambiguous. Soon after Avatar hit theaters, studios sought to capitalize on the 3D wave, and a number of films—most famously Clash of the Titans and Alice in Wonderland—were converted to 3D in post-production, and while both films were relatively successful, audience interest in 3D, at least in the United States, began to wane, as many moviegoers began to view it as an overpriced gimmick, rather than as something that added value to the moviegoing experience.

This paper explores the industrial changes in 3D after Avatar. Specifically, it explores how 3D has been promoted and the industrial strategies that have been used to frame 3D as something that justifies the additional ticket costs, especially in a moment when consumers are re-evaluating the “value” of a film text, as illustrated by the decline in DVD sales. While Avatar might appear to be a unique case, I argue that promotional discourse surrounding 3D films continues to focus on the production of spectacle, on the idea that viewers must experience the film on the big screen, with a collective audience, in order to get the “true” immersive experience, with much of the promotional effort focused on creating the perception of moviegoing as an event, something that could not be replicated at home. These marketing activities included a focus on event screenings (concert films such as the Glee movie) and interactive experiences (such as Robert Rodriguez’s use of scent in Sky Kids 4).

Full paper available online at:

Comments are closed.