Archives: December 2007

31/12 "Three-dimensional"

An otherwise unsensational article in the New York Times about HD disc formats (login required) makes the surprising comment, "good animation looks three-dimensional in high definition". Now, isn't that interesting? It reminded me of comments that I've heard several amateur stills photographers make; they often describe a particularly high-quality camera lens as giving photographs a "three-dimensional" look.

I think that there is actually a genuine point to be made here, and that apparently-unrelated technological improvements in image reproduction technologies, such as camera (and lens) resolution, or display resolution, or higher frame rates (which tend to reduce motion blur) can make an image more "three-dimensional". There's a simple explanation of this: that the added detail gives the Human Visual System more information to work with as it attempts to recover what depth cues it can from the flat television screen. In my personal opinion you can state this more generally, and say that *any* aspect of the television (or cinema) experience that has been constrained technologically is a barrier to experiencing the material as "reality", and that "three-dimensionality" is just a step on the road to a "reality-indistinguishable" experience.

Why the effect should be more pronounced for animation is not entirely clear, but I have a theory that animated material (particularly computer-generated animation, to which I think the NYT was referring) can easily have more definition than the average "movie" recorded on film since it lacks film grain, and (unless it has been added in deliberately) motion blur. Poor-quality rendering (eg low-detail textures, or a low target resolution, as was common in the early days of CG films) should therefore exhibit the effect to a lesser degree.
  • Time: 02:31PM
  • Category: BBC