Tale as old as time—in three dimensions: A review of Beauty and the Beast 3D

iconWith all of the excitement over the new 3D movie technology and the ability to convert traditional movies into 3D, many studios are understandably reviewing their archives for previous hits that might play well as a 3D movie. One example is the upcoming 3D converted release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Disney has also ventured into the world of converting previous releases with their 3D versions of Toy Story, Toy Story 2, The Lion King and the upcoming 3D release of Finding Nemo. The latest 3D-converted release by Disney is their 1991 classic, Beauty and the Beast, and after my experience viewing it, I believe that there are some things that are better left 2D.

Before the movie started, I was wondering how they would convert the flat, 2 dimensional images into 3D. I thought one way that would be effective is if they presented the hand drawn characters as paper cut-outs—flat character images that appear closer or farther away in space against a 3D painted background. I thought this would make sense since a traditionally animated movie generally doesn’t show much shading or dimensionality in the inked and painted images. Instead, the depth is usually reserved for the Disney invented multi-plane camera and the painted environments. I decided that this would be the best way to approach it and found myself hoping that I was right.

Once the film began, I quickly realized that I was wrong. In the approach to converting this to 3D it appears that Disney attempted to give 3 dimensional volume to the characters. The result of this was that these 2 dimensional, flat images bulged towards the audience and ended up creating more problems than pleasure.

The first issue that I found is a result of the amount of drawings that are created per second for animated films. Cinema film goes through a projector at 24 frames per second. Traditional, hand-drawn animation is generally created at 12 frames per second—also known as “on twos” or one drawing for every two frames of film. This tends to create a subtle flicker between drawings, but since they are hand drawn and still going relatively fast, animating on twos is generally acceptable and pleasing to watch. The fact that Beauty and the Beast is a traditional animated film “on twos” caused a problem for me with their method of 3D conversion. The “bulging” of the characters in 3D amplified the flickering effect of and became more distracting and hard to watch. In fact, it created such an eye strain that I found myself closing one eye so that I could have some rest.

I find that sometimes we subconsciously compensate for difficulties such as the eye strain that I was experiencing. It wasn’t until half way through the film that realized that I had also been spending quite a bit of time admiring the background paintings. They were amazing and I was wondering why I had never seen them look so good! It was then that I realized that my eyes had been resting on the backgrounds, which—although they were also converted to 3D—were the only things that were not assaulting my eyes and gave me a place to rest. It was then that I gave up trying to take in the characters and animation—resigning myself to admiring the scenery.

After the movie ended and I was driving home with my 14 year-old I thought I’d see if she had a similar experience to what I had. After she declared that she really enjoyed the movie, I asked her if she noticed the backgrounds. She raved about how beautiful they were and how she spent a lot of time admiring them. I think that without knowing it she was experiencing the same problems with eye strain that I was having and she subconsciously found a place for her eyes to rest.

I have heard many positive comments about how great The Lion King was in its 3D conversion but, unfortunately, I was not able to see that one in the theater. Because of this, I don’t know if it was a better 3D conversion process than what was used on Beauty and the Beast or if I would have had the same experience. Either way, in the future I think it would be best if they either simply converted traditional hand-drawn animation to 3D as a simple, paper cut-out look, which I think would be interesting and easier to watch, or if they found a way to create in-between drawings to convert the animation “on twos” to being on every frame. This increased smoothness might make the bulging 3D less of a strain on the eyes. Before declaring that future conversions of traditional animation shouldn’t be done, I’d have to see more examples, but at this point, a fairly low benchmark has been set.

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