The advancement of technology has led to the transformation of movies from analog to digital formats and their distribution through a variety of mediums like optical disks, fixed or portable hard drives, and projectors. Moreover, the film viewing experience has changed since the introduction of enhanced formats of films like the high definition (HD) formats in DVD and Blu-Ray and 3D or IMAX viewing in theatres. HD discs or Advanced Optical Discs (AODs) can occupy less than 4.7 GB of data and use “more efficient compression techniques to reduce the sizes of the files they hold” (Ec-Council, 2009, p. 2-4). On the other hand, Blu-ray discs, produced by the company, Sony, can occupy larger files (less than 27 GB) and allows interactive features that viewers can access though the Internet. Both HD DVDs and Blu-ray formats “offer a dramatic improvement in picture and sound quality over established DVD technology and are designed to work with high-definition television sets” (Hill & Jones, 2009, p. 240). Moreover, both DVD and Blu-Ray discs record HD quality films but because Blu-Ray discs can capture a larger memory, the appearance of Blu-Ray films on screen is slightly better than DVDs.
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Aside from DVDs and Blu-Ray, people can also view films in theater that are in the 3D and IMAX formats. 3D is “a system of presenting film images so that they appear to be three-dimensional” (Wasko, Murdock & Sousa, 2011, p. 316). Although 3D has been around for a while now, the system gained attention since the release of James Cameron’s blockbuster hit, “Avatar.” After the film gained good reviews, not only because of the film’s plot but also because of the impact of 3D viewing, various theatres and cinemas adopted 3D screens and released some subsequent films in the same format. If 3D films are three-dimensional, IMAX films, on the other hand, have higher visual quality. IMAX “uses frames 10 times the size of 35 mm film, thus enhancing the quality of the image. IMAX films are also fairly popular, but more expensive, than 3D films.
Although there are various formats through which the audience can watch movies and they often pay more in cinema tickets or in updating their devices that read DVDs, Blu-ray, or 3D discs, one important question concerns the difference between these new formats and the traditional formats. How significant are the changes or improvements in newer or advanced formats? What are the differences between traditional and new formats? Is viewing films in newer formats and paying more to see them worth it? To answer these questions, the succeeding discussion will focus on dissecting the film viewing experience by comparing the quality of film seen in traditional vs. enhanced formats. The film that will be compared will be the Disney animated film “Lion King” and “Avatar.”
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“Lion King” was released in 1994 by Walt Disney Pictures. I saw the animated film in DVD format years ago and saw the 3D version of it in the theatre when it was released in December 2011. Since the film was made and released during the early nineties, the effects and enhancement for the 3D version of “Lion King” was only added post-production. Re-releasing films as 3D versions is common nowadays. Studios are picking up one of the best films that were blockbuster hits, especially animated films, and then re-releasing them with HD or 3D effects and enhancements. Aside from “Lion King,” there are other films that were released recently as 3D versions like “Titanic,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Star Wars,” and “Toy Story.” Studios are also planning to re-release “Jurassic Park” as a 3D movie. Although people have seen these films before, they go to theaters to see it again because of the promise of better visuals and movie viewing experience.
When working with 3D post-production, the effects and enhancements are added in different stages – compositing, the visual effects (VFX) or motion graphics, and color correction. In compositing, the layering of the images in the film is altered in order to produce three-dimensional visuals. After three-dimensional layering, the 3D effects are then added to different elements in the film, specifically the visual elements that would make the 3D effects more noticeable and effective such as dust movements, smoke, raindrops, and sparks. During the color correction stage, every shot in the film is corrected in order to ensure that the color grading is consistent. The correction is made from every angle in order to make sure that the three-dimensional effects stand out (Beane, 2012). Considering the amount of work that animators do to add in 3D effects post-production, one would expect the results to be highly significant. However, when I compare the film, “Lion King,” as I saw it on DVD and the 3D version I saw in the theater, I have to say that the 3D effects do not make any significant difference. Wearing 3D glasses and sitting in the theater to see the movie on the big screen makes it more enjoyable, but I would also say the same if I saw the movie in 2D in the same setting.
The 3D effects and enhancements on the film worked best in scenes where there were landscape scenes or movements all over the screen. For instance, one of the best 3D scenes in “Lion King” is during the stampede when animals were moving and dust and sand were flying around them. The 3D effects also work best when there are many subjects in a particular shot. In the movie, there is one scene where all the hyenas were in the same shot at different levels of the setting and their images were illuminated by fire. The different positions of the subjects and shadowy effects of the fire looked good on 3D. Moreover, the 3D effects and enhancements looked best in landscape scenes. In the film, there is a shot of the Pride Lands. The setting sun, the movement of the wind and the trees, and the animals looked better on 3D. Overall, the 3D effects on the film worked best on shots where there were many movements, various subjects on different parts of the screen, and in colorful sceneries.
In terms of color, “Lion King” on DVD appears brighter than the 3D version, but in 3D, the colors in the movie stood out and looked richer and more vibrant. The richer and vibrant colors made the visual experience more satisfying than the movie I saw on DVD. Essentially, the size of the screen also makes a difference. I saw the DVD version of the movie on a 48-inch LCD television. From the particular viewing experience alone, I was visually satisfied because I saw it on a large screen and the DVD quality is nothing to complain about. What made the 3D experience better were the size of the screen, the awareness that I was inside the theater, and the excitement of re-watching a classic on 3D. In terms of the technical details related to the 3D version of the film, the viewing experience was better because of the richer and vibrant colors and the 3D effects during the most intense scenes. However, watching the film on 3D was a little unsatisfying because I think the effects were not the impressive. There were only few scenes where the 3D scenes worked. The 3D version of “Lion King” does not set itself apart that much from the DVD format of the film and considering the difference in ticket prices between the 2D and 3D film versions, I think that my money was wasted on viewing the film on 3D.
When it comes to the viewing experience of “Avatar” on 3D, however, it is much more satisfying than watching the film on Blu-ray. I saw “Avatar” on 3D first before re-watching it on Blu-ray and there is a significant difference between the two versions. The colors on the Blu-ray format are already visually appealing because of the setting of the film, but on 3D, the movie was much more impressive. The 3D effects and enhancement worked best, of course, in the world of Avatar. The color of the humanoid species in Avatar as well as the lush surroundings in that place made the 3D effects stand out. Moreover, the film was fast-paced and so there were many movements throughout the film making the 3D effects constant and thus, more satisfying in the movie. The best 3D scenes in “Avatar” include the part when Jake Sully’s character is exploring the world. Another good scene in 3D is the battle scene towards the end. The part was fast-paced and the camera movement was fast and jerky, and all the characters were moving about in the same shot.
Based on my evaluations of the viewing experience in seeing “Lion King” in DVD and 3D formats and “Avatar” in Blu-ray and 3D formats, I think the effectiveness of 3D effects and enhancements vary. The outcomes depend on the type of film. Although “Lion King” is an animated film and the 3D animation could have worked best in this type of film, I think, perhaps the effects being added post-production could have limited the outcomes of 3D. However, the 3D effects and enhancements. Moreover, the kinds of shots or scenes in the film did not help much in enhancing the effects of 3D. However, in the film “Avatar,” the 3D effects and enhancement stood out and worked best because of the setting of the film, the characters in the film, the colors used in the film, and the pacing – more action, more movements, and thus, more 3D effects. In viewing “Lion King,” the difference between the DVD and 3D format is not that significant, meaning I would have been satisfied seeing the film just on DVD if I knew what the 3D version would look like. On the other hand, I would prefer to see “Avatar” on 3D more than seeing it on a smaller screen on Blu-ray.
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