Is waving things at the camera always a 3D gimmick?

Is waving things at the camera always a 3D gimmick? July 24, 2012

Yesterday, I was watching The Adventures of Tintin with the kids, and I was struck — not for the first time — by the way some images that were obviously designed for 3D can look a little odd, composition-wise, when viewed in a 2D format.

I have never had a problem watching movies like, say, Up in 2D, because those films used 3D to accentuate the existing depth of their images, without trying to poke you in the eye; when the third dimension is stripped out, you can still appreciate the image for what it is, even for its depth of composition. But whenever I watch animated films like, say, Kung Fu Panda 2 at home, I am struck by the way they often throw in gratuitous shots of people wagging objects at the camera; it is almost as though they were trying to remind you, the viewer at home, that you’re watching a less-than-optimal version of the film, which is kind of odd when you think about it.

But then the kids and I watched another movie which made me wonder if I was becoming a bit too sensitive to this sort of thing. Specifically, we watched A Bug’s Life, a film that came out way back in the 1990s, years before the digital 3D trend got going. And here, too, there was a scene where someone waved an object — well, actually a character, namely Slim the Walking Stick — right at the camera:

Now, if this movie had been made at any point in the past three to seven years (the digital 3D format basically got going, on a commercial level, with the release of Disney’s Chicken Little in 2005, and of course it hit its tipping point with the release of Avatar in 2009), I might have assumed that the image above was generated with 3D exhibition in mind. But, unless someone at Pixar was really forward-thinking about this sort of thing, that almost certainly wasn’t the case.

So, maybe I shouldn’t react so negatively every time a character wags something at the camera? Maybe I should assume, for the sake of charity if nothing else, that the animators might have had characters wagging things at the camera anyway even if the film had been made for 2D? Innocent until proven guilty and all that?

Footnote: A Bug’s Life is one of the few early Pixar films that has not been reformatted for 3D yet. Toy Story and Toy Story 2 were re-issued as a 3D double-bill in 2009, and both Finding Nemo and Monsters Inc. will be re-released in 3D later this year. What do those films have that A Bug’s Life doesn’t? Sequels, imminent or otherwise!

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  • This has more to do with live-action, but I think John Woo was fond of waving stuff at the camera in some of his more American action films (I’m thinking specifically of BROKEN ARROW and FACE/OFF). There were always shots long-barreled shotguns photographed to make that barrel look long, menacing and very very big. Jan DeBont does a similar thing a couple times in SPEED. James Cameron even has a shot like that in T2 (just after the semi-crash as the Terminator takes aim at what tuns out to be a rolling, fiery tire).

    Anyway, this isn’t meant to be contentious or anything, just an observation. I think action directors favor the technique more than anything. 3-D has just given more rise to its use.