Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Missing Out On 3-D Magic

People with impaired binocular vision from crossed or lazy eyes can't appreciate the new standard in 3-D technology

Four-year-old Isabelle Wurmser had high expectations for the next hour and a half of her life as she nestled into a large, upholstered seat at a multiplex theatre, her skinny legs dangling off the edge.
She'd strapped a large pair of theatre-issued 3-D glasses on top of her prescription pair and was all set to see Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs at a theatre in Jersey Shore, N.J. Her parents had shelled out an extra $3 so she could see the mammoths and sabre-toothed squirrel coming right at her.
But after the film finished, Isabelle felt ripped off. While the rest of the audience had marvelled over the 3-D effects, she hadn't seen a single one. Admittedly, the venture had been a crapshoot from the start: Isabelle is legally blind in one eye.
“She has very bad depth perception,” says her mother, MaryTara Wurmser. “She's always running into walls, tripping and falling.”
Ms. Wurmser was hesitant about taking Isabelle to the film, but the hype around RealD – the new standard in 3-D technology – gave her hope that her daughter might be able to see what the rest of the family did. In the end, all Isabelle saw was two dimensions.

In the recent weeks after the release of James Cameron's blockbuster Avatar in 3-D, others like Isabelle with impaired binocular vision have flooded online discussion boards, asking if those who have seen the film picked up on the added effects.
“I have a lazy eye ...I've noticed these RealD glasses are a lot different from 3D glasses of old...Which I come to think offers me some sense of hope in watching Avatar in 3D,” wrote one user at
“Can a person that suffers from amblyopia (also known as lazy eye) see a 3D movie?” inquired another on Yahoo! Answers.
When filmmakers began integrating RealD into their films a few years ago (the first with wide release was Chicken Little in 2005), developers boasted that it was a major improvement on the old standard. The most popular version at the time was anaglyph, in which two projectors are used to screen a film – one shows parts in red and the other in blue, and the viewer wears a pair of red-and-blue glasses to get the 3-D experience.
Anaglyph 3-D was criticized for causing headaches among viewers – even those with perfect vision. Keeping the two projectors perfectly aligned was virtually impossible, explains Rick Heineman, a spokesman for Los Angeles-based RealD.
The new technology uses one projector, and glasses with polarized lenses that cut blur and allow viewers to tilt their heads without losing image clarity.

But despite the improvements, Mr. Heineman says, the technology unfortunately can't reach a universal audience.
“There are still people [who] due to physiological differences aren't able to experience 3-D. ... That would be regardless of 3-D technology,” he says.
Those with impaired binocular vision (an estimated 3 per cent of the population) will likely see the film as 2-D from behind their fancy specs, says Duncan Anderson, an associate professor of ophthalmology at the University of British Columbia.
The two most common conditions that interrupt binocular vision are strabismus (crossed eyes or wandering eye) and amblyopia (lazy eye). Both are brain-based rather than eye-based, and develop during childhood.
Isabelle suffers from the latter. As her brain was developing, it chose to receive more visual input from one eye than the other, creating one dominant eye and one lazy one. She wears a patch over her dominant eye for a few hours a day to force the other to get stronger, but it's still weak.
There was a glimmer of hope for Ms. Wurmser when, during the preview for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Isabelle asked her: “Was that meatball flying at my head?” But as soon as Ice Age began, everything she saw was limited to two dimensions.
Ms. Wurmser took Isabelle to see Pixar's Up in 3-D a few months later, but halfway through the film the four-year-old took the special glasses off in frustration.

“After the movie she said, ‘Why was the movie so blurry?' ” Ms. Wurmser says. “You have to pay extra (for 3-D) and you don't even get to keep the glasses! I have a hard time justifying it when she can't see it.”
Dr. Anderson says that if one eye is only 20 per cent weaker than the other, those with amblyopia might be able to experience 3-D effects, but otherwise the chances are very slim. “I would tell them to go to the regular version. It will be certainly as good as or maybe better than the [3-D] one.”

Taken from Monday's Globe & Mail
Dakshana Bascaramurty

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