Avatar | The Problem With 3D | Life Through a Lens


I’ve enjoyed seeing Avatar – most recently at a very late night showing at the BFI Imax cinema. It’s not brilliantly plotted or scripted, but a great spectacle nonetheless.

However, I found myself focusing on a problem that 3D cinema has compounded – especially in the immersive environment of Imax. Because the screen is so large, and the 3D presentation gives the impression of depth, the temptation is to actually ‘look around’ the scene, rather than simply focus on the lead element in the shot. Trouble is, you can’t do this. There’s a fundamental depth of field problem when shooting through any lens: only one thing can be in focus at any one time.

I’m not really sure if there is any technological solution to this. But it struck me as an interesting limitation. No matter how immersive the experience, life through a lens has limited depth. The ability to change focus quickly, to draw in close and reach out wide, and for people to do this differently in the same vista, is uniquely real life.


3 responses to “Avatar | The Problem With 3D | Life Through a Lens”

  1. When IMAX first appeared, and most of the films were nature documentaries and so on, it was noted that people did look around more because of the immersive experience. And with avatar there isn’t a camera; the entire move is CG rendered. This means that if they wanted to they could easily get whatever depth of field they want (in fact infinite depth of field is easiest; they’ve spent money and effort to create a shallower DoF)

    I suspect that the shallow DoF is there precisely to prevent viewers from wandering off into the jungle.

  2. Interesting… Surely it’s not all cgi though is it? Seemed to be some ‘normal’ shots – and it was in these that I found it most distracting. Would be interesting to hear their thinking on creating such an immersive film but then opting to narrow the depth of field so that people don’t wander…

  3. I thought it was all CG. Maybe I’ll have to see it again in IMAX to check.

    Certainly there were a lot of CG shots where the only characters were human (e.g. the still you included above), and I never got irritated with people’s skin transparency changing as they switched between CG and photographed, or people with differing levels of skin transparency talking to each other (and that’s something that tends to irritate me)

    I also have no actual proof that the motivation for a narrow DoF was to prevent people wandering off; it might have been for some other reason (maybe we’re so used to it that films with infinite DoF look strange)