Storytelling, Reality, and Utopians of the Image
COW Library : Stereoscopic 3D : Tim Wilson : Storytelling, Reality, and Utopians of the Image
Utopians of the Image. That's an evocative phrase, isn't it? Ray Zone uses it in his article in this issue of the COW Magazine. We look at the world and see motion, he says, so we put our pictures in motion. We live in a three-dimensional world, so we make those motion pictures in 3D. It is inevitable that the way we experience the world makes its way into our storytelling.
Not that mimicking reality is the goal. The earliest filmmakers embraced the ways that film is different from reality. It guided them in the creation of film's fundamental visual vocabulary - starting with the Cut. Even though we see them together, nobody can be on both sides of an edit, in either time or space. It is impossible for a single person to have those two physical perspectives at the same time. After the invention of the Cut, then,, well, reality as we experience it is gone, and anything is possible.
The same is true for all of the advancements in the cinematic tools that we have at our disposal. For example, a quick look at the before and after section of any colorist's reel will show you how the artistry of color only begins with the colors you see in the world. The colorist's goal is sometimes to enhance those colors, and other times, to bend them to the storyteller's will. From cave paintings to CGI, from firelight to three-point lighting, from cartoons to the canons of history -- reality is simply one of the tools that serves the storyteller.
As artists, we can more effectively manipulate audiences when we understand how they perceive the world, and then start messing with it. And the more recognizable the elements we use to tell a story, the more persuasive we can be. As audience members, we know that there are no killer robots, and that these actors on screen aren't really lovers dying in each other's arms - yet it bothers us when we sense that it's not true. From the time that we first heard stories as humans, we have wanted to be persuaded by illusions. When storytelling is persuasive, we never say, "That could never happen," no matter how fantastic, because in the world that storytellers and audiences enter together, it just did happen.
Depth is one of those fundamental perceptions that we can use to make our stories more persuasive. One form of dimension or another has been part of visual storytelling for a very long time, at least since perspective was added to painting. (Probably earlier, but that's about as far back as I can go without actually looking it up.) We now have more ways to manipulate depth - and to do so more effectively - than we have ever had before. We are on the verge of a new age of cinematic storytelling, says Brian Gardner in these pages, in which we won't talk about going to a "3D movie" any more than we say that we're going to the "talkies" today. "3D movies" will just be "movies."
I'm oversimplifying that part of Brian's very elegant discussion, and floating merrily down the stream from Ray's, but Utopia need not be a myth. It's possible to use 3D images in a way that neither mimics reality nor annoys us, that serves storytelling on an equal footing with motion, sound, color, and the Cut.
Reading this issue, you'll be reminded of how early we are in this stage of its evolution, and the extent to which we're still very much making it all up as we go along. You might also recall that Utopia as Sir Thomas More first envisioned it was not just a place, but a community, as you read stories by people taking extreme measures to tell stories the way that they want to, and empowering the people around them to do the same.
In the end, even the most cynical of us has enough hope to sit in the dark and say, "Tell me a story." The artists in this issue add one more dimension of human visual perception to their stories as they reply, "You ain't seen nothin' yet."