Interstellar in 3D and other reflections

If you have not seen Interstellar, be warned, spoilers ahead.

If you have seen it, then you and I probably share the same reaction.


The visuals and sounds are beyond breathtaking. I saw it in 70mm IMAX print, and the height and width of the screen filled up my entire peripheral vision. I had to tilt around my head just to see across the entire image plane.

Every element of the film: the image, the score, the sound or the lack thereof, the dialogue, the editing, and the sheer size of the projection screen, they all contributed to an absolute immersive experience that seared itself inside my head.

After the film ended, I could not help but think how much different the film would be if it was shot and/or shown in stereoscopic 3D. Don’t get me wrong, Interstellar does not need any fancy 3D treatment. Christopher Nolan did a fantastic job telling the story purely with 2D visuals and sound.

However, under hypothetical situation that Nolan agrees to let me play around with his baby, and approve the use of S3D for parts of Interstellar, I would choose three scenes that I think would be the most suitable: The wormhole scene, the docking of the spinning Endurance scene, and lastly, the 4-dimensional tesseract scene.

The Wormhole Scene

The Endurance crew has to travel through a wormhole to get to the far-away galaxy. The problem, within and beyond the story, is that nobody knows what a wormhole looks like or will look like once somebody goes in, since wormholes are only theoretical phenomenons derived from theories and equations.

This whole sequence is very scientific, in fact. Kip Thorne, the executive producer and a famous theoretical physicists, gave his equations on how light waves distorts and bends around a wormhole to the visual effects team. The above image you see is the accurate representation of an wormhole if it were to ever exist.

From a storytelling perspective, the crews of the Endurance are as intrigued and scared as we are, since neither us or them have no idea what will happen once they step across the wormhole.

Visually, Nolan kept the shots very static and the pacing long. Cutting back only from the interior of the ship to the outside occasionally. The focus is primarily on the visuals so that audiences could fully absorb the amazing sight of the wormhole tunnel. There is also no music. Every single decibel of sound you rattling, shaking, and engine noise is within the airtight atmosphere of the ship.

I would not change much if this sequence was made for S3D. Other than a few compositional changes to focus more on the wormhole, I will keep the integrity of the sequence and the smooth pacing of the shots.

The wormhole will be definitely be the star (no pun intended), mostly because the wormhole has very very interesting visuals that could look SUPER interesting in stereo 3d.

Just imagine, you have this gigantic sphere of a wormhole in front of you, but everything within the sphere, are images of the distant galaxy millions of light years away. The juxtaposition between the negative parallax and positive parallax will definitely snatch onto the eyeballs of every movie-goer and keep them entertained.

Once you travel into the wormhole, the geometry of the environment takes form to be a cylinder, which is suitable for a stereoscopic 3D scene. There is foreground elements of the time and space distorting around Endurance, the ship sits on the image plane, and more and more stars appear in the background ready to be distorted by the wormhole.

And in the end, there is a first person point of view shot which glides from the end of the wormhole to the new galaxy, which is also perfect for S3D treatment.

Nolan wanted this scene to be very grand, powerful, and at the same time, slightly unsettling. The S3D version of this sequence definitely could provide the exact depth cues so that audience could better understand the geometry of a wormhole, and deliver the magic of interstellar space travel at the same time.

The Spinning Docking Scene

This sequence is perhaps the most intense scene in the entire movie.

Mann (Matt Damon, the antagonist) had just jeopardized the entire mission and destroyed part of Endurance, now the main characters had no way of getting home. At least we thought they didn’t.

Cooper (Mcconaughey), the mission’s pilot, attempts the impossible and tries to dock his ship to the spinning mother ship.

In 2D version, the sequence is equally divided between the characters within the ship, closeups of the docking mechanism and the spinning motion, and extreme wide shots of the spinning ships against the barren of the frozen planet and its atmosphere.

Nolan’s intention is to convey how much is at stake and provide hope to the audience that the impossible needs to be accomplished. There was a fine line between showing the ship falling into the planet and the interiors of the ship where Copper attempts the impossible, so Nolan can juggle the emotion from positive to negative constantly.

In my S3D version, I would focus more on the a medium to wide exterior shot of the Endurance spinning, instead of the closeup on the docking mechanism. This way the audience could make sense of the environment more clearly with more depth cues such as how far the ship is away from crashing down to the planet, or how closely Cooper’s ship is to the Endurance.

My suggestion is mostly focus on Gravity and how well they did their S3D. Of course, there will still be interior shots to move the sequence forward, but more emphasis on a medium-wide shot throughout the sequence will give audience exactly the right story at the right time, without the distraction from the spinning motion of the ship.

The 4D Tesseract Scene

This whole sequence is mind-boggling.

It appears right after Cooper reaches the singularity within the black hole, he is transported to a tesseract that is supposedly comprised of light streaks and bookshelves.

Or the film’s way of describing it “a 3D representation of a the 4 dimensional world so it could be comprehended by human beings.” Or as I put it, Cooper is trapped within a web of interwoven light yarns made out of bookshelves.

I’m not exactly sure what I would do if this scene was created for stereoscopic 3D. I don’t know what 4D looks like, nor do I know what the spatial relationships could look like in a dumbed-down 4D version. Since the whole concept is that this sequence is a 4D space dumbed-down, so any existing spatial relationship in S3D might not be the most suitable.

A possible idea, however, is to constantly change the convergence in the sequence, as well as change the light yarn’s parallax so that they appear in negative parallax for one second and positive the next. This case the audience will be as confused as Cooper is, unsure of where he is and unsure of the depth cues surrounding him.

The only thing is that Cooper needs to be near the screen plane at all times, since he is the only 3D being within this sequence. The audience needs to be comfortable seeing him so that they would not be confused out of their minds.

Reflection of 3D

After taking the intro to 3D production class, I can say that 3D is not a gimmick that people can just decide to slap on their films at the last minute, but a storytelling tool that people can, and should incorporate into their films to drive the story forward.

I’ve always like watching 3D movies before taking this class, and after a semester of learning the basics, I love it even more. S3D brings out another dimension within the normal 2D film world and shows images the way human beings see the world natively, with depth cues and parallax.

I learned about the pros and cons of shooting in S3D versus post-converted S3D, and know now the differences and the different practicality of each technique.

Taking this class has change the way I analyze 3D too. Now instead of just mindless looking at the image, I will actively look for the convergence point and taking my glasses of to look at the parallax. I will try to analyze what each shot does and exactly what happens to the different elements on the screen and their relationship to one another.

Story wise, now I can firmly say that S3D can, and will add depth and dimensionality to the story. Audience members can get a better sense of the world within so they can focus on the plot as well as the environment around them. The depth in S3D also serves as another factor in the director’s arsenal, just like sound, music, or editing, the directors can freely change the convergence, the depth, the scale to impact audience’s mood depending on the story.

All in all, it has been a wonderful experience to learn about the world of S3D, and I cannot wait to get my hands on using the technique I learned in the field of animation and motion graphics.

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