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'The Great Gatsby' in 3D: What to Watch for

Filmmakers find 3D makes for a powerful close-up.

The Great Gatsby Leonardo DiCaprio Carey Mulligan - P 2012
Warner Bros.
Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan

The use of 3D in some movies has been widely lauded -- including the recent Life of Pi -- while its use in others has been harshly criticized, notably Clash of the Titans, which prompted many to dismiss the format as a gimmick.

Color and sound were also considered gimmicks when they were first introduced and before they became accepted and understood as a tool --not unlike lighting or production design -- that can be used in the service of the story.

A couple of years ago, we decided to examine the creative potential of 3D, co-authoring Exploring 3D: The New Grammar Stereoscopic Filmmaking (Focal Press 2012), which examines this topic through interviews with filmmakers and case studies.

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During the period of our research, we examined projects ranging from fantasy films to documentaries to live event coverage -- but at that point, drama had been among the least explored uses. Still, when interviewing filmmakers who had used 3D for dramatic intent, there was a common thread in that they identified the power in a close-up.

“A close-up with 3D volume and detail is incredible, as it heightens the viewer’s access to the actor’s emotion. You can read the subtlest of expression and look straight into their eyes,” related The Great Gatsby's director of photography Simon Duggan in Exploring 3D.

We’re grateful to the filmmakers who shared their views and experiences, Among them were the Gatsby team, including director Baz Luhrmann, executive producer Barrie M. Osborne and Duggan -- who at the time were still in production on the movie.

It’s been widely publicized as Gatsby’s release approached that seeing Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder in its intended 3D form helped convince Luhrmann to use the format on his adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel.

“It wasn’t things coming at me that was interesting to me -- what was interesting was to see Grace Kelly just moving around in a room in 3D,” Luhrmann said more recently. “I mean, I just wanted to reach out and touch her. And the camera’s not moving, she’s just moving and acting. So, it struck me how much 3D is like the theatre, how powerful it is in 3D when an actor moves toward the camera as opposed to moving the camera toward an actor.”

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The film was lensed with Red cameras using 3Ality Technica 3D rigs, but before making that decision, the potential to create emotional impact using 3D was tested at Sony’s 3D technology center (which is now part of Sony’s Digital Motion Picture Center). The filmmakers’ conclusion was that the production could use volume to bring the viewers closer to the humanity in the actors' performances.

As explained in Exploring 3D: “Extreme close-ups were selected for intense moments, while mid-shots with two or three characters in frame at varying distances from the lens conveyed ‘not only the interaction between the characters in frame but additional detail and volume, so that the viewer can find their own close-up on any character within the frame,’ says Duggan. ‘An actor’s body language is amplified in 3D. The shot is easier to read because you are a lot more aware of detail.’ ”

In Exploring 3D, Luhrmann cited a climatic dialogue-driven scene set at the Plaza Hotel, saying " As I approached Gatsby I had the idea already in my head that the big special effects finale for us would not be what we might do that is visually rich in 3D, but what a one-of-a-kind ensemble of actors might do in a single room in the Plaza Hotel, tearing at each others' hearts and feelings during a ten-page scene."