For the entire past week, the buzz in Asmara has been about the viewing of Avatar at the big screen of Cinema Roma. Not that most people failed to see the academy award winning film before, but the fact that it was being presented in the 3D technology, and the very latest at that, gave the event added prominence. And boy if it wasn’t a treat!
If my memory serves me well, the first time I ever had anything to do with 3D was a couple of years ago when my youngest brother brought home the then latest edition of Guinness Book of World Records. Distributed with the book was a pair of anaglyph red and blue glasses, that made certain images in the book appear as if they were coming on to you right out of the pages.
Back then, I was amazed at how the images made the human brain and eyes create the impression of a third dimension.
After that, 3D for me was nothing but a mention in the Box Office list of new movies or here and there in the web. Until of course, fliers and posters began circulating in Asmara, advertising the Avatar in 3D in Cinema Roma.
It was even more close and personal to me as the person responsible for all the 3D fanfare now going on in Asmara was not just any lay businessperson, but a young cousin of mine, Merih Mesfin, whom I have known all my life to be the type always manipulating technology gadgets.
Sometime ago, I remember Merih telling me that he wanted to introduce 3D cinema to Eritrea. Back then, I admired his big thoughts but didn’t really approve of the idea, as I feared it might not be as lucrative and effective as desired, me concerns being the new technology would be far way too advanced for a small country like ours. He proved me wrong.
“What really made you think of 3D in the first place?” I asked Merih. He was giving detailed, and too much technical I might add, explanations at a family get together last week.
“When I saw that anaglyph glass in the Guinness book, I started researching on the internet how it all worked. I took two cameras and worked on an image, eventually succeeding in attaining that 3D effect.”
His lucid descriptions of how the technology really worked would sound gibberish to the lay reader. Let me try and simplify it (hoping I wasn’t lost in translating the technical terminologies into my own simplified English).
Our eyes are approximately 5 cm to 7.5 cm apart — accordingly, each eye sees a slightly different part of the world around us. Let me illustrate with a simple example. Hold up a pen, pencil or any other thin object. Close one eye. Now switch.
The image on either side should be similar but slightly offset. These two slightly different images enter the brain, at which point it does some high-powered geometry to make up for the disparity between the two images.
This disparity is “3D” — essentially, your brain making up for the fact that you’re getting two different perspectives of the same thing.
This is also, essentially, what modern 3D technology is trying to replicate. All those silly sunglasses and silver-coated projectors are all designed to feed your individual eyes different however perspectives of the same image.
In a nutshell, 3D is as simple as using two cameras to capture the data that our eyes would, but it's the display part that's proven tricky. Ultimately, the technology has to find a way to present each eye with a different variation of an image, at that point our eyes and brain do the rest.
A walk in the park, right? Well, yes. It is easy for your brain to figure out the disparity between the two images.
Your brain can automatically figure out all the angles and math and geometry to sync the images. The hard part is getting a camera to do the same thing, and to get those individual images to your individual eyes without butchering the whole effect.
When Merih successfully created a 3D viewable image, he set higher goals and started working on how to create animated picture in 3D, which was an even tougher and mindboggling feat to endure.
At that time, Avatar was being screened in America in 3D. Merih contemplated the idea of bringing the 3D cinema to Asmara audience. But there was none problem: the anaglyph glasses had several side effects, including headaches and blurred visions among few others.
Taking into account these setbacks, SONY had come up with a replacement for the anaglyphs: passive (or active) polarized glasses. With the advent of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, games were transmitted in full 3D presentations and the passive glasses were found to deliver better all-around 3D imaging, including sharpness, contrast and resolution.
“With the new glasses available, the only thing I thought about at that time was how to introduce all that to Eritrea. So I conducted a feasibility study and weighed the pros and cons of going into that venture,” Merih said, explaining how he had run things at the professional level for a creditable job.
He soon found out however, that the 3D business entailed more hard work than he anticipated. When it came to the projector an ordinary one wouldn’t do; the screen would have to match the projector; thick framed lenses that were compatible with the screen had to be provided; and many other technicalities… The list of things to be cared for was not short.
Realizing the venture would need more than just his own financing, Merih recruited two other individuals, who would at least be an additional financial source, and set out more determined than ever to accomplish what he had embarked on.
If there is a will, there is a way. He eventually managed to take care of every minimal detail and on Saturday June 30, 2012 Cinema Roma opened its doors for Asmara audience, who were beyond excitement to put on their glasses and experience the genuine feeling of being part of the movie.
That day as I looked all around the dark cinema hall, I couldn’t help noticing how some of the audience members made some head or hand gests, as if they were trying to dodge what looked like was coming right out of the screen. Indeed, Avatar looked like a mind-blowingly immersive alien landscape instead of a bunch of brightly colored fuzz. And in some of the scenes, where there was high 3D content, the audience members were not just viewing the film; they felt as if they were in it.
“Were you happy? What was the feedback of the audience?” These were questions we asked Merih at home.
“I was more than happy. To see them deeply immersed and enjoying the movie was really a wonderful experience for me. For most of them, it was an experience of a lifetime and I am glad that I was able to at least make that happen,” Merih said.
He wanted Eritrea to follow in the steps of the very few African countries that have introduced the technology so far.
“So what’s the next step now?”
“I didn’t want to stop at this. I have started a project and am working on a music video in 3D. It’ll be the first of its kind in Eritrea and in a few months, God willing, we’ll get to see an Eritrean production in 3D.”
He didn’t want to disclose any details as to hose music video or which song he was working on. I guess time will answer that.
“But why does it take such a long time?”
“It’s a process that asks you a lot of patience. When Avatar was being filmed for instance, some scenes, and I’m saying just a few seconds in length, took as many as four or more days to shoot. It’s really an intricate process and can’t be rushed,” Merih explained how a lot of fancy footwork goes into creating 3D. He went on saying that the real heavy lifting, however, was all just a matter of geometry and precision.
“To get a 3D image, you essentially need two versions of the same scene filmed from the precisely correct angle as if your eyes were seeing the same scene. And that takes up time,” Merih pointed out.
Answering to a question on how this technology would help Eritrean cinematography, Merih’s firm reply was it would encourage competitiveness for better productions.
“It’s common knowledge that media influences people. If we are to promote our historical, cultural or other heritages to the world, one way of achieving that easily is the film industry. Let’s look at the Hollywood films for instance. A good American movie always imparts patriotic feelings to its citizens and makes other want to be Americans, or more like them. That’s the power of films. In our context, let’s say I produce a movie in 3D. People would rather watch that production rather than an ordinary 2D film. So I think this would in the long run encourage a spirit of competiveness among the not so few film producers…” stressed Merih.
“But how about cost wise? I can only imagine the exorbitant prices possibly incurred…” I had to ask.
“Well, if two people can get together, I don’t see any reason why money should be a problem. After all, two heads are always better than one,” Merih responded.
Avatar has been on for the entire past week and people are still coming in waves to get a glimpse at that magical thing. Merih has promised a line of other 3D presentations for the coming months.
I wish him luck on his endeavors and congratulate him on a job well done. I am sure we’ll hear many great things from him. (Shaebia.org)