3. Throwback Thursday - Transitions
Thirty-three years ago the National Film Board of Canada commissioned a production called Transitions to be showcased at the country's Expo 86 in Vancouver, the first-ever IMAX presentation using polarized glasses. It was also the first full-color 3D IMAX film.
In an article published in The Province newspaper in June 1986, film critic Michael Walsh described how the experience was sure to be "every small child's single most treasured memory of Expo 86," yet also says that every person who watched Transitions ended up reaching out to touch the teddy bear that floats off a toy factory assembly line and moves gradually closer to the viewer until they couldn't help but stretch out their hand. Walsh goes on to call the work "A joyous, exuberant cinema experience, Transitions celebrates a major breakthrough in film technology — 3D that works."
From the beginning, Walsh wrote, the whole point of stereoscopic filmmaking has been to create a depth dimension so real that the human eye could believe in images that the mind knows are illusory. Colin Low (the film's director), together with his Film Board team, does just that, combining mechanical expertise with a sense of elegant whimsy to produce a picture that is both an experiment and a demonstration of new potential. "Their film is an inventory of breath-taking effects. From a fixed position, McNabb's camera puts dressed lumber, a gymnast and that wonderful teddy bear within our apparent reach. Parallel tracking shots follow voyageur canoes along a wilderness river and a historic steam locomotive across the country. When McNabb tracks forward, the audience drives down a rural road behind a vintage automobile, trots around a track just inches ahead of a harness racehorse and, briefly, sits astride a speeding motorcycle."
So perhaps when we look at the past five years or so since this latest wave of enthusiasm for immersive technologies has started, it is useful to ponder on how long the technology has been enthusing people for. The difference now is that they no longer need an IMAX setup to do so. And although a portmanteau of random special effects would probably not be enough to keep audiences interested for long nowadays, Walsh's experience also demonstrates how engaging content is key to getting people to embrace it.