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“Fake 3D,” Real Work: Rethinking the Creative Labor and Cultural Perception of 3D Conversion


From 2010 to 2019, the Hollywood studios consistently released 3D conversions of their biggest 2D blockbusters for both domestic and international markets. Yet, despite this continued prominence, the scholarly field of cinema and media studies has largely neglected this industrial and creative practice. Building on production studies methods and research frameworks, this dissertation addresses this blind spot by rethinking 3D conversion as an industrial interpretive act and as a cultural phenomenon, one that inspired debates among industry professionals, film critics, and audiences about how they understand cinema as (not) art. To date, existing scholarship on 3D cinema has focused almost exclusively on filmmakers using 3D cameras, also known as native 3D. Consequently, media scholars have unwittingly perpetuated the biases of popular and industrial critical discourse, which habitually favors native 3D as more creatively legitimate than converted 3D. My research deconstructs such hierarchies and assumptions to more clearly understand 3D conversion—both the labor involved in its processes and the aesthetic principles that guide the conversion. Alternately, I argue that the three main conversion companies—DNEG (formerly two companies, Gener8 and Prime Focus), Legend3D, and Stereo D—do not simply add depth cues to 2D footage. Rather, 3D conversion professionals closely study 2D film images to produce a parallel text in a process I call creative interpretation.

This research builds on original interviews conducted with key executives, co-founders, and/or supervisors representing the Big Three conversion companies. The project situates these findings within larger historical and contemporaneous discourses to highlight how professionals’ explanations both directly and indirectly participate in public debates about the cultural legitimacy of their craft. Further, the structure of this dissertation highlights how the cultural perception of 3D conversion exists at the intersection of multiple assumptions about cinematic legitimacy, specifically those concerning 3D as spectacle, reformatted texts as aberrations, and digital technologies as antithetical to cinema’s analog roots. By considering and then problematizing these perspectives, I hope to not only uncover the complex cultural dimensions of 3D conversion but also propose new paths for research on professionals who reformat films in a multiplatform media ecosystem.

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