Nº2 – JULY 2019

The Cinematic Tool of 3D: The Case of Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, 2014)

Nicole Konforti, B.S. Computer Science (Columbia University)
Nazli Yurdakul, B.A. Computer Science (Columbia University)

More videos in this issue:

Our video essay is a piece about the film Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013) and its place as one of, if not the most successful and groundbreaking use of 3D in cinema. Our work follows a chronological approach, starting with the history of 3D and its usage throughout the years. As David Bordwell explains in his analysis of Dial M for Murder, 3D as a format is not a new technological improvement. It rapidly gained and lost popularity in the 50s, which is why Hitchcock shot Dial M for Murder in 3D but ultimately decided to release it in 2D (2013). After this, it would take 3D more than 50 years to make a comeback.

In the first part of the audiovisual essay, we explain the reason for its return by describing the success of Avatar (James Cameron, 2009), the highest grossing movie of all time, along with its impact on the movie panorama and the problems faced by the film industry in terms of viewership and box office issues (Guerrasio, 2017). After explaining the economic issues faced by the industry and how they contributed to the rise of the number of 3D movies produced, we turn our focus to Gravity to analyze the differences between this film and the typical 3D movies produced in the 2000s. 

Although Gravity‘s plotline about space and the journey home has been used many times before, through this film, Alfonso Cuarón creates an unparalleled cinematic experience. From his usage of special effects, to his long, complex and breathtaking sequence shots, Cuarón is able to connect the audience to the characters in an extremely intimate way (Bordwell, 2017). Similarly, 3D directly added to Gravity‘s plot, enhancing Cuarón’s intended meaning and feelings for the audience. What sets Gravity apart from other movies that attempt 3D is that it truly feels real, making the audiences’ experience more compelling, as well as making the overall plot-line more convincing and imperative (Kauffman). Similarly to how the history of 3D creates the background for explaining the unique position Gravity holds among 3D movies, the pitfalls of other 3D movies, like Piranha 3DD (John Gulager, 2012), perpetuate the common notion that it is a cheap cinematic tool used only to increase a movie’s revenue. To emphasize this difference further, we explain the technical aspects of the shooting process of Gravity and contrast it to footage from Piranha 3DD. Nowadays, most movies are converted to 3D during post-production, which is the case for Piranha 3DD, however this process happened for Gravity during production itself, resulting in seamlessly woven together scenes to achieve a cohesive and flawless plotline before the shooting of each and every scene (Kauffman). 

While the history and current sub-par usage of 3D is important and relevant, ultimately we hope to emphasize the notion that Gravity has forever changed audiences’ expectations for the format, and how, in the right hands, 3D can be used to truly change the common movie-goer’s experience.



Bordwell, David. “DIAL M FOR MURDER: Hitchcock Frets Not at His Narrow Room.” Observations on Film Art, 17 June 2013, www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2012/09/07/dial-m-for-murder-hitchcock-frets-not-at-his-narrow-room/.

Bordwell, David. “GRAVITY, Part 2: Thinking inside the Box.” Observations on Film Art, 14 Oct. 2014, www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2013/11/12/gravity-part-2-thinking-inside-the-box/.

Guerrasio, Jason. “8 Years after the Original, the ‘Avatar’ Sequels Have Finally Begun Production on a $1 Billion Budget.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 26 Sept. 2017, www.businessinsider.com/avatar-sequels-begin-production-on-a-1-billion-budget-2017-9?r=US&IR=T.

Kaufman, Debra. “Creating the 3D in Gravity.” Creative Communities of the World, https://library.creativecow.net/article.php?author_folder=kaufman_debra&article_folder=Gravity-3D-Conversion&page=1