You don’t look so good: ‘Avatar,’ 3-D movies and the science of queasiness

Jan. 11, 2010 | 5:39 p.m.

Over at our new sister blog, 24 Frames, there’s an interesting piece by Rachel Abramowitz about the headaches of 3-D, although you won’t hear any complaints from Jim Cameron and his wife, Suzy Amis, shown here at last month’s premiere of “Avatar” at Roppongi Hills in Tokyo.


“Avatar” may be dazzling people with its immersive technology, but if you’re one of those people who gets  a headache after seeing it or any other 3-D film, there’s hope —  or, at least, an explanation.

According to Steven Nusinowitz, associate professor at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute, roughly 20% of the population can get eye strain or headaches from watching movies in 3-D. That’s because the new 3-D technology can’t completely simulate the complex visual system in our brains.

Here’s the basic breakdown: The new 3-D technology works by presenting a different image to each eye  and rapidly switching between the two, as frequently as 140 times per second. “The two eyes are getting separate images, which are then integrated in the brain into three dimensions,” Nusinowitz says.

The problem with that is that in real life, he says, “You’re also getting information about depth from the way your eyes converge on a point, how your eyes are pointed at the target. In the movie theater, while they’re simulating 3-D, they’re not compensating for that by modifying the convergence of the eye. If you don’t have that information, your brain gets confused on what it’s looking at, and in some cases, that can produce discomfort…”


— Rachel Abramowitz


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PHOTO: Junko Kimura / Getty Images

More in: Uncategorized, Avatar, James Cameron


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