If you were to ask someone about the origins of 3D movies, chances are that a majority of people would trace the beginning to the 1950’s alien genre of films. While in many ways this would not be incorrect, we can actually go even further back in time to 1890 for the birth of 3D movies.
While mainly lost in the era of silent films and the silver screen stars of yesteryear such as Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplain, the first patent for stereoscopic filmmaking was granted to Englishman William Friese-Greene.
Stereoscopic three-dimensional film (now known as 3D) adds a third dimension to the filmgoer by playing with the illusion of depth perception. Images are recorded from two different perspectives designed to have the viewer’s left and right eye to see only one perspective thereby creating the 3D effect.
Early 3D equipment was large and unsuitable for commercial use until 1915 when the first theatrical feature was produced for a small test market in New York as was the now lost film “The Power of Love” in 1922, but neither of these took off and are a blip in the timeline of 3D.
There was little interest after this brief 3D trial until 1936 release of MGM’s Technicolor film “Audioscopiks” which was nominated for a Best Short Subject Academy Award. Another interesting footnote was that although these films were produced in Technicolor, they were viewed in Black and White by the audience. The Technicolor was only used to produce the red and blue 3D effect.
The 1940’s found the first 3D commercial release which used the new Polaroid 3D technology. This was the predecessor of the now familiar mass distribution of the 1950’s. The double projector was introduced and the still used disposable 3D cardboard glasses. Almost any film aficionado would be familiar with 1953’s horror movie “House of Wax” starring Vincent Price. This historical movie was the first to feature stereophonic sound and has seen two incarnations in 1971 and 2005.
The dual camera and film system presented enormous synchronization challenges which was resolved in the 1960’s with the singe strip format. Not only did this technology replace dual projectors but allowed widescreen viewing in perfect sync. 1970’s saw the 35mm tech of putting two images side by side.
The 1980’s saw a huge commercial reintroduction with Blockbusters such as “Jaws 3-D” and the hockey masked Jason terrorizing Crystal Lake in the “Friday the 13th” franchise. The embrace of Hollywood and large ticket sales played a huge role in the birth of the now familiar IMAX mega theatres of today.
The Ghosts of the Abyss was the first full-length IMAX 3-D feature in 2003 which were soon followed by such favorites as Star Trek and Polar Express in 2004. This snowballed to having conversions of existing 2D movies converted to 3D technology in mega hit “Superman Returns” 2006.
The future of 3D is yet to be seen. There has been an overall customer decline in recent years that some have suggested redressing by limiting 2D versions, thereby forcing audiences into the 3D sphere of cinematic experience.
One thing is certain, the last 126 years has had a profound impact on the exploding virtual reality market of today. By introducing depth perception into the cinematic experience, users have naturally progressed to the 360 degree immersive experience of VR. This next evolutionary step in virtual technology may one day have audiences looking at 2D blockbusters in a similar way to audiences of the 1960’s looking at black and white films.
Which would you prefer, a completely encompassing visual experience that has the illusion you are right in the movie or a flat 2D experience? Perhaps a bit of both for now as we go down the golden Hollywood road of entertainment.
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