Over a Century of 3D Media

3D movies, and live and studio TV broadcasts, along with the 3D equipment used in cinemas and homes are certainly in the public eye here in 2011. But, although the current S3D (Stereo 3D) technology is new, the history of 3D moving pictures goes back over a century.

Around the turn of the 20th Century, British film pioneer William Friese-Greene filed a patent for a twin-projector 3D movie process. Frederick Eugene Ives subsequently proposed a stereo camera rig with lenses 1.75in apart.

By 1915, Edwin S Porter and William E Waddell demonstrated 3D test reels to an audience at the Astor Theater in New York City. But this proved to be a dead end. The earliest commercial 3D film seems to have been shown in September 1922 to an audience in Los Angeles, and during the ensuing two years a number of shorts, using a range of different 3D technologies were shown in movie theatres.

Stereoscopy and 3D still images

There are several basic approaches to stereoscopy, including:

Freeviewing - viewing a pair of images without a viewer, which entails the viewers to cross or diverge their eyes to get the images to coincide to give the illusion of depth.

Stereographic cards and the stereoscope - the stereoscope reduces eyestrain and through using magnifying lenses, the image appears larger and more real.

Transparency viewers - in the early 1930s, manufacturers launched viewers designed to work with stereo transparency pairs. A decade later, a refined version of the technology was brought to market, the highly successful and long-lived View-Master.

3D movie technologies

Polarization - By the early 1930s, Edwin H Land was producing his first polarizing products under the Polaroid brand, and saw the possibilities in stereoscopic applications. Two synchronized prints of the movie were projected using a special selsyn motor on to a silver screen - polarized 3D movies do not work on a regular white screen.

Between 1936 and the start of World War II, filmmakers in Europe and the US utilized Land’s technologies.

Anaglyph - The familiar glasses with red and green or red and blue lenses mounted in cardboard surrounds are typical of the Anaglyph technology used in the earliest 3D films in the 1950s. Later in the decade, movies adopted polarizing technology as a better quality alternative, and the 3D revival during the 80s and 90s also chose polarizing glasses as the user’s interface.

Stereo 3D (S3D) - two regular HD cameras are placed at approximately the same distance apart as human eyes - sometimes more; sometimes less, depending on the shot. Digital postproduction enables the director to edit and otherwise evolve the program. S3D projectors and TVs decode the finished S3D data and display the pictures on screen. Today, the most common viewing technology uses polarizing glasses to see the stereoscopic imagery, but can use anaglyph or active glasses. Glasses-free technology is being developed.

3D movies hit the mainstream

3D movies hit the mainstream in the 1950s with the first colour features, although the earliest black and white examples date back to the late 1940s. While 3D movies were important in American cinema throughout the decade, the processes were found to be too expensive and the results too uncertain to maintain 3D in the mainstream.

Later, during the 1980s and 90s, IMAX and Disney themed venues both brought 3D back into the public eye for specialized movies and presentations, based on technology using active glasses synchronized to the 3D program.

It took until after the turn of the millennium for 3D movies to return to the mainstream, using today’s Stereo 3D technology that can be equally well applied in broadcast and home cinema applications. Ten years into the new millennium, we are able to see many mainstream movies in 3D in our local cinemas, and buy 3D TVs on any high street.

3D seems here to stay at long last.

Steve Owen is Director of Marketing at Quantel The company develops innovative, world-leading content creation systems for broadcast, post and DI. Quantel products deliver at SD, HD, 2K, 4K and S3D.

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