There has probably been no cinematic special effect that has the longevity that the process of three-dimensional filmmaking has. From the B-movies of the 1950’s right up to the state of the art big-budget blockbusters being presented in 3-D on cinema screens today, the effect of 3-D has held a tremendous grip on moviegoers since its very inception and the allure of this tantalizing effect has on the eyes and the mind have kept moviegoers enraptured and hungry for more.
In order to fully understand how movies in three-dimension became popular in the first place we must go back to America circa the 1950’s. With the advent of television after the Second World War, many moviegoers opted to stay home and watch their television sets instead of going out to the cinema. Filmmakers needed a gimmickâ€¦ something that would make the movie going experience unique and the gimmick would have to be something that could not be replicated on television sets.
Thus, the concept of three-dimensional entertainment was born. When the 3-D format was first introduced on the American cinematic scene, the format could only be replicated in movie theaters and in order to view the film in the three-dimensional format, a movie goer would need a special pair of glasses and keep the glasses on while the movie was shown.
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Although there are several ways a 3-D film can be made, the most popular method which Hollywood employed was the use of polarization filters. Also known as stereoscopy, two forms of polarization filters are used in the process: linearly polarized glasses and circularly polarized glasses. With linear polarization, in order to present a stereoscopic motion picture, two images are projected superimposed onto the same screen through orthogonal polarizing filters. A metallic screen surface is required to preserve the polarization. The projector can receive their outputs from a computer with a dual- head graphics card. The viewer then wears low-cost eyeglasses which also contain a pair of orthogonal polarizing filters. As each filter only passes light which is similarly polarized and blocks the orthogonally polarized light, each eye only sees one of the images and the effects achieved. Linearly polarized glasses require the viewer to keep his head level, as tilting of the viewing filters will cause the images of the left and right channels to bleed over to the opposite channel. This is generally not a problem as viewers learn very quickly not to tilt their heads. In addition, since no head tracking is involved, several people can view the stereoscopic images at the same time.
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With the process of circular polarization, two images are projected superimposed onto the same screen through circular polarizing filters of opposite handedness. The viewer wears low-cost eyeglasses which contain a pair of analyzing filters (circular polarized mounted in reverse) of opposite handedness. Light that is left-circularly polarized is extinguished by the right-handed analyzer; while right-circularly polarized light is extinguished by the left-handed analyzer. The result is similar to that of stereoscopic viewing using linearly polarized glasses; except the viewer can tilt his head and still maintain left/right separation.
The History Behind the 3-D Process
The stereoscopic era of motion pictures did not begin in the 1950’s, but much further back. In the late 1890’s, British film pioneer William Friese-Greene filed a patent for a 3-D movie process. In his patent, two films were projected side by side on a screen. The viewer looked through a stereoscope to converge the two images. Because of the obtrusive mechanics behind this method, theatrical use was not practical. Fredercik Eugen Ives patented his stereo camera rig in 1900. The camera had two lenses coupled together 1 Â¾ inches apart.
On June 10, 1915 Edwin S. Porter and William E. Waddell presented tests to an audience at the Astor Theater in New York City. In red-green anaglyph, the audience was presented three reels of tests, which included rural scenes, test shots of Marie Doro, a segment of John Mason playing a number of passages from Jim the Penman (a film released by Famous Players-Lasky that year, but not in 3-D), Oriental dancers, and a reel of footage of Niagara Falls. However, according to Adolph Zukor in his 1963 autobiography The Public Is Never Wrong: My 50 Years in the Motion Picture Industry, nothing was produced in this process after these tests.
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Next Month:: Part 2 of Classic Home Toys #21 – The Rebirth of 3-D
Early Stereoscopic Filmmaking (pre- 1952)