The History of 3D Viewing
The ‘stereo’ viewing of images has been around for over 100 years! One of the first 3D movies ever shown (if not the first) was L’arrivée du train by the Lumière brothers in 1903. And stereoscopic viewing of still photographs goes back to the 1800s.
The 3D (stereoscopic) still image viewers of the late 1800s were very simple in design. They used side-by-side photographs, mounted in a holder, with a viewer attached at a fixed distance. Looking through the viewer produced a three-dimensional image, as each eye could see only one of the two images. The brain integrates these two images into one image with depth. The View-Master discs are an example of this type of stereo viewing.
The simplest forms of 3D movie projection used color filters to separate the left eye and right eye images. This process is known as anaglyph 3D and it was first tested in the United States in 1915. In the late 1890s, William Friese-Greene submitted a patent application on 3D movies.
Some of the most advanced filmmakers began to experiment with the dream of providing the most immersive experience possible for their viewers. Their belief that movie-goers want to suspend belief and dwell in an alternative world than their own is a time-honored trait of filmmakers and carried over to television as it developed.
3D in the 1950's
In the 1950’s, many 3D theatrical movies were made utilizing anaglyph technology. The 3D effects were welcome and there was much excitement around the medium. However, the technology did not support a comfortable viewing experience, producers began to limit 3D to the horror genre and the newness of the format wore off.
What's Different Today
When the digital cinema implementation began -around 2000 - 3D filmmakers were heartened to have a technology to further explore the impact of adding depth to their experience. With digital technology the views are more accurately aligned and provide the viewer a very comfortable experience.
Filmmakers continue to explore the depths of 3D (pun intended) – for example, can the absence and then adding of depth to a film aid in telling the story? It is clearly a tool that makes horror more horrific, or speed more impactful, but how will 3D change a dramatic film? Or a comedy? We will leave that up to filmmakers to explore.