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3-D Revolution

3-D Revolution: The History of Modern Stereoscopic Cinema

Ray Zone
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 456
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  • Book Info
    3-D Revolution
    Book Description:

    In 2009, Avatar, a 3-D movie directed by James Cameron, became the most successful motion picture of all time, a technological breakthrough that has grossed more than $2.5 billion worldwide. Its seamless computer-generated imagery and live action stereo photography effectively defined the importance of 3-D to the future of cinema, as well as all other currently evolving digital displays. Though stereoscopic cinema began in the early nineteenth century and exploded in the 1950s in Hollywood, its present status as an enduring genre was confirmed by Avatar's success.

    3-D Revolution: The History of Modern Stereoscopic Cinema traces the rise of modern 3-D technology from Arch Oboler's Bwana Devil (1952), which launched the 50s 3-D boom in Hollywood, to the rapidly-modernizing 3-D industry today. Ray Zone takes a comprehensive approach that not only examines the technology of the films, but also investigates the business, culture, and art of their production. Influencing new generations of filmmakers for decades, the evolution of 3-D cinema technology continues to fill our theaters with summer blockbusters and holiday megahits.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-3612-7
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vii)
  3. Prologue: The Epochs of 3-D
    (pp. 1-4)

    With the introduction to my previous volume,Stereoscopic Cinema and the Origins of 3-D Film, 1838–1952,published by the University Press of Kentucky in 2007, I delineated four separate epochs during which 3-D movies evolved, both as a technology and a cinematic art. That book was a detailed look at what I characterized as the long novelty period for stereo cinema that lasted over a century, and it concluded with the events of 1952, when the 1950s 3-D movie boom was launched.

    The present book conflates the three following epochs of stereo cinema into one volume. It begins with...

  4. I. The Era of Convergence, 1952–1985

    • 1 Bwana Devil
      (pp. 7-16)

      “3-D Day Hits Hollywood in Blinding Flash” was the head line for a story in the February 16, 1953, issue ofLifemagazine. A two-page photo spread included shots of the stereoscopic frenzy in Hollywood. It pictured a 3-D camera under guard, a delighted Jack Warner in 3-D glasses having a “stereo moment” watching dailies forHouse of Wax,Milton and Julian Gunzburg with a padlocked trunk containing the Natural Vision camera, and a portrait of veteran stereoscopist John Norling.

      What was the impetus for this Hollywood frenzy? “A flash in the pan,” wroteLifemagazine, “a cheap, preposterous film...

    • 2 Dual-Band Cameras
      (pp. 17-29)

      Within days of the release ofBwana Devil,Jack Warner purchased a license for the use of the Natural Vision camera and hired Lothrop Worth to operate it. Warner Bros.’sHouse of Wax(1953), a stereoscopic remake ofMystery of the Wax Museum(1933), was rushed into production.

      Jack Warner also had an article inNew Screen Techniques,a book published in 1953 by Martin Quigley. Warner’s article prophesized enduring status for 3-D movies and was titled “1927, Sound—1953, 3-D.” In the article, Warner recounted that “the showing last November in Hollywood ofBwana Devilconvinced me that the...

    • 3 Converging in Time
      (pp. 31-43)

      The 3-D movie boom of 1952–54 could be characterized as the second historical phase for stereoscopic cinema, an era of convergence—and not just because many of the dual-camera technologies of the time incorporated that optical feature into their stereo photography. It was also a brief stereo window in time in which the narrative canvas of classical Hollywood, 1.33 to 1 in aspect ratio, briefly converged with the amplification of depth before being exploded by CinemaScope into the wide-screen format (2.35 to 1) that subsequently became commonplace.

      For a short time in the early 1950s, Hollywood filmmakers worked with...

    • 4 Deep Black and White
      (pp. 45-50)

      The screening of pristine black-and-white prints at the World 3-D Film Expo in September 2003 and 2006 in Hollywood provided an opportunity to reevaluate three film noirs of the 1950s and to consider their effectiveness as stereoscopic narratives within the genre. The shimmering black-and-white prints were given optimum presentation. It is quite possible that these 3-D films didn’t even look this good on their first presentation in the 1950s.

      The termfilm noir,literally “black film,” was first coined by French film critic Nino Frank when an exhibition of post–World War II American movies was held in Paris in...

    • 5 3-D Filmmakers and the Critics
      (pp. 51-62)

      Richard Fleischer was the only motion picture director to helm 3-D films in both the 1950s and the 1980s. In a forty-six-year career in the movie business, Fleischer directed almost fifty feature films. He died on March 25, 2006, at the Motion Picture and Television Country House in Woodland Hills, California, at the age of eighty-nine. Over the course of his varied career as a film director, Fleischer worked in every conceivable genre, including film noir with his 1952 hitThe Narrow Margin,thrillers such asThe Boston Strangler(1968), docudramas likeTora! Tora! Tora!(1970), and science fiction adventures...

    • 6 Wider, Not Deeper
      (pp. 63-78)

      Why was the 3-D movie boom in Hollywood between 1952 and 1955 so short-lived? What were the leading factors in its demise? There were a number of factors at play at the time with a convergence of entertainment technologies that were new to the motion picture landscape. Over fifty years later, with the digital 3-D cinema rollout commencing in 2005, many of the same business and technological dynamics would apply, especially with regard to exhibitor’s retooling for new display technologies, differentiation between theatrical and home content, and positioning content for an aftermarket beyond theatrical distribution.

      By 1952 motion pictures very...

    • 7 Single-Strip 3-D Systems
      (pp. 79-91)

      Single-strip 3-D film projection greatly simplified theatrical exhibition of stereoscopic motion pictures. It was this format that drove the first real wide release of 3-D movies that took place in North America in the 1980s.Friday the 13th Part III,from Paramount Pictures, was the first 3-D film to have a day-and-date wide release when it opened in over 700 theaters in North America on August 13, 1982. For this release, Paramount Pictures shipped a 3-D projection lens, aperture plates, instructions for the projectionist, and a 35mm 3-D test strip in a custom-made shipping box to each theater that, of...

    • 8 The Porno Boys
      (pp. 93-109)

      Erotic imagery has always had an enduring place in stereography. “Stereographs intended to be erotic or pornographic were produced almost as soon as views were commercialized,” noted William Darrah in his history of the stereo view card. “The subjects range from nudes in conventional artistic poses to what is today called hard-core pornography.” Darrah added, “Pornographic views were seldom, if ever, distributed by reputable publishers,” and though he had “never seen a pornographic stereograph manufactured in the United States prior to 1905,” stereo views of “intense vulgarity” were published as early as 1859.¹

      Most erotic stereographs in the nineteenth century...

    • 9 1980s 3-D Films
      (pp. 111-123)

      The November 29, 1982, issue ofDaily Varietyfeatured a headline that almost seemed to be déjà vu from the 1950s: “3-D Pic Prod’n Boom Underway.”Friday the 13th Part IIIfrom Paramount Pictures, as the first Hollywood studio 3-D film release of the 1980s, had racked up big box office numbers in August, and hopes were high for stereoscopic cinema. “More than 60 film projects contemplating 3-D lensing have been publicly announced since the current trend-setter,Comin At Ya,wrapped late in 1980,” wrote Lawrence Cohn, “and this initial burst of enthusiasm is currently being translated into actual results.”...

    • 10 3-D at Home
      (pp. 125-140)

      In the early 1940s, an ophthalmologist from Glendale, California, Orrie E. Ghrist, assembled a pair of 16mm movie cameras to photograph his own three-dimensional motion pictures. Ghrist had previously assembled a pair of 8mm cameras and projectors in 1936 for 3-D shooting, and he wrote that the 8mm assembly had been described inMovie Makers Magazine“about a year or two after they were built.”¹ In a document with “Explanatory Notes on a Camera and Projector Assembly Used for Taking and Viewing 16mm. Motion Pictures,” Ghrist described the fundamental principles necessary for 3-D photography:

      1. Synchronizing, Squaring and Parrelling [sic]...

  5. II. The Immersive Age, 1986–2005

    • 11 4-D and the Ride Film
      (pp. 143-155)

      3-D attraction films in theme parks and special venues have been perennially popular with the public. The timeless appeal of the ride film and the stereoscopic experience were highly visible in 2003.Shrek 4-D,a digitally projected stereoscopic show, elaborating the narrative of the feature-length movie that preceded it, was playing to audiences in kinetic seats at the Universal Studios theme park in Hollywood. The 4-D elements included water sprayed on the faces of the audience, seats that raised up and then dropped at the conclusion of the show, and air blown onto the audience’s feet, giving an impression of...

    • 12 Creating 3-D for Theme Parks
      (pp. 157-170)

      One of the most prolific directors of 3-D films for theme parks is Los Angeles–based filmmaker Keith Melton. Along with a handful of other filmmakers and stereoscopic technicians like Murray Lerner, Peter Anderson, Ben Stassen, Steve Hines, Don Iwerks, and Max Penner of Paradise FX in Van Nuys, California, Melton’s work accounts for a great many theme park 3-D and 4-D attractions that have been repurposed for a variety of special venues around the world.

      In an article inAmerican Cinematographer,Steve Schklair wrote about his 1984 collaboration with director Keith Melton at Infinity Filmworks for production of a...

    • 13 The World of IMAX 3-D
      (pp. 171-182)

      It was collaboration between the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) and the IMAX Systems Corporation in 1982 that produced “the first experimental 65mm 3-D IMAX negatives for stereoscopic motion picture presentations.”¹ The NFB had begun experimenting with 3-D in the early 1950s, working with Norman McLaren. For the 1951 Festival of Britain, McLaren created two imaginative 35mm dual-band 3-D animation films withAround Is AroundandNow Is the Time.

      Celina Bell remembered, “It was not until 1973 that real interest in 3-D was renewed at the Board when Ernie McNabb, Colin Low and John Spotton, the NFB’s official...

    • 14 A Large-Format 3-D Journey
      (pp. 183-189)

      “Audiences expect a 3-D movie to have things playing into their faces,” said director Keith Melton. “But withJourney of Manwe were going for something a little more sophisticated.”¹Cirque du Soleil: Journey of Man,a Sony Pictures Classics’s large-format 3-D film, in release in September 2000, presented some of the most stunning 3-D images seen up to that point on the IMAX screen. With Reed Smoot, ASC, and John Hora, ASC, serving as directors of photography, it was filmed over four months using the IMAX Solido twin 15/65 camera. The Iwerks twin-camera 8-perf 65mm 3-D rig, designed by...

    • 15 Stereoscopic Outer Space
      (pp. 191-196)

      At this moment, a space station orbits 220 miles above the earth at a speed of 17,500 miles per hour. An unprecedented partnership of sixteen nations, the International Space Station (ISS) is an engineering marvel that will be a permanent laboratory in outer space and the first step of a global effort to go to Mars.Space Station,the first IMAX 3-D film from space, documented the initial construction of the ISS with twenty-five astronaut filmmakers using two revolutionary new large-format cameras.

      Released in spring 2002,Space Stationwas produced by IMAX Space Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of the...

    • 16 Big-Screen 3-D Dinosaurs
      (pp. 197-207)

      In 1841 Sir Richard Owen in England coined the termdinosaurto describe fragments of bones and teeth that had been discovered two decades before.¹ The public was first introduced to dinosaurs in the early 1850s, when several full-size replicas were constructed by Benjamin Hawkins under Owen’s direction on the grounds of the Crystal Palace at Sydenham.

      Stereo view cards of the Crystal Palace dinosaurs were made and marketed by the London Stereoscopic Company in the 1860s under the manuscript title “Antediluvian Animals, Crystal Palace.” The birth and growth of paleontology and the Natural History Museum itself in Great Britain...

    • 17 Large-Format Stereo Conversion
      (pp. 209-215)

      By 2007, stereo conversion of flat motion pictures to 3-D, with the use of digital postprocessing tools, became an increasingly viable proposition. The 2007 giant-screen motion pictureMummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs,for example, directed by Keith Melton, was originated on 15/70mm film as a large-format movie for the institutional and museum market for IMAX films. Melton is one of the most prolific of all 3-D directors and countsTall Tales(2004),Cirque du Soleil: Journey of Man(2000),Ultimate G’s(2000),Pirates 4D(1999), andThe Sensorium(1986) among his stereoscopic productions. After stereo conversion by Tim Sassoon and...

    • 18 Speeding into 3-D
      (pp. 217-222)

      It’s challenging enough to photograph large-format 3-D, even when the subjects are standing still. But it is considerably more difficult when the subjects of the stereoscopic cinematography are traveling at speeds over 160 miles per hour.

      This was just one of the challenges director Simon Wincer and his film crew faced when photographingNASCAR 3Dat various locations throughout 2003. The groundbreaking IMAX 3-D film, set against the popular American spectator sport and opening in spring 2004, was distributed exclusively to IMAX theaters by Warner Bros. Pictures and IMAX, and it marked Warner Bros.’s first entry into the large-format 3-D...

    • 19 Riding on Digits
      (pp. 223-233)

      By his own admission, Ben Stassen acknowledged that his nWave Pictures company has been a rebel in the large-format world. Stassen has always looked for, and found, ways to repurpose his large-format films. In a field dominated by nonfiction subject matter, nWave has produced overtly commercial giant screen films like3-D Mania: Encounter in the Third Dimension(1998),Alien Adventure(1999), andHaunted Castle 3D(2001). Each of these multiplatform vehicles had one or more ride films embedded into the narrative. In 2002 nWave produced a film that directly serviced the institutional side of the large-format industry withSOS Planet,...

    • 20 The Polar Express in IMAX 3-D
      (pp. 235-244)

      The IMAX 3-D version ofThe Polar Expresswas a landmark for large-format stereoscopic cinema. Working with the IMAX Corporation and their 3-D specialist, Hugh Murray, who previously worked on stereo repurposing ofSanta vs. the Snowman(2002) andCyberworld(2000) for IMAX 3-D, the technicians at Sony Pictures Imageworks were given guidelines to create the second-eye view of scenes inPolar Expressso that a true stereoscopic version of the film was generated.

      The original digital files were created using an updated technology that Sony Pictures Imageworks calls performance capture. Its predecessor, motion capture, by 2004 had been around...

  6. III. Digital 3-D Cinema, 2005–2009

    • 21 Two Anaglyph Movies
      (pp. 247-255)

      Some people just don’t like anaglyph. Viewing the world through complementary-colored glasses, red and cyan, is just too much retinal bombardment for them. But the anaglyph continues to fascinate filmmakers and artists as a viable way to display stereographic imagery. Director Robert Rodriguez, creator of the popular Spy Kids movie franchise, was a case in point.

      For the third installment in his popular Spy Kids series, titledSpy Kids 3-D: Game Over,which opened on 3,300 screens July 25, 2003, Rodriguez made extensive use of polychromatic anaglyph, introducing a fuller palette of color into the two-color stereographic process. Rodriguez had...

    • 22 Threshold of the Future
      (pp. 257-263)

      In a visionary 1950 essay titled “The Third Dimension—Film of the Future?” cinema historian Ivor Montagu wrote about 3-D movies after visiting the Stereokino in Moscow and viewing an eighty-minute program made up of three motion pictures. The 3-D movies, consisting of a travelogue of the Crimea titledSunny Region,an instructional film calledCrystals,and a comedy,Caran d’Ache on the Ice,were all autostereoscopic, meaning that no 3-D glasses were required to see the third dimension in the films.

      Though it may sound futuristic, it happened over half a century ago. These 3-D movies used interlocked rear...

    • 23 Digital 3-D Cinema Begins
      (pp. 265-273)

      November 4, 2005, was a historic day for stereoscopic motion pictures. WithChicken Littleopening in 3-D in eighty-four digital cinema theaters across the United States, it was the day the RealD cinema platform, partnering with Disney and Dolby Labs, was effectively deployed in theatrical exhibition for 3-D using the Christie (CP-2000) 2K digital projector, a dual-stream server, and a triple-flashing z-screen serving up seventy-two frames a second to each eye, running at 144 hertz. To ensure functionality of the new cinema format, a Dolby technician was at every one of the digital 3-D theaters during the opening weekend of...

    • 24 Meet the Robinsons
      (pp. 275-282)

      Stereoscopic cinema entered a new era with the release ofMeet the Robinsonsin 3-D. On March 16, 2007, the first public screening ofMeet the Robinsonswas projected in Disney Digital 3-D at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood. It was a combination press and family/friends screening, with director Steve Anderson and producer Dorothy McKim in person introducing the film.

      Based on the children’s bookA Day with Wilbur Robinson,by William Joyce, the computer-generated movie has, in director Anderson’s words, “a whole bunch of other stuff” added to round out the story.¹ Anderson was adopted as a child,...

    • 25 Rebuilding the Z-axis
      (pp. 283-296)

      Stereographic conversion of flat two-dimensional images is the holy grail of stereoscopy. Though the fundamental principles of such a procedure have been long established, the method and means of repurposing 2-D images to 3-D are still in the process of becoming a mature technology. It is an artistic and perceptual strategy that continues to elude automation. So sensitive is the human sensorium to retinal disparity and spatial perception of the visual world that an automatic means of stereo conversion has yet to be successfully implemented. In addition, with moving images, the amount of visual information that must be manipulated is...

    • 26 Digital Live-Action 3-D
      (pp. 297-305)

      TheU2 3Dmovie, distributed by National Geographic Entertainment, which premiered January 19, 2008, at the Sundance Film Festival and went into release January 23 only on IMAX 3-D screens, was a landmark for the 3-D music film. Shot during the band’s Vertigo tour in 2006 in South America, the stereoscopic technology was assembled by 3ality Entertainment under CEO Steve Schklair and utilized nine different pairs of Sony HDW-950 cameras in a variety of configurations. Some of the stereo systems consisted of the 3ality beam-splitter rigs, which have dynamic variable interocular that goes from zero to four inches wide, animating...

    • 27 Aliens and Superpowers
      (pp. 307-316)

      Bolt 3D,a Disney/Pixar film released November 21, 2008, continued the trend of computer-generated (CG) stereoscopic animated features and was the first to be completed under the oversight of John Lasseter after Disney acquired Pixar in January 2006. Written by Chris Williams and Dan Fogelman, and codirected by Williams and Byron Howard,Bolt 3Dtold the humorously engaging story of a TV star canine who believes that he has superpowers, as with the character he portrays on television. Bolt, voiced by John Travolta, discovers that he is merely mortal after all as he makes his way on a transcontinental journey...

    • 28 Immersed in Coraline
      (pp. 317-324)

      Coraline,the stop-frame puppet-animated 3-D feature film from Laika Studio and directed by Henry Selick, expressed a new philosophy of stereoscopic storytelling for motion pictures. By virtue of its understated and dynamic 3-D, it was simply more immersive, and potentially more emotionally engaging, in nature. Based on the darkly fantastic children’s book by Neil Gaiman,Coralineopened on February 13, 2009, in both 2-D and 3-D and grossed $16 million on its first weekend, with 3-D theaters out-grossing the 2-D theaters by a factor of 3 to 1. After only two weeks in release,Coralinehad grossed over $35 million....

    • 29 Two 3-D Films by Robert Zemeckis
      (pp. 325-331)

      Stereoscopic cinema reached a new landmark November 16, 2007, when the Robert Zemeckis production ofBeowulfopened in wide release in 3-D on 1,000 screens on three separate 3-D platforms: IMAX 3-D, RealD, and Dolby Digital 3-D. The performance-capture, computer-generated (CG) retelling of the Beowulf legend, from an epic poem dating from A.D. 700, was rated PG-13 and featured the voice and acting talents of Angelina Jolie, Ray Winston, and Anthony Hopkins, with Crispin Glover as the monster, Grendel.

      Opening domestically in 2-D and 3-D on a total of 2,800 screens,Beowulfgrossed $28 million the opening weekend; 40 percent...

    • 30 Digital 3-D Horrors
      (pp. 333-348)

      Characterized as “both an homage to and a re-imagining of the original 1968 film” by George Romero,¹ the 2006 version ofNight of the Living Deadin 3-D was directed by Jeff Broadstreet and written and edited by Robert Valding. Director of photography Andrew Parke made effective use of the Dimension-3 dual digital rig and beam splitter built by Dan Symmes, who served as stereographer on the film. This competently made reimagining of Romero’s classic film once again pitted a group of survivors trapped in a farmhouse against a shambling horde of undead zombies.

      Symmes’s compact D3 beam-splitter rig allowed...

    • 31 Perceptual Paradoxes
      (pp. 349-359)

      Writing on on April 2, 2009, in an article titled “The Problem with 3-D,” journalist Daniel Engber pulled no punches in slamming the incipient digital 3-D cinema revolution with a highly researched article. It addressed one of the classic perceptual paradoxes of stereoscopic viewing and projection: the issue of convergence and accommodation, or the fact that focus must be decoupled from converging eye muscles with most stereographic displays and is a potential source of eyestrain with 3-D movies.

      Engber’s article appeared just one week into the opening theatrical run of the DreamWorks featureMonsters vs. Aliens,which was well...

    • 32 Cute and Fuzzy Dinosaurs
      (pp. 361-367)

      The third installment in a series of computer-generated prehistoric adventures,Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs,released July 1, 2009, was the first 3-D movie produced for stereoscopic digital cinemas by 20th Century Fox. Directed by Carlos Saldanha and Michael Thurmeir and featuring the voice talents of John Leguizamo, Ray Romano, and Queen Latifah,Ice Age 3continued the frenetic antics of Scrat, the prehistoric squirrel, and his tussles over an acorn with his furry paramour, Scratte. When Romano’s Manny the wooly mammoth and his mate, Ellie (Latifah), are about to give birth to a minimammoth, Sid the Sloth...

    • 33 An Interview with Rob Engle
      (pp. 369-385)
      Rob Engle

      In 2004, Rob Engle, a visual effects artist and supervisor at Sony Pictures Imageworks, was tasked with convertingThe Polar Expressfor stereoscopic release on IMAX 3-D. By 2009, Engle had supervised the stereo conversion of eight computer-generated 3-D feature films. In the following edited and condensed interview, which I conducted with Engle on May 21, 2010, in Studio City, California, he provided an overview of the technical challenges encountered in overseeing aspects of stereoscopic production for many of the most prominent digital 3-D cinema releases, for Imageworks as well as other motion picture studios.

      Zone: On this whole idea...

    • 34 Brave New 3-D World
      (pp. 387-395)

      Opening as a multiplatform 3-D release December 15, 2009, on approximately 2,100 3-D screens and another 1,200 screens in 2-D in North America, James Cameron’sAvatarrepresented a watershed for stereoscopic cinema as well as the motion picture in general.

      Produced at a cost of over $300 million over a four-year period,Avatarwas a technical breakthrough for motion pictures in seamlessly wedding computer-generated (CG) imagery to live-action stereo photography. With a running time of two hours and forty minutes, it was the longest 3-D movie made to date. The stereoscopic effects were vivid, virtually pain-free, and served the story...

  7. Epilogue: Now Is the Time Historical Perspectives on Stereo Cinema
    (pp. 396-402)

    Cinema has always reinvented itself. The “seventh art” has always been the most plastic of the visual arts, a protean engine for cultural invention, a myth continually refashioning itself with new technology. In the late nineteenth century, the cradle of the motion picture, development of the “animated photograph” or “living picture” was seen as only the first step toward a screen reality that would ultimately also include sound, color, and the third dimension.

    Stereoscopic cinema—articulation of motion pictures on the z-axis—has been a recurring discovery, periodically reinvented every few decades for over a century. 3-D narratives, continually new,...

  8. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 403-404)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 405-420)
  10. Index
    (pp. 421-448)