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Stereoscopic Cinema and the Origins of 3-D Film, 1838-1952

Stereoscopic Cinema and the Origins of 3-D Film, 1838-1952

Ray Zone
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Stereoscopic Cinema and the Origins of 3-D Film, 1838-1952
    Book Description:

    From stereoview cards to large-format IMAX films, 3-D technology's heightened realism and powerful visual allure have held audiences captive for over a century and a half. The technology, known as stereoscopy, creates an illusion of depth by presenting two slightly different images to the eye in print or on-screen. The advent of stereoscopic film technology excited both filmmakers and audiences, as a means of replicating all of the sounds, colors, movement, and dimensionality of life and nature for the first time. The origins of 3-D film are often linked with a proliferation of stereoscopic films in the 1950s. By the time films like Man in the Dark and House of Wax was attracting large crowds, however, the technology behind this form of filmmaking was already over a century old. Stereoscopic Cinema and the Origins of 3-D Film, 1838--1952, examines this "novelty period" of stereoscopic film, charting its progression from Charles Wheatstone's 1938 discovery of 3-D to the 1952 release of Arch Oboler's innovative film, Bwana Devil. Stereoscopic specialist Ray Zone argues that the development of stereoscopic film can best be understood through a historical analysis of the technology rather than of its inventors. Zone examines the products used to create stereoscopic images, noting such milestones as David Brewster's and Oliver Wendell Holmes's work with stereoscopes, the use of polarizing image selection, and the success of twin-strip 3-D films, among others. In addition, Zone looks at the films produced up to 1952, discussing public reception of early 3-D short films as well as longer features such as Power of Love in single-strip anaglyphic projection in 1922 and Semyon Ivanov's 1941 autostereoscope Robinson Crusoe. He integrates his examination of the evolution of 3-D film with other cinematic developments, demonstrating the connection between stereoscopic motion pictures and modern film production. Stereoscopic Cinema and the Origins of 3-D Film, 1838--1952, is an exhaustive study of not only the evolution of 3-D technology and the subsequent filmmaking achievements but also the public response to and cultural impact of 3-D movies. Zone takes the reader on a voyage of discovery into the rich history of a field that predates photography and that continues to influence television and computer animation today.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4589-1
    Subjects: Film Studies, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-x)
    Lenny Lipton

    IT WAS CHRISTMAS VACATION IN 1952. The snow was falling in Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan, but I was warm and dry as I stood in the queue with Harvey, Morty, Jeffrey, and Robby, waiting to see ourselves on closed-circuit color TV in the storefront RCA Exhibition Hall. We inched along, mingling with the holiday crowd, until we came into the field of view of the lens of the refrigerator-sized color camera and at last saw ourselves on a nearly circular color tube, in bright “living colors.” Only there were too many living colors. The picture was out of alignment or,...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Prologue
    (pp. 1-4)

    Whereas the “novelty period” for conventional cinema lasted about ten years (1895–1905), with stereoscopic cinema it continued for more than a century after the discovery of 3-D by Charles Wheatstone in 1838. This was due, in part, to a bewildering variety of technological strategies for creating a stereographic motion picture, as well as the continuous technical evolution of the conventional motion picture medium itself.

    Though there were very few 3-D feature films produced during this period—among them,The Power of Lovein anaglyph (1922),M.A.R.S. or Radio-Maniain the Teleview alternating frame system (1922), andRobinson Crusoe,produced...

  6. 1 Stereography Begins
    (pp. 5-18)

    So often, great scientific breakthroughs seem to be a simple discovery of the obvious. Hidden in plain sight are the mysteries of human perception and stereoscopic vision. The fundamental and powerful fact that we see in 3-D because we have two eyes with binocular vision is just such a discovery. To prove his deduction of this fact, it was necessary for Charles Wheatstone in 1830 to create a device that was to be called the “reflecting mirror stereoscope.”

    The word “stereoscope” is derived from Greek, conjoining the two wordsskopionandstereo,meaning “to see—solid.” Wheatstone’s stereoscope, utilizing two...

  7. 2 The Peep Show Tradition
    (pp. 19-34)

    Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, traveling peep shows were common entertainment to be found at fairgrounds and on the streets in Europe. These changing views within a portable cabinet were an early precursor to the Edison Kinetoscope and motion pictures. Not surprisingly, seventeenth-century inventors and showmen attempted to combine the perception of depth with the illusion of motion in their novel entertainments.

    Historian Richard Balzer describes a seventeenth-century peep show created by Carel Fabritius and Samuel van Hoogstraten that is on view at the National Gallery in London:

    The box is open on one side allowing the entrance of...

  8. 3 Motion Pictures Begin
    (pp. 35-52)

    When Coleman Sellers arranged the successive still stereo photographs of his sons at play in the nursery, he attempted to place them in the proper order to convey motion. “A little experimenting showed that a better illusion could be secured if three photos were made of the hammer at the beginning of the stroke and two at the middle, with one illustrating the hammer achieving its purpose,” writes Homer Croy; “arranged in this order they better conveyed the increasing swiftness of the stroke.” Significantly, Croy characterizes the Sellers stereo photographs as "the first photo ever made to show motion.”¹


  9. 4 Stereoscopic Projection
    (pp. 53-72)

    Louis Ducos du Hauron has been called both an “advanced prophet”¹ of the cinema and a “savant.”² A French patent (no. 61,976) issued to du Hauron on March 1, 1864, and an addition to it granted December 3, 1864, demonstrate the inventor’s understanding of practical problems involved in motion picture projection.

    The original patent was very complex in using over 270 lenses in conjunction with collodion glass plates. The addition to the patent, which Gosser characterizes as “brilliant,” 3 provided for the use of a flexible band moving between two spools and carrying a series of drawings or photographs. The...

  10. 5 Cinema’s Novelty Period
    (pp. 73-85)

    Did the evolution of film narrative in the early years of the twentieth century and increasingly sophisticated production techniques in some manner diminish the drive to convey depth on the motion picture screen? Was the inherent “flatness” of the movie canvas, in X and Y parameters only, an advantage to filmmakers somehow in telling a story?

    When projection of motion pictures for the public had been achieved in 1895, the novelty period for conventional cinema commenced and lasted for a brief period. Film historian Charles Musser has given us a concise definition of the novelty period of cinema: "Despite many...

  11. 6 Public Exhibition of 3-D Films Begins
    (pp. 86-102)

    As public motion picture exhibition began to take place in Europe and the United States, numerous inventors proposed a variety of devices for capture and display of moving images in three dimensions. An inventor named Hymmen, in a kind of technological throwback to an earlier era, was granted a patent (no. 24,804) in Great Britain in 1897 for a spinning drum to be used in conjunction with a stereoscope for viewing three-dimensional moving images.¹

    Gosser has enumerated many of these devices, which he characterized as “interesting but generally less influential.”² Most of these inventions were very likely only developed to...

  12. 7 A Wave of Stereo
    (pp. 103-127)

    As the 1920s commenced, much work was being done to create color photography for motion pictures, and these technologies directly led to the use of anaglyph, which by then had been perfected for printing in newspapers and advertising supplements.¹ Color halftone printing of stereoview cards had proliferated in the early years of the twentieth century, with new manufacturers like the American Colortype Company in New York and Chicago. There was a widespread sense of a new visual world opening up, with both color and stereography, and there was highly imaginative innovation taking place.

    When Louis Ducos du Hauron presented his...

  13. 8 Essaying Utopia
    (pp. 128-140)

    While the motion picture industry consolidated in the 1920s with greater technological developments for color and sound, Utopian inventors continued to file patents for three-dimensional moving images. These efforts were frequently attempts to simplify production of stereoscopic movies and generally did not come to fruition. Undoubtedly, it was the growth of motion pictures as entertainment that spurred attempts at stereographic innovation, which continued to present itself as the ultimate form of crowning realism for the moving image.

    A U.S. patent (no. 1,363,249) of 1920, granted to Fred N. Hallett of Seattle, Washington, for a “Moving-Picture Camera,” described an improvement “to...

  14. 9 Stereoscopic Cinema Proves Itself
    (pp. 141-162)

    L’Arrivee du trainwas not the first film the Lumiere brothers shot in 1895 with their Cinématographe camera, but it was among the first. This powerful short film of a locomotive approaching the camera while entering a station created a sensation at its first exhibition and is one of early cinema’s foundational films. It was initially photographed with a single camera and exhibited “flat” at the Grand Cafe at 14 Boulevard Les Capucines in Paris on December 28, 1895, along with other Lumiere films. It’s not surprising that the Lumiere brothers later remadeL'Arrivee du trainin a stereoscopic version,...

  15. 10 The Stereoscopic Overture Finishes
    (pp. 163-179)

    Autostereoscopic cinema has always been a “holy grail” for Utopian inventors, an extremely exotic and challenging subset of stereoscopic motion pictures. Many have foundered in its quest. In a November 1931 issue of theNew York Times, an article appeared titled “New Screen Gives Depth to Movies” about cinematographic engineer Douglas F. Winnek and his stereoscopic projection of motion pictures, “which, it is said, makes possible a perspective of three dimensions without the necessity of any special viewing devices.”¹

    Winnek’s stated method used a new type of screen with a beaded cellophane surface, with each bead acting as a lens....

  16. Epilogue
    (pp. 181-190)

    DID THE FESTIVAL OF BRITAIN play a part in the 1950s 3-D boom in Hollywood? R. M. Hayes certainly thinks so. He wrote that “the influence of the film presentations in the Telecinema would have a worldwide effect, for it was here in May 1951 that dual projection 3-D in full color with interlock stereophonic sound was to be realized. From this was to evolve the boom years of 1953 and 1954, regardless of claims otherwise.”¹

    Raymond Spottiswoode expressed his wish that the Telecinema would continue: "We are hopeful that the Telecinema will remain in existence under the progressive management...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 191-212)
  18. Index
    (pp. 213-221)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 222-222)