One hundred and ten years after debuting, 3D film technology is poised to stick around. While interest in the concept has always been present, only recently has 3D technology become low enough in price that it can be rolled out to consumers via 3D movies and 3D TV. Let’s give a nod to some of the early efforts and trace how they shaped technology as we know it today.
Imagine watching a 3D movie that takes place on two different movie screens at once. In 1903, viewers watched the first 3D film on two screens, using stereoscopes to bring the images together and create the three-dimensional effect. If you ever used a red plastic View-Master as a child, you’ve looked through a stereoscope. The early movie depicted a train pulling into a station, and was apparently done so well that some attendees panicked out of fear they were about to be hit by a train.
Those red and blue 3D glasses — known as anaglyph glasses — came into play with the first 3D movie to be released in theaters, 1922′s The Power of Love. The film allowed viewers to look through one lens to see a happy ending or the second to see a tragic ending to the saga, adding a “Choose Your Own Adventure” twist to the concept.
The 3D experiments continued, hampered by the Great Depression. One short film did rise to prominence in that time, Audioscopiks. The short film won an Academy Award in 1936.
1950s to 1970s
In 1952, the first color film: Bwana Devil used “Natural Vision” technology instead of the anaglyph glasses. During the 50′s, anaglyph glasses remained popular for 3D movies and other forms of 3D entertainment, including comic books. Horror film star Vincent Price appeared in several 3D movies during this decade, including House of Wax and The Mad Magician. Noteworthy Dial M for Murder and The Creature from the Black Lagoon also appeared in 3D.
Over the course of the decade, 3D fell out of favor — largely due to the expense of maintaining 3D projectors and equipment. If movies weren’t perfectly synchronized, viewers experienced eyestrain and other problems. While some 3D movies were made, the genre remained fairly quiet through the 1970s. Stereovision technology fed two different film reels through a Polaroid filter, producing a convincing 3D image on screen. As with earlier films, the concept was a favorite for horror films, with the Friday the 13th, Jaws and Amityville movies releasing a 3D title.
1980s and Beyond
In the 1980′s, IMAX made a name for itself with 3D movies, both educational nature films and popular entertainment. IMAX movies included Jim Henson’s Muppet Vision 3-D and Honey, I Shrunk the Audience. When IMAX audiences accounted for one-quarter of The Polar Express’s viewing, film studios began to take note. Soon, studios could choose between proprietary 3D technologies such as IMAX 3D, Dolby 3D, MasterImage 3D and Real D 3D. Studios also sought a second outlet for 3D films by converting movies shot in 2D into 3D during the editing.
In the 2000s, Avatar become both the most expensive movie ever shot and the highest-grossing one, proving that big risks on 3D can bring big rewards. With the rise in 3D TV, it appears the home market may be the next one to capture. 3DTVs and Blu-ray players allow folks to recreate the experience at home. Unlike in the 1930s and 1950s, 3D appears to be here to stay, and that’s a good thing.