History of stereoscopic cinema

History of stereoscopic cinema

History of the stereo movie

Getting started


Back in 280 BC Euclid first discovered that the perception of spatial depth is achieved precisely because each eye sees a slightly different image of the same object. In 1584 it was the theme for the research undertaken by Leonardo da Vinci. But only in the 17th century stereoscopic perception theory was presented in scientific form by the German optician and geometrist Johannes Kepler.

In 1833, Charles Wheatstone invents a mirror stereoscope (Fig. 1) - a device that allows you to see the three-dimensional image using a pair of offsetted paintings. Initially the scientist used his drawings because photography was invented only six years later in 1839.

Стереоскоп Уитсона
Wheatstone stereoscope (Fig. 1)

An important point of development was the middle of the 19th century, when David Brewster installed two lenses on the stereoscope (Fig. 2) at a distance of 2.5 inches from each other, increasing the observable effect.
  Стереоскоп Дэвида Брюстэра
David Brewster's stereoscope (Fig. 2)

Stereoscopes' development reached its peak in 1856, when over one million copies were sold just in England. By 1860, there was a stereoscope and a set of stereo sliders in almost every house, just like TVs nowadays. With their help, you could go on a world tour or watch the staged scenes.
But development of 3D-technology did not stop there.

Discovery of the anaglyph technology
Important historical moment was the discovery of a method for producing the so-called anaglyph image, which was described by Wilga Rollmann in 1853 in Germany. The inventor told about the process of separating stereo images using colored filters: red and cyan . Rollmann found out that if you create a pattern of red and cyan stripes on a black background and look at them through the filter corresponding to each color, the red stripes disappear when viewed through a blue filter, and cyan turn invisible if you look through the red.
In 1858, Charles d'Almeida improved the technology by demonstrating stereo separation method using colored glasses (Fig. 3) to the scientific community of Paris and made it spread through a much wider audience.

Glasses for viewing anaglyph technology for
Fig. 3

The method was improved by Louis Ducos du Hauron in 1891. It was he who gave it the name - anaglyph. In 1869 he published a book describing the technology of combining three colors - red , yellow and cyan, which can create any shade. And thus laying the basis for the theory of color-coding .
By the end of the 1910s, the progress in the form of radio and cinema strongly diminished the popularity of stereoscopes.

The first stereoscopic movies
Since then, as the British film pioneer William Friese-Greene filed a patent application on the method of production of stereoscopic movie (late 1890s) an era of stereoscopic cinema began. The method was based on projecting images from two films on the screen next to each other, while the viewer looked through a stereoscope, combining two images into one frame. However, because the method involved the use of unwieldy equipment, its use in theaters seemed impractical. Moreover, the inventor got into debt and had to stop his experiments.
In 1900, Frederic Eugene Ives patented the camera for filming stereo video. His camera was equipped with two lenses, spaced at a distance of 1.75 inches (~ 4.44 cm).
On June, 10th, 1915 U.S. directors Edwin Porter and William Waddell showed a series of experimental movies made by an anaglyph method at New York Theatre "Astor". These showings were simple demonstrations of technology and were not aimed at making a profit.
In 1922, "The Power of Love " premiered in theaters - the first full-length 3D-movie. Camera was designed by the movie producer Harry Fairall and a cinematographer Robert Elder. The movie was projected from the double film in red-and-green anaglyph .
Lumiere Brothers wrote their names into the history of 3D-movies, when they managed to convert their famous short movie "Arrival of a Train" from 2D into 3D in 1934. In 1936 Louis Lumiere improved characteristics of light filters and used them for showing the first anaglyph stereoscopic movie.
In 1937, this technology was acquired by American production companies MGM and Paramount. An anaglyph method was used in filming up until 1977.

The invention of eclipse method
While some scientists have perfected anaglyph technology Laurens Hammond and William Cassidy in 1922 proposed a method, which later became known as the eclipse method. Basically, the audience is issued a special device with two eyeglasses and shutters, which were synchronized with the projectors. Frames shot from different points were shown quickly on the screen, while the shutters on eyeglasses covered each of the eyes in turns. In the result, each eye was seeing "its" frame. Only a single movie was shot using this technology - "Radio Mania".

Discovering polarization
In 1932 Edwin Land (who later became famous as the founder of Polaroid) started the production of polarizing film. It revealed many interesting applications, including being used for stereoscopic movies. The idea was to give the audience glasses with polarizing lenses, one of which was letting a horizontally polarized light through, and the second - vertically polarized one. Same filters were put in front of the lenses of two projectors, one of which projected an image for the left eye, and the other - for the right. This gave the audience in the cinema a first opportunity to see the movies in full stereo. This stereo technology is still used in the movie theaters in a more refined form. For example, "Avatar" was made using this technology.

Advances in Soviet stereoscopy
In 1940 in Moscow (note that these were the war years) "Khidozhestvenniy" cinema theater showed a movie "Weekend in Moscow." Polarization systems were used to show it.
In February, 1941 a first stereoscopic cinema theater in Moscow opened. It was possible to watch movies without glasses (!), by using a special screen with Parallax barrier. Such developments were possible because stereo research was conducted in Russia through 20s and 30s in a specially established All-Union Research Cinema and Photo Institute (NIKFI).
After the war, in 1947, a stereoscopic movie "Robinson Crusoe" is released.

Nazi experiments
There is ecidence that the Third Reich were also not alien to the idea of developing 3D-cinema - in the Berlin archives two 30-minute black-and-white films in stereoscopic format were found. The first film, titled "So real that you can touch", is a video of the carnival. The viewer can see narrow shots of sausages being grilled. The second film - "Six girls come off during the weekend" is a very frivolous work and shows how young girls from Berlin studio UFA spend their lives.
Pictures were shot on 35mm film with two cameras and two lenses with special prisms installed in front of them. It is believed that movies using the technology of similar level began to take off in the United States only in the 50s. However, it is still a mystery.

«Arms race»
So, in the early 1950s TV starts actively developing. The growth of its popularity started interfereing with cinema releases, which stimulated the application of new technologies and the development of the 3D format in an attempt to draw the viewer back to watch movies in theaters.
1952 marks the release of a first full-color stereoscopic movie «Bwana Devil» (Fig. 4) The movie was directed by Arch Oboler using the Natural Vision technology. After that more and more 3D-movies were filmed using polarization technology.

  Очки для первого цветного стереоскопического фильма
Fig. 4.

New wave of 3D-cinema began in the 1960s with Arch Oboler making the movie "Bubble" by applying new Space-Vision 3D technology. Such stereoscopic movies were printed on a standard-sized film (images for left and right eyes were positioned one above the other), and required special lenses for the projector.
In 1963, due to the growth of large-format films in the USSR, NIKFI has developed «STEREO 70» ( Figure 5 . ) system, which received an «Oscar» in 1990 «For technical achievements». «STEREO 70» used one camera, one lens, one film. But two frames in 35 mm format were placed on a 70 mm film.



Fig. 5

In 1970 Stereovision launched new solution for showcasing stereo movies. Unlike Space-Vision 3D, two complementary images were not located one above the other, but next to each other (fit in the same frame and squished horizaontally). Special anamorphic lenses and Polaroid filters were required to show the movie, so the "squished" images would be stretched.

60s and 70s was a period of a real race in 3D-cinema industry. However, the audience watching such movies became smaller and smaller, as many were complaining about feeling nauseated (when technology was not so perfect) after visiting the cinema and 3D began to dissapear. The crisis period lasted until the 1980s .

Eighties in the history of 3D-movies marked the arrival of IMAX - large 70-mm stereo format, where images were placed next to each other. The system was based on "STEREO-70" technology.

By the end of 20th century filmmaking significantly advanced. Using 70 mm film has become the standard. The quality of on-screen images and the illusion of volume both improved.

Digital stereoscopic
2000s marks the beggining of an era of digital cinema. Digital projectors are being installed in the theaters. Cameramen are moving away from using the film and turn to digital solutions.
To begin his work on "Ghosts of the Abyss" in 2003, James Cameron and cinematographer Vince Pace develop a system of digital cameras named Reality Camera System.
In May 2007, a film "Scar 3D" is released in RealD 3D  format, using the technology of circular polarization of light. This technology is similar to the IMAX with the difference that the circular polarization instead of linear stereo allows you to save and avoid ghosting when tilting your head.
In 2007, "Beowulf" comes to the screen, using and advanced technology of RealD XL Cinema System - it is a modification of RealD technology specifically for large sized of screens.

These are just a few examples of 3D-movies. But each of them pushed the development of 3D-cinema forward. It is expected that the release of Cameron's movies "Avatar 2" and "Battle Angel Alita" will open a new page in the history of 3D.