- 3D film
A 3-D (three-dimensional) film or S3D (stereoscopic 3D) film is a motion picture that enhances the illusion of depth perception. Derived from stereoscopic photography, a regular motion picture camera system is used to record the images as seen from two perspectives (or computer-generated imagery generates the two perspectives in post-production), and special projection hardware and/or eyewear are used to provide the illusion of depth when viewing the film. 3-D films are not limited to feature film theatrical releases; television broadcasts and direct-to-video films have also incorporated similar methods, primarily for marketing purposes.
3-D films have existed in some form since the 1950s, but had been largely relegated to a niche in the motion picture industry because of the costly hardware and processes required to produce and display a 3-D film, and the lack of a standardized format for all segments of the entertainment business. Nonetheless, 3-D films were prominently featured in the 1950s in American cinema, and later experienced a worldwide resurgence in the 1980s and '90s driven by IMAX high-end theaters and Disney themed-venues. 3-D films became more and more successful throughout the 2000s, culminating in the unprecedented success of 3-D presentations of Avatar in December 2009 and January 2010.
- 1 Techniques
- 2 History
- 3 Criticism
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 External links
Stereoscopic motion pictures can be produced through a variety of different methods. Over the years the popularity of systems being widely employed in movie theaters has waxed and waned. Though anaglyph (see next section) was sometimes used prior to 1948, during the early "Golden Era" of 3-D cinematography of the 1950s the polarization system was used for every single feature length movie in the United states, and all but one short film. In the 21st century, polarization 3-D systems have continued to dominate the scene, though during the 60s and 70s some classic films which were converted to anaglyph for theaters not equipped for polarization, and were even shown in 3-D on TV. In the years following the mid 80s, some movies were made with short segments in anaglyph 3D. The following are some of the technical details and methodologies employed in some of the more notable 3-D movie systems that have been developed.
Anaglyph images were the earliest method of presenting theatrical 3-D, and the one most commonly associated with stereoscopy by the public at large, mostly because of non theatrical 3D media such as comic books and 3D TV broadcasts, where polarization is not practical. They were made popular because of the ease of their production and exhibition. The first anaglyph movie was invented in 1915. Though the earliest theatrical presentations were done with this system, most 3D movies from the 50s and 80s were originally shown polarized.
In an anaglyph, the two images are superimposed in an additive light setting through two filters, one red and one cyan. In a subtractive light setting, the two images are printed in the same complementary colors on white paper. Glasses with colored filters in each eye separate the appropriate images by canceling the filter color out and rendering the complementary color black.
Anaglyph images are much easier to view than either parallel sighting or crossed eye stereograms, although the latter types offer bright and accurate color rendering, particularly in the red component, which is muted, or desaturated with even the best color anaglyphs. A compensating technique, commonly known as Anachrome, uses a slightly more transparent cyan filter in the patented glasses associated with the technique. Process reconfigures the typical anaglyph image to have less parallax.
An alternative to the usual red and cyan filter system of anaglyph is ColorCode 3-D, a patented anaglyph system which was invented in order to present an anaglyph image in conjunction with the NTSC television standard, in which the red channel is often compromised. ColorCode uses the complementary colors of yellow and dark blue on-screen, and the colors of the glasses' lenses are amber and dark blue.
The anaglyph 3-D system was the earliest system used in theatrical presentations and requires less specialized hardware.
The polarization 3-D system has been the standard for theatrical presentations since it was used for Bwana Devil in 1952, though early Imax presentations were done using the eclipse system and in the 60s and 70s classic 3D movies were sometimes converted to anaglyph for special presentations. The polarization system has better color fidelity and less ghosting than the anaglyph system.
In the post-'50s era, anaglyph has been used instead of polarization in feature presentations where only part of the movie is in 3D such as in the 3D segment of Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare and the 3D segments of Spy Kids 3D.
Anaglyph is also used in printed materials and in 3D TV broadcasts where polarization is not practical. 3D polarized TVs and other displays only became available from several manufacturers in 2008; these generate polarization on the receiving end.
To present a stereoscopic motion picture, two images are projected superimposed onto the same screen through different polarizing filters. The viewer wears low-cost eyeglasses which also contain a pair of polarizing filters oriented differently (clockwise/counterclockwise with circular polarization or at 90 degree angles, usually 45 and 135 degrees, with linear polarization). As each filter passes only that light which is similarly polarized and blocks the light polarized differently, each eye sees a different image. This is used to produce a three-dimensional effect by projecting the same scene into both eyes, but depicted from slightly different perspectives. Since no head tracking is involved, the entire audience can view the stereoscopic images at the same time. Additionally, since both lenses have the same color, people with one dominant eye (amblyopia), where one eye is used more, are able to see the 3D effect, previously negated by the separation of the two colors.
In the case of RealD a circularly polarizing liquid crystal filter which can switch polarity 144 times per second is placed in front of the projector lens. Only one projector is needed, as the left and right eye images are displayed alternately. Sony features a new system called RealD XLS, which shows both circular polarized images simultaneously: a single 4K projector (4096×2160 resolution) displays both 2K images (2048×858 resolution) on top of each other at the same time, a special lens attachment polarizes and projects the images.
Thomson Technicolor has produced a system using a split lens which allows traditional 35mm projectors to be adapted to project in 3D using over/under 35mm film. This is a very cost-effective way to convert a screen as all that is needed is the lens and metallic (silver) screen rather than converting entirely to digital. A metallic screen is necessary for these systems as reflection from non metallic surfaces destroys the polarization of the light.
Polarized stereoscopic pictures have been around since 1936, when Edwin H. Land first applied it to motion pictures. The so called "3-D movie craze" in the years 1952 through 1955 was almost entirely offered in theaters using linear polarizing projection and glasses. Only a minute amount of the total 3D films shown in the period used the anaglyph color filter method. Linear polarization was likewise used with consumer level stereo projectors. Polarization was also used during the 3D revival of the 80s.
In the 2000s, computer animation, competition from DVDs and other media, digital projection, and the use of sophisticated IMAX 70mm film projectors, have created an opportunity for a new wave of polarized 3D films.
With the eclipse method, a mechanical shutter blocks light from each appropriate eye when the converse eye's image is projected on the screen. The projector alternates between left and right images, and opens and closes the shutters in the glasses or viewer in synchronization with the images on the screen. This was the basis of the Teleview system which was used briefly in 1922.
A variation on the eclipse method is used in LCD shutter glasses. Glasses containing liquid crystal that will let light through in synchronization with the images on the cinema, TV or computer screen, using the concept of alternate-frame sequencing. This is the method used by nVidia, XpanD 3D, and earlier IMAX systems. A drawback of this method is the need for each person viewing to wear expensive, electronic glasses that must be synchronized with the display system using a wireless signal or attached wire. The shutterglasses are heavier than most polarized glasses though lighter models are no heavier than some sunglasses or deluxe polarized glasses. However these systems do not require a silver screen for projected images.
Interference filter technology
Dolby 3D uses specific wavelengths of red, green, and blue for the right eye, and different wavelengths of red, green, and blue for the left eye. Eyeglasses which filter out the very specific wavelengths allow the wearer to see a 3D image. This technology eliminates the expensive silver screens required for polarized systems such as RealD, which is the most common 3D display system in theaters. It does, however, require much more expensive glasses than the polarized systems. It is also known as spectral comb filtering or wavelength multiplex visualization
The recently introduced Panavision 3D system also uses this technology, though with a wider spectrum and more "teeth" to the "comb" (5 for each eye in the Panavision system). Panavision also claim that their glasses are cheaper to manufacture than those used by Dolby.
The Pulfrich effect is based on the phenomenon of the human eye processing images more slowly when there is less light, as when looking through a dark lens.
Imagine a camera which starts at position X and moves right to position Y as shown by the arrow. If a viewer watches this segment with a dark lens over the left eye, then when the right eye sees the image recorded when the camera is at Y, the left eye will be a few milliseconds behind and will still be seeing the image recorded at X, thus creating the necessary parallax to generate right and left eye views and 3D perception, much the same as when still pictures are generated by shifting a single camera. The intensity of this effect will depend on how fast the camera is moving relative to the distance to the objects; greater speed creates greater parallax. A similar effect can be achieved by using a stationary camera and continuously rotating an otherwise stationary object. If the movement stops, the eye looking through the dark lens (which could be either eye depending on the direction the camera is moving) will "catch up" and the effect will disappear. One advantage of this system is that people not wearing the glasses will see a perfectly normal picture.
Of course, incidental movement of objects will create spurious artifacts, and these incidental effects will be seen as artificial depth not related to actual depth in the scene. Unfortunately, many of the applications of pulfrich involve deliberately causing just this sort of effect and this has given the technique a bad reputation. When the only movement is lateral movement of the camera then the effect is as real as any other form of stereoscopy, but this seldom happens except in highly contrived situations.
Though pulfrich has been used often on TV and in computer games, it is rarely if ever used in theatrical presentations.
Lenticular or barrier screens
Lenticular printing and parallax barrier technologies involve imposing two (or more) images on the same sheet, in narrow, alternating strips, and using a screen that either blocks one of the two images' strips (in the case of parallax barriers) or uses equally narrow lenses to bend the strips of image and make it appear to fill the entire image (in the case of lenticular prints). To produce the stereostopic effect, the person must be positioned so that one eye sees one of the two images and the other sees the other.
In this method, glasses are not necessary to see the stereoscopic image.
Both images are projected onto a high-gain, corrugated screen which reflects light at acute angles. In order to see the stereoscopic image, the viewer must sit within a very narrow angle that is nearly perpendicular to the screen, limiting the size of the audience. Lenticular was used for theatrical presentation of numerous shorts in Russia from 1940–1948 and in 1954 for the feature length films Crystal, Machine 22-12 and The Pencil on Ice.
New systems without glasses
There is increasing emergence of new 3-D viewing systems which do not require the use of special viewing glasses. These systems are referred to as Autostereoscopic displays. They were initially developed by Sharp. The first Autostereoscopic LCD displays first appeared on the Sharp Actius RD3D notebook and the first LCD monitor was shipped by Sharp in 2004 for the professional market. Both have since been discontinued. The first Autostereoscopic mobile phone was launched by Hitachi in 2009 in Japan and in 2010 China mobile is to launch its version. Manufacturing trials are being run for TV. The first digital camera to feature an autostereoscopic display was the Fujifilm FinePix REAL 3D W1 released in 2009. The W3 model was released one year later. For the gaming market the first probable commercial application was handheld gaming devices, such as the Nintendo 3DS. These systems do not yet appear to be applicable to theatrical presentations.
Early patents and tests
The stereoscopic era of motion pictures began in the late 1890s when British film pioneer William Friese-Greene filed a patent for a 3-D movie process. In his patent, two films were projected side by side on screen. The viewer looked through a stereoscope to converge the two images. Because of the obtrusive mechanics behind this method, theatrical use was not practical. Frederic Eugene Ives patented his stereo camera rig in 1900. The camera had two lenses coupled together 1 3/4 inches apart.
On June 10, 1915, Edwin S. Porter and William E. Waddell presented tests to an audience at the Astor Theater in New York City. In red-green anaglyph, the audience was presented three reels of tests, which included rural scenes, test shots of Marie Doro, a segment of John Mason playing a number of passages from Jim the Penman (a film released by Famous Players-Lasky that year, but not in 3-D), Oriental dancers, and a reel of footage of Niagara Falls. However, according to Adolph Zukor in his 1953 autobiography The Public Is Never Wrong: My 50 Years in the Motion Picture Industry, nothing was produced in this process after these tests.
Early systems of stereoscopic filmmaking (pre-1952)
The earliest confirmed 3-D film shown to a paying audience was The Power of Love, which premiered at the Ambassador Hotel Theater in Los Angeles on September 27, 1922 . The camera rig was a product of the film's producer, Harry K. Fairall, and cinematographer Robert F. Elder. It was projected dual-strip in the red/green anaglyph format, making it both the earliest known film that utilized dual strip projection and the earliest known film in which anaglyph glasses were used. Whether Fairall used colored filters on the projection ports or whether he used tinted prints is unknown. After a preview for exhibitors and press in New York City, the film dropped out of sight, apparently not booked by exhibitors, and is now considered lost.
Early in December 1922, William Van Doren Kelley, inventor of the Prizma color system, cashed in on the growing interest in 3-D films started by Fairall's demonstration and shot footage with a camera system of his own design. Kelley then struck a deal with Samuel "Roxy" Rothafel to premiere the first in his series of "Plasticon" shorts entitled Movies of the Future at the Rivoli Theater in New York City .
Also in December 1922, Laurens Hammond (later inventor of the Hammond organ) and William F. Cassidy unveiled their Teleview system. Teleview was the earliest alternate-frame sequencing form of film projection. Through the use of two interlocked projectors, alternating left/right frames were projected one after another in rapid succession. Synchronized viewers attached to the arm-rests of the seats in the theater open and closed at the same time, and took advantage of the viewer's persistence of vision, thereby creating a true stereoscopic image. The only theater known to have installed this system was the Selwyn Theater in New York. Only one show was ever produced for the system, a groups of shorts and the only Teleview feature The Man From M.A.R.S. (later re-released as Radio-Mania) on December 27, 1922 in New York City.
In 1922, Frederic Eugene Ives and Jacob Leventhal began releasing their first stereoscopic shorts made over a three-year period. The first film entitled, Plastigrams, which was distributed nationally by Educational Pictures in the red/blue anaglyph format. Ives and Leventhal then went on to produce the following stereoscopic shorts in the "Stereoscopiks Series" for Pathé Films in 1925: Zowie (April 10), Luna-cy! (May 18), The Run-Away Taxi (December 17) and Ouch (December 17). On 22 September 1924, Luna-cy! was re-released in the DeForest Phonofilm sound-on-film system.
The late 1920s to early 1930s saw little to no interest in stereoscopic pictures, largely due to the Great Depression. In Paris, Louis Lumiere shot footage with his stereoscopic camera in September 1933. The following year, in March 1934, he premiered his remake of his 1895 film L'Arrivée du Train, this time in anaglyphic 3-D, at a meeting of the French Academy of Science.
Two 30-minute Nazi propaganda films shot in 3D in Germany in 1936 were found in Berlin’s Federal Archives in 2011. The Australian documentary maker Philippe Mora is convinced there is more unseen 3D footage yet to be found.
In 1936, Leventhal and John Norling were hired based on their test footage to film MGM's Audioscopiks series. The prints were by Technicolor in the red/green anaglyph format, and were narrated by Pete Smith. The first film, Audioscopiks, premiered January 11, 1936 and The New Audioscopiks premiered January 15, 1938. Audioscopiks was nominated for the Academy Award in the category Best Short Subject, Novelty in 1936.
With the success of the two Audioscopiks films, MGM produced one more short in anaglyph 3-D, another Pete Smith Specialty called Third Dimensional Murder (1941). Unlike its predecessors, this short was shot with a studio-built camera rig. Prints were by Technicolor in red/blue anaglyph. The short is notable for being one of the few live-action appearances of the Frankenstein Monster as conceived by Jack Pierce for Universal Studios outside of their company.
While many of these films were printed by color systems, none of them was actually in color, and the use of the color printing was only to achieve an anaglyph effect.
Introduction of Polaroid
While attending Harvard University, Edwin H. Land conceived the idea of reducing glare by polarizing light. He took a leave of absence from Harvard to set up a lab and by 1929 had invented and patented a polarizing sheet. In 1932, he introduced Polaroid J Sheet as a commercial product. While his original intention was to create a filter for reducing glare from car headlights, Land did not underestimate the utility of his newly dubbed Polaroid filters in stereoscopic presentations.
In January 1936, Land gave the first demonstration of Polaroid filters in conjunction with 3-D photography at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The reaction was enthusiastic, and he followed it up with an installation at the New York Museum of Science. It is unknown what film was run for audiences with this installation.
Using Polaroid filters meant an entirely new form of projection, however. Two prints, each carrying either the right or left eye, had to be synced up in projection using an external selsyn motor. Furthermore, polarized light would not register on a matte white screen, and only a silver screen or screen made of other reflective material would correctly reflect the separate images.
Later that year, the feature, Nozze Vagabonde appeared in Italy, followed in Germany by Zum Greifen Nah (You Can Nearly Touch It), and again in 1939 with Germany's Sechs Mädel Rollen Ins Wochenend (Six Girls Drive Into the Weekend). The Italian film was made with the Gualtierotti camera; the two German productions with the Zeiss camera and the Vierling shooting system. All of these films were the first exhibited using Polaroid filters. The Zeiss Company in Germany manufactured glasses on a commercial basis commencing in 1936; they were also independently made around the same time in Germany by E. Käsemann and by J. Mahler.
In 1939, John Norling shot In Tune With Tomorrow, the first commercial 3-D film using Polaroid in the US. This short premiered at the 1939 New York World's Fair and was created specifically for the Chrysler Motor Pavilion. In it, a full 1939 Chrysler Plymouth is magically put together, set to music. Originally in black and white, the film was so popular that it was re-shot in color for the following year at the fair, under the title New Dimensions. In 1953, it was reissued by RKO as Motor Rhythm.
Another early short that utilized the Polaroid 3-D process was 1940's Magic Movies: Thrills For You produced by the Pennsylvania Railroad Co. for the Golden Gate International Exposition. Produced by John Norling, it was actually shot for him by Jacob Leventhal using his own rig. It consisted of shots of various views that could be seen on Pennsylvania Railroad's trains.
The 1940s was further hindered by World War II, and stereoscopic photography once again went on the back-burner in most producers' minds.
The "golden era" (1952–1955)
What aficionados consider the "golden era" of 3-D began in 1952 with the release of the first color stereoscopic feature, Bwana Devil, produced, written and directed by Arch Oboler. The film was shot in Natural Vision, a process that was co-created and controlled by M. L. Gunzberg. Gunzberg, who built the rig with his brother, Julian, and two other associates, shopped it without success to various studios before Oboler used it for this feature, which went into production with the title, The Lions of Gulu. The film starred Robert Stack, Barbara Britton and Nigel Bruce.
As with practically all of the features made during this boom, Bwana Devil was projected dual-strip, with Polaroid filters. During the 1950s, the familiar disposable anaglyph glasses made of cardboard were mainly used for comic books, two shorts by exploitation specialist Dan Sonney, and three shorts produced by Lippert Productions. However, even the Lippert shorts were available in the dual-strip format alternatively.
Because the features utilized two projectors, a capacity limit of film being loaded onto each projector (about 6,000 feet (1,800 m), or an hour's worth of film) meant that an intermission was necessary for every feature-length film. Quite often, intermission points were written into the script at a major plot point.
During Christmas of 1952, producer Sol Lesser quickly premiered the dual-strip showcase called Stereo Techniques in Chicago. Lesser acquired the rights to five dual-strip shorts. Two of them, Now is the Time (to Put On Your Glasses) and Around is Around, were directed by Norman McLaren in 1951 for the National Film Board of Canada. The other three films were produced in Britain for Festival of Britain in 1951 by Raymond Spottiswoode. These were A Solid Explanation, Royal River, and The Black Swan.
James Mage was also an early pioneer in the 3-D craze. Using his 16 mm 3-D Bolex system, he premiered his Triorama program on February 10, 1953 with his four shorts: Sunday In Stereo, Indian Summer, American Life, and This is Bolex Stereo. This show is considered lost.
Another early 3-D film during the boom was the Lippert Productions short, A Day in the Country, narrated by Joe Besser and composed mostly of test footage. Unlike all of the other Lippert shorts, which were available in both dual-strip and anaglyph, this production was released in anaglyph only.
April 1953 saw two groundbreaking features in 3-D: Columbia's Man in the Dark and Warner Bros. House of Wax, the first 3-D feature with stereophonic sound. House of Wax, outside of Cinerama, was the first time many American audiences heard recorded stereophonic sound. It was also the film that typecast Vincent Price as a horror star as well as the "King of 3-D" after he became the actor to star in the most 3-D features (the others were The Mad Magician, Dangerous Mission, and Son of Sinbad). The success of these two films proved that major studios now had a method of getting moviegoers back into theaters and away from television sets, which were causing a steady decline in attendance.
The Walt Disney Studios waded into 3-D with its May 28, 1953 release of Melody, which accompanied the first 3-D western, Columbia's Fort Ti at its Los Angeles opening. It was later shown at Disneyland's Fantasyland Theater in 1957 as part of a program with Disney's other short Working for Peanuts, entitled, 3-D Jamboree. The show was hosted by the Mousketeers and was in color.
Universal-International released their first 3-D feature on May 27, 1953, It Came from Outer Space, with stereophonic sound. Following that was Paramount's first feature, Sangaree with Fernando Lamas and Arlene Dahl.
Columbia released several 3-D westerns produced by Sam Katzman and directed by William Castle. Castle would later specialize in various technical in-theater gimmicks for such Columbia and Allied Artists features as 13 Ghosts, House on Haunted Hill, and The Tingler. Columbia also produced the only slapstick comedies conceived for 3-D. The Three Stooges starred in Spooks and Pardon My Backfire; dialect comic Harry Mimmo starred in Down the Hatch. Producer Jules White was optimistic about the possibilities of 3-D as applied to slapstick (with pies and other projectiles aimed at the audience), but only two of his stereoscopic shorts were shown in 3-D. Down the Hatch was released as a conventional, "flat" motion picture. (Columbia has since printed Down the Hatch in 3-D for film festivals.)
John Ireland, Joanne Dru and Macdonald Carey starred in the Jack Broder color production Hannah Lee, which premiered June 19, 1953. The film was directed by Ireland, who sued Broder for his salary. Broder counter-sued, claiming that Ireland went over production costs with the film.
Another famous entry in the golden era of 3-D was the 3 Dimensional Pictures production of Robot Monster. The film was allegedly scribed in an hour by screenwriter Wyott Ordung and filmed in a period of two weeks on a shoestring budget. Despite these shortcomings and the fact that the crew had no previous experience with the newly-built camera rig, luck was on the cinematographer's side, as many find the 3-D photography in the film is well shot and aligned. Robot Monster also has a notable score by then up-and-coming composer Elmer Bernstein. The film was released June 24, 1953 and went out with the short Stardust in Your Eyes, which starred nightclub comedian, Slick Slavin.
20th Century Fox produced their only 3-D feature, Inferno in 1953, starring Rhonda Fleming. Fleming, who also starred in Those Redheads From Seattle, and Jivaro, shares the spot for being the actress to appear in the most 3-D features with Patricia Medina, who starred in Sangaree, Phantom of the Rue Morgue and Drums of Tahiti. Darryl F. Zanuck expressed little interest in stereoscopic systems, and at that point was preparing to premiere the new widescreen film system, CinemaScope.
The first decline in the theatrical 3-D craze started in August and September 1953. The factors causing this decline were:
- Two prints had to be projected simultaneously.
- The prints had to remain exactly alike after repair, or synchronization would be lost.
- It sometimes required two projectionists to keep sync working properly.
- When either prints or shutters became out of sync, the picture became virtually unwatchable and accounted for headaches and eyestrain.
- The necessary silver projection screen was very directional and caused sideline seating to be unusable with both 3-D and regular films, due to the angular darkening of these screens. Later films that opened in wider-seated venues often premiered flat for that reason (such as Kiss Me Kate at the Radio City Music Hall).
- The few cartoons made in 3D had a "cardboard cutout" effect, where flat objects appeared on different planes.
Because projection booth operators were at many times careless, even at preview screenings of 3-D films, trade and newspaper critics claimed that certain films were "hard on the eyes."
Sol Lesser attempted to follow up Stereo Techniques with a new showcase, this time five shorts that he himself produced. The project was to be called The 3-D Follies and was to be distributed by RKO. Unfortunately, because of financial difficulties and the growing disinterest in 3-D, Lesser canceled the project during the summer of 1953, making it the first 3-D film to be aborted in production. Two of the three shorts were shot: Carmenesque, a burlesque number starring exotic dancer Lili St. Cyr. and Fun in the Sun, a sports short directed by famed set designer/director William Cameron Menzies, who also directed the 3-D feature The Maze for Allied Artists.
Although it was more expensive to install, the major competing realism process was anamorphic, first utilized by Fox with Cinemascope and its September premiere in The Robe. Anamorphic features needed only a single print, so synchronization was not an issue. Cinerama was also a competitor from the start and had better quality control than 3-D because it was owned by one company that focused on quality control. However, most of the 3-D features past the summer of 1953 were released in the flat widescreen formats ranging from 1.66:1 to 1.85:1. In early studio advertisements and articles about widescreen and 3-D formats, widescreen systems were referred to as "3-D", causing some confusion among scholars.
There was no single instance of combining Cinemascope with 3-D until 1960, with a film called September Storm, and even then, that was a blow-up from a non-anamorphic negative. September Storm also went out with the last dual-strip short, Space Attack, which was actually shot in 1954 under the title The Adventures of Sam Space.
In December 1953, 3-D made a comeback with the release of several important 3-D films, including MGM's musical Kiss Me, Kate. Kate was the hill over which 3-D had to pass to survive. MGM tested it in six theaters: three in 3-D and three flat. According to trade ads of the time, the 3-D version was so well-received that the film quickly went into a wide stereoscopic release. However, most publications, including Kenneth Macgowan's classic film reference book Behind the Screen, state that the film did much better as a "regular" release. The film, adapted from the popular Cole Porter Broadway musical, starred the MGM songbird team of Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson as the leads, supported by Ann Miller, Keenan Wynn, Bobby Van, James Whitmore, Kurt Kasznar and Tommy Rall. The film also prominently promoted its use of stereophonic sound.
Several other features that helped put 3-D back on the map that month were the John Wayne feature Hondo (distributed by Warner Bros.), Columbia's Miss Sadie Thompson with Rita Hayworth, and Paramount's Money From Home with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Paramount also released the cartoon shorts Boo Moon with Casper, the Friendly Ghost and Popeye, Ace of Space with Popeye the Sailor. Paramount Pictures released a 3-D Korean War film Cease Fire filmed on actual Korean locations in 1953.
Top Banana, based on the popular stage musical with Phil Silvers, was brought to the screen with the original cast. Although it was merely a filmed stage production, the idea was that every audience member would feel they would have the best seat in the house through color photography and 3-D. Although the film was shot and edited in 3-D, United Artists, the distributor, felt the production was uneconomical in stereoscopic form and released the film flat on January 27, 1954. It remains one of two "Golden era" 3- D features, along with another United Artists feature, Southwest Passage (with John Ireland and Joanne Dru), that are currently considered lost (although flat versions survive).
A string of successful 3-D movies followed the second wave. Some highlights are:
- The French Line, starring Jane Russell and Gilbert Roland, a Howard Hughes/RKO production. The film became notorious for being released without an MPAA seal of approval, after several suggestive lyrics were included, as well as one of Ms. Russell's particularly revealing costumes. Playing up her sex appeal, one tagline for the film was, "It'll knock both of your eyes out!" The film was later cut and approved by the MPAA for a general flat release, despite having a wide and profitable 3-D release.
- Taza, Son of Cochise, a sequel to 1950's Broken Arrow, which starred Rock Hudson in the title role, Barbara Rush as the love interest, and Rex Reason (billed as Bart Roberts) as his renegade brother, released through Universal-International. It was directed by the great stylist Douglas Sirk, and his striking visual sense made the film a huge success when it was "re-premiered" in 2006 at the Second 3-D Expo in Hollywood.
- Two ape films: Phantom of the Rue Morgue, featuring Karl Malden and Patricia Medina, and produced by Warner Bros. and based on Edgar Allan Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue", and Gorilla At Large, a Panoramic Production starring Cameron Mitchell, distributed through Fox.
- Creature from the Black Lagoon, starring Richard Carlson and Julie Adams, directed by Jack Arnold. Arguably the most famous 3-D movie, and the only 3-D feature that spawned a sequel, Revenge of the Creature in 3-D (followed by another sequel, The Creature Walks Among Us, shot flat).
- Cat-Women of the Moon, an Astor Picture starring Victor Jory and Marie Windsor. Elmer Bernstein composed the score.
- Dial M for Murder, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Ray Milland, Robert Cummings, and Grace Kelly, is considered by aficionados of 3-D to be one of the best examples of the process. Although available in 3-D in 1954, there are no known playdates in 3-D, since Warner Bros. had just instated a simultaneous 3-D/2-D release policy. The film's screening in 3-D in February 1980 at the York Theater in San Francisco did so well that Warner Bros. re-released the film in 3-D in February 1982.
- Gog, an Ivan Tors production, dealing with realistic science fiction. The second film in Tors' "Office of Scientific Investigation" trilogy of film, which included, The Magnetic Monster and Riders to the Stars.
- The Diamond Wizard, the only stereoscopic feature shot in Britain, released flat in both the UK and US. It starred and was directed by Dennis O'Keefe.
- Irwin Allen's Dangerous Mission released by RKO in 1954 featuring Allen's trademarks of an all star cast facing a disaster (a forest fire).
- Son of Sinbad, another RKO/Howard Hughes production, starring Dale Robertson, Lili St. Cyr, and Vincent Price. The film was shelved after Hughes ran into difficulty with The French Line, and wasn't released until 1955, at which time it went out flat, converted to the SuperScope process.
3-D's final decline was in the late spring of 1954, for the same reasons as the previous lull, as well as the further success of widescreen formats with theater operators. Even though Polaroid had created a well-designed "Tell-Tale Filter Kit" for the purpose of recognizing and adjusting out of sync and phase 3-D, exhibitors still felt uncomfortable with the system and turned their focus instead to processes such as CinemaScope. The last 3-D feature to be released in that format during the "Golden era" was Revenge of the Creature, on February 23, 1955. Ironically, the film had a wide release in 3-D and was well received at the box office.
Revival (1960–1984) in single strip format
Stereoscopic films largely remained dormant for the first part of the 1960s, with those that were released usually being anaglyph exploitation films. One film of notoriety was the Beaver-Champion/Warner Bros. production, The Mask (1961). The film was shot in 2-D, but to enhance the bizarre qualities of the dream-world that is induced when the main character puts on a cursed tribal mask, these scenes went to anaglyph 3-D. These scenes were printed by Technicolor on their first run in red/green anaglyph.
Although 3-D films appeared sparsely during the early 1960s, the true second wave of 3-D cinema was set into motion by Arch Oboler, the same producer who started the craze of the 1950s. Using a new technology called Space-Vision 3D, stereoscopic films were printed with two images, one above the other, in a single academy ratio frame, on a single strip, and needed only one projector fitted with a special lens. This so-called "over and under" technique eliminated the need for dual projector set-ups, and produced widescreen, but darker, less vivid, polarized 3-D images. Unlike earlier dual system, it could stay in perfect sync, unless improperly spliced in repair.
Arch Oboler once again had the vision for the system that no one else would touch, and put it to use on his film entitled The Bubble, which starred Michael Cole, Deborah Walley, and Johnny Desmond. As with Bwana Devil, the critics panned The Bubble, but audiences flocked to see it, and it became financially sound enough to promote the use of the system to other studios, particularly independents, who did not have the money for expensive dual-strip prints of their productions.
In 1970, Stereovision, a new entity founded by director/inventor Allan Silliphant and optical designer Chris Condon, developed a different 35 mm single-strip format, which printed two images squeezed side-by-side and used an anamorphic lens to widen the pictures through polaroid filters. Louis K. Sher (Sherpix) and Stereovision released the softcore sex comedy The Stewardesses (self-rated X, but later re-rated R by the MPAA). The film cost $100,000 USD to produce, and ran for months in several markets. eventually earning $27 million in North America, alone ($140 million in constant-2010 dollars) in fewer than 800 theaters, becoming the most profitable 3-Dimensional film to date, and in purely relative terms, one of the most profitable films ever. It was later released in 70 mm 3-D. Some 36 films worldwide were made with Stereovision over 25 years, using either a widescreen (above-below), anamorphic (side by side) or 70 mm 3-D formats. In 2009 The Stewardesses was remastered by Chris Condon and director Ed Meyer, releasing it in XpanD 3D, RealD Cinema and Dolby 3D.
The quality of the 1970s 3-D films was not much more inventive, as many were either softcore and even hardcore adult films, horror films, or a combination of both. Paul Morrisey's Flesh For Frankenstein (aka Andy Warhol's Frankenstein) was a superlative example of such a combination.
Between 1981 and 1983 there was a new Hollywood 3D craze started by the spaghetti western Comin' at Ya!. When Parasite was released it was billed as the first horror film to come out in 3D in over 20 years. Horror movies and reissues of 1950s 3D classics (such as Hitchcock's Dial ´M´ for Murder) dominated the 3D releases that followed. The second sequel in the Friday the 13th series, Friday the 13th Part III, was released very successfully. Apparently saying "part 3 in 3D" was considered too cumbersome so it was shortened in the titles of Jaws 3-D and Amityville 3-D, which emphasized off the screen effects to the point of being annoying at times, especially when flashlights were shone into the eyes of the audience.
The science fiction film Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone was the most expensive 3D movie made up to that point with production costs about the same as Star Wars but not nearly the same box office success, causing the craze to fade quickly through spring 1983. Other sci-fi/fantasy films were released as well including Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn and Treasure of the Four Crowns, which was widely criticized for poor editing and plot holes, but did feature some truly spectacular closeups.
3D releases after the second craze included The Man Who Wasn't There (1983), Silent Madness and the 1985 animated film Starchaser: The Legend of Orin, whose plot seemed to borrow heavily from Star Wars .
Only Comin' At Ya!, Parasite, and Friday the 13th Part III have been officially released on VHS and/or DVD in 3-D in the United States (although Amityville 3-D has seen a 3-D DVD release in the United Kingdom). Most of the 80s 3D movies and some of the classic 50s movies such as House of Wax were released on the now defunct Video Disc (VHD) format in Japan as part of a system that used shutter glasses. Most of these have been unofficially transferred to DVD and are available on the grey market through sites such as eBay.
Rebirth of 3-D (1985–2003)
In the mid 1980s, IMAX began producing non-fiction films for its nascent 3-D business, starting with "We Are Born of Stars" (Roman Kroitor, 1985). A key point was that this production, as with all subsequent IMAX productions, emphasized mathematical correctness of the 3D rendition and thus largely eliminated the eye fatigue and pain that resulted from the approximate geometries of previous 3D incarnations. In addition, and in contrast to previous 35mm based 3D presentations, the very large field of view provided by IMAX allowed a much broader 3D "stage", arguably as important in 3D film as it is theatre.
In 1986, Disney Theme Parks and Universal Studios began to use 3D films to impress audiences in special venues, Captain Eo (Francis Ford Coppola, 1986) starring Michael Jackson, being a very notable example. In the same year, the National Film Board of Canada production Transitions (Colin Low), created for Expo 86 in Vancouver, was the first IMAX presentation using polarized glasses. "Echos of the Sun" (Roman Kroitor, 1990) was the first IMAX film to be presented using alternate-eye shutterglass technology, a development required because the dome screen precluded the use of polarized technology.
From 1990 onward, numerous films were produced by all three parties to satisfy the demands of their various high-profile special attractions and IMAX's expanding 3D network. Films of special note during this period include the extremely successful "Into The Deep" (Graeme Ferguson, 1995) and the first IMAX 3-D fiction film Wings of Courage (1996), by director Jean-Jacques Annaud, about the pilot Henri Guillaumet.
Other stereoscopic films produced in this period include:
- The Last Buffalo (Stephen Low, 1990)
- Jim Henson's Muppet*Vision 3D (Jim Henson, 1991)
- Imagine (John Weiley, 1993)
- Honey, I Shrunk the Audience (Daniel Rustuccio, 1994)
- Into the Deep (Graeme Ferguson, 1995)
- Across the Sea of Time (Stephen Low, 1995)
- Wings of Courage (Jean-Jacques Annaud, 1996)
- L5, First City in Space (Graeme Ferguson, 1996)
- T2 3-D: Battle Across Time (James Cameron, 1996)
- Paint Misbehavin (Roman Kroitor and Peter Stephenson, 1997)
- IMAX Nutcracker (1997)
- The Hidden Dimension (1997)
- T-Rex: Back to the Cretaceous (Brett Leonard, 1998)
- Mark Twain's America (Stephen Low, 1998)
- Siegfried & Roy: The Magic Box (Brett Leonard, 1999)
- Galapagos (Al Giddings and David Clark, 1999)
- Encounter in the Third Dimension (Ben Stassen, 1999)
- Alien Adventure (Ben Stassen, 1999)
- Ultimate G's (2000)
- Cyberworld (Hugh Murray, 2000)
- Cirque du Soleil: Journey of Man (Keith Melton, 2000)
- Haunted Castle (Ben Stassen, 2001)
- Space Station 3D (Toni Myers, 2002)
- SOS Planet (Ben Stassen, 2002)
- Ocean Wonderland (2003)
- Falling in Love Again (Munro Ferguson, 2003)
- Misadventures in 3D (Ben Stassen, 2003)
By 2004, 54% (133 theaters of 248) of the IMAX community was 3D-capable.
Shortly thereafter, higher quality computer animation, competition from DVDs and other media, digital projection, digital video capture, and the use of sophisticated IMAX 70mm film projectors, created an opportunity for another wave of 3D films.
Mainstream resurgence (2003 – present)
In 2003, Ghosts of the Abyss by James Cameron was released as the first full-length 3-D IMAX feature filmed with the Reality Camera System. This camera system used the latest HD video cameras, not film, and was built for Cameron by Vince Pace, to his specifications. The same camera system was used to film Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (2003), Aliens of the Deep IMAX (2005), and The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D (2005).
In 2004, Las Vegas Hilton released Star Trek: The Experience which included two films. One of the films, Borg Invasion 4-D (Ty Granoroli), was in 3D. In August of the same year, rap group Insane Clown Posse released their ninth studio album Hell's Pit. One of two versions of the album contained a DVD featuring a 3-D short film for the track "Bowling Balls", shot in high-definition video.
In November 2004, The Polar Express was released as IMAX's first full-length, animated 3-D feature. It was released in 3,584 theaters in 2D, and only 66 IMAX locations. The return from those few 3-D theaters was about 25% of the total. The 3-D version earned about 14 times as much per screen as the 2D version. This pattern continued and prompted a greatly intensified interest in 3-D and 3-D presentation of animated films.
In June 2005, the Mann's Chinese 6 theatre in Hollywood became the first commercial movie theatre to be equipped with the Digital 3D format. Both Singin' in the Rain and The Polar Express were tested in the Digital 3D format over the course of several months. In November 2005, Walt Disney Studio Entertainment released Chicken Little in digital 3-D format.
The Butler's in Love, a short film directed by Anders Laursen and starring Elizabeth Berkley and Thomas Jane was released on June 23, 2008. The film was shot at the former Industrial Light & Magic studios using KernerFX's prototype Kernercam stereoscopic camera rig.
Ben Walters suggests that both filmmakers and film exhibitors regain interest in 3-D film. There are now more 3-D exhibition equipments, and more dramatic films being shot in 3-D format. One incentive is that the technology is more mature. Shooting in 3-D format is less limited, and the result is more stable. Another incentive is the fact that while 2-D ticket sales are in an overall state of decline, revenues from 3-D tickets continue to grow.
Through the entire history of 3D presentations, techniques to convert existing 2D images for 3D presentation have existed. Few have been effective or survived. The combination of digital and digitized source material with relatively cost-effective digital post-processing has spawned a new wave of conversion products. In June 2006, IMAX and Warner Bros. released Superman Returns including 20 minutes of 3-D images converted from the 2-D original digital footage. George Lucas has announced that he will re-release his Star Wars films in 3-D based on a conversion process from the company In-Three.
In late 2005, Steven Spielberg told the press he was involved in patenting a 3-D cinema system that does not need glasses, and which is based on plasma screens. A computer splits each film-frame, and then projects the two split images onto the screen at differing angles, to be picked up by tiny angled ridges on the screen.
On May 19, 2007 Scar3D opened at the Cannes Film Market. It was the first US produced 3D full length feature film to be completed in Real D 3D. It has been the #1 film at the box office in several countries around the world, including Russia where it opened in 3D on 295 screens.
On January 16, 2009, Lionsgate released My Bloody Valentine 3D, the first horror film and first R-rated film to be projected in Real D 3D. It was released to 1,033 3D screens, the most ever for this format, and 1,501 regular screens. Another R-Rated film, The Final Destination, was released later that year (August 28) to even more screens. It was the first of its series to be released in HD 3-D.
On May 7, 2009 the British Film Institute commissioned a 3D film installation. The film Radio Mania: An Abandoned Work consists of two screens of stereoscopic 3D film with 3D Ambisonic sound. It stars Kevin Eldon and is by British artists Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard.
The first 3-D Webisode series was Horrorween starting September 1, 2009.
“ I think it's a misnomer to call it 3-D versus 2-D. The whole point of cinematic imagery is it's three-dimensional....95% of our depth cues come from occlusion, resolution, color and so forth, so the idea of calling a 2-D movie a '2-D movie' is a little misleading....When you watch through any of the conventional 3-D processes you're giving up three foot-lamberts. A massive difference,...[though] your eye compensates. ”
Major 3-D films in 2009 included Coraline, Monsters vs. Aliens, Up, X Games 3D: The Movie, The Final Destination, and Avatar. Avatar has gone on to be one of the most expensive films of all time, with a budget at 237M; it is also the highest-grossing film of all time. The main technologies used to exhibit these films, and many others released around the time and up to the present, are Real D 3D, Dolby 3D, XpanD 3D, MasterImage 3D, and IMAX 3D.
March and April 2010 saw three major 3-D releases clustered together, with Alice in Wonderland hitting US theaters on March 5, 2010, How to Train Your Dragon on March 26, 2010 and Clash of the Titans on April 2, 2010.
Due to growing popularity of 3-D and an increase in 3-D screens, an increasing amount of newly released films have been screened in 3-D. However, film industry observers have noted that 2011 has shown a considerable decline in audience interest in 3-D presentation. For instance, only 45% of the premiere weekend box office earnings of Kung Fu Panda 2 came from screenings in the 3D presentation format as opposed to 60% for Shrek Forever After in 2010. In addition, the premiere of Cars 2 opening weekend gross consisted of only 37% from 3-D theatres. In view of this trend, there has been box office analysis concluding the implementation of 3-D presentation is apparently backfiring by discouraging people from going to movie theatres at all. As Brandon Gray of Box Office Mojo notes, "In each case, 3D's more-money-from-fewer-people approach has simply led to less money from even fewer people."
One of the leading proponents of 3-D film and the producer of some of the most critically acclaimed films in this format such as How To Train Your Dragon (Rotten Tomatoes score of 98%) and Kung Fu Panda 2 (RT 82%), Jeffrey Katzenberg, blames oversaturation of the market with inferior films, especially ones photographed conventionally and then digitally processed in post-production for the 3-D format, such asThe Last Airbender (RT 6%) and Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (RT 13%) that have led to audiences concluding the format is not worth the additional expense to see. However at the global box office 6 3D films have grossed over $1 billion each, 3 from 2011, 2 from 2010 and 1 from 2009.
World 3-D Expositions
In September 2003, Sabucat Productions organized the first World 3-D Exposition, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the original craze. The Expo was held at Grauman's Egyptian Theatre. During the two-week festival, over 30 of the 50 "golden era" stereoscopic features (as well as shorts) were screened, many coming from the collection of film historian and archivist Robert Furmanek, who had spent the previous 15 years painstakingly tracking down and preserving each film to its original glory. In attendance were many stars from each film, respectively, and some were moved to tears by the sold-out seating with audiences of film buffs from all over the world who came to remember their previous glories.
In May 2006, the second World 3-D Exposition was announced for September of that year, presented by the 3-D Film Preservation Fund. Along with the favorites of the previous exposition were newly discovered features and shorts, and like the previous Expo, guests from each film. Expo II was announced as being the locale for the world premiere of several films never before seen in 3-D, including The Diamond Wizard and the Universal short, Hawaiian Nights with Mamie Van Doren and Pinky Lee. Other "re-premieres" of films not seen since their original release in stereoscopic form included Cease Fire!, Taza, Son of Cochise, Wings of the Hawk, and Those Redheads From Seattle. Also shown were the long-lost shorts Carmenesque and A Day in the Country (both 1953) and William Van Doren Kelley's two Plasticon shorts (1922 and 1923).
“ After Toy Story, there were 10 really bad CG movies because everybody thought the success of that film was CG and not great characters that were beautifully designed and heartwarming. Now, you've got people quickly converting movies from 2D to 3D, which is not what we did. They're expecting the same result, when in fact they will probably work against the adoption of 3D because they'll be putting out an inferior product. ”
— Avatar director James Cameron
Most of the cues required to provide humans with relative depth information are already present in traditional 2D films. For example, closer objects occlude further ones, distant objects are desaturated and hazy relative to near ones, and the brain subconsciously "knows" the distance of many objects when the height is known (e.g. a human figure subtending only a small amount of the screen is more likely to be 2 m tall and far away than 10 cm tall and close). In fact, only two of these depth cues are not already present in 2D films: stereopsis (or parallax) and the focus of the eyeball (accommodation).
3D film-making addresses accurate presentation of stereopsis but not of accommodation, and therefore is insufficient in providing a complete 3D illusion. However, promising results from research aimed at overcoming this shortcoming were presented at the 2010 Stereoscopic Displays and Applications conference in San Jose, U.S.
Film critic Mark Kermode argued that 3-D adds "not that much" of value to a film, and said that, while he liked Avatar, the many impressive things he saw in the movie had nothing to do with 3-D. Kermode has been an outspoken critic of 3-D film describing the effect as a "nonsense" and recommends using two right or left lenses from the 3-D glasses to cut out the "pointy, pointy 3-D stereoscopic vision", although this technique still does not improve the 30% colour loss from a 3-D film. Versions of these "2-D glasses" are being marketed.
Film critic Roger Ebert has repeatedly criticized 3-D film as being "too dim" (due to the polarized-light technology using only half the light for each eye), sometimes distracting or even nausea-inducing, and argues that it is an expensive technology that adds nothing of value to the movie-going experience (since 2-D movies already provide a sufficient illusion of 3-D). While Ebert is "not opposed to 3-D as an option", he opposes it as a replacement for traditional film, and prefers 2-D techologies such as MaxiVision48 that improve image area/resolution and frames per second. Director Christopher Nolan has stated that while two dimensional film displays at 16 foot lamberts of luminance, the addition of 3-D sacrifices up to three foot lamberts, which he criticises as, "A massive difference. You're not that aware of it because once you're "in that world," your eye compensates, but having struggled for years to get theaters up to the proper brightness, we're not sticking polarized filters in everything."
Another major criticism is that many of the movies in 21st century to date were not filmed in 3-D, but converted after filming. Filmmakers who have criticized this process include James Cameron, whose film Avatar was created in 3-D from the ground up and is largely credited with the revival of 3-D.
Director Christopher Nolan has criticised the notion that traditional film does not allow depth perception, saying "I think it's a misnomer to call it 3D versus 2D. The whole point of cinematic imagery is it's three dimensional... You know 95% of our depth cues come from occlusion, resolution, color and so forth, so the idea of calling a 2D movie a '2D movie' is a little misleading." Nolan also criticised that shooting on the required digital video does not offer a high enough quality image and that 3D cameras cannot be equipped with prime lenses.
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