Written by Lena Rye
If you look up the definition of 3D imaging or Stereoscopy on Wikipedia, it will say
“a technique for creating or enhancing the illusion of depth in an image.” This definition shows that 3D imaging is not only limited to the photos and films that one needs 3D glasses to experience. Many more innovations were “enhancing the illusion of depth in an image” than just our modern-day 3D films. It really depends on the time they were introduced to the public, and what that meant.
Long before the modern 3D film was invented, or film in general, 3D imaging was being explored. For example, there was the invention of the stereoscope in 1838, a device that shows a different image to each eye. The images are almost identical, but they’re taken from slightly different angles. When your brain puts the information together, it’s as though you are seeing the actual object or space. The first stereoscope used mirrors to show the images to each eye, but the later versions (1860s and on) had a viewing apparatus with lenses and a divider between both eyes.
The thaumatrope, zoetrope, praxinoscope, mutoscope and numerous other variations were essentially flipbooks, first used throughout the 1800s. They were the basis of moving pictures. The first traditional moving pictures (1890s) brought another level of experience and three-dimensionality to the public. One of the first and most famous short films was L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat, or Train Pulling into a Station. This film supposedly brought audiences to their feet, screaming in fear, by showing a train coming towards the camera. The viewers thought they were in danger of being hit by the train. Although there were no special effects or 3D glasses, the angle of this shot was definitely “enhancing the illusion of depth.”
In the early 1920s, the “Talkie” (sound film) was invented. This, along with colour film, made the movies even more experiential and real. Similar to the first moving pictures, people were in awe of this new development.
The first 3D film, Bwana Devil, was released in 1952. It used two cameras to film, and both images were projected onto the screen. 3D glasses with red and cyan lenses were used where you could only see one image with each eye. A year later, came the first colour 3D film, The House of Wax. To view this film, similar glasses were used, so that each eye could only see a selection of colours.
3D film continued to be developed, becoming especially popular in the 1950s and then 80s and 90s, however it is most popular today. The most common 3D glasses today are RealD 3D. These are polarized to let only certain light waves in so that each eye sees one of the two images on the screen. They were being developed in the early 2000s.
Over time, the public develops immunity to 3D imaging so we have to keep developing new forms of immersive media. For example, the first 4D film, The Sensorium, was released in 1984. In 4D films, vibrations, water, or wind are directed at the audience at appropriate times. The goal of this is to engage as many senses as possible. So far, the film industry has achieved visual, auditory and tactile stimuli, but they are continually striving for more.
Today, 3D imaging is continuously being upgraded and developed. We now have surround sound, 3D television and even 3D printers. Each of these opens up new possibilities for entertainment. Recently, a 3D pen has been developed, which works similarly to the 3D printer, melting strings of plastic so they can dry in any position, but it is more simple, portable, and easy to use. However, despite all these technical advances, films are still not as fulfilling as real experiences… and I’m glad I didn’t have to smell Bilbo Baggins.