Movies!

January 9, 2014 by  


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People love their movies. The movie industry continues to rake in billions and billions of dollars each year despite economic downturns and the advent of home theater setups. These days, a major draw for theater audiences is 3D films. A far cry from the simplistic efforts of yesteryear, today’s 3D films are technologically impressive and, in many cases, incredibly lucrative for the studios that distribute them.

In this retrospective feature, we trace the evolution of 3D movies from their humblest beginnings in the early 20th Century to their massive popularity in today’s marketplace.

The motion picture industry began taking shape in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Almost from the beginning, studios and filmmakers were searching for ways to display their movies in three dimensions. The dominant technology to arise in this era was stereoscopic 3D. As described in William Friese-Greene’s original patent, stereoscopic 3D films were broadcast on two separate screens. Viewers could then view the screens through a stereoscope, merging the two images and creating the illusion of 3D.

Some debate still exists as to what technically qualifies as the first 3D film. The popular pick is a 1903 short called L’arrivee du train. This short by the Lumiere brothers depicted an oncoming train roaring into a station. The quality was apparently good enough to convince several members of the audience they were about to be run over.

The first commercially released 3D film was 1922’s The Power of Love. This was also the first 3D film to make use of anaglyph glasses. These glasses use lenses of opposite colors. When combined with a pair of corresponding film strips, viewers achieve the 3D effect. Red and Cyan are the most commonly chosen colors because that combination produces less image ghosting than others. Unfortunately, The Power of Love did not achieve wide release and the film has since been lost.

Filmmakers and theater owners continued to experiment with the growing 3D market. Laurens Hammond and William F. Cassidy debuted their Teleview System in late 1922. This form of projection rapidly alternated frames from two film reels. Small viewers attached to the seats were synchronized to open and close their displays in accordance with the projector. Because of the cumbersome nature of the format, only one movie was ever developed specifically for the Teleview System.

Experimentation continued for several decades, but high costs and the pressures of the Great Depression prevented studios from wholeheartedly adopting 3D. One notable success story during the Depression was Audioscopiks. This film relied on the red/cyan anaglyph format. Audioscopiks earned an Academy Award in 1936 in the Best Short Subject, Novelty category.

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