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3D movie history

Updated: October, 2017 - It is official.  The 3-D movie has made a big comeback and is here to stay.  Gone are the days of the red and blue paper 3D glasses that movie-goers used to experience a “somewhat” 3D image on the screen. Please check out my 3D movie news blog for information on upcoming 3D movies.  New advances in 3D technology have allowed such blockbusters as James Cameron’s Avatar to wow us with a “feels like you’re in the picture” experience.  Since the inception of film, filmmakers have been looking for methods that can be used to display movies in three dimensions, or 3D.   And today’s movie studios have a toolbox of goodies that they can use to make a movie literally come to life before your eyes – or reach out and grab you from your seat (well almost).  Let’s look at the history of 3D and how far it has come.

Early 3D Films

Since 1903’s L’arrivee du train frightened the wits out of some movie patrons who thought that a train was actually about to run over them where they sat, there have been startling advances in 3D.  Next up was the first 3D movie to be commercially released The Power of Love (1922), and also the first to be viewed using anaglyph glasses that feature lenses of opposite colors that, when they are combined with two corresponding strips of film, created a 3D effect.

A system known as the Teleview System made its debut in 1922 and featured small viewers that were attached to movie theater seats that were synchronized to open and close based on alternating frames in dual film reels.  Because the system was cumbersome, it never made a wide impact on the 3D industry; in fact, just one film was ever developed for use with the system.

The Great Depression halted efforts for most studios to adopt 3D.  Another notable 3D film was released in 1936 and went on to win an Academy Award – Audioscopiks.  This film again used the anaglyph glasses format of red and cyan lenses.  The invention of polarizing sheets would mark a better generation of 3D films on a larger scale.

3D Gains an Audience

In 1952, a little film called Bwana Devil would become the first color film in 3D.  Up until then, although stereoscopic 3D movies were printed on red and cyan reels, they were still yet in black and white. This made it hard for viewers to really envision things in 3D because, obviously, we all “see” in color.  This film made use of polarizing sheets and Polaroid filters, which would become the staple for films made in 3D during the time period. Little changed with 3D until 1970 when StereoVision 3D technology allowed for the side by side display of reels onto a single film strip.  While 3D enjoyed resurgence during the seventies, the cost of 3D equipment and films made them unpopular with movie theaters.   With the 80s came IMAX technology, which made 3D filmmaking less expensive and ensured a better picture for viewers without giving them the classic eyestrain that accompanied watching older films in 3D.

Modern 3D Experience

The modern 3D movie experience saw tons of competition for IMAX technology including Dolby 3D, Master Image 3D, and Real D 3D, all of which abandoned the use of the anaglyph glasses for a more modern approach to 3D viewing.  3D movies are now so popular that many films are now released in 2D and 3D versions.  Film studios make major profits at the box office with films that gross millions of dollars, which in turn, justifies their upgrades to better equipment for viewing 3D movies.  And at home, consumers are now able to purchase 3D televisions that have a 3D mode that works with a special battery-operated LCD shutter lens.  These 3D glasses allow light to pass through at various intervals in synch with the video display.  Some are even wireless to make for a better viewing experience.


3d movie history