3D – A History Lesson from Stereographs to Coloring Books

November 2, 2010 at 8:58 pm | Posted in Blog | Leave a comment

While 3D movies are seeing a big boom these days, with almost every blockbuster these days being released in 3D, it would be easy to forget that 3D is far from a new idea. In fact, 3D photography is as old as photography itself, the first “stereoscopic” (from the Greek word stereo, meaning “solid”) photographs were produced in the 1840’s as soon as the technology for photography was developed. Stereographs gained popularity in London, and companies quickly developed the technology to mass-produce stereographs. Within 10 years, half a million stereographs were sold in the UK alone.

During this time period, photographers created stereographs by taking one picture, shifting the camera slightly to a new position, and taking another picture. Before television and films even existed, stereographs were an important method of entertainment and education, and by the 1950’s, the ViewMaster, a stereoscopic device that displayed seven images, was extremely popular. This item, first sold as a tourist’s souvenir, became one of the 50 most popular toys of the 20th century.

Meanwhile, the technology surrounding moving pictures is booming in the first two decades of the 20th century. In 1920, the Great Train Robbery becomes the first 3D movie ever screened for a commercial audience in Los Angeles. The medium didn’t see very much development until the 1950’s, when 3D saw it’s first major boom in popularity in it’s history. Major studio films such as Andre de Toth’s House of Wax, Dial M for Murder, and many more were filmed in 3D. However, this fad went as quickly as it came into fashion, and for the most part the technology went forgotten until the 1980s. The technology to project 3D films was finicky, prone to breakage and costly to upkeep. They required two almost identical reels be projected simultaneously, and if they were even a little out of sync they became unwatchable, leaving audiences strained and headache-ridden.

Between 1953 and 1954, 3D also had a brief moment in the comic book world, where characters such as Mighty Mouse and Three Stooges could be seen in the pages of the newspaper. Again, it passed as quickly it came, and soon 3D comics were all but forgotten.

The next resurgence of 3D technology came in the 1980s, when technology began to develop rapidly and become less expensive and more available. In the mid 1980s, IMAX began developing 3D non-fiction films, and a year later Disney as well as Universal began to use the technology when projecting films in their theme parks. 3D films remained a niche and didn’t expand further until 2003, which saw the release of James Cameron’s Ghosts of the Abyss, which was the first full-length 3D IMAX film. It was shot in HD and the camera developed for this film was later used in Spy Kids 3D and subsequent films. These days, more and more dramatic films are being shot in 3D, and the format isn’t just limited to animated films or non-fiction. With all of the success of 3D films in the last decade, including Avatar as the highest-grossing film of all time, it seems that this time, 3D films are here to stay.

Now it’s 3D mania. From comics and coloring books to movies and TV. Is this still a fleeting fad that will once again fade away or is it here to stay?


An example of a page from a 3D coloring book


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