3D or Not 3D?

Here’s a playlist of the 3D videos I shot back about a decade ago,

(Note: you’ll need to set your 3D preference in the settings and for best effect, you’d need to play it on a 3D ready monitor with 3D glasses.)

I was always fascinated with 3D. Back in high school, I made my own 3D set up by shooting two slides of such things as the Grand Canyon from six inches apart side by side. Then, I got polarizing material (which was just coming out to the public) from Edmund Scientific Company (such a cool company with all kinds of things like glass fragments fused from the sand by the first atomic explosion in New Mexico – still have some!) Edmund Scientific is now Scientifics Online. Worth checking out. That’s where Teresa got my Christmas gift one year – a cutting of foil from the command module of Apollo 11 that actually flew around the moon on that historic mission – all dressed up in a an expensive glassed in frame about 16 x 20, suitable for wall hanging.

But getting back to the 3D – I took that polarizing material (like most sunglasses today, but just flat plastic) and cut it into four pieces. I made glasses with two of the pieces, with each piece rotated by 90 degrees from the other in the angle of polarization.

Then, I put the other two pieces, oriented the same way, in front of the lenses of two slide projectors.

That way, each eye would only see one image, the other being blocked by the rotated polarizing filter, hence creating 3D. Now I discovered the old glass-bead projection screens like my grandfather had used to show our home movies scattered light, so the polarization was lost.

But the newly released mylar screens maintained the polarization. So, I used one of those. I then adjusted the throw of both projectors so the two images lined up so that objects in the farthest distance lined up as they would in real life, with no parallax. Then, the degree of parallax would create the 3D effect for the brain, just as in normal 3D.

I showed my rinky dink system to family and friends, and they were amazed, since most of them had never seen 3D projections before, and those that had, had only seen the old red and blue glasses 3D that they used on such movies as Creature of the Black Lagoon and House of Wax (with Vincent Price) in the movie theaters in the 50s.

I’ve seen Creature in 3D with Red and Blue when I took Mary to a screening at USC where I was in the film school. Gave me a freaking headache (the movie, not Mary) which is a common problem with that old technique.

Saw House of Wax in a re-release with polarized glasses, which was much better. Later I saw Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein in 3D and in College, my friend Chris Huntley and I went to a porno movie that was in 3D – not to see the porn but because there were hardly any 3D movies in those days and, with us both in film school, we just wanted to study the techniques. Seriously. (Film nerds).

Of course now, most big action movies have a 3D release. And these days, they don’t even shoot in 3D – the just post-process with computers – techno louts! Even the big screen TV I bought almost ten years ago shows 3D and even does 2D to 3D conversions of any program (including home movies) in real time!

Which brings me to the last part of this note. After successfully rigging up a system for 3D slide projection, I tried it with movies. I’d do the same thing – put two movie cameras side by side, shoot the scene. Then set up two projectors with the polarizing filters and run both.

It worked great if it was a still life, but if things were moving around, I needed to be very careful to sync up both projectors so the images were in the right places for 3D, not drifting all over the screen relative to one another. That was tough since in those days there was no practical way, mechanical or electrical, to sync two consumer grade projectors (which is all I could afford in high school).

Still, after a while, I got pretty good at turning them on and off until I hit a mark on each, then starting them together and letting them run in near-sync, which was good enough for my purposes.

But, that was a lot of work for just a few seconds of 3D motion, so I eventually dropped the project, having at least succeeded in proof of concept.

And then, about ten years ago, Fuji came out with the first relatively inexpensive home 3D camera / video camera. I was ecstatic! I scraped together my meager funds, purchased one, and raced out to shoot some sample movies (the ones in this playlist on YouTube). YouTube had just upped their tech to allow for 3D so I bought one of the first home 3D monitors as well for my computer.

End of story – I shot a bunch of these, and they are wonderful, but in the end, after the thrill of finally being able to achieve a flawless 3D effect that I had been chasing since high school, once achieved, the drive was over and I got back to shooting regular flat videos since the 2D to 3D conversion just keeps getting better.

Still, it was SO worth it – like scratching an itch you’ve had for 40 years. Still got all the equipment. Maybe I’ll take another whirl at it, having got myself all interested again in the writing of this.