New 3D Film History Book

Cover of 'Stereoscopic Cinema and the Origins of 3-D Film, 1838-1952' by Ray ZoneAs I “warned” back in April, Ray Zone’s new book Stereoscopic Cinema and the Origins of 3-D Film, 1838-1952 has just been released in illustrated hard cover by the University of Kentucky Press. (It’s also available from various other online book sellers.)

As I said before, this is a significant new work documenting a facet of film history — let alone 3D film history — that to date has been almost completely ignored except for an exceptionally tiny number of academic works and few fragmentary (and often erroneous) passing references.

The publisher’s blurb puts it nicely:

Though it may come as a surprise to both cinema lovers and industry professionals who believe that 3-D film was born in the early 1950s, stereoscopic cinema actually began in 1838, more than 100 years before the 3-D boom in Hollywood….

Stereoscopic Cinema and the Origins of 3-D Film, 1838-1952, is a comprehensive prehistory of the stereoscopic motion picture. …Writing a new chapter in the history of early cinema, Ray Zone not only discusses technological innovation and its cultural context but also examines the aesthetic aspects of stereoscopic cinema in its first century of production.

Run, don’t walk.

Backyard Movie Party 2005

Whilst picking nits in old posts, I discovered I never posted a film list from the 2005 backyard movie party. So here it is for the sake of the archives.

It was held Labor Day Sunday (Sept. 4), 2005, and was the first of the series held at Brian and Gary’s duplex in Ballard.

In this case, we had to scramble and relocate into the basement of Brian’s half due to rain. Unfortunately, the rain also meant a bunch of folks didn’t show up as they didn’t realize we had the basement option. On the other hand, it was already kinda cozy down there just with the folks who did show up, so maybe it was just as well.

The observant may note that some of the films shown were repeated for later backyard movie parties. This was largely because attendance for this one was sparse (plus they’re awfully good films). Now, however, effort is made not to have repeats…which is also easier now that my collection is larger. Then again, all rules were made to be broken, n’est ce pas?

Wabbit Twouble (1941, Warner Bros., USA)
Color, Sound.
Directed by Robert Clampett. Animation by Sid Sutheland, w/ Rod Scribner & Robert McKimson (uncredited).

Elmer seeks some west and wewaxation by going camping at Jellostone National Park. Unfortunately for him, he sets up atop Bugs’ rabbit hole. The first Bugs cartoon directed by Clampett, and the first of only four appearances of the “fat Elmer” character design (based on the real-life appearance of Arthur Q. Bryan, who provided his voice). The credits are written in Fudd-ese: “Diwected by Wobert Cwampett” and so on.

Betty Boop’s Ups and Downs (1932, USA)
B/W, Sound. An NTA television print ca. late 1950s or early ’60s.
Animated by Willard G. Bowsky and Ugo D’Orsi.
Directed by Dave Fleischer. Produced by Max Fleischer.

Earth goes bankrupt and is auctioned off. Saturn buys it and removes the magnet at the center, taking away gravity. Hilarity ensues. Includes some funny live action shots. One of the best Boop cartoons. (Repeated for Backyard Movie Party 2006, Part II – The Sequel.)

The Red Spectre (1907, Pathé Frères, FR)
(aka El Espectro Rojo and Satan de Divierte; orig. Le Spectre Rouge)
Tinting and stencil color, Added sound
Directed by Segundo de Chomón. Produced by Ferdinand Zecca.

A demonic magician attempts to perform his act in a strange grotto, but is confronted by a Good Spirit who opposes him. A delightful trick film that is only further enhanced by the added soundtrack of unidentified electronic and electro-acoustic music (portions of which were also used on my Blackhawk print of Nosferatu). Although the color has faded somewhat, it is still a lovely example of the Pathé Color stencil process.

The Merry Frolics of Satan(1905, Star Films, FR)
(orig. Les Quatre Cents Farces du Diable)
B/W with multi-colored tinting. Silent. Music: “Hal on Earth” and “Calling All Mothers” by the Hal Russell NRG Ensemble from Hal on Earth (Abduction CD, 1989)
Produced and directed by Georges Méliés.

A pair of British dolts visit an old wizard to obtain magic “pills” (more like “bombs” really) that explode and create whatever the thrower wants. Naturally, the wizard is actually Satan himself, who pursues and, well, bedevils the hedonistic fools with an army of acrobatic imps. The more the dolts use the magic bombs, the worse things go. In the end, a demonic carriage carries them into Hell, where they are roasted on a spit. One of Melies’ very best and most riotous films. (Repeated for Backyard Movie Party 2006, Part II – The Sequel.

A Chairy Tale (1957, Nat’l Film Board of Canada, CA)
(aka Il était une chaise)
B/W, Sound
Norman McLaren, with music by Ravi Shankar

The amusing, surrealistic fable of a young man (Claude Jutra) who struggles to sit on a chair (animated by Evelyn Lambart) that refuses to cooperate. The film used McLaren’s pixilation technique of stop-motion animating people and objects. A superb film that was nominated for an Academy Award and won a Canadian Film Award and a BAFTA Special Award.

Night on Bald Mountain (1933, FR)
(orig. Une nuit sur le Mont Chauve)
Alexandre Alexeïeff and Clare Parker

An animated interpretation of the orchestral “musical picture” by Mussorgsky with additional inspiration from a short story by Gogol based on a Slavic fairy tale. It was the first film to use Alexeieff and Parker’s creation, the pinscreen — an obliquely-lit board with thousands of movable pins which create varying shades of white-to-black depending on how far they extend out from the surface of the board. The result is a gorgeous mezzotint-like effect. Alexeieff was also an illustrator and engraver whose works graced a number of books and anthologies.

Third Dimensional Murder (1941, MGM, USA)
(aka Murder in Three Dimensions)
A Pete Smith Novelty. Directed by George Sidney.
B/W 3D (red/blue anaglyphic), Sound
An early 3D release made to show off the effect. Seven minutes of non-stop throwing of shit at you! And the Frankenstein monster!! (Repeated for Backyard Movie Party 2006.)

Frankenstein (1931, USA)
B/W, Sound
Directed by James Whale. Art Director: Charles D. Hall. Set design: Herman Rosse.
With Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, and Dwight Frye.

The original horror masterpiece, with legendary sets and stunning expressionistic photography. This print includes the famous “Well…we warned you!” prologue, but does not have the complete scene of the monster with the little girl, cutting away just before he throws her into the water. That scene was censored after the initial release and was not restored to the film until after 16mm prints were no longer being made of the film. Still, a fantastic film that still holds up 75 years later.

It Came From Outer Space [digest] (1953, USA)
B/W 3D (red/blue anaglyphic), Sound
Directed by Jack Arnold

A well-made 18 min. digest that preserves the narrative of the classic sci-fi feature. The print has turned a little red with age but still has effective 3D. (Repeated for Backyard Movie Party 2006.)

Frankenstein and his monster.

Rare Books About 3D Film & Stereoscopy Available for Free Download

While trolling about for things 3D, I came upon Stereoscopic.org, the official web site of the Stereoscopic Displays and Applications Conference (SD&A), which is tied to The Society for Imaging Science and Technology (IS&T) and The International Society for Optical Engineering (still known by its olde acronym, SPIE).

While not much in the beauty department, the SD&A site includes archived conference proceedings dating all the way back to 1996. Among the site’s other offerings is a small but wonderful virtual library that offers free downloads of licensed PDF scans of three rare and notable books about 3D film and stereoscopic photography.

Following are relevant details (quoted from the library link above), with links to the download pages. The two books still in copyright are licensed for one-time download solely for personal use. This is why you have to register for each download, but I can attest that they don’t spam you for it.

Foundations of the Stereoscopic Cinema
by Lenny Lipton (1982)

Provides a wide ranging [technical] analysis of many stereoscopic topics. The book’s primary focus is the stereoscopic cinema, however the book’s many background sections are equally relevant to the many different types of stereoscopic display devices available today. This book provides a wealth of information for both the novice and also those already active in the field of stereoscopic imaging. Also included with the download is a 5 page errata list.

The World of 3-D Movies
by Eddie Sammons (1992)

Primarily a filmography of 3-D movies however it also provides an extensive history of 3-D Movies. Titles of chapters in the book include: 3-D in the Beginning and Now, 3-D or Not 3-D, The Formats, The Movies – A Chronology, The Movies – The Filmography, Who Directed What, At Home With 3-D. An errata list is provided at the end of the book.

Three-Dimensional Photography: Principles of Stereoscopy
by Herbert C. McKay (1953 ed., orig. 1948)

The main topic is stereoscopic photographic technique. Titles of chapters include: Elementary Stereography, Stereoscopic Cameras, Stereographic Technique, Flash in Stereo, Color in Stereo, Pictorial Stereography, Applied Stereoscopy, Polarized Light Applied to Stereoscopy, Close-up Stereography, Trick Work and Hyperstereo. The book also provides a review of a wide range of stereoscopic film cameras, viewers and projectors available at the time [ca. 1953]. The book touches on a few areas of stereoscopic theory but intentionally does not go into too much detail in these areas. The book contains a glossary of stereoscopic terms and is amply illustrated.

The First Images of the Sun in 3D

STEREO image of the sun (red on left)

As reported here back in October 2006, NASA launched two imaging satellites with the intention of producing 3D images of the Sun. Six months later, on April 23 this year, NASA unveiled the first images from the Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO).

The 3D images like the one above require Red-and-Cyan (light blue) glasses, with red on left (inexplicably contrary to tradition). The NASA site provides info on sources for 3D glasses, as well as instructions on how to make your own.

STEREO is sponsored by NASA Headquarters’ Science Mission Directorate, Washington, DC. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Solar Terrestrial Probes Program Office, in Greenbelt, MD, manages the mission, instruments and science center. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), in Laurel, MD, designed and built the spacecraft and will operate the twin observatories for NASA during the mission.

A number of museums in the US and abroad will be displaying high-resolution STEREO images and movies, though apparently none in Seattle (yet?). Dammit.

Here are links to various NASA web sites and online galleries devoted to the STEREO Mission.

Forthcoming Book by Ray Zone to Detail Origins of 3D Cinema

Cover of 'Stereoscopic Cinema and the Origins of 3-D Film, 1838-1952' by Ray ZoneThis December, the University of Kentucky Press will publish Stereoscopic Cinema and the Origins of 3-D Film, 1838-1952, a new book by Ray Zone. The 224 page clothbound book will retail for $42, and include 50 photographs.

As described on the publisher’s web page:

Though it may come as a surprise to both cinema lovers and industry professionals who believe that 3-D film was born in the early 1950s, stereoscopic cinema actually began in 1838, more than 100 years before the 3-D boom in Hollywood was created by the release of Arch Oboler’s African adventure film, Bwana Devil, filmed in “Natural Vision” 3-D.

Stereoscopic Cinema and the Origins of 3-D Film, 1838-1952, is a comprehensive prehistory of the stereoscopic motion picture. In the late nineteenth century, stereoview cards were popular worldwide, and soon filmmakers wanted to capture these “living pictures” with motion, sound, and color. Writing a new chapter in the history of early cinema, Ray Zone not only discusses technological innovation and its cultural context but also examines the aesthetic aspects of stereoscopic cinema in its first century of production.

The book will also include an introduction (which you can read here) by Lenny Lipton, who holds some 30 stereographic display patents, is currently CTO of RealD, and author of the excellent technical book, Foundations of the Stereoscopic Cinema: A Study in Depth (NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1982). (You can download a PDF version of Foundations of the Stereoscopic Cinema — with the addition of 5 pages of errata not otherwise available — via Stereoscopic.org.)

It would appear that Zone’s new book will leave off at the ’50s 3D film explosion, which is certainly a very rich vein of largely unwritten history that deserves its own full treatment — one that he will hopefully explore in a later volume. (R.M. Hayes’ 1989 book, 3-D Movies: A History and Filmography of Stereoscopic Cinema, deals with the period but is so cursory and, frankly, so riddled with errors as to be not much use…although the encyclopedic filmography has some value for the serious nerd.)

Stereoscopic Cinema and the Origins of 3-D Film will be a valuable addition to fascinating but neglected history. The only other book I’m aware of to deal at all with this period is actually a long-out-of-print Master’s thesis written in 1975 by H. Mark Gosser, Selected Attempts at Stereoscopic Moving Pictures and Their Relationship to the Development of Motion Picture Technology, 1852-1903 (NY: Arno Press, 1977). Perhaps there are others I don’t know of.

Cover of '3-D Filmmakers: Conversations with Creators of Stereoscopic Motion Pictures' by Ray ZoneRay Zone knows his 3D stuff. In addition to having written numerous articles about 3D film and comics appearing in pubs like the LA Times, American Cinematographer, and The Hollywood Reporter, he is also the author of 3-D Filmmakers: Conversations with Creators of Stereoscopic Motion Pictures (MD: Scarecrow Press, 2005), an excellent (if pricey) collection of interviews with producers, screenwriters, directors, and cinematographers working in 3D film mainly in the ’70s and ’80s, but also including pioneer Arch (Bwana Devil) Oboler.

Zone has also had a hand in some 130 3D comics, plus a huge array of other 3D/stereoscopic products — even including, according to his web site, 3D underwear.

Tonight & Sat. @ Midnight: Creature From the Black Lagoon in 3D at the Egyptian (Seattle)

Sorry for the late notice, but Creature From the Black Lagoon is being shown tonight (Friday 3/16) and Saturday (3/17) at midnight at the Egyptian Theater here in Seattle, on Capital Hill.

According to my phone conversation with the kind folks at the Egyptian, it is an anaglyphic print (red/green), not the original 2-projector polarized deal (which is not generally available, alas), which means the 3D will be not nearly as good (as I can personally attest), but being 35mm it won’t be all bad, either.

Regardless, Creature is rarely shown in 3D so you should guzzle some coffee and make some tracks, because it totally kicks ass. (Anaglyphic prints of It Came From Outer Space have been shown locally a couple-few times now in recent years — but not Creature.)

I find it more than a little amusing that it’s playing on St. Patrick’s Day weekend — drinking like fish and all that, eh wot, glub glub.

More on James Cameron’s 3D Sci-Fi Epic, Avatar

The following article recently appeared in The Hollywood Reporter, covering the official announcement of James (Titanic, Terminator) Cameron’s next directorial project, Avatar — a $200 million science-fiction epic feature to be shot in 3D. I know sites like Ain’t It Cool News are all atwitter with more info and rumors of varying veracity, but you’ll have to troll those yourself (for now at least — tho it won’t help that AICN’s search is completely broken). For some additional dish on Cameron’s abiding love affair with 3D, see also my previous related post.

Meanwhile, there’s already a fan site devoted to Avatar. And see the end of the article for some a related links.

Cameron sets live-action, CG epic for 2009

By Anne Thompson
The Hollywood Reporter, Jan. 9, 2007

James Cameron is set to direct “Avatar,” his first dramatic feature since the Oscar-winning blockbuster “Titanic” in 1997.

Fox Filmed Entertainment chairmen Jim Gianopulos and Tom Rothman said Monday [Jan. 8, 2007] that Cameron will start virtual photography on the sci-fi epic in April, with live-action photography commencing in August, for a summer 2009 release. It will be filmed in a new digital 3D format for release in 3D.

The director already has spent years in R&D on the multiple processes needed to create a $190 million hybrid of live action and animation, which he vowed will never pass the $200 million mark. “I’ve been the busiest unemployed director in Hollywood,” he said. “We’re going to blow you to the back wall of the theater in a way you haven’t seen for a long time. My goal is to rekindle those amazing mystical moments my generation felt when we first saw ’2001: A Space Odyssey,’ or the next generation’s ‘Star Wars.’ It took me 10 years to find something hard enough to be interesting.”

Said Rothman: “Jim has taken the time to get it right, and we’re taking the time to do it right. It’s worth the wait.”

Neither Cameron nor Fox want to repeat the budget overruns that plagued the $200 million “Titanic,” the director said. “We are shooting only 31 days of live action, all onstage. It’s controllable. No weather conditions. No water on this one,” he said. “When you come back to the table years later to make a movie of a certain scale, you want to make sure you cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s. We’re 2 1/2 years out, and we’ve already shot 10 minutes of the film. The FX guys are working, the characters are designed, animators are already working.”

Partly through its work on six documentary features including “Ghosts of the Abyss,” Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment team has researched a potentially groundbreaking mix of live-action cinematography and virtual photorealistic production techniques for “Avatar,” which will feature virtual characters.

“Avatar,” with a screenplay by Cameron, will mark the director’s return to the sci-fi action-adventure genre. He first wrote an 80-page treatment 11 years ago. The film centers on a wounded ex-Marine who is unwillingly sent to settle and exploit the faraway planet Pandora. He gets caught up in a battle for survival by the planet’s inhabitants, called Na’vis, and falls in love with one of them. “Not only is this groundbreaking technologically, but it’s an intimate story set against an epic canvas,” Rothman said. “That’s what Jim does. You can’t compare it to anything out there. Its biggest upside, besides its revolutionary technology, is its newness. It’s not a sequel to anything.”

Cameron had been developing another sci-fi adventure, the comic book adaptation “Battle Angel Alita,” but when Laeta Kalogridis’ script for that project didn’t come together after many drafts, he dusted off “Avatar,” which he hadn’t touched for five years. He started designing the movie in May 2005, he said.

During the next year and a half, Cameron continued to develop “Battle Angel” alongside “Avatar.” Said producer Jon Landau: “We needed to prove to ourselves that we could make ‘Avatar’ and make it at the level of quality that Jim wanted. So throughout that early fall we went through a series of tests where we actually shot a scene from the movie to prove the process to ourselves.” After finalizing 45 photo-real seconds of a five-minute performance-capture test, Cameron and the studio were convinced that “Avatar” could proceed.

For the film’s lead role, the 22-year-old planetary adventurer Jack Sully, Cameron sought a new face. After global screen tests to satisfy the studio, he selected his first choice, Australian actor Sam Worthington, who has starred in “Somersault” and “Dirty Deeds” and had been considered to play James Bond. “He’s got the weight, he’s a tough guy — a young Russell Crowe. They grow them differently over there,” Cameron said.

Zoe Saldana, who appeared in “The Terminal” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” will portray Sully’s love interest, one of the planet’s primitive aliens. She will be a CG character, while Sully will exist in human (live action) and biological “avatar” (CG) form. As an avatar, the human Sully is able to project his consciousness into an alien body.

Both actors have signed on for possible future installments as well because Cameron and Fox see “Avatar” as a potential franchise. “If we make money, I guarantee there will be more,” Cameron said. “If we don’t, we’ll pretend it never happened.” Other casting will be announced shortly.

For “Avatar,” Cameron will use performance-capture techniques similar to those used by such films as “Superman Returns” and “King Kong” as well as a real-time virtual camera system, which will blend the actors’ performances and CG performances with real sets, miniatures and CG environments. With the virtual camera, the director will be able to look through an eyepiece and see his characters in their virtual world.

Saying the production process is similar to creating an animated film, Cameron estimated that the finished film will be 60% CG elements and 40% live action. He is aiming for the sort of photo-realism achieved by the CG sequences in “Kong” and the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

“We had a number of processes we wanted to bring to maturation,” he said. “We wanted to kick up to the next level of cinematographic precision the 3D live-action photography we had been using on the documentary films. We refined the second generation of the Fusion camera.” The proprietary Fusion digital 3D camera system [by PACE Technologies] was developed by Cameron and Vince Pace.

The performance-capture side took longer, Cameron said, “because as mature as performance capture is for gross body motion, facial performance capture is still a nascent art.”

The competitive race among four VFX houses for the assignment to supervise the film’s visual effects was won by Peter Jackson’s Oscar-winning Weta Digital, which worked on “Rings.”

“Any one of them could have handled the volume of shots, the scale of the project, and handled the technology,” Cameron said. “Joe Lettieri and his team had a history of translating facial performance capture to really good photo-real characters. The culture there is imbued from the head down with a passion for fantasy filmmaking. And they met us halfway on the price.”

“Avatar” will be produced by Cameron and Landau for Lightstorm. Principal photography will take place in and around Los Angeles and in New Zealand. Production designer Rick Carter, visual effects designer Rob Stromberg and visual effects producer Brooke Breton already have begun work. No director of photography has been hired [as of the Jan. 9, 2007 publication date of this article].

Being a little behind the curve, I’m still digging re: the aforementioned “proprietary Fusion digital 3D camera system,” but here’s some preliminary linkage:

  • NBA Goes 3D HD for 2007 NBA All-Star (NBA.com, Feb. 12, 2007) — a 5-camera PACE (Fusion) system will be used for live 3D HD “close-casts” of the 2007 All-Star games limited to invitation-only viewing parties in Vegas.

NY Times on James Cameron’s 3D Fetish

Powerhouse director James “I’m king of the world!” Cameron is well-known to be a big fan of 3D film — he’s produced two 3D IMAX films (Ghosts of the Abyss in 2003 and Aliens of the Deep in 2005), and flogged the tech at industry events like the 2006 Digital Cinema Summit.

He is now in the final days of pre-production for a $200 million 3D science fiction epic titled Avatar (about which more later), which is slated for a 2009 release and will feature effects by Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital. And it turns out he’s also pushing 3D for music videos.

Yesterday, the New York Times ran an article about Cameron qua 3D in its arts section. I’m reposting the article here for those who are interested.

“A Comeback in 3D, but Without Those Flimsy Glasses”

By Jeff Leeds
NY Times, March 1, 2007

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 28 — A little past the two-minute mark, the music video for Gwen Stefani’s recent single, “Wind It Up,” finds her chained to a fence while a flurry of bubbles and snowflakes float by. Viewed from a certain perspective — that is, through 3D glasses — it is a dreamlike moment in which the flurry seems close enough to touch.

The video begins with Ms. Stefani yodeling, a homage to “The Sound of Music,” one of the her favorite films. But the idea of adding the bubbles and snow came from an unlikely source: James Cameron, the director behind effects-laden hits like “The Terminator” and “Titanic,” who visited Ms. Stefani’s set last October and shot a separate version of the video with 3D equipment.

“I had mentioned to the director that any kind of atmospheric effects like snow or rain usually play in 3D,” Mr. Cameron recalled.

While “Wind It Up” was not initially planned as a 3D video, Ms. Stefani probably won’t be the last recording artist to follow Mr. Cameron’s lead.

As part of a newly created venture, Mr. Cameron is working with Jimmy Iovine, the chairman of the Interscope Geffen A&M record label, to produce music films, concerts and other content in 3D to show in specially equipped theaters. Mr. Iovine and Mr. Cameron hope to deliver their first production by summer.

The two acknowledge that they have yet to work out many details: they say they don’t know how many productions will be created or which artists will be featured, but the idea has been discussed with Interscope artists including Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails. Many music fans may be too young to recall the last time 3D was in vogue: the 1980s, when hordes donned flimsy multihued glasses to watch “Jaws 3″ and other attractions. [sic: all those '80s 3D films were released as polarized not anaglyphic 3D.]

But the latest version of the technology has Hollywood buzzing again, particularly since 3D showings of animated fare like “Chicken Little” have racked up impressive sales. Mr. Cameron is at work on a $200 million 3D feature titled “Avatar.”

Mr. Iovine and Mr. Cameron are aware of the odds of changing consumer behavior. They are wagering that fans will be willing to trek to a movie theater and pay perhaps a few dollars more than the price of a regular ticket to see their favorite stars on the big screen and in 3D. The glasses now resemble standard sunglasses, and musicians may be able to make their own designs.

The venture, led by the film producer Gene Kirkwood, also represents a distinctive take on what both the music-video and the concert can be. If it works, the partners said, fans could experience a concert as if they were on stage next to U2′s guitarist, the Edge, or see the members of Kiss in full makeup perform a pyrotechnic show seemingly right in front of them, all for a fraction of the price of seeing a headline act on tour.

“What it does is put you, the audience, right there with the performer onstage, in their creative reality,” Mr. Cameron said recently during a break in production from “Avatar.” “The whole idea of a concert may change.”

Mr. Iovine and Mr. Cameron have discussed with executives at Harrah’s Entertainment setting up a night club in Las Vegas where visitors would be surrounded by 3D images and watch 3D performances, though no deal has been struck.

Mr. Iovine also said that 3D performances could become a new way for artists to build ties to their fans and generate much-needed revenue for the ailing music business.

“The record industry has to have lots of different revenue streams, and this just looks like one that’s creatively cool,” Mr. Iovine said. “And you can’t download it. You can’t get it anyplace else.”

The Sun in 3D

I know you’ve heard about NASA’s STEREO mission to take 3D pictures of the sun, but you also know I have to post about it. I mean, come on…space and 3D?

They’re launching 2 satellites because in order to create stereoscopic imaging of the sun, they need to establish, basically, a left and right eye. The distance between these eyes — the camera lenses — is called the interocular.

When filming on your average movie set, the interocular is usually set at about 2 1/2 inches — the distance between the eyes of an average person. But by changing the interocular, you can also play with the sense of depth. Sometimes its necessary to shoot with an extremely wide interocular in order to create the filmic experience of depth for the viewing audience. For example, one director mounted left and right cameras on the opposite wing-tips of a small airplane and flew it over a large city. This produced a much greater sense of both depth and detail than a standard 2 1/2 inch interocular would in the same scenario. In essence, the director simply enlarges the viewer’s head, giving them bigger eyes wider apart to view the world.

Or the sun, as the case may be. To get a get a good interocular, to get the eyes wide enough apart to show us a stereoscopic image of the sun, NASA has to send them thousands of miles into space in opposite directions.

Of course, what this means is that NASA will eventually be able to create stereo images of the solar system. Now imagine that.

Meanwhile, dig these photos of solar flares at Space.com.

Also:

A July 2004 NASA news story about the creation of “the first three-dimensional (3D) view of massive solar eruptions called Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs). …The researchers analyzed ordinary two-dimensional images from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft in a new way to yield the 3D images.” Link includes downloadable Mpeg video and hi-res TIF images.

The Mars Rover 3D Image Gallery @ NASA — anaglyphic 3D images from Spirit and Opportunity, which are both still hanging on long after they were expected to keel over.

Film Notes on 3D Rarities II at the World 3D Film Expo II, 2006

3-Dimension Rarities II3-Dimension Rarities II

Sept. 17, 2006, 1pm
World 3D Film Expo II
Grauman’s Egyptian Theater
Hollywood, CA

(All of my posts about Word 3D Film Expo II can be found here.)

A truly history-making screening of rare, extremely rare, and astonishingly rare 3D short films and surviving fragments, as well as excellent new 3D video footage. There were a small number of repeats of Rarities from the first (and they thought only) 3D Film Expo in 2003, but the majority of the films shown were essentially premieres.

The headline for the papers was the world premiere of the miraculously restored Kelley’s Plasticon Pictures and related test footage from 1922 — now the oldest surviving 3D film in the world, and second oldest film known to have ever been shown to a paying audience. What’s more, the 3D imaging was phenomenal, like looking into a time machine. This film is discussed further below.

The following film list, in order shown, originated from my hand-written notes made during the screening. (There were no handouts or program notes, alas.) Please pardon any rough edges — I am adding and rewriting as time allows.

Meanwhile comments, corrections, and addenda are most welcome.

The screening was hosted by Expo II producer Jeff Joseph and technical director Dan Symmes, who introduced each film.

3D Jamboree
1956 (USA), Technicolor polarized, widescreen
Dir. William Beaudine
Brand new dual-35mm print struck from the original negatives

Cheers erupted from the (mostly older) audience when this was announced — not just a prized rarity, but the premiere of a stunning brand new print.

3D Jamboree was made to be part of a long-running movie attraction at Disneyland that premiered on June 16, 1956 and ran at the old Fantasyland until 1964. 3D Technicolor footage of the Mousketeers was shot to wrap around Disney’s other 3D properties, the cartoons Working for Peanuts (with Donald Duck and Chip ‘n’ Dale) and Melody. This particular screening did not include the cartoons (which were both shown twice during other screenings at the Expo), but included everything featuring the Mousketeers.

The 3D had good depth and overall was pretty flawless. The color negatives had survived extremely well, and the image quality was excellent and lush. For me though, the young whippersnapper, it was just kinda too bad it was used on the Mouseketeers — although it did make for a very bizarre 1956 time capsule.

There was a singing intro (with the trademark ramrod-stiff staging required by early television), a little 3D shtick with a long balloon, and segue segments for the two cartoons. This was followed by a weird staged routine and a song sung by a very young Annette as she swings back and forth right at you in a swing and frilly 1800s sun dress. Meanwhile, the rest of the Mousketeers were arrayed in little clusters around the soundstage, dressed in period costumes and doing shtick, with a few running around doing the Keystone Kops routine. 3D shenanigans ensue, perforce.

In announcing the film to the crowd, producers Jeff and Dan unveiled, with gleeful flourish, a large poster for the film. It was one of the big cards displayed in a main entryway to Disneyland, “travel” placards to the various “lands”. The designs were only ever used there, and few (sometimes only one or two) were ever made. So this poster is most probably the only surviving copy, unless one is still lurking somewhere in the Disney archives. It looked pristine, as though it had never even been used. It had been offered on eBay, where Dan Symmes bid on it. Everyone lost when bidding didn’t meet the reserve. Coincidentally, it turned out a mutual friend knew the seller, and eventually a deal was struck and the poster was acquired for the 3D Film Archive.

Festival co-producer Dan Symmes faked us out about this film. During a breakdown on the afternoon of opening Saturday, he killed time by taking questions from the crowd and discussing 3D stuff. When someone asked about 3D Jamboree, he said they hoped to show it but one of the surviving Mousketeers, “won’t say who, wants a whole lot of money to allow it.” Either it was a puckish ruse, or they managed to work it out before the screening.

There was another later Disney 3D film attraction, Magic Journeys, that ran for some years at Disneyland’s Tomorrowland.

New Dimensions
1943, shot ca. 1942 (USA), polarized Ansco Color print
Produced by Chrysler Corporation
Color remake of In Tune with Tomorrow (1934, b/w, polarized 3D)

A portion of this film, minus the end and with new opening titles, was released in 1952 as Motor Rhythm (which was shown twice during Expo II). This screening was only of the material different from Motor Rhythm, not the fully-assembled film — namely, the original opening credits and an outro promoting Chrysler’s then-new 1941 line of cars. The omitted portion of the film is a wonderful 3D stop-motion animation sequence of a car assembling itself.

[Lumiere Anamorphic 3D Test Footage]
1934 (France), b/w polarized

Anaglyphic still from August Lumiere's 3D test footage of 1933-34The Lumiere brothers, of course, are credited with inventing the first successful film projection process in 1895. Only the truly nerdy know about the 3D experiments almost 40 years later.

The Lumiere 3D process used a rather remarkable technique that is a little difficult to explain verbally, but I will try. The two “eyes” were rotated 90 degrees and printed side-by-side in a single frame of film. A special twin-anamorphic lens compressed the roughly square aspect ratio of each “eye” of the image so that they could fit together in the alotted frame space. This is the reverse of the principle used for Cinemascope-type widescreen, where the wide image is compressed to fit into a standard 1:33 frame. Instead, the (more-or-less) 1:33 image is compressed to fit into a fraction of the frame, alongside its twin — both of them rotated so their horizon is vertical.

To restore the film, these images were extracted, unsqueezed to their true aspect ratio, and then printed to dual 35mm. This same specially-converted print was shown (and I believe premiered) at the first 3D Film Expo in 2003.

It was beautiful. Appropriately, as you can see from the anaglyphic still included here, the reel included a 3D reenactment of the Lumiere’s famous train shot from 1895. There was a little bit of artifacting at times, but it was modest and forgivable, especially since it was otherwise quite true. An anaglyphic version of this rare test footage is to be found on the Festival of 3D Movie Trailers DVD produced for the first Expo (which is still available at this writing…hint). Unfortunately, it’s still TV 3D and gives little hint of the spectacular quality of the dual-35mm print we were treated to.

Thrills for You
1939 (USA), b/w polarized
DP: Leventhal, shooting with a Norling rig.

'Thrills for You' memorabilia

Produced by the Pennsylvania Railroad and originally shown at the 1939 Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco. It had been thought lost for 65 years, until a 16mm print was recently discovered, restored, and a dual 35mm print made from that.

Excellent 3D imaging. Most of it was presented as verité documentary with music and minimal narration. Features awesome train footage — on board, passing landscapes, trainyards, factory interiors, the whole works.

[Vectograph test footage]
ca. 1953 (USA)
Joseph Mahler and Edwin H. Land

Photograph of Edwin H. LandOne of 2 test reels made in Los Angeles using the experimental Vectograph film stock. (Although some sources rumor of “several” reels, we were told with certainty only two were actually made). This print utilized reprinted 3D elements of the cartoon Melody (Disney, 1953). This is the only known surviving Vectograph film footage. Dr. Land (pictured at right) ordered the films destroyed, but this print, literally cut into pieces, was rescued from the trash and carefully re-assembled.

The Vectograph film stock can probably never be reproduced. Each polarized eye is printed on opposite sides of a single strip of film. Since it’s polarized, the image can be color. Although one would think this would result in shadowy or distorted image, it actually it worked surprisingly well. There was some modest though noticeable ghosting in some places (perhaps due to momentary mechanical imprecision during the optical printing), and the color had deteriorated. But overall it looked to me like a pretty successful experiment — why Dr. Land so resolutely abandoned the process is a little bit of a mystery (though it likely had to do with the 3D crash at the time).

As described by Lenny Lipton in his book, Foundations of the Stereoscopic Cinema, Land was first approached with the concept of the Vectograph in 1938 by a Czech inventor named Joseph Mahler, who made his living in part by supplying sheet polarizers.

“The Vectograph is similar to the anaglyph [red-blue] , since both images are superimposed on each other and may be projected with a standard projector without any modification. Because the coding of information depends on polarization rather than color, one would assume the full-color Vectograph might also be possible…” [Lipton, p. 88]

[William Crespinel 3D test footage]
The can the film was found in is labeled 1927, but the footage was probably actually shot ca. 1923
(USA) b/w, anaglyphic (r/b)
3D test footage shot in the early 1920s by Willliam T. Crespinel

Shown was a 1999 dual-35mm print struck from dupe neg; produced and owned by the George Eastman House, Rochester, NY (where the original still resides). Norling was apparently involved to some extent, though this was not elaborated on. These experiments were possibly related to the later Audioscopics films Pete Smith produced for MGM in the late ’30s and early ’40s.

One of only two anaglyphic films (their original format) shown during the entire festival, along with the following.

Third Dimensional Murder
(aka Murder in 3-D and Murder in Three Dimensions)
1941 (USA), b/w anaglyphic (r/b)
An original Technicolor print!

Gag publicity shot for 'Third Dimensional Murder' (1941) - Pete Smith (left) and Ed Payson (right)Probably the only surviving original Technicolor print of this film. The 16mm prints circulating in collectors’ circles, although generally pretty decent, are originally from a reduction dupe of (I think?) a 2nd generation print (possibly not even Technicolor).

Overall, the effectiveness of the 3D matched that of my 16mm print, though of course this one was much clearer — and bigger!! Though the effectiveness was still uneven, the only real (tho spectacularly) bum shot was one hand-from-the-wall gimmick, which was completely misaligned. But otherwise the 3D was consistently high quality and probably the best anaglyphic 3D I’ve seen. You can read some program notes about this film I compiled a while back.

New York City in 3D
2006 (USA), color
StereoVision 3D (with Dolby polarized dual video projection)
super-wide aspect ratio (Scope-ish) — huge

A new 3D video short by SabuCat Productions. Begins with 3D views culled from the NY Public Library (stereo-opticon slides, etc.) floating about — it was very effective and wonderful to see the old views, though I found myself wanting more lingering close-ups of them. This transitioned to modern-day views of the the city, in video footage shot ca. 1996. This included flying views of the World Trade Center, which was handled with understatement, but I confess it was unexpectedly moving. We were also flown over other parts of the city, as well as given land shots.

An excellent testament to the quality possible with well-handled 3D video.

Carmenesque
1953 (USA)
Starring Lili St. Cyr
Produced and directed by Saul Lesser
Shot using the Stereo-Cine dual-35mm process by Karl Struss

An original poster for 'Carmenesque', a short 3D burlesque film starring Lili St. CyrA very rare dual-35mm 3D burlesque routine. Shown flat — only one eye is known to survive. According to the 3-D Film List compiled by 3-D Revolution Pictures, this was originally part of a longer project titled The 3-D Follies that was abandoned before completion.
Features a wise-cracking parrot (absolutely awful jokes) that sounds suspiciously like Mel Blanc. A real artifact of its time.

Lili St. Cyr was a burlesque star and stripper who also made a number of short films during the early and mid 1950s. The market for this sort of film had to be impossibly small — high-end gentleman’s clubs (or underworld headquarters?) that could accommodate dual-35mm projection for an adults-only audience. I’d love to know more about the production history of this film. Especially since, as I understand it, most “sexy” films during the ’50s were produced to one extent or another by the Mob.

A Day in the Country (originally Stereo-Laffs)
1953 (USA), b/w
Originally anaglyphic
Remastered to polarized dual-35mm
Produced & directed by Jack Reiger (also worked w/ Pete Smith)
Released by Lippert Pictures

Anaglyphic still from 'A Day in the Country' (1953), recreated using Dan Symmes' 20/20 Process

One of three Lippert 3D shorts made at the time, all thought long-lost until a print of this was only recently discovered. Working from a faded and battered anaglyphic print, Dan Symmes used his 20/20 process to extract each “eye” of the red or blue image to separate motion pictures. These were then resynchronized, the image quality tuned up, and finally printed to dual 35mm for polarized interlock projection. A bumpkin family vacation, with misadventures and lots of slapstick. Shot MOS. Narrated in the Pete Smith style, complete with ham-handed sound effects. Shot somewhere around Sussex or Essex, NJ. (Dan was able to read a sign in the background from 2 frames of one shot and found the intersection on Google Maps.)

Symmes writes about the restoration of A Day in the Country on his web site, 3D Moving Pictures.

As it turns out, just weeks after Expo II concluded, Jeff Joseph unearthed paperwork that showed the film was originally titled Stereo-Laffs and had been licensed for exhibition in New York state in 1945. More recently, Joseph discovered even more amazing information: Stereo-Laffs had actually been available as early as 1941 — meaning it was probably shot in 1940!

Kelley’s Plasticon Pictures: Movies of the Future and Thru’ the Trees: Washington, DC
1922-23 (USA)
Produced & directed by William Van Doren Kelley
Photographed William T. Crespinell (some, perhaps all?)
Originally anaglyphic (r/b); fully restored and shown in a new polarized dual-35mm print

Re-created anaglyphic still from Kelley's 'Thru' the Trees' (1922)

The oldest known surviving 3D footage in the world.
First shown on Dec. 24, 1922 at the Rialto Theater in New York City.
(Only screening??)

World premiere of the restored film, itself unseen since the 1920s. A landmark achievement in film preservation, especially considering the technical hurdles that had to be overcome.

The first segment was comprised of experimental footage: simple moving tableaux showing silhouetted human figures and various objects — ladders, balls being thrown and caught, some very effective stuff with poles. Shot at extremely low angle, looks like floor level. Very nice indeed.

This was then followed by excerpts from Thru’ the Trees, shot by William Crespinel in and around Washington, DC. Amazing footage, with very effective 3D — it was like stepping into a time machine. Most shots are outdoor views of various famous locations, buildings, and monuments. The camera is usually situated with intervening trees and branches, providing visual framing to enhance the depth (hence the title). Men in straw hats and Model T Fords traverse the surprisingly empty streets. My notes from the screening say simply, “Stunning.”

This is the second oldest known publicly-shown 3D footage, after The Power of Love (which played for one screening in Hollywood, at the Ambassador Hotel, and a handful more in New York City — and is still believed to be lost).
Anaglyphic glasses used for Kelley's Plasticon PicturesFor this film, Kelley used an experimental color process he had developed, called Prizma Color, which used two colors ala early Technicolor. It was used for a natural color effect during the opening “flasher” bumper, which showed the red-blue Plasticon glasses (opera style) and explained that red goes on right. The rest of the original film used Prizma to create the anaglyphic 3D effect.

The recovered original anaglyphic print was so faded that the image could barely be seen with the naked eye, and the opening “flasher” segment had faded worst of all. Nevertheless, Symmes and the lab Triage (I believe) were able to extract and recover the stereo images for this spectacular brand new b/w dual-35mm print. What’s more, they were able to successfully restore the opening bumper in its original color. Although there was a limited palette to reproduce (the glasses and a hand over a white background), it looked quite realistic — indeed, better than some of the proto-Technicolor stuff I’ve been able to see.

Symmes writes at length about the rediscovery and restoration of these films on his great web site, 3D Moving Pictures. Even better for lucky you, Kelley’s Plasticon Pictures are reproduced in still form here, complete with large-sized anaglyphic images (a sample of which is included above). Thanks, Dan!

Rescuing this film in any viewable form would be something for the history books. That Symmes was also able to not only recreate its breathtaking 3D images and restore the Prizma Color process for future generations is an especially grand achievement. Alas, the Academy apparently failed to take note.