The Evolution of 3D Entertainment

Most of us, at one time or another, have experienced fascination with some form of 3D technology. This technology has been especially used in entertainment, film in particular. A 3D (or three-dimensional) film is a motion picture that enhances the illusion of depth perception. Whether it’s a stunning IMAX film experience or comics in the back of a magazine, there are a number of captivating ways in which flat images come to life vibrantly in three-dimensional form.

According to the Journal of Young Investigators, the earliest forms of 3D technology can be traced to the mid-19th century, when Charles Wheatstone made the discovery that the impression of three-dimensionality can be given by simply viewing a pair of similar images side-by-side. The similar images are taken by two slightly separated cameras. This way, the photos provide an imitation of what each one of our eyes would see in reality. However, this method is far from ideal because it requires people to cross their eyes, which can be uncomfortable or difficult to do. In the late 19th and early 20th century, the stereoscope was invented in response to this issue.

Stereoscopic photography entails the use of a regular motion picture camera system to record images as seen from two perspectives and special eyewear and/or projection hardware to provide the illusion of depth during viewing of the film. The early 1950’s were what aficionados consider the “golden era” of 3D entertainment. The first color stereoscopic feature, a film titled Bwana Devil, was released in late 1952. Over the next two years there were a number of famously successful 3D film releases. The theatrical 3D craze saw its first signs of decline in August and September of 1953. Some factors causing the decline include:

  • The need for two prints to be projected simultaneously.
  • A mandatory intermission required for proper preparation of the theater’s projectors for the showing of the second half of the film.
  • Sometimes two projectionists were needed to maintain the sync working properly.

The mid-1980’s saw the rebirth of 3D entertainment, with IMAX producing non-fiction films, starting with We Are Born of Stars in 1985. The Walt Disney Company began more prominently using 3D films in remarkable venues to impress audiences. Since 2003, there has been a resurgence in 3D films. Among the notable releases were 2004’s Star Trek: The Experience and The Polar Express. This early 21st century resurgence culminated in the unprecedented success of the feature film Avatar in winter 2009-2010.