I hope little Billy Shakespeare will forgive me for that atrocious pun in the title. If he won’t, maybe you will. (As my wife—the Lovely and Talented Lynne Taylor Fahnestalk—used to say, “He’s incorrigible, so please don’t incorrige him!”) Okay, moving right along. By the way, to view any of the 3D images on this page, you will need a pair of red/cyan anaglyph glasses. You can, believe it or not, get a free pair—even free postage—from this link; if you can afford to, please donate a bit to help him continue giving them away. (Don’t use the red/blue glasses or the red/green, they won’t help much.)
I have been a giant fan of 3D (also called “Three-D,” “3-D,” and “Ow, dammit! That hurts my eyes!) since I was a boy. I used to have several 3D comics—The Three Stooges, Mighty Mouse and one of the superheroes (can’t remember which one, but I think it was a Superman), as well as some kind of war comic. Because of my mother’s aversion to horror comics, I never had the 3D Tales From the Crypt (Figure 2; artwork by the amazing Jack Davis, who just turned 90 this month!). Over the years the ones I had became ragged and fell apart, though I have now acquired e-copies of many of the older 3D (out of copyright) comics.
I have bought several books about 3D, and found others in places like thrift stores–although I really don’t like the way many big-name thrift stores (like Value Village) charge high prices for many items because they can, forgetting that one reason for thrift stores is that lower-income people (hey, I’m now a “senior” on a fixed income!) shop there because they can’t afford to buy new goods! And all the goods (except for the aforementioned Villue Vallage’s* Halloween decorations and costumes) are usually donated; i.e., free to them. But I digress. (Usually.) (*That’s a joke, son, as Foghorn Leghorn might say.)
3D comics work on planes; that is, different levels… there are, for instance, no truly round objects. (You can create 3D prints for lenticular and/or anaglyph using Photoshop CS5 & 6, as long as the objects you want to give depth to are on different layers. David Mattingly, well-known cover artist and matte painter, is an expert at this. Please check out his website; he has 3D lenticular prints of some of his best covers!
When I was a little older, I got to see House of Wax 3D with Vincent Price in the original Polaroid® process—instead of the anaglyph shown here; and when the short-lived 3D fad hit the movies in the ‘80s, I saw Jaws 3D, Amityville 3D, Friday the 13th 3D and Spacehunter 3D: Adventures In the Forbidden Zone—all in the Polaroid® process. They also brought an anaglyph version of The Creature From the Black Lagoon to the Student Union Building (the Compton Union Building, or CUB) at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, where I lived at the time; it was the first time I had ever seen that movie as it had been filmed, in 3D. (Of course, it was still in B/W, not having been filmed in colour.)
But wait—I haven’t defined my terms very well, have I? When I speak of “3D,” I’m speaking of something that appears to have real depth—that either appears behind the plane of the paper (if printed) or above it. I’m not referring to a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional object, like a “3D rendering” of an item that appears to be a photograph of a real object. For the type of 3D I’m talking about, one needs binocular vision—because what we perceive as a three-dimensional world (one with depth as well as height and width) is, while it appears to correspond with reality, just another artifact (like colour) of our brains and eyes working together. When each eye can see a different angle of an item being viewed, and they combine in the brain to create what appears to be an item with three dimensions, that’s 3D.
There are any number of ways to view 3D pictures (whether still or moving). The one that used to be common in movies—before it became cheap enough to manufacture plastic (Polaroid®-type polarized) glasses, was anaglyph—that is, red/green. Then they changed to red/cyan, and added red/blue and, most recently (I believe) blue/yellow. They work on the principle of opposite colours. If one eye is covered with a red filter, it can’t see (or see very well) the opposite to red, which is cyan; likewise, if the other eye is covered with the cyan filter, it can’t see the red, or see it very well. If the filter and the ink are very good matches, for printed materials, or the filter and the film (including digital “films”) are good matches, then each eye sees only that picture that is intended for it. The brain then puts them together and, wowie zowie, you have “3D.” When the original House of Wax came out, the polarized film and glasses were very expensive, and even though the picture was much clearer (and in full colour) as opposed to a lot of “black and white” anaglyph pictures, like the cheapie Robot Monster, 1953, which was filmed for $16,000 but made over a million dollars! (It is possible, and now quite common, to make full-colour anaglyph pictures, though there are issues when the printed colour is too close to the filter colours. In those cases, the offending colours often seem to flash, or strobe. Figures 3 & 4 actually are colour pictures besides the anaglyph red/cyan, though the other colours are quite weak.)
Besides anaglyph and polarized types, there are lenticular 3D pictures—and even video screens (like computer monitors)—in which the viewing area is covered with a fine screen of semicircular or half-oval vertical lenses; anywhere from 40 lenses per inch on up. The picture is printed or shown in a series of interwoven, very thin strips. Because of the lenses’ shape, each eye is shielded from the other eye’s strips. (The Nintendo 3DS hand-held video game works on this principle.) If you’d like to explore taking lenticular photos, there are lenses and other lenticular-related stuff (programs, hardware) for sale, and a lot of information about lenticular photography at http://www.3dphotopro.com/.
There are also the semi-prismatic lenses—used since the 1800s for side-by-side viewing of stereo pairs in “stereoscopes,” and the same principle is used in the familiar View-Master viewer, with the circular reels of 3D pairs, except that stereoscopes used actual photographs, and the View-Master uses film positives (very small ones; the lenses are magnifiers). In the nineteenth century, tens of thousands of stereo photographs were taken and sold for the stereoscopes (Figure 6—conversion to anaglyph by Jesse Mazer). I would guess that millions of View-Master reels, however, have been sold. View-Master also came in a “sound” version; each reel was attached to a plastic record, and the viewer played the record as the reels were viewed. (I have several models of View-Master, including the sound version.) I believe that View Master is now owned by Fisher-Price, which still produces the viewers and some reels.
The View-Master format proved so popular and convenient that in about 1952, a View-Master camera was made. Prior to this, the only commercial 3D camera was called the Stereo Realist (first sold in 1947); it required special mounts, a special viewer, etc. View-Master ‘s camera used “home” mounts that worked in the regular View-Master. For a number of years, home stereo enthusiasts took both kinds of pictures, until the 1980s, when the Nimstec company of Atlanta, Georgia, began selling the Nimslo 3D camera. The Nimslo had 4 lenses and its prints were designed to be printed and viewed via the lenticular process; you would send in a completed roll of film and receive a set of lenticular photos, which the printing company made from the four photos taken each time the shutter release was clicked; having four lenses instead of two gave these lenticular photos a more realistic depth. (Although the Nimslo is no longer produced, I managed to find one at a flea market a few years ago for under $20.) Today, there are many 3D cameras (Panasonic, Sony, Fuji, Olympus, Nikon); some with only one lens, though I have not yet found out how they can take a stereo picture with only one lens. I have a Fuji Finepix 3D camera which has an integrated lenticular viewfinder, so you can see your 3D shot before you take it.
Other methods of viewing 3D photographic prints (which would be difficult for film or television) include holographic (too expensive; although cheap holograms can be stamped with a metal die, the surface has to be metallized to retain the interference patterns) and side-by-side free viewing—the latter includes both cross-eyed viewing or parallel viewing (similar to the “Magic Eye” pictures that were a fad some years ago.) For cross-eyed viewing, you have to cross your eyes (naturally!); for parallel viewing you have to focus on a point way beyond, or behind, the plane of the picture. Some people never manage to do either. I’ll put one side-by-side picture here; your task is to figure out whether it’s a parallel viewing photo or a cross-eyed photo (Fig. 9, from the movie Fly Me to the Moon, 2008).
And then there are 3D TV and the 3D movies. For me, as a long-time SF/F reader, I’ve been a fan of even bad 3D movies (though I have to confess, I’ve never seen one of the most famous bad 3D movies—The Stewardesses (1969), full of nudity, sex and drugs, which cost $100,000 to make and has pulled in an astonishing $25 million dollars worldwide to date!); many 1950s SF novels set in the “far future” (you know, something like the year 2014) assumed you’d have a 3D TV wall or, at the very least (as in Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, 1961) a “stereo tank,” over which you’d watch news and sitcoms. (Heinlein’s Jubal Harshaw called it something like “a goddamned-noisy box,” if memory serves.) And when HD digital stereo movie cameras became both cheap and portable a few years ago, spawning a new wave of 3D movies, 3D TVs became the “commodity du jour” and our cable provider set aside a channel specifically for 3D TV. So far, 3D TV has yet to materialize in our area, and the new channel has done a disappearing act. Which leaves the 3D movies.
Back in the late ‘50s or early ‘60s, I swore to myself that someday I would own a 3D TV, on which I’d watch 3D movies as well as the regular 3D TV shows that I assumed would be a staple of everyday life. I came very close a few years ago, when I bought (off eBay, when I was still employed and had “discretionary” money) a “shutter” system that attached to the inputs of my CRT TV (remember those old Cathode-Ray Tube systems?) and worked with LCD (Liquid Crystal Diode) glasses that were attached (you could get both wireless and wired, although I opted for the cheaper wired) to the box; with the proper DVD movie, the glasses would alternately block one lens and then the other—in sync with the film—so that you could actually watch a 3D movie on a 2D TV! I acquired—mostly through eBay—a number of 3D movies, like The Creature From the Black Lagoon, Parasite, House of Wax, It Came from Outer Space and a few more. I enoyed the heck out of them! (I also acquired, from various internet download sites—all no longer in business—quite a few of the movies I had originally watched on the big screen in polarized version, as lower-quality anaglyph versions. Including one that many people don’t know was originally filmed in 3D—Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder!)
But then, technology caught up to us, and I bought us (thanks to Craigslist) a used 42-inch (diagonal) plasma TV to replace our old, heavy Wal-Mart 36-inch CRT TV; the person who sold it to me (I think I paid $300 or $350 for it) was upgrading all the TVs in his house to “big-screen TVs” and wanted to get rid of it. His living room was bigger than our entire house, by the way. One little problem: the shutter device no longer worked with our TV, because there’s no interlace similar to the CRT TV’s interlace on most plasmas, which use a progressive scan system (it’s all very technical, and I won’t bore you with the details here). So I was back to no 3D movies on our TV. But they kept on bringing out 3D movies, and I was in hog heaven on the movie front, even though it meant I had to pay extra for tickets. You’ve probably seen many of the movies I have, so I won’t bother to enumerate them here. In the meantime, I noticed that, what with rental movies being upgraded from DVD to Blu-Ray—with an increased resolution better than the transition from VHS (or Beta; I’ve owned both), some movies were beginning to show up at our local video store in 3D versions!
Finally, in June, fate stepped in and lent a hand (what Heinlein called “The Fairy Godmother Department,” or something like that, in Glory Road (1961, Figure 11). Not too far from our house, a little corner store opened up next to a really big paint store, selling… you guessed it, TVs. Brand-new, not refurbished, no-box TVs (that I’m guessing were returns). I found a 50” LG LED 3D TV for about half the going price, but get this: the guy let me buy it for $100 off because it had two little scratches on the screen that were (mostly) unnoticeable. Since I could barely manage it—meaning I’d be broke for the next two months aside from paying bills—I grabbed it, took it home and mounted it on the wall. Then I plugged it in, threw in my one 3D movie (Wreck-It Ralph, which the video store had sold a couple of months earlier for some reason for $15) and sat back to watch a big-screen 3D movie on my very first, very own 3D TV set! It was amazing, except that there was a problem with about 6” on each side in 3D that was strangely doubled. I chalked it up to an inherent 3D TV problem and didn’t worry about it. Not so my wife, the aforementioned L&T LTF; it drove her crazy, and after a while she refused to watch any 3D movies. Meanwhile, I continued getting cheap (under $10) brand-new 3D movies, and by November, I had about 5 or 6 of them, including the Wizard of Oz 75th anniversary, and a Universal Monsters Blu-Ray collection that included the 3D version of Creature From the Black Lagoon! (Okay, I paid a guy $30 for the set off Craigslist, but there were 6 movies, so I count my 3D Creature as only a $5 movie). And my local video store had many more 3D movies for rent. Talk about hog heaven!
Then in mid-September the set started acting up; sometimes flickering off or blacking out; although I had not bought the extended warranty (for most electronics those warranties are basically a money-waster) I knew that we had at least 6 months to exchange a faulty unit… the problem was, I couldn’t find the dang receipt! This continued until just before November, when I finally called the guy at the store (a young man from New Zealand, who had originally sold me the TV) and said “I can’t find the receipt; how can I get my TV fixed or exchanged?” I was expecting a big hassle. Instead, what I got was, “No worries, mate—bring ‘er in and we’ll exchange it.” Woo-hoo! How often does that happen? I brought the TV in, and with the help of my darling wife’s credit card, I exchanged the old TV for a new TV. The credit card comes in because I had to pay that $100 I got off from the other TV, since the new one has no scratches—and, oddly enough, there are no issues at the sides with doubled images, so the original one must have been faulty! (I sold my old plasma to a local person for $200, making the 50” TV almost as cheap as our original plasma!) And, to top it all off, our local video store is going out of business at the end of the month, so I’ve been buying their used 3D movies for $6 each! I’m a bit mad that there are no 3D TV stations (that I’ve found yet), but some of these movies look better on the smaller big screen (sharper image, for one thing) than they do on the movie screen! So I’m really chuffed!
So how does a TV display a 3D picture? Well, there are two basic ways: one is the “active” or LCD shutter type, just as on the add-on to my old CRT TV; the shutter glasses are now wireless, and use a small battery to keep their weight down. (In case you’re wondering, the old shutter movies won’t work with an active 3D LED TV; I had a friend who has an active 3D TV check it on his.) My TV is a passive, polarized version; just like the “Real 3D” movies you see at the theatre. (In fact, the same glasses you get at the theatre work on my TV.) The TV screen has a polarized filter that shows only the left lines to the left eye and the right lines to the right eye. Active and passive TVs are available in plasma, LCD and LED, as far as I know. 4K’s a bit too new for me to know much about it. For me, 3D TV makes every movie look that little bit more “real,” which helps me sustain the illusion that a movie is more than a movie. And as a confirmed movie buff, that’s important—unless you’re into what my dad used to call the “artsy-fartsy” type of movie, where reality is not something that’s desired.
So I’m a happy camper, video-wise, these days. Even though my video store is almost gone, I can still rent 3D movies (granted, at twice the price) through “On Demand” from my cable provider. And I figure if I paw through the bins at Future Shop or Best Buy or even Wal-Mart (out of sheer desperation) I’ll find cheap 3Ds sooner or later, ‘cos there’s no way I’m paying even $20 for a movie. By the way, they’re beginning to 3D-ize some older movies (like the Wizard of Oz, Titanic, Jurassic Park and Predator); I have three of those four mentioned, and we went to see Jurassic Park 3D in the theatre. It was worth watching, with only a couple of little 3D glitches. What do YOU think of 3D? Can you even watch it, or does it hurt your eyes?
I’d appreciate your comments on this week’s column (blog entry), especially if you’re a 3D fan like me. Registering is free, and takes only a moment—and after you register you can comment here. Or, you can comment on my Facebook page, or in the several Facebook groups where I publish a link to this column. All your comments are welcome, whether you agree with me or not. As well, my opinion is only my own opinion, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owners, editors, publishers or other bloggers. See you next week!