3d Movies and Technology

The Five Senses and Beyond: The Encyclopedia of Perception - Jennifer L. Hellier 2017

3d Movies and Technology

A three-dimensional (3D) stereoscopic film enhances the illusion of depth perception, thereby adding a 3D effect. Stereoscopic photography is the most common approach in the production of 3D films. With stereoscopic photography, a regular motion picture camera is used and images are recorded in two different perspectives. Special projection hardware/eyewear must be used to view the depth illusion while watching the film. The 3D illusion is not limited to just theatrical films; it has also been used in television broadcasts, especially since the increase in 3D televisions and Blu-ray 3D movies.


The stereoscopic era of motion began in the 1890s, patented by William Friese-Greene (1855—1921), a British film pioneer. Two films were viewed side by side and the viewer had to look through a stereoscope to combine the two images to get the 3D look. Theatrical use was not practical with this mechanism. In 1900, Frederic Eugene Ives (1856—1937) patented a stereo camera rig, which had two lenses coupled together and were 1¾ inches apart. In 1915, Edwin S. Porter (1870—1941) and William E. Waddell tested the 3D idea with an audience in New York City. After the tests, nothing was produced in a 3D version.

3D movies have existed since 1915 but were largely relegated to a place in the motion picture industry. This was due to the costly hardware and processes required to make the depth illusion stand out. It was also due to the lack of standardized formats for all of the segments of entertainment businesses. The earliest 3D film to be shown was The Power of Love in 1922 due to the camera rig produced by film producer Harry Fairall. This was also the earliest film in which red/green anaglyph glasses were used. A large increase in 3D films began in the 1950s in American cinemas, and later in the 1980s and 1990s in IMAX high-end theaters and Disney-themed venues. 3D films became more and more successful throughout the 2000s with movies including but not limited to Ghosts of the Abyss (2003), The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl (2005), Open Season (2006), Scar 3D (2007), Bolt (2008), and The Final Destination (2009), and with the unprecedented success in December 2009 and January 2010 of Avatar. The film Scar 3D was the first 3D video-on-demand released through major cable broadcasters in 2010.

In 2011, there was an audience decline in 3D film interest as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows—Part 2 and Captain America: The First Avenger were the major releases on their opening weekend and ran opposite to Kung Fu Panda 2 in 3D and Cars 2 in 3D. Forty-seven 3D movies were released in 2011; however, box office profits were down 18 percent from 2010.

Anaglyph Method

The anaglyph method was the first method used in presenting theatrical 3D films. Two images are superimposed in an additive light setting with two filters: red and cyan. The glasses with two different color filters for each eye separate the images by cancelling the filter color out and rendering the complementary color black. Anaglyph images are much easier to see than viewing parallel or crossed eye stereograms.

Polarization Method

The viewer wears polarized lenses, which are oriented differently, usually at 45 and 135 degrees with linear polarization or clockwise/counterclockwise with circular polarization. Each filter passes only light that is similarly polarized and blocks all other light. Circular polarization is slightly more advantageous than linear polarization as viewers do not need to hold their heads upright and aligned with the screen to allow the polarization to work properly. Polarized stereoscopic pictures have been around since 1936 and from 1952 to 1955, 3D movies were offered almost entirely with linear polarizing lenses. The polarization method was also used in the revival of 3D movies in the 1980s.

Health Effects

Some viewers complain of headaches and eyestrain after watching 3D movies. Motion sickness is also more easily introduced during the viewing of 3D films. A published study has shown that of those who watch 3D films, about 55 percent experience various levels of headaches, nausea, and disorientation. Two primary effects caused by 3D films that are unnatural to the human eye are crosstalk between the eyes (imperfect image separation) and the mismatch between convergence and accommodation (inability to see an object’s position—making the person question, is it behind or in front of the scene?).

Renee Johnson

See also: Accommodation; Color Perception; Visual Perception

Further Reading

The Eyecare Trust. (n.d.). 3D Vision. Retrieved from http://www.eyecaretrust.org.uk/view.php?item_id=566

Gray, Brandon. (2011). June sees box office dip. Box Office Mojo. Retrieved from http://www.boxofficemojo.com/news/?id=3201&p=.htm

Variety. (2015). Filmmakers like S3D’s emotional wallop. Retrieved from http://variety.com/2009/digital/features/filmmakers-like-s3d-s-emotional-wallop-1118008671/