Is 3D New?
3D was invented in 1838, predating photographs. Stereoscopic cameras were popular in WWII, and many 3D images and videos remain intact today.
The Stereoscope Was Invented Before Film
The stereoscope viewer, invented in 1838, didn’t require film (it could simply be used to look at painted or hand drawn offset images to create the 3D effect). Once film was invented, the stereoscopic camera was invented which could take 3D photographs.
In the 1900’s film could be shot for 3D reel-to-reel movies, from here the technology evolved over the years into the 3D we know today.
One of the most eye-opening parts of the history of 3D is looking at 3D footage shot during WWII, but before we get to that, let’s take a quick look a the rich history of stereoscopic 3D.
What Is 3D? This video explains.
FACT: The first camera took “in-camera” pictures in mid-1820. In 1839, the “first light picture” was taken. Kodak developed the first commercial film that could be developed into photographs and made it available to the public in 1888.
TIP: The reason stereoscopic could be invented before photographic film is that a stereoscope can be made which looks directly at an image (no film was needed as the image could be painted). Old stereoscopes used two pictures. In the 1910’s technology started to allow the use of one composite image.
What is Stereoscopic 3D?
Stereoscopic simply means, in laymen’s terms, “two pictures offset from each other which when viewed through a ‘stereoscope’ create a 3D composite image.” It works just like our eyes. If you close one eye, you see 2D. If you close both in an alternating fashion, you’ll notice the images you see are offset from each other. Your brain uses offset images to see depth. This effect can be mimicked with a “stereoscope”.
In other words, stereo means “two”, and scopic means “to look.”
FACT: The first patented stereoscope was invented by Sir Charles Wheatstone in 1838. The Holmes Stereo Viewer was the most popular stereoscope from 1881 to 1939 until Mattel’s View Master became America’s favorite 3D device starting in 1939.
A Quick History of 3D
Below is a quick history of 3D gleaned from my own knowledge and the resources below.
- In 1844 David Brewster invented a stereoscope that could take 3D photographic images.
- In 1851 Louis Jules Duboscq took a picture of Queen Victoria at “the Great Exhibition of 1851”. This helped to popularize the concept of 3D.
The History of 3D-FILM. This short documentary starts it’s story in 1890, but the history of 3D goes back 50 years further.
- In the late 1890s when British film pioneer William Friese-Greene filed a patent for a 3D movie process.
- In the 1900’s as Hollywood began to grow, experiments with 3D film started.
- In 1915 3D films became possible using the Kinematascope, a stereo animation camera in red-green anaglyph (using color to create a 3D effect using one composite image instead of two separate images).
- In the 1920’s 3D film was popular, but by the 30’s after the great depression it was a novelty.
WWII in 3D
3D was used fairly extensively during WWII by the Allies, Nazis, and civilians for documentarian, artistic, and tactical reasons.
The 3D footage shot during WWII (some under the command of Hitler himself) can be viewed today. This historic 3D footage gives us a very real look inside one of the most devastating wars in the world’s history.
WWII in 3D (not actually 3D footage), you can’t actually WWII footage in 3D unless you have a 3D ready TV and buy the WWII in 3D blu-ray (This blu-ray from the history channel is the only footage known to me that is true 3D footage from WWII. The video is highly recommended).
FACT: 3D helped win the war. By taking 3D pictures by spy plane, the topography of Nazi-controlled land could be analyzed for the first time.
3D Today – Virtual Reality and Other 3D Tech
3D has made many comebacks over the years as new technology grew and generations changed. Today 3D is used for Virtual Reality (VR), 3D movies, and more.
The old mainstay Mattel has even released a new View Master kit that can be paired with a standard cell phone and be used to experience Virtual Reality (buy the VR View Master kit). Meanwhile, devices like the Oculus or HTC Vive both use 3D technology, as does Nintendo’s 3DS.
This is Mattel and Google’s View-Master | Engadget.
Stereoscopic 3D V. True 3D
The above said it’s important to note that there are different types of 3D. There is the offsetting of two 2D images or other in-screen 3D effects, and then there is true 3D, which includes the projection of 3D objects. There are many ways of achieving a 3D effect, and different devices will use different ways.
You can see a full list of 3D Stereo display types at Wikipedia, that page also gives a nice description of Stereoscopy vs. “True” 3D.