Ever wonder how the 3D movie craze got started? Well, put on your plastic-framed anaglyph 3D glasses and come for a stroll down Memory Lane!
First, a bit of science: Anaglyph 3D images are made by using two layers of color that are shifted slightly when laid on top of each other. Usually the main subject in the image is centered, while the foreground and background are offset from each other to create what's called a "stereoscopic 3D" image. The visual cortex in your brain brings the two images together when you look at them through a special viewer holding two lenses with different colored filters, usually red and blue.
British film pioneer William Friese-Greene gets the credit for ushering in the era of stereoscopic motion pictures in the late 1980s. Friese-Greene patented a 3-D move process in which two films were projected side by side on a screen. The movie watcher looked a stereoscope that brought the two images together (remembering seeing stereoscopes in old-timey movies?). However, because this process was so mechanically cumbersome – think of trying to get two different films to synchronize on a screen – it was never commercially viable for use in a theater.
The earliest round of commercial 3D films, that is, films shown to a paying audience, occurred when "The Power of Love" debuted at Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel Theater on September 27, 1922. This was also the first documentary use by audiences of red-green anaglyph glasses to view the film. Unfortunately the film did not get picked up for wide release and is now lost.
December 1922 was a big time for 3D film inventors. William Van Doren Kelley, who created the Prizma color system, devised a 3D camera system of his own design and began shooting and showing a film series he called "Plasticon." The first of these was titled "Movies of the Future," shown at New York City's Rivoli Theater. At the same time, Laurens Hammond, who went on to invent the electronic Hammond Organ, and his partner William F. Cassidy introduced their Teleview 3D system. "This process alternated right-left frames in rapid success, which the audience saw through synchronized viewers attached to their seats.
While there were various attempts at anaglyph 3D motion pictures over the next 30 years – most notably the introduction of Edwin H. Land's Polaroid film – the heyday of the format came between 1952 and 1955. That's when filmmakers attempted to make movies "bigger and better than ever "by experimenting with wide with anaglyph 3D processes. This period is often called the "golden era of 3D."
The first full-color stereoscopic feature, "Bwana Devil," was released in 1952. Produced, written and directed by Arch Oboler, "Bwana Devil" was project dual-strip using Polaroid filters. The now-iconic of moviegoers watching a 3D film wearing paper-frame anaglyph glasses has come to represent both this era and the American culture of the 1950s.
In April 1953, two groundbreaking 3D films came out: Columbia Pictures '"Man in the Dark" and Warner Bros.' "House of Wax." The latter film became famous for two reasons: the first use of stereophonic sound and the appearance of its star, Vincent Price, who became typecast as both a horror-film protagonist and "King of 3D." The sepulcheral actor's other 3D films include "The Mad Magician," "Dangerous Mission" and "Son of Sinbad." These enticements help draw movie watchers away from their new-fangled TV sets and back into theaters.
Walt Disney Studios – which would later become famous for the 3D films shown at its "Imagination" exhibit at EPCOT Center in Florida – entered the 3D fray with the 1953 release of a film called "Melody." Disney introduced 3D to its Disneyland theme park in 1957 with a short called "3D Jamboree." The late Michael Jackson starred in Disney's original 3D film for EPCOT, "Captain EO," for those viewers were given plastic-framed anaglyph 3D glasses that they deposited in bins as they exited.