We're not a race of Cyclopes. We have two eyes. We see the world in 3D. It's absolutely inevitable that eventually, all or at least most of our entertainment will be in 3D.

JAMES CAMERON 

3D Cinema

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Another Dimension


It’s quite difficult to find a film these days that doesn’t appear in the cinema in 3D. Most use a polarised 3D effect added in post-production. However, some blockbusters – such as Avatar (2009) – are recorded using advanced 3D cameras.

3D always seemed to be a gimmick that the film industry rolled out in times of crisis. In the 1950s, the perceived threat came from the arrival of television. The second flourishing of 3D came in the 1980s when movie makers feared the effect that videotapes (and pirating) would have on box office takings. With the arrival of the internet, 3D is back once again but this time it may be here to stay. The massive investment in 3D technology by both film makers and TV companies makes it unlikely that there will be a U-turn.

The technology still needs some improvement however. Modern 3D glasses darken the brightness of a cinema screen by 30%, something that many viewers find uncomfortable. Some people also suffer from a kind of ‘motion sickness’ that can cause dizziness, headaches and nausea. It’s been called cybersickness by the people who research this kind of thing. It happens because the brain becomes disoriented. In everyday life, the brain receives signals from the eyes that tell it that the body is in motion. Meanwhile, the brain also gets input from the inner ear, where the movement of fluid over sensory hairs makes us aware of motion and balance. When the signals clash – because no change in the body's position is detected – some sensitive people can become quite ill. 
 
 

Parallax Effect


3D is nothing new. In 1838 Charles Wheatstone is considered to be the first person to realise that our sensation of depth and distance is achieved by our brain processing the slightly different images seen by the left and right eyes. This is called the 'parallax effect'. He invented the Reflecting Mirror Stereoscope in which a pair of mirrors were placed in front of the eyes and angled at 45 degrees towards a pair of drawings of an object viewed from slightly different viewpoints. The effect was a very rudimentary version of 3D, but it is the same basic idea that is still used in today's 3D blockbusters. Stereoview cards that used this new technology became available by 1852 and, within 10 years, the London Stereographic Company alone had sold more than a million.
 
 

Glasses Free


Rumours abound that Hollywood is close to glasses-free 3D; but is it all worth it?

According to a study of 400 filmgoers by L Mark Carrier, of California State University, 3D movies do not allow viewers to experience more intense emotional reactions, are no more immersive, and do not offer any advantage over their 2D counterparts in terms of enhancing the ability to recall a film's details. 

MARK KERMODE

Ask anybody in the industry and they'll tell you that too much money has been spent to turn back now.

QUENTIN TARANTINO

I was thinking of 3D after I saw House of Wax. I've always liked 3D. I was thinking 3D after I saw Friday the 13th... so if I had the right stories, for instance if I could do Kill Bill all over again I'd be tempted to do it in 3D.

Peep-Show


The next major milestone came in 1857 with the development of the patented peep-show cabinet – often called the What the Butler saw due to its often saucy content. This consisted of a series of stereoscopic cards attached to a belt. Cranking it by hand gave the illusion of movement. It's not hard to see the progression that takes us from this to Piranha 3DD, 150 odd years later.
 
The popularity of stereographic images was such that when movies arrived it seemed obvious that they would be soon shown in 3D. The first motion picture machine, as we would know it today, was (with a lot of caveats as with all of his 'inventions') Edison's Kinetoscope.
 
Today's polarised system of 3D was invented back in 1895 by British physicist John Anderton, but it was the different-coloured lens system that first had its day. The anaglyph (red-green) system was used for the first 3D feature film, The Power of Love in 1922. However, the movie that truly launched 3D was 1924's Plastigrams. It had no storyline; it involved vignettes such as a baseball being thrown into the audience and a hose being pointed at the camera. One of the brains behind this work of moving picture brilliance was Jacob Leventhal who also invented the bouncing-ball thing that you see on karaoke machines. Leventhal also cleverly used 3D technology in one movie to provide two possible endings, one happy and one sad. The audience could choose which to see by looking through either the red or green lens.

Cinema Gimmicks


People going to see the John Waters film Polyester (1981) - billed as being in ‘Odorama’ - were given scratch and sniff cards. Smells included the scent of flowers, pizza, glue, gas, grass, and faeces (although, for the DVD release of the film, the smell of glue was changed due to, as Waters states, ‘political correctness’. After being prompted to scratch and sniff the bouquet of flowers, the audience actually got stinky shoes, resulting in a joke on the audience. The gimmick was advertised with the tag ‘It'll blow your nose!’
 
Waters was inspired by William Castle’s 1960 film Scent of Mystery, which was the first and last film made in ‘Smell-O-Vision’ in which aromas were pumped into the cinema. Ads for the film proclaimed: ‘First they moved (1895)! Then they talked (1927)! Now they smell!’ It starred Denholm Elliot, Peter Lorre and Elizabeth Taylor.
 
William Castle was the king of cinema gimmicks. Audiences at Macabre (1958) were given a $1000US life insurance policy in case they died of fright during the film. Showings also had nurses stationed in the lobbies and hearses parked outside the cinemas. He floated an inflatable glow-in-the-dark skeleton (he called this ‘Emergo’) over the audience for House on Haunted Hill (1959), dished out cardboard axes for Straitjacket (1964), and even supplied a hand-held ghost remover/revealer using red and green film (‘Illusion-o’) for 13 Ghosts (1960). Most famously, he administered mild electric shocks to some of the audience for the 1959 Vincent Price film, The Tingler.

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The 1953 3D movie The French Line, starring a buxom Jane Russell was advertised with the tagline: 'She'll knock BOTH your eyes out!'

The film House of Wax  was filmed in 3D but the director, André de Toth, couldn’t see the effect as he only had one eye.

3D television was invented by John Logie Baird in 1928; first demonstrated at his company's premises at 133 Long Acre, London.

The National Archives UK

Movies of the Future (1922), a documentary, was the first 3D movie shown to a paying audience. It was 14 minutes long.

The IMAX 3D projector is the size of a small car.

2D Glasses are commercially available that turn 3D movies into 2D.