Whether you love them or walk out of a movie theater with a headache, Hollywood has been pushing 3D films on moviegoers for the last several years. In fact, in 2010 three of the four largest grossing films were in 3D. With that kind of money there’s no doubt that the 3D fad probably is here to stay. Further proof of this are TVs with 3D capability currently on the market. However, 3D is anything of a new technology, if you grew up in the 80’s you should be able to recall the many horror films that were in 3D. But what’s astonishing is that this technology has been around for well over a century.
Scientist and inventor Charles Wheatstone receives the first patent for a stereoscope, which is a device for creating the illusion of 3D still images. While the invention amounted to little at the time it did influence future inventors. Wheatstone is most remembered for his contributions for the development of the telegraph.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, an American physician, professor, lecturer, and author, redesigns Wheatstone’s stereoscope. The “American stereoscope” quickly becomes a popular form of entertainment in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
William Friese-Greene files for a patent for his 3D invention. He combines the stereoscope with nascent motion picture technology to create 3D movies by using two screens side by side, uniting in the viewer’s eye by a cumbersome stereoscope headset. He’s credited as the inventor of cinematography and an early film pioneer but was forced into bankruptcy.
Edwin S. Porter, director of The Great Train Robbery, puts on the first ever 3D screening. Porter uses the anaglyph system, which is a two-colored technique with red and green. This had been around as a less-popular alternative to the stereoscope since 1853. However, this process doesn’t go any further.
The Power of Love, shot in red-green anaglyph, is shown to an audience at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on September 27. The film wasn’t a success, and is now considered lost, but it managed to interest other filmmakers in the 3D process. In December, William Van Doren Kelley, inventor of the Prizma color system, premieres the first in his series of “Plasticon” shorts, entitled Movies of the Future, at the Rivoli Theater in New York City. On December 27, Laurens Hammond (later inventor of the Hammond organ) and William F. Cassidy unveil their Teleview system in New York City with numerous shorts and the feature The Man From M.A.R.S.
Frederick Eugene Ives, who patented the Parallax Stereogram in 1900, and inventor Joseph Leventhal debut several 3D/stereoscopic shorts for Pathe Films.
The debut of the Polaroid filter in 1932 created a new form of 3D film and was developed by Edwin Herbert Land. It was similar to anaglyph, where viewers wore glasses to separate two images for each eye, however, the two images had to be run from separate projectors. The end result was one that was much more vivid. Unfortunately, The Depression, followed by World War II, kept 3D at a standstill.
Nazi propagandists film two movies in 3D. The first of the films, titled So Real You Can Touch It, features stereoscopic bratwursts on a barbecue while the second, named Six Girls Roll Into Weekend, features actors who were probably stars from Germany’s top wartime studio, Universum Film. In the same year, Joseph Leventhal and John Norling win an Oscar for their 3D short Audioscopics.
The 3D film Bwana Devil becomes hit. This launched what has become known as “The Golden Era” of 3D movies. Over the next few years, studios released dozens of 3D films.
Man in the Dark, the first 3D feature released by a major studio, is released. Two days later on April 10, the first 3D color feature from a major American studio, is released with House of Wax starring Vincent Price.
On March 5, arguably the most famous 3D film ever, Creature from the Black Lagoon, is released.
Despite being successful, movie studios can not justify the high cost of production and display, and the technical difficulties with running two projectors simultaneously. The novelty has run it’s course, and 3D films die off.
The Stewardesses, a softcore porn, is released and goes on to gross $27 million. After being adjusted for inflation, The Stewardesses remained the most profitable 3D film ever until Avatar.
Artist Andy Warhol and director Paul Morrissey release Flesh For Frankenstein by employing the short lived Sterovision format.
In Feburary, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 classic Dial M For Murder is re-released in 3D at the York Theater in San Francisco. While the film was shot in 3D, many theaters in 1954 showed it in 2D because of the lack of interest in 3D. This revival did so well that Warner Bros. re-released the film in the single-strip system 3D version in February of 1982.
With military, industrial, and space research, a number of sequels, remakes, rip-offs and low-brow entertainment are released by using the technological improvement of 3D formats including 1982’s Friday the 13th Part III, Jaws 3D and Amityville 3D in 1983.
The first IMAX 3D films debut. The technology was first used for smaller-scale nonfiction films, then was adopted as an attraction for theme parks and studio tours.
On September 12, Michael Jackson, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Disney debut Captain EO. The film, which was shown at Disney theme parks, was more than 3D. Considered one of the first 4D films, meaning a film which incorporates in-theater effects, such as lasers, smoke, etc., frame synced to the film narrative, ran until July 6, 1994. It was reopened in 2010 after Jackson’s death.
James Cameron releases Ghosts of the Abyss, which was a 3D documentary tour of the Titanic wreckage. The technology that Cameron used for the documentary is what he’ll eventually update for Avatar.
Imax releases it’s first feature film, The Polar Express. The short film for the track “Bowling Balls” by Insane Clown Posse is the first 3D film shot in high-definition.
James Cameron’s Avatar quickly becomes the highest grossing film in history and set all kinds of records. The film has gone on to make over $2.7 billion. Since then, Hollywood has begun to produce more 3D content than movie theaters can handle.