How Does 3D Work?

3D is back! This is not your father’s 3D. This is a technologically advanced 3D that once you see it you WILL want to see more! It seems like everywhere we look 3D movies, TV shows in 3D, even 3D for your iPhone!!!

But, there are as many questions as there are 3D applications. How does 3D work? What makes it different from 3D that came out before? What are all those different glasses? Can I watch 3D without glasses?

First, a little history. The first 3D started millions of years ago with man. Yes, we all see things in 3D. All humans have binocular vision. What that means is that we have two eyes separated by a space of 2-3 inches. This enables us to perceive depth and see the world in 3D. This separation causes each eye to see the world from a slightly different perspective. The brain combines these two images into one. It comprehends the spatial differences and uses them to calculate distance. This is how we sense depth and distance.

A simple way to understand this principle is to hold your thumb up at arms length and cover one eye with your hand. Then try putting your hand over the other eye. As you switch between open eyes you should see your thumb “jumping” back and forth against the background.

Stereoscopy was invented in 1838. There is a lot of debate about the first 3D film but “L’arrivée du train” filmed in 1903 by the Lumière brothers. They were the inventors of cinema and it is often referred to as the first stereoscopic movie ever made. When it was released, audiences panicked because they thought the train was about to crash right into them! The funny thing about it is that it was probably on of the first remakes. The film was remade from the original that came out in 1895! And you wonder why Hollywood keeps remaking films. It’s practically born to it!

If you are like me then you probably experienced 3D for the first time in your life with that old Viewmaster viewer. You stuck that funny round thingy with the little slides on it into your Viewmaster, plastered your eyes to the two eyepieces and tilted towards the living room table lamp. Suddenly, you were transported to a million places where you felt you could reach out and touch things in 3 dimensions. Never mind that it is really Stereoscopic and true 3D would be more like a hologram that is standing in front of you and I don’t mean the CNN kind. I was hooked even then!

After that 3D came and went showing up in several incarnations during the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s & the 80’s. Titles like House of Wax (1953), Robot Monster (1953), Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954), Dial M for Murder (1954) , Flesh for Frankenstein (a.k.a. Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein) (1973), Jaws 3D(1983) and Captain EO (1986) to name a few.

Now fast forward to November 2008 and the first 3DX Festival takes place in Singapore. Some of the top luminaries from around the world attended the 3DX Festival to promote 3D media, including: Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation; Mark Zoradi, president of Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Group; Jon Landau, James Cameron’s producer on his new 3 D movie, Avatar; and other directors who are all involved in 3D projects: Robert Zemeckis, James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, Geroge Lucas, and Peter Jackson.

There are different types, or flavors, of 3D. Some put 3D technology into glasses while others put it into a monitor or tech application. Computers or even the iphone can handle 3D but require some additional active components , such as software and applications that are just now being created.

The first time 3D technology was created it used the traditional red and blue glasses. This is called anaglyph and is very cheap in both cost and performance. Fortunately, with the rise of technology advancement we have many better ways of displaying 3D media.

Polarized glasses is another common type of 3D glasses. These are the 3D glasses that you will get at IMAX or in other 3D movie theaters. Although they work better than the old type red and blue glasses, this methods requires two projectors in the theater and additional layers to the monitor for the technology to work properly. The onetime theater set-up expense and additional cost for the polarized glasses may make this method less appealing.

3D screens with no glasses is here today. There are different ways that the 3D screen technology is built. One way is using multiple screen layers like the polarized glasses mentioned above, which is expensive but you do not need specialized glasses to view the 3D on the screen.

Al Caudullo is the executive producer of, an International television show produced in high definition. We also have started, a main source for 3D media.

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