First movie First 3D movie First colour movie First 3D colour movie

First 3D movie

1. The technology

2. The human subject

First 3D movie

Jules Duboscq, bioscope disc, c. 1852.

Coll. Joseph Plateau, Musée de l'Histoire des Sciences, University of Ghent, Belgium, catalogue no. MW96/1859.

On 12 November 1852 Louis Jules Duboscq (1817–1886) patented the 'stereoscope-fantascope or Bioscope', which apparently combined the properties of the stereoscope with those of the phenakistoscope. Twelve pairs of stereoscopic images were placed round the surface of a disc, and when spun the images were viewed by lenses or mirrors. The image above is of the only surviving Bioscope disc. No example of the instrument itself has yet been found. The image has recently been effectively and convincingly digitally processed into a 3D motion video, by Denis Pellerin; the video was shown at a presentation at Kings College, London, in October 2016.

By 1878 Eadweard Muybridge (1830–1904) had successfully photographed a horse in fast motion, using stereoscopic cameras at the outset (a surviving slide dated 1877 on the mount suggests he may have achieved this earlier). The first demonstration took place successfully on 15 June with the press present. He used a series of twelve stereoscopic cameras, 21 inches apart, to cover the 20 feet taken by one horse stride, taking pictures at 1/1000th of a second. The cameras were arranged parallel to the track, with trip-wires attached to each camera shutter triggered by the horse's hooves or (for wheeled vehicles) the passage of wheels. [The Complete Eadweard Muybridge: Chronology 1876–1880, Pop Art Machine, Riggins; Prodger; Herbert, ed.]

Muybridge constructed his own stereoscopic-zoetropic viewer, by which to view his sequence photographs, by synchronising two zoetropes and directing images from each to left or right eyes only, by means of mirrors. He described the result as "a very satisfactory reproduction of an apparently solid miniature horse trotting and of another galloping." [Herbert, ed.]

Muybridge's stereographic movie experience can't now be reconstructed, however. Fragments of stereoscopic glass plate negatives for what appears to be this series were unearthed from a garden behind Muybridge's house in Kingston-on-Thames in 1998. [Zone] One of these damaged stereoscopic negatives is illustrated in Herbert, ed. This source confirms that most of the fragments found in 1998 are in very poor condition, and in many cases the image has disappeared.

That said, the holographer David Pizzanelli has, in recent years, successfully created holograms using re-photographed images from Muybridge's Animal Locomotion. By employing 'temporal parallax', rather than stereographic parallax, he has produced moving holograms from the original sequence photographs. See Pizzanelli's website for more on this, with 2D examples. Quicktime movies of Pizzannelli's holograms may also be found here.



First 3D movie viewed by its contemporaries

William Friese-Greene (1855–1921) claimed to have made an experiment in stereoscopic cinematography in October 1889, using a camera built by Frederick Henry Varley, and filming in Hyde Park, London. Varley patented the camera on 26 March 1890. Evidence for successful projection, however, is widely disputed, and the date claimed is unlikely, as the surviving celluloid appears to have been of Eastman manufacture, not available in England before early 1890 [Spehr, pp110-1].

W.E.L. Day's account, in the (old) Dictionary of National Biography reports that public exhibition was made at Chester Town Hall in July 1890, and that a portion of this film was (1927) in the Science Museum in London; however this account does not describe the film as stereoscopic.

Laurent Mannoni, in his 'The "feeling of life": the birth of stereoscopic film', in Reynaud, Tambrun, & Timby, eds, p140, reports that:

A very rare fragile fragment of the first stereoscopic film made by Friese-Greene and Varley around 1890 can be found in the Will Day collection of the Cinémathèque Française: it is 15.5 cm x 45.5 cm and consists of two rows of six successive images of a man walking down a street, seen from behind. It is a poetic and rather strange sight, as though this elegant top-hatted gentleman judged the problem to have been definitively solved and so was leaving the scene, with an enigmatic and slightly contemptuous air.

Will Day is the W.E.L. Day of the DNB article. His collection at the Cinémathèque Française was purchased from the Science Museum, so it seems reasonable to surmise that both accounts refer to the same film. [Silent Era website, Who's Who of Victorian Cinema].

Three successive images from stereoscopic film shot by Friese-Greene in Varley's 1890 camera are reproduced at p46 of Coe. Coe notes that in this example the camera was operating at less than one frame per second. So it was not really a movie at all, by the standard adopted here.

Around September 1899 William Kennedy-Laurie Dickson patented a method for taking and viewing stereoscopic moving images. A working model was developed, and an experimental stereo image appears in Spehr, p. 610.

The French inventor Henri René Bünzli (1870–1961) produced four very short (c. 10 seconds) experimental 3D films in 1900. These included a mildly risqué scene of a man arriving to visit his mistress and another discovering his wife in bed with her lover. These films were shown by Serge Bromberg, of Lobster Films, at a presentation in Paris in December 2009. [Bordwell, Sauer]

The chronophotographer Lucien Bull (1876–1972) was filming high-speed (500 frames per second) stereoscopic photography of insect flight as early as 1902, using two strips of film on a rotating drum. Stereo footage from 1904, of a dragonfly in slow motion, may be viewed on the Origins of Scientific Cinematography DVD.

Raoul Grimoin-Sanson (1860–1940) began experimenting with movie cameras and projectors in 1895, and was in contact with other early researchers such as Étienne-Jules Marey. He patented the Cinéorama on 27 November 1897. The earliest 360° cylindrical panoramic movie, Cinéorama was an early film experiment and amusement ride at the 1900 Paris Exposition, that simulated a ride in a hot air balloon over Paris. It represented a union of the earlier technology of panoramic paintings and the recently invented technology of cinema. Cinéorama consisted of ten synchronized 70mm movie projectors, projecting onto ten 9 x 9 metre screens arranged in a full 360° circle around the viewing platform. The platform was a large balloon basket, capable of holding 200 viewers, with rigging, ballast, and the lower part of a huge gas bag.

The film to be shown was made by locking together 10 cameras with a single central drive, putting them in an actual balloon, and filming the flight as the balloon rose 400 metres above the Tuileries Gardens. On projecting the film, the experience was completed by showing the same film backwards, to simulate a descent. Some references describe a much longer experience, involving a trip to England, Spain, and the Sahara, but it is unclear whether the complete plan was realized. Cinéorama lasted only three days at the Exposition; on the fourth day it was shut down by the police for safety reasons. (According to Tosi and Gunning it never even opened.)

On 10 June 1915 an anaglyphic one-reel film was shown at the Astor Theater in New York, now identified as the untitled Porter-Waddell demonstration film. Made by Edwin S. Porter (1870–1941) and William E. Waddell, it consisted of stereoscopic footage shot on the set of a conventional 2D film, Jim the Penman. [3-D Revolution]

The earliest-known surviving anaglyphic film is Kelley’s Plasticon Pictures: Movies of the Future and Thru’ the Trees: Washington, DC, made in 1922/3 by William Van Doren Kelley (1876–1934), and photographed by William T. Crespinel (1890–1987). Originally anaglyphic (r/b), the film has been fully restored and was shown again in 2006, for the first time since the 1920s, in a new polarized dual-35mm print. It is now also available on the 3-D Rarities 3D Blu-Ray. [3D Moving Pictures; 3-D Rarities booklet] NB Cherchi Usai states that Crespinel's anaglyphic [Stereoscopic Film Test], dating from Winter 1919, is the earliest 3D film known to survive; it is apparently held at George Eastman House.

The first polarised 3D film seems to have been a Polaroid presentation at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City in February 1936. George Wheelwright III (1903–2001), partner in Polaroid with Edwin Land (1909–1991), gave a further demonstration in May 1936 to the Society of Motion Picture Engineers at the Hotel Pennsylvania. [Zone, McElheny: 71] There had, however, been demonstrations of stereo movies made by Polaroid to Kodak as early as the spring of 1934: about 15 minutes of footage shown by George Wheelwright and Edwin Land to Kenneth Mees and other Kodak staff. [McElheny: 62, 111/2]

Herbert E. Ives (1882–1953) first demonstrated his apparatus for austostereoscopic motion pictures in a public demonstration to the Optical Society of America on 30 October 1930, at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. The pictures were small, and could only be seen by small groups at a time. He demonstrated a further refinement to the Society of Motion Picture Engineers in New York City on 28 April 1933. The process proved excessively complicated, and was developed no further. [Zone, Funk]

The first really successful autostereoscopic movie was Aleksandr Andriyevski's Kontsert, or Land of Youth, a short parallax stereogram motion picture made in the USSR in 1940 and released there on 4 February 1941; the stereofilm supervisor was Semyon Pavlovich Ivanov. A special cinema, the Stereokino in Moscow, had to be constructed for the viewing of this film and its successors: autostereoscopic movies played in Moscow for 20 or more years, and four additional autostereoscopic cinemas were built in the Soviet Union during this time. A five-minute clip from Kontsert (side-by side stereographic) is available on YouTube. [Zone, Hayes, 3-D Revolution, Funk]

Cinerama: Cinerama is the trademarked name for a widescreen process that works by simultaneously projecting images from three synchronized 35 mm projectors onto a huge, deeply-curved screen, subtending 146° of arc. The original system involved shooting with three synchronized cameras sharing a single shutter. The display is accompanied by a high-quality, seven-track discrete directional surround sound system.

Invented by Fred Waller (1886–1954), it was a development of earlier systems he had created, starting in 1937/8 with a rig on which were mounted eleven 16 mm cameras driven by a single motor, with which he filmed from his car driving down a road in Huntington, New York; the first successful screening of this film used only four projectors and a 6' radius spherical screen, and it took a further nine months before he succeeded in synchronising all eleven projectors. In November 1938 Waller and others formed the Vitarama Corporation, to develop the process. [Waller: Cinerama] A clip showing a few seconds of four Vitarama test panels from 1938 appears in the documentary Cinerama Adventure, which is included on the Blu-ray of How the West Was Won. The system was further streamlined for a very specific purpose, the 'Waller Flexible Gunnery Trainer', first built after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, which involved five synchronised film projectors and a screen constructed as a section of a hollow sphere of 20' radius, 150° in width, 75° in height. [Waller: Gunnery] After the war (November 1946) the Cinerama Corporation was formed, and in due course the most significant Cinerama process was developed, as described above.

Anamorphic widescreen: Not 3D, of course, but included as essentially the successor process to Cinerama. Henri Jacques Chrétien (1879–1956) patented the filming process, which he called the anamorphoscope, as far back as 1926 but had not succeeded in marketing it, and the patent had expired by the early 1950s, at which time world rights (minus France and its possessions) were acquired by 20th Century Fox. Fox gave their first public demonstration of the Cinemascope process at 9:30 a.m. on 23 June 1953, at the Saenger Theater, 1111 Canal Street, New Orleans. [Widescreen Museum]

The first (monochromatic) holographic movie was made in April 1969, by Alex Jacobson and Victor Evtuhov at Hughes Research Laboratories, Malibu, California. It showed a 30 second scene of tropical fish swimming in an aquarium. [Kac, Youngblood—which includes two still images from this movie.]

Imax: The first IMAX film made was the 17 minute short Tiger Child, directed by Donald Brittain (1928–1989), released on 15 May 1970, and premiered at the Fuji Group Pavilion at Expo '70, in Osaka, Japan. [IMAX chronology, IMDB]

The first film both shot and projected in IMAX Dome (formerly OMNIMAX) was Garden Isle, directed by Roger Tilton, released in August 1973, and premiering at the Reuben H. Fleet Space Theater and Science Center, San Diego, California. IMAX Dome is more immersive than standard IMAX, wrapping 180° horizontally, 100° above the horizon and 22° below the horizon for a viewer at the centre of the dome.

The first IMAX 3D film (not counting the 1985 animated short We are Born of Stars) was the 1986 Transitions, created for Expo 86 in Vancouver. Co-directed by Colin Low (1926–2016) and Tony Ianzelo (b. 1935) and produced by the National Film Board of Canada, the film explored the world of transportation and communications. [IMAX chronology, IMDB, 3-D Revolution]

Interactive movie mapping: The Aspen Moviemap began as an idea by Massachusetts Institute of Technology undergraduate Peter Clay, in collaboration with graduate students Bob Mohl and Michael Naimark. Clay 'moviemapped' the hallways of MIT in early 1978, as the second demonstration videodisc made by the Architecture Machine Group.

Produced at MIT, the Aspen Moviemap—the first interactive moviemap—was filmed in the autumn of 1978, in winter 1978/9, and briefly again in the autumn of 1979. A gyroscopic stabilizer with 16mm stop-frame cameras was mounted on top of a camera car and a fifth wheel with an encoder triggered the cameras every 10 feet. Filming took place daily between 10am and 2pm to minimize lighting discrepancies. The camera car carefully drove down the centre of the street for registered match-cuts. In addition to the basic 'travel' footage, panoramic camera experiments, thousands of still frames, audio, and data were collected. The playback system required several laserdisc players, a computer, and a touch-screen display. Very wide-angle lenses were used for filming, and some attempts at orthoscopic playback were made. [Naimark]

The Aspen Moviemap is now viewed as a classic of hypermedia; the contemporary Google Street View—a feature of Google Maps and Google Earth—builds on the same concept. Google Street View, launched on 25 May 2007, provides 360° horizontal and 290° vertical panoramic street level views and allows users to view parts of some regions of the world at ground level. Since 1 April 2010 Google Street View has also been available in anaglyphic 3D.

Stereoscopic movie mapping: In 1992 Michael Naimark developed the 'See Banff!' Kinetoscope, a stereoscopic movie map filmed in and around the Banff region of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. [Naimark]

Interactive stereoscopic panorama: Naimark also developed, in 1994, an installation called 'Be Now Here (Welcome to the Neighborhood).' Just as the Banff Kinetoscope was an experiment in making a stereoscopic version of interactively moving around, 'Be Now Here' was to complement it by making a stereoscopic version of interactively looking around.

The concept was to assemble an experimental camera system to film stereoscopic panoramas, then to go to public gathering places, and film throughout the course of a day from a single position. The experience would be analogous to standing in a single place, with both eyes open, and being able to look around but not move from the spot.

Filming took place at Jerusalem, Dubrovnik, Timbuktu, Angkor, and, for counterpoint, the Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco. [Naimark]

Photorealistic computer game environment: The PlayStation 2 game The Getaway was first released in the UK on 11 December 2002. According to Sony's press release,


The Getaway is a free-roaming, mission-based, 3D action game set in London. The Getaway features nearly 40 square kilometers of photo-realistically recreated London blocks and street corners, creating the most technological and realistic reenactment ever seen in a videogame.

London is recreated in loving detail, using over 30,000 digital photos as visual reference. The game was developed by Team Soho at a cost in excess of £5,000,000, and published by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe. [press release, Tekippe, Williams, The Getaway Wiki]

Spherical VR panoramic movies: Spherical VR panoramic movies are now feasible, as can be seen at Redbull Surfing. This uses the  Dodeca 2360 Camera System, launched in 2004—a camera system that takes in high-res video streams (at 2400 x 1200 pixels per frame, 30 frames per second), and captures the GPS coordinates of its motion. The camera can record for up to 3 hours at a time. [Wired blog network] Immersive Media Company, which makes the Dodeca System, was founded in 1994, and the world’s first full motion, fully immersive video movie was debuted at the 1995 SIGGRAPH convention in Los Angeles, California. The movie featured a basketball game where the camera was placed on a tripod on the court.

At TechFest in February 2009 Microsoft first unveiled a new technology then known informally as Videosynth. Developed by Ayman Kaheel and a team at the company's Innovation Centre in Cairo, this extended the Photosynth concept into the time dimension by means of stitching video footage captured on multiple mobile phones into a higher-resolution 3D panorama, synchronising them from the phones' timecodes. Videosynth featured in CSI: Miami Season 8 Episode 12, 'Show Stopper'. By December 2009 the emphasis had shifted to stitching videos live, in real time, and the product renamed Mobicast; a demonstration video is here.



First 3D feature film

The first 3D feature film was the anaglyphic The Power of Love, directed by Nathaniel G. Deverich (1893–1963) and Harry Kenneth Fairall (1882–1958), and first exhibited (in fact its only stereoscopic exhibition) on 27 September 1922 at the Ambassador Hotel Theater in Los Angeles. This is now lost. [3D Moving Pictures, Zone, 3-D Revolution]

The earliest surviving 3D feature film was The Ship of Souls, released on 20 December 1925. Filmed in Miller Stereoscopic Process (dual 35mm printed single strip anaglyphic). Producer and stereoscopic supervisor: Max O. Miller; director: Charles Miller (1857–1936); photographer: Edwin P. DuPar. [Hayes]

The first autostereoscopic 3D feature film was Ivanov's Robinson Kruzo, for which filming began in 1941, but which was released on 20 February 1947, in the Soviet Union. It was photographed on 70mm film with side-by-side stereo images having an aspect ratio of 1.37:1. [Zone, Hayes]

The first Cinerama feature film was This is Cinerama (director and co-producer Merian C. Cooper (1893–1973), co-producer Robert L. Bendick, cinematography by Harry Squire), which premiered on 30 September 1952 at New York's Broadway Theater. [IMDb]

The first anamorphic widescreen feature film was The Robe (director Henry Koster (1905–1988), producer Frank Ross, cinematography by Leon Shamroy) made in Cinemascope and released on 16 September 1953). [Widescreen Museum]

Imax: The first IMAX feature film was American Years, from 1976. The first IMAX 3D feature film was Wings of Courage, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud (b. 1943) and released in New York City on 21 April 1995. [IMAX chronology, IMDB]



3D Zoetrope

Etienne-Jules Marey (1830–1904), as an aspect of his experimentation into the mechanism of the wing in relation to air movements and air pressure, made in 1887 a number of photographs of gulls and pigeons in flight, viewed simultaneously from three directions—above, parallel, and perpendicular to the axis of its flight—after which he sculpted plaster models of the birds, each depicting a single phase of the wing as it moved through one complete cycle. He then mounted these sculptures in a very large zoetrope, creating what he called 'synthesis in relief'. As the zoetrope was spun, he could view the bird's flight, both in real time and in slow motion. Braun includes a photograph of the 3D zoetrope and the mounted pigeon sculpture (p141). This process, like photosculpture, is a photography/sculpture hybrid.


Full references for printed works

Marta Braun (1992) Picturing Time. The Work of Etienne-Jules Marey (1830–1904). Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press

Paolo Cherchi Usai (2000) Silent Cinema. An Introduction. London: British Film Institute

Brian Coe (1992) Muybridge & the Chronophotographers. London: Museum of the Moving Image

Michel Frizot (2000), 'Line screen systems', in Reynaud, Tambrun, & Timby, eds, pp153-7

Tom Gunning (2005, 2010) 'Camera movement', in Richard Abel, ed. (2005, 2010) Encyclopedia of Early Cinema. London and New York: Routledge

R.M. Hayes (1989) 3-D Movies. A History and Filmography of Stereoscopic Cinema

Stephen Herbert, ed. (2004) Eadweard Muybridge. The Kingston Museum Bequest. Hastings: The Projection Box

Sean F. Johnston (2006) Holographic Visions. A History of New Science. Oxford: OUP

Victor K. McElheny (1998) Insisting on the Impossible. The Life of Edwin Land. New York: Perseus Books

Philip Prodger (2003) Time Stands Still. Muybridge and the Instantaneous Photography Movement. New York: OUP

Françoise Reynaud, Catherine Tambrun and Kim Timby, eds (2000) Paris in 3D. From stereoscopy to virtual reality 1850–2000

Paul Spehr (2008) The Man Who Made Movies: W.K.L. Dickson. New Barnet: John Libbey Publishing

Virgilio Tosi (2005) Cinema before Cinema. The Origins of Scientific Cinematography, 2nd edn. London: British Universities Film and Video Council.

Ray Zone (2007) Stereoscopic Cinema & the Origins of 3-D Film, 1838–1952. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky


© 2009–2016 Benjamin S. Beck

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