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

First 3D movie

1. The technology

2. The human subject

First 3D movies of people

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's clear 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. This is confirmed by the rough animation of three stereo pairs made by Peter Domankiewicz and shown as part of his presentation on the occasion of the centenary of Friese-Greene's death. So Friese-Greene's experimentation didn't really achieve a movie at all, by the standard adopted here.

Friese-Greene's experimental film of 1889 (if accepted in evidence) showed his cousin Alfred Carter, and Carter's son Bert, arriving on foot in Hyde Park, London. It seems likely that the "elegant top-hatted gentleman" referred to above was Alfred Carter. [Zone]

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] If Friese-Greene's 1889 film is not accepted, Bünzli's 1900 experimental films take the laurels.

Charles-Émile Reynaud (1844–1918) built what he called a Stereoscopic Binocular Praxinoscope (or the stereo-cinema) by 1907, and a stereoscopic motion picture camera for use with it, in which he filmed himself, a 3D self-portrait in motion. Only one example of Reynaud's praxinoscope survives, in the Musée des Arts et Metiers in France; he became despondent and threw the camera into the Seine. The date of his self-portrait, and its present whereabouts, are not clear. [Zone]

On 10 June 1915 three anaglyphic one-reel films made by Edwin S. Porter (1870–1941) and William E. Waddell were shown at the Astor Theater in New York. They included test shots of Marie Doro (1882–1956) and John Mason (1858–1919), as well as unidentified performers in an Oriental dance. [The Moving Picture World, 26 June 1915]

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, and photographed by William T. Crespinel. Originally anaglyphic (red/blue), the film—in which people of both sexes appear—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], as well as on YouTube.

The first polarised 3D film showing people seems to have been a Polaroid presentation at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City in February 1936. One scene included a children's garden party, with four children seated round a table; a small boy near the camera turned and leaned his chair back, as if falling into the auditorium. [Zone; McElheny: 113-4 says the presentation was in May 1936, to the Society of Motion Picture Engineers in the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York.]

Three types of lenticulars exist: transforming, 3D, and motion-capturing. Transforming lenticulars are irrelevant in this context. But the history of motion-capturing lenticulars appears inseparable from that of lenticulars generally. As the motion capture is in any case of extremely short duration it seems likely that information as to whether or not lenticular images include motion has been not been given. With this caveat, one candidate must be Eugène Estanave's 'Portrait of a woman opening and shutting her eyes', made in 1910. A gelatine silver photograph on glass, it has a cross-hatched line screen, combining the possibilities of a vertical screen (3D effect) and a horizontal screen (changing effect). It is made up of four different images: two to show the woman in 3D with her eyes open, and two to show her in 3D with her eyes shut. NB This motion-capturing lenticular can't be described as a movie, by the definition used on this page. Estanave patented this process on 3 February 1910 and presented it to the Académie des Sciences the following month. Images of eyes open and shut are presented monoscopically in Frizot].

Lloyd Cross (c. 1935 – 2015) created a multiplex hologram of a woman called Lesley ____ in the summer of 1972, based on 35 colour slides taken over 15 minutes; though she tried to keep still as the camera moved around her, she smiled in the final frame. This piece is now in the MIT Museum, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. [Holophile's 'Story of Multiplex'] The best-known early multiplex hologram, and possibly the first shot in real time, was 'Kiss II', made in 1974 by Cross in collaboration with Pam Brazier. This 180° integral hologram, shot from 540 ciné frames, shows the subject (Brazier) winking and blowing a kiss at the viewer. See above for recent holograms of pre-cinematographic subjects.

By 2018 visual effects company Digital Domain was generating 'Virtual Humans', using scanning technology to generate 3D replicas of performing artists. Using hundreds of custom LED lights arranged in a sphere, numerous images are recorded in seconds, capturing what the person's face looks like lit from every angle. The lights can also emit different colours, emulating a variety of outdoor conditions where the digital human may be placed. This allows for more detailed and accurately coloured, shaded, and reflective skin. The technology can also capture how an actor's wrinkles change with different expressions, as well as how the performer walks and moves. The total process takes up to two days and generates five to ten terabytes of data, depending on the extent of detail being recorded. As of October 2018 50–60 individuals have been scanned in this way, including all the leads for the Star Wars franchise. [Winick]



Earliest-born person to be filmed in 3D

Possibly W.H. Burton (1844–1926), who played in M.A.R.S, a.k.a. Mars Calling, and The Man from Mars, in January 1921. The film was later expanded and released as Radio-Mania. [Hayes, pp290-1 & 339, 3-D Revolution]

See above for recent holograms of pre-cinematographic subjects.



Earliest-born woman to be filmed in 3D

Possibly Isabel Vernon (c. 1874–1930), who also played in M.A.R.S, a.k.a. Mars Calling, and The Man from Mars, in January 1921. [Hayes, pp290-1 & 339, 3-D Revolution]

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, of pre-cinematographic subjects. See Pizzanelli's website for more on this, with 2D examples. QuickTime movies of Pizzannelli's holograms may also be found here.


Full references for printed works

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


© 2010–2024 Benjamin S. Beck

Return to Firsts contents page


If you know of any suitable examples, please contact me.



Return to website home page

This page was last revised on 2024-02-13.