When do you think 3D films first started getting made? Well, I can remember excitedly putting on a pair of those weird red and green specs when I was a kid so I initially guessed that it started out in maybe the 60s or the 70s.
Imagine my surprise when I delved into the matter a little further and discovered that we can trace the history of 3D films techniques all the way back to the end of the 19th century. At that stage a British gentleman called William Freise Greene had an idea for making 3D films which he patented. His invention involved two movies being screened side by side while the people watching it used a cumbersome stereoscope to get the 3D effect. It didn’t catch on but he had set the ball was rolling.
Oriental Dancing and Waterfalls in 3D
The next big step in the story took place across the other side of the Atlantic, in New York to be exact. Here, in 1915, William E Waddell and Edwin S Porter showed 3D movies to an audience in the Astor Theatre. They used a red green anaglyph system to show a bewildering variety of images such as Niagara Falls, oriental dancing scenes and action from the countryside. No workable movie theatre system came out of this either but my big red and green glasses were getting closer to becoming a reality all the time.
If we fast forward to 1922 we can find the very first 3D movie which the audience paid to see. This happened in the Ambassador Hotel Theatre in Los Angeles and the film was the excitingly titled The Power of Love. Red green anaglyph glasses were used by the members of the public and the dual strip projection method was used. No one now really knows what the film was about or whether it was a success, as no trace of it exists now.
That same year of 1922 saw a number of other attempts to get the 3D film industry onto the next level, and perhaps we should look on it as the most important year in the early history of this film method.
There then followed a lull in the industry until around the mid 1930s. Whether producers had lost interest or they simply couldn’t see a way to make it work isn’t known. However, France and Germany took up the baton in the mid to late 1930s before MGM brought out the short film called Third Dimensional Murder in 1941.
All of the films shot during these years were done using different techniques, as studios experimented with a variety of ideas. To see the era which is generally considered as the high point of the industry we need to skip forward to the 1950s. The world saw the first colour 3D movie in 1952 (Bwana Devil) and a number of other important movies came out around this time. My glasses were still a couple of decades away but the revolution was well under way.