3D Stereoscopic Techniques

A 3D or 3-D (three-dimensional) film or S3D (stereoscopic 3D) film is a motion picture that enhances the illusion of depth perception. Derived from stereoscopic photography, a regular motion picture camera system is used to record the images as seen from two perspectives (or computer-generated imagery generates the two perspectives in post-production), and special projection hardware and/or eyewear are used to provide the illusion of depth when viewing the film. 3D films are not limited to feature film theatrical releases; television broadcasts and direct-to-video films have also incorporated similar methods, especially since 3D television and Blu-ray 3D.

3D films have existed in some form since 1915, but had been largely relegated to a niche in the motion picture industry because of the costly hardware and processes required to produce and display a 3D film, and the lack of a standardized format for all segments of the entertainment business. Nonetheless, 3D films were prominently featured in the 1950s in American cinema, and later experienced a worldwide resurgence in the 1980s and 1990s driven by IMAX high-end theaters and Disney themed-venues. 3D films became more and more successful throughout the 2000s, culminating in the unprecedented success of 3D presentations of Avatar in December 2009 and January 2010.

Stereoscopic motion pictures can be produced through a variety of different methods. Over the years the popularity of systems being widely employed in movie theaters has waxed and waned. Though anaglyph was sometimes used prior to 1948, during the early “Golden Era” of 3D cinematography of the 1950s the polarization system was used for every single feature length movie in the United states, and all but one short film. In the 21st century, polarization 3D systems have continued to dominate the scene, though during the 1960s and 1970s some classic films which were converted to anaglyph for theaters not equipped for polarization, and were even shown in 3D on television. In the years following the mid-1980s, some movies were made with short segments in anaglyph 3D. The following are some of the technical details and methodologies employed in some of the more notable 3D movie systems that have been developed.

Producing 3D films

Live action

The standard for shooting live-action films in 3D involves using two cameras mounted so that their lenses are about as far apart from each other as the average pair of human eyes, recording two separate images for both the left eye and the right eye. In principle, two normal 2D cameras could be put side-to-side but this is problematic in many ways. The only real option is to invest in new stereoscopic cameras. Moreover, some cinematographic tricks that are simple with a 2D camera become impossible when filming in 3D. This means those otherwise cheap tricks need to be replaced by expensive CGI.

In 2008, Journey to the Center of the Earth became the first live-action feature film to be shot with the earliest Fusion Camera System released in Digital 3D and was later followed by several others. Avatar (2009) was shot in a 3D process that is based on how the human eye looks at an image. It was an improvement to the existing 3D camera system. Many 3D camera rigs still in use simply pair two cameras side by side, while newer rigs are paired with a beam splitter or both camera lenses built into one unit. While Digital Cinema cameras are not a requirement for 3D they are the predominant medium for most of what is photographed. Film options include IMAX 3D and Cine 160.


CGI animated films can be rendered as stereoscopic 3D version by using two virtual cameras.

In 2004 The Polar Express was the first stereoscopic 3D computer-animated feature film. In November 2005, Walt Disney Studio Entertainment released Chicken Little in digital 3D format. The first 3D feature by DreamWorks Animation, Monsters vs Aliens, followed in 2009 and used a new digital rendering process called InTru3D, which was developed by Intel to create more realistic animated 3D images. InTru3D is not used to exhibit 3D films in theaters; they are shown in either RealD 3D or IMAX 3D.

2D to 3D conversion

In the case of 2D CGI animated films that were generated from 3D models, it is possible to return to the models to generate a 3D version.

For all other 2D films, different techniques must be employed. For example, for the 3D re-release of the 1993 film The Nightmare Before Christmas, Walt Disney Pictures scanned each original frame and manipulated them to produce left-eye and right-eye versions. Dozens of films have now been converted from 2D to 3D. There are several approaches used for 2D to 3D conversion, most notably depth-based methods.

Displaying 3D films


Anaglyph images were the earliest method of presenting theatrical 3D, and the one most commonly associated with stereoscopy by the public at large, mostly because of non-theatrical 3D media such as comic books and 3D television broadcasts, where polarization is not practical. They were made popular because of the ease of their production and exhibition. The first anaglyph movie was invented in 1915 by Edwin S Porter. Though the earliest theatrical presentations were done with this system, most 3D movies from the 1950s and 1980s were originally shown polarized.

In an anaglyph, the two images are superimposed in an additive light setting through two filters, one red and one cyan. In a subtractive light setting, the two images are printed in the same complementary colors on white paper. Glasses with colored filters in each eye separate the appropriate images by canceling the filter color out and rendering the complementary color black.

Anaglyph images are much easier to view than either parallel sighting or crossed eye stereograms, although the latter types offer bright and accurate color rendering, particularly in the red component, which is muted, or desaturated with even the best color anaglyphs. A compensating technique, commonly known as Anachrome, uses a slightly more transparent cyan filter in the patented glasses associated with the technique. Process reconfigures the typical anaglyph image to have less parallax.

An alternative to the usual red and cyan filter system of anaglyph is ColorCode 3D, a patented anaglyph system which was invented in order to present an anaglyph image in conjunction with the NTSC television standard, in which the red channel is often compromised. ColorCode uses the complementary colors of yellow and dark blue on-screen, and the colors of the glasses’ lenses are amber and dark blue.

The polarization 3D system has been the standard for theatrical presentations since it was used for Bwana Devil in 1952, though early Imax presentations were done using the eclipse system and in the 1960s and 1970s classic 3D movies were sometimes converted to anaglyph for special presentations. The polarization system has better color fidelity and less ghosting than the anaglyph system. In the post-’50s era, anaglyph has been used instead of polarization in feature presentations where only part of the movie is in 3D such as in the 3D segment of Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare and the 3D segments of Spy Kids 3D.

Anaglyph is also used in printed materials and in 3D television broadcasts where polarization is not practical. 3D polarized televisions and other displays only became available from several manufacturers in 2008; these generate polarization on the receiving end.

Polarization systems

To present a stereoscopic motion picture, two images are projected superimposed onto the same screen through different polarizing filters. The viewer wears low-cost eyeglasses which also contain a pair of polarizing filters oriented differently (clockwise/counterclockwise with circular polarization or at 90 degree angles, usually 45 and 135 degrees,[54] with linear polarization). As each filter passes only that light which is similarly polarized and blocks the light polarized differently, each eye sees a different image. This is used to produce a three-dimensional effect by projecting the same scene into both eyes, but depicted from slightly different perspectives. Since no head tracking is involved, the entire audience can view the stereoscopic images at the same time. Additionally, since both lenses have the same color, people with one dominant eye (amblyopia), where one eye is used more, are able to see the 3D effect, previously negated by the separation of the two colors.

Circular polarization has an advantage over linear polarization, in that the viewer does not need to have their head upright and aligned with the screen for the polarization to work properly. With linear polarization, turning the glasses sideways causes the filters to go out of alignment with the screen filters causing the image to fade and for each eye to see the opposite frame more easily. For circular polarization, the polarizing effect works regardless of how the viewer’s head is aligned with the screen such as tilted sideways, or even upside down. The left eye will still only see the image intended for it, and vice versa, without fading or crosstalk.

In the case of RealD a circularly polarizing liquid crystal filter which can switch polarity 144 times per second is placed in front of the projector lens. Only one projector is needed, as the left and right eye images are displayed alternately. Sony features a new system called RealD XLS, which shows both circular polarized images simultaneously: A single 4K projector (4096×2160 resolution) displays both 2K images (2048×858 resolution) on top of each other at the same time, a special lens attachment polarizes and projects the images.

Optical attachments can be added to traditional 35mm projectors to adapt them for projecting film in the “over-and-under” format, in which each pair of images is stacked within one frame of film. The two images are projected through different polarizers and superimposed on the screen. This is a very cost-effective way to convert a theater for 3-D as all that is needed are the attachments and a non-depolarizing screen surface, rather than a conversion to digital 3-D projection. Thomson Technicolor currently produces an adapter of this type. A metallic screen is necessary for these systems as reflection from non-metallic surfaces destroys the polarization of the light.

Polarized stereoscopic pictures have been around since 1936, when Edwin H. Land first applied it to motion pictures. The so-called “3-D movie craze” in the years 1952 through 1955 was almost entirely offered in theaters using linear polarizing projection and glasses. Only a minute amount of the total 3D films shown in the period used the anaglyph color filter method. Linear polarization was likewise used with consumer level stereo projectors. Polarization was also used during the 3D revival of the 1980s.

In the 2000s, computer animation, competition from DVDs and other media, digital projection, and the use of sophisticated IMAX 70mm film projectors, have created an opportunity for a new wave of polarized 3D films.

All types of polarization will result in a darkening of the displayed image and poorer contrast compared to non-3D images. Light from lamps is normally emitted as a random collection of polarizations, while a polarization filter only passes a fraction of the light. As a result the screen image is darker. This darkening can be compensated by increasing the brightness of the projector light source. If the initial polarization filter is inserted between the lamp and the image generation element, the light intensity striking the image element is not any higher than normal without the polarizing filter, and overall image contrast transmitted to the screen is not affected.

Eclipse Method

With the eclipse method, a shutter blocks light from each appropriate eye when the converse eye’s image is projected on the screen. The projector alternates between left and right images, and opens and closes the shutters in the glasses or viewer in synchronization with the images on the screen. This was the basis of the Teleview system which was used briefly in 1922.

A variation on the eclipse method is used in LCD shutter glasses. Glasses containing liquid crystal that will let light through in synchronization with the images on the cinema, television or computer screen, using the concept of alternate-frame sequencing. This is the method used by nVidia, XpanD 3D, and earlier IMAX systems. A drawback of this method is the need for each person viewing to wear expensive, electronic glasses that must be synchronized with the display system using a wireless signal or attached wire. The shutter-glasses are heavier than most polarized glasses, though lighter models are no heavier than some sunglasses or deluxe polarized glasses. However these systems do not require a silver screen for projected images.

Liquid crystal light valves work by rotating light between two polarizing filters. Due to these internal polarizers, LCD shutter-glasses darken the display image of any LCD, plasma, or projector image source, which has the result that images appear dimmer and contrast is lower than for normal non-3D viewing. This is not necessarily a usage problem; for some types of displays which are already very bright with poor grayish black levels, LCD shutter glasses may actually improve the image quality.

Interference filter technology

Dolby 3D uses specific wavelengths of red, green, and blue for the right eye, and different wavelengths of red, green, and blue for the left eye. Eyeglasses which filter out the very specific wavelengths allow the wearer to see a 3D image. This technology eliminates the expensive silver screens required for polarized systems such as RealD, which is the most common 3D display system in theaters. It does, however, require much more expensive glasses than the polarized systems. It is also known as spectral comb filtering or wavelength multiplex visualization

The recently introduced Omega 3D/Panavision 3D system also uses this technology, though with a wider spectrum and more “teeth” to the “comb” (5 for each eye in the Omega/Panavision system). The use of more spectral bands per eye eliminates the need to color process the image, required by the Dolby system. Evenly dividing the visible spectrum between the eyes gives the viewer a more relaxed “feel” as the light energy and color balance is nearly 50-50. Like the Dolby system, the Omega system can be used with white or silver screens. But it can be used with either film or digital projectors, unlike the Dolby filters that are only used on a digital system with a color correcting processor provided by Dolby. The Omega/Panavision system also claims that their glasses are cheaper to manufacture than those used by Dolby. In June 2012 the Omega 3D/Panavision 3D system was discontinued by DVPO Theatrical, who marketed it on behalf of Panavision, citing “challenging global economic and 3D market conditions”.


In this method, glasses are not necessary to see the stereoscopic image. Lenticular lens and parallax barrier technologies involve imposing two (or more) images on the same sheet, in narrow, alternating strips, and using a screen that either blocks one of the two images’ strips (in the case of parallax barriers) or uses equally narrow lenses to bend the strips of image and make it appear to fill the entire image (in the case of lenticular prints). To produce the stereoscopic effect, the person must be positioned so that one eye sees one of the two images and the other sees the other.

Both images are projected onto a high-gain, corrugated screen which reflects light at acute angles. In order to see the stereoscopic image, the viewer must sit within a very narrow angle that is nearly perpendicular to the screen, limiting the size of the audience. Lenticular was used for theatrical presentation of numerous shorts in Russia from 1940–1948 and in 1946 for the feature length film Robinzon Kruzo.

Though its use in theatrical presentations has been rather limited, lenticular has been widely used for a variety of novelty items and has even been used in amateur 3D photography. Recent use includes the Fujifilm FinePix Real 3D with an autostereoscopic display that was released in 2009. Other examples for this technology include autostereoscopic LCD displays on monitors, notebooks, TVs, mobile phones and gaming devices, such as the Nintendo 3DS.

Demo 3D Movie

Put on your 3D Glasses to view this Video Correctly.