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Stereoscopy

I had the pleasure of watching Alice in Wonderland on Friday evening (one of the many perks of having children of a certain age). It was everything you’d expect of a Tim Burton film and I’d recommend a watch, but I’m not going to review the film, it’s the experience of watching it in 3D that prompted me to write this post.

This year could prove a very interesting one in the history of 3D viewing, with Sky’s 3D channel set to launch this Saturday with coverage of Manchester United v Chelsea, and 3D TV sets about to hit the market in the UK (albeit for several thousand pounds each). But does the experience of watching 3D really live up to the hype? Personally, I find it extremely hit and miss – and for the most part a distraction to what you’re watching.

Stereoscopy has been around since the 1840s, when it was invented by Sir Charles Wheatstone. Originally, you’d view a pair of stereo images through a viewer resembling a pair of binoculars, so that each eye sees only the left or right image to create the effect of depth. Indeed, if you look the wrong way through a pair of binoculars at a pair of stereo images you can effectively make your own stereoscope – something I had great fun experimenting with whilst at college with a pair of 35mm cameras.

If you’ve ever seen one, there’s something quite magical about viewing antique stereo images from the turn of the last century. An image so far removed from the present suddenly becomes tangible, like you can reach out and touch it.

Unfortunately, that magic struggles to transcend beyond the novelty factor in the cinema. You’re suddenly hit with objects flying out at you in deep, exaggerated perspective, that detract from, rather than enhance the narrative. The most effective shots are those where you forget you’re watching in 3D, you just feel that much closer to the story.

Its a shame 3D material is reliant on such a controlled viewing environment to be appreciated. Despite the gimmicky nature of 3D, it remains a fascinating area I’d like to explore further. For starters, it’d be really interesting to work up the animation we created for Dealerward in true 3D.

There have been many false dawns in the advent of 3D, during the fifties and eighties in particular, but with Hollywood and Sky now embracing the technology it finally looks like 3D will be here to stay.