See it in 3-D

The decades-old technique is poised to bring another dimension to the Internet experience

March 20, 2000|By Kevin Washington | Kevin Washington,Sun Staff

It's the tacky technology that refuses to die.

Born before the Civil War, 3-D imaging has been around in one form or another for more than 160 years. In its 1950s heyday, millions of Americans donned red-and-blue glasses to watch a succession of 3-D horror flicks. And just last month, millions of adolescents of all ages saw their dream models reach out to them in Sports Illustrated's 3-D swimsuit extravaganza.

Now big-time 3-D is exploding on the Internet -- literally -- along with the Seattle Kingdome. When a wrecking crew from Phoenix-based Controlled Demolition brings down the home of the Seahawks and Mariners at 11:30 a.m. Sunday, WindowsMedia.Com and other sites will broadcast the event "live" on the Web for millions of surfers.

To make it a 3-D experience, though, you'll need the same kind of red-and-blue glasses that came with February's Sports Illustrated.

"When the building is imploded, cameras inside and outside will get the images in 2-D and 3-D," says Geordie Wilson, product manager for Microsoft's Digital Media Division, which operates the WindowsMedia.Com site. "None of the ones inside will be coming out. They will go down in a blaze of glory."

While the Internet version of 3-D is relatively new, it's just the latest application of an old technology, according to John Jerit, owner of American Paper Optics, which has been making 3-D glasses for the past decade.

Jerit says many of the images shot during the Civil War were photographed for stereoscopic viewers, which remained popular through the turn of the century. A spate of 3-D movies in the 1950s such as "Creature from the Black Lagoon" was the motion picture industry's attempt to fight the encroachment of television. That 3-D gimmick came and went within a year or two, and the medium remained almost dormant until the early 1990s, when companies began to resurrect it in magazines, TV shows, movies and on the Internet.

Jerit says his Memphis-based company has produced 500 million 3-D glasses for a variety of customers during its 10-year history and averages 65 to 85 million glasses a year.

The Fox sitcom "Married with Children" aired a 3-D episode in 1994. National Geographic used 3-D to showcase photographs of the Titanic and the Mars Pathfinder mission in 1998. And IMAX theaters like the one in the Maryland Science Center have been showing 3-D films such as "Encounter in the Third Dimension."

In 3-D's most recent incarnation, supermodel Daniela Pestova sprays SI's readers with a handful of sand that blows in the wind. An advertisement for Universal Studios in Florida is so lifelike that you can trace the slope of the screaming coaster-rider's nose and look inside her mouth. The magazine also offers several 3-D-ized photographs from years past, including Marilyn Monroe holding out a soft drink and Leo Durocher chatting with Frankie Frisch.

Sports Illustrated spokesman Joe Assad said the 27-page 3-D effort was the brainchild of photographers Heinz Kluetmeier and David E. Klutho.

"They've been toying with the process for several years, but it got to a point last year where it jumped in quality -- so it made sense to go forward with it this year," Assad said. The best use, the magazine decided, was in the swimsuit edition, which has a longer shelf life than regular weekly editions.

SI offered no estimates of this year's sales, but last year, without 3-D, the swimsuit edition sold 56 million copies.

All 3-D technologies are based on the fact that our eyes view objects from slightly different angles. When our brain puts the images together, it creates a sense of depth.

The swimsuit models and the Kingdome implosion are examples of "anaglyphic" 3-D images, which require glasses with red and blue lenses (Europeans prefer red and green). To create them, two images of the same subject are recorded from slightly different perspectives and displayed in contrasting colors. The images are overlaid and slightly offset, which is why anaglyphic pictures look fuzzy to the naked eye.

But put on the glasses and things begin to stand out. The red lens blocks out the color blue, and the blue lens blocks out the red, allowing each image to be fed into the brain separately. The brain brings two images together and gives them depth.

Other 3-D technologies trick the brain in similar ways. Disney Studios used polarized glasses to create the 3-D effect in a Michael Jackson film called "Captain Eo," shown for years at Disney's Epcot Center in Florida. The Pulfrich method, used for "Married with Children," uses a dark lens and a light lens to separate the image and only works if there's motion on the screen.

A new technique called ChromaDepth 3-D, developed by Richard Steenblik, uses special clear glass lenses that appear to "stack" colors for the viewer, bringing red closest, then sorting the others in the order they appear in the spectrum. ChromaDepth needs only a single image, and its colors tend to be brighter than an anaglyph's.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.