3D Filmmaking

What is the best way to create a 3D film?

History of 3D filmmaking

Since the beginning of the film industry around the late 19th century, filmmaker had been searching for ways to screen the film in three dimensions. the first hint of 3D films was through a method call stereoscopic 3D. William Friese-Greene described in his patent that this worked by having the film projected on two separate screens and the audience then had to look through stereoscope, which merged the two projections together to create the 3D illusion.

In 1903, the Lumiere brothers created the film, L’arrivee du train, which is about a train arriving at a station using the stereoscope 3d filming technology. while viewing this film using stereoscopes several audience members believed they were going to be run over.

In 1922, the 3D film technology had been improved and changed to using anaglyph glass. the two most commonly used colours for this method are red and cyan because the combination creates the closest true image. the first film to be released commercially was ‘The Power of Love’ but due to its unsuccessful release, was not archived and was lost.

3D technology was beginning to pick up pace and by late 1922, Laurens Hammond and William F. Cassidy had developed a Teleview System. This form of 3D filmmaking was achieved by having little viewers attached to every seat. they were all synchronised together ton open and close their displays in correspondence with the projector. Due to this very complicated and expensive method, only one film was ever made this way.

When the great depression came about, 3D technology experimentation slowed down and went on for several years. Through this time a 3D film called Audioscopiks was created using the red and cyan anaglyph and won a academy Awad in 1936.

Although films were being made using red and cyan reels they were still black and white until the real ease of Bwana Devil, which was released in 1952.

Within the 1950’s, Disney joined the 3D field with a short film Melody and a feature film, Forte Ti.

Despite the technology for 3D getting better, popularity for this form of filmmaking fell out by the middle of the decade. Technical issues led to viewers experiencing headaches and eye strains because the projectors were not synchronised exacting.

3D reemerged later through producer Arch Gobler who found a way to eliminate the need to use dual projectors. Space vision, a new technique that worked by overlaying two stereoscopic images on a single reel. The negative to this new technique was a lack of clarity and colour.

New 3D technology was developed by Stereovision in 1970. this 3D format allowed reels to be side by side in a single, anamorphic film strip. “Not to be confused with the term “anamorphic widescreen”, anamorphic film displays a widescreen image so that it is horizontally squeezed to take up the entire film strip. The reel is then passed through a Polarois filter that restores the original widescreen aspect ratio. Similarly, Stereovision tech projected the two reels through a Polaroid filter, where they were combined into a single, convincing 3D image” (, 2010).

Although 3D films became uninteresting to the public it didn’t stop some people researching and finding methods to make 3D more affordable to make and better visually. In the 1980’s, IMAX became the main stage to view 3D films. “IMAX 3D, as the process came to be known, offered viewers large screens and stronger production values than the cheap 3D films of yesteryear” (,2010)

the most significant move forward for 3D filmmaking was in 2004, when The Polar Express was released in 3D and IMAX 3D. Around a quarter of the box office receipts came from it IMAX theaters. This showed movie studios that there was a market for modern 3D filmmaking.

“New competing technologies rose up alongside IMAX 3D. These included Real D 3D, Dolby 3D, and MasterImage 3D. All abandoned the archaic anaglyph glasses for polarized lenses or more expensive LCD shutter glasses” (,2010).

With technology increasing, studios found ways to convert a film that was shot in 2D into a 3D film. This had been attempted in the past but had very little to none success. This new method would make post-production for a film that was going to be released in 3D. The first major film to be converted from 2D to 3D was the 2006 Superman Returns. The negative to this method is that the results vary, mostly depends on the time spend on it in post.

The most successful but also the most expensive film made in 3D was James Cameron. All though the numbers were not officially released, due to the 3D technology used in the film it is said to be a lot. With this film taking the highest grossing film spot, it shows that the market for 3D films is bigger than ever.

3D Filmmaking

Now that we have a better understanding in the history of 3D filmmaking, it is time to investigate which is the best way to achieve great 3D looking films. There are 3 major ways to create a create a 3D film. Two of the methods are to film with two cameras and one is to convert the film in post. There are to main types of 3D rigs for cameras, one were two cameras are side by side and angle slightly towards each other and the other one is to have two cameras shooting through a 50:50 beam splitter.

Even though there are a few different ways to create a 3D illusion, there is still a few things that remain the same for both methods of shooting using 3D rigs. In order for the 3D effect to work, both cameras being used must be exactly the same, especially the settings. Secondly, the lens must be the same length wise and make. And thirdly, the cameras must be exactly in the right position. If they aren’t, then it becomes useless.

Side by Side Method

This method is great in achieve a 3D effect for long or wide shots. It is often used in ariel shots or shooting panoramic shots of nature. the reason for this is because the 3D effect in dependent on the fact that the closer you get to the subject, the closer you need the cameras to be but HD cameras are normally to big for the cameras to get close enough.

Prev_technique_interaxial Prev_technique_angulation

The way this method works is that each camera records the scene from a different perspective, and this side by side rig allows you to increase the distance between the two cameras depending on how far the subject is from the camera. This is why this method is more used for doing wide landscape shots. By angling in the cameras, you will limit the size of depth for the 3D effect. when you keep the cameras straight, the 3D effect will be out from the screen.

1739428641_c70467df08_o1 Quo_Vadis__3D_Anaglyph_by_yellowishhaze

Beam Splitter Method

This method of creating a 3D picture has many elements that are key in creating this 3D effect. Beam splitter method is considered better when making a film because of the close shots that will be needed. with this rig, its not so much about the distance between each camera.

3D-Fujinon-lenses-on-mirror Element Technica Neutron 3D rig

The picture above shows you that this method although looks completely different to the side by side method, it still is going by the same idea. Both camera aren’t lined up perfectly because then you would be making a 2D film. This method enables the two HD cameras to be much closer than the side by side rig. The picture above shows you the lenses from both camera and you can clearly see that they overlap each other.

Beam Splitter Glass

cp_2 litadv_BeamSplitter

This is very important to this rig. Firstly the beams splitter must be placed in a box at a forty five degree angle, with the lowest point being closest to both cameras. This special glass allows the camera horizontal to the ground to be able to record the subject it is pointing towards while also allowing the camera point up towards the glass to capture a similar image to the other camera. The Glass is 50:50, which means that the glass is half as reflective as glass due to a special coating. The reason for the box around the glass is because it will minimize the chance of reflecting something else into the glass and also creates a sharper and more accurate reflected image.


One thing you will notice about the above picture is that the fist appears further apart than the body. this is because it is closer to the camera. With a side by side rig, this would appear even further than what it is now.

This rig is made to have one of the cameras pointing down into the beam splitter instead of it pointing up. this doesn’t change the result, it just means that the beam splitter will be place the opposite way to when the camera is pointing up into it.

2D to 3D in Post


History Timeline

1903: Inventors of cinema, the Lumière Brothers, film the first ever 3D film entitled L’arrivée du train. When released audiences panicked thinking the train was about to crash into them

1922: The first 3D feature film is premiered at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. The Power of Love was received negatively by the press and exhibitors. The film reel has never been recovered

1936: MGM’s Audioscopiks is the first movie filmed in 3D to have speech. It wins an Academy Award for Best Short Subject

1952: A three year 3D boom begins with the release of low budget film, Bwana Devil. The film is the first to employ the use of the now familiar 3D glasses
1960: September Storm is the first cinemascope 3D movie. After this movie the 3D format lies dormant for well over a decade

1973: Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey revive the format for their film, Flesh For Frankenstein

1982: A series of horror films are produced in 3D vision for cinema audiences in the US. Friday the 13th Part III is the first quickly followed by Jaws 3D and Amityville 3D

1991: Hovertank 3D becomes the first widely available computer game to use the format

1995: The first 3D IMAX film is made by acclaimed French filmmaker Jean-Jacques Annaud. Wings of Courage costs $20 million to make

2003: James Cameron’s Ghosts of the Abyss becomes the first 3D IMAX feature filmed with the Reality Camera System. The documentary touring the Titanic wreckage lays the foundation for the technology used to make Avatar

2008: Concert film U2 3D is the first ever live action digital 3D film with many critics noting the 3D experience as being better than a live concert

2009: Sci-fi epic Avatar becomes the highest grossing movie of all time. The film is widely held to be a major breakthrough for 3D technology

2010: The first ever live 3D sport broadcasts in Europe are planned for selected Rugby Union matches. The Six Nations matches are to be screened in 40 Odeon and Cineworld cinemas across the UK

The future: 3D TV is being billed as possible industry saviour for manufacturing companies in the wake of the global recession. It is claimed that a quarter of all households in the UK will have a 3D TV by 2013.


Overall I believe that all rigs are suited for one particular thing. Side by side rig allows you to get great 3D for landscapes and arial shots. The beam splitter rig allows you to get great 3D images with closer objects making it the perfect rig for film. This is mainly because HD cameras are too big for the side by side and won’t be able to get close enough. There is much more that comes into play when you decide to film in 3D, like colours will change slighting and configuring the cameras to be exactly the same.

The question that was asked at the beginning was, What is the best way to create a 3D film? I feel as if you could use both methods when you go from wide to close but i believe that the beam splitter method is the one that would be used most during a few. It has the ability to get close to a subject with a close up or take a back step into a medium long shot.

The research done into the history of 3D filmmaking ha shown that although in has taken a while to get to where it is now, there is a lot of potential for 3D technology to get even better than what it is at this moment. It is clear that as technology increases around the world, so will the technology for 3D filmmakers. One thing that I have come to understand is that the idea of how to create the 3D effect won’t change, it will be refined to be better and better.


3D Recording Basics. (n.d). Retrieved from: http://www.pstechnik.de/en/3d-basics.php

Beam Splitter. (2013). Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beam_splitter

How 3-D Works. (n.d). Retrieved from: http://visual.ly/how-3d-film-technology-works

Patterson, J. (2009). The History of 3D Cinema. Retrieved from: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2009/aug/20/3d-film-history

Pro Ultra 3D Stereoscopic Rig. (n.d). Retrieved from:  http://www.3drigs.com/pro_ultra.html

Schedeen, J. (2010). The History of 3D Movie Tech. Retrieved from: http://www.ign.com/articles/2010/04/23/the-history-of-3d-movie-tech

The History of 3D: From to 2010 How the Format has Developed. (2010). Retrieved from: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/technology-science/technology/the-history-of-3d-from-1903-to-2010-how-194385

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