By Jeremy Kahn
3-D, love it, hate it, accept it, live with it. Like fashion trends, 3-D has made the rounds countless of times. From movies, to television, to computers and video games, you can’t escape this undying trend. In 1953, Universal Studios released their very first 3-D feature film, It Came From Outer Space. A year later saw the release of The Creature From the Black Lagoon (for those that were unaware, this was actually shot with 3-D in mind). Now, the difference among these early movies and say, “Friday the 13th, Part 3, 3-D” or that horrid “Spy Kids 3-D:Game Over” is very simple (and honestly, please don’t just say that the difference is that one set is just worse then the other). The type of 3-D that The Creature From the Black Lagoon and It Came From Outer Space used were Polarized. This technology is similar to what IMAX used early on when you head to wear those bulky glasses.
The two mentioned later used the more common (or at least common during the 1990s and early 2000s) Anaglyph format. This format relied on red and blue (or cyan depending on how picky you want to be) filters which were viewed through similar companion glasses.
Here is where it strikes a little closer to home. While 3-D has been coming and going in Hollywood (remember trends have cycles), 3-D began to move on to other forms of entertainment. Let’s head to a place where 3-D has apparently died out for the time being. When I was little I remember walking into a comic shop and seeing this amazing comic on display. It promised, guess what, 3-D. Better yet were the contents, The Flintstones. Imagine being amazed at the thought of being able to see one of my favorite cartoons in 3-D (Granted this was around the time the John Goodman version of Fred Flintstone was making the rounds, but I did not care. Honestly, I really like that movie.). I bought it to find out the 3-D sucked (Not sure I should have been disappointed though. As much as I liked the movie, a 3D John Goodman version of Fred Flintstone popping off the page now seems kind of disturbing, especially a saturated red/blue one.). What I’m mostly getting at is over the years 3D has been applied haphazardly (as I’m sure most of you have noticed, specifically when viewing all these movies that aren’t filmed in 3-D but are just converted afterwards). I’m not trying to bash 3D (then again maybe I am). My point is, 3-D has not exactly been used in an appropriate way yet. Rather, so far it seems that it is being applied as an afterthought. This is what is killing it, and what leaves a bad after taste. Good-luck finding any comic that uses such a technique in today’s world (granted, one or two may pop up here or there. DC had a Superman issue a year or two ago, but they are pretty much extinct in that medium.).
Let us move on to video games. This is an interesting area to observe. Gamers are often considered test subjects for new types of technology. Believe it or not, a lot of items that hit the market started out as game products (that or military). Recently of course there’s motion technology, which became big due to, guess who, gamers (I’m not going to say any specific company was the cause as this technology since it can be traced very far back. For example there is Sega’s Activator, Nintendo’s Power Glove, and way before these two DataSoft’s Le Stick). This motion technology went on to be used in hospitals and science labs and many other areas. Gamers proved the technology worked, from there it took off. 3-D is no different to this.
Sony say it was going to rely heavily on gamers to help push 3-D technology during a previous E3 speech. From there they introduced that 3-D gaming was coming to the PS3. This was to help drive the sales of 3-D TVs. Obviously they were planning to rely on gamers to create demand for this technology as more 3D compatible games came out (again, gamers help push new technology). Then came word of Nintendo’s new handheld which would be 3-D, just without the need for 3D glasses. This new technology in Nintendo’s handheld is already being used in televisions by Toshiba, which they are starting to sell in Japan.
This is just the recent trend of 3-D. Let’s go back some more to the 80s. In the 80s, 3-D gaming was already making a nudge to become mainstream (it just failed). One example of this is Sega’s SegaScope 3-D for the Sega Master System. This item relied on shutter glasses, again similar to early IMAX technology. One main problem was the lack of games (granted you had titles like Space Harrier 3-D), the other was the fact the while the 3D worked, half the time the effects looked like cardboard cut outs. This never took off. Nintendo also had their own 3D system in place. Games like 3-D World Runner shipped with glasses that were used to give the game a 3-D affect.
Then you have computers. I’m not going to go into detail as there is so much to cover here, it would take to long. The main thing here is that there are video cards that when installed allow 3-D to be enabled for certain games. There are even compatibility modes for games running on certain versions of Direct X, which allow older games to run in 3-D.
There are also converter boxes you can buy that you can hook up to your TV, or any video output. This box converts (or splits) the signal to 3-D, allowing you to watch what’s on TV through 3-D glasses (these boxes range from polarized, to red/cyan or blue, to shutter glasses versions).
After all this, here is my main point. 3-D has come and gone over the years. Like a bad rash it keeps coming back stronger than before. The thing is, this is just how trends are. 3-D isn’t a fad or a new gimmick. It has been here all along, and will continue to be here for years and years. What we have to do is quit pushing it away so suddenly. The fact that we don’t embrace it as we do (or did) color or sound, just leads to this technology not evolving. If it doesn’t evolve right, then we may never learn how to properly use 3-D or apply it in a suitable way. When we eventually learn to use this technology correctly, only then can we truly say it is here to stay. Until then, it will continue to be that rash, coming and going, growing stronger and weaker with each return. So come on, let us learn to use this right. The sooner we do, the sooner we can have those holodecks up and running.