Silent films in 3D

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Rodney

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Silent films in 3D

PostTue Sep 07, 2010 7:26 am

There was a discussion here a while back about whether the practice of filming simultaneous negatives from adjacent cameras would allow scenes from silent films to be reconstructed in 3D.

Serge Bromberg appeared in a show at the Telluride Film Festival entitled "Retour de Flamme 3D," in which he presented a number of films ranging from the early days up to a premiere of two new 3D Roadrunner cartoons from Warner. (I was worried, but other than the coyote looking quite different as a 3D model creation, the spirit of Chuck Jones was very much alive in the inventive, funny, and extremely sadistic coyote-plot-backfires, especially one involving bungee jumping.)

There were several treats of particular interest to silent film fans. Many films made as late as the 1950s in 3D were filmed silent, so Serge provided piano accompaniment, and these included several scenes shot in a 3D process by Georges Lumiere in the late 1930s. His narrative style hadn't changed -- arrival of a train in a station, a camera mounted on a motor boat sailing through a harbor -- but the composition was as beautiful as ever (though he had even more trouble with people turning and goofing off for the camera).

More intriguing were four snippets of French films from 1900 (five years after the first Lumiere exhibition) of 3D films intended to be viewed in a stereo-scope style viewer of some kind (I'd love to see a picture, but we'll have to imagine). Each segment was all of ten seconds long at about five frames per second, but the motion illusion was quite clear. The first was an innocuous shot of people exiting a train (the cameraman missed the actual train's arrival), the second of a woman being woken by her maid with a tray of breakfast. Then all French hell broke loose. The third snippet shows a woman in a very revealing negligee in her boudoir. A man arrives with a bouquet, and the woman leaps up, grabs a tambourine, and starts dancing. The last and most fragmentary scene is of an artist painting a scene of two naked people, probably women (though mostly what you see is legs) as they cavort on a bed and fall off. Quite lively, and unmistakably French. The 3D illusion was quite striking in all instances, and has been transferred to the modern polarized-glasses 3D process for projection.

The last examples demonstrate the bit I allude to in the first paragraph above. Although he NEVER intended it as a stereoscopic process, George Melies apparently devised a special camera to create both his European and American negatives simultaneously. Because his trick films required very careful set-ups, and cranking the camera backwards and forwards by measured amounts, he didn't want to film each twice. He apparently created a camera (which Serge apparently has found no reference to in any historical documentation) that had side-by-side film and lens mechanisms, controlled by a single crank. This means that if you can find both the American and European prints of a Melies film, you have the material to make a stereo 3D film. Since survival of these films is spotty, the three examples that we saw often have artifacts -- sometimes the film starts in one eye, turns to 3D for the middle, and ends on the other eye; and in one case one eye is from a beautiful hand-painted print while the other eye is black and white -- the 3D effects are quite clear.

"The Magic Retort" was a quite striking example. While the plot is particularly scattered, even for a Melies film, the effect of a long snake puppet crawling straight towards the camera looked like something from "Third Dimensional Murder," designed for 3D. In another spot, a large real human head surrounded by spider legs was obviously supposed to appear as though it were in the glass retort in the background, but the unintended 3D made it clear that it was suspended closer to the camera.

Serge mentioned that this discovery was completely the result of clerical errors. They had received material from America for a particular Melies film that they didn't have in France. The Cinematheque provided a film with a different title for the "Melies Encore" DVD, but it arrived very late, and was rushed onto the project. It was later pointed out by a descendent of Melies that the Cinematheque's print was mislabeled, and had already appeared in the first Melies collection, but from the American print -- and then the differences were discovered. If Serge had known that the "Cornu Infernale" was at the Cinematheque, he never would have sought out the American release.

Unfortunately, the Hollywood films that were done with multiple cameras have several problems for creating stereoscopy -- the cameras were set too far apart, and since they were each hand cranked by different cameramen, the frames do not necessarily align long enough to avoid nausea in the viewer.

The program was by no means all silent -- there was a lot of material from the 1950s, especially cartoons, and some new computerized work. A Russian short of some jugglers was quite impressive, with the 3D camera over one (hidden) juggler's shoulder so that the clubs come right out into the audience and are then thrown back -- but the choreography and music give the "Tro-lo-lo" man on youtube a run for his musical taste.
Anyway, check the Lobster Films web site, as Serge is doing the show in L.A. and possibly sometime soon in NYC.
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urbanora

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PostTue Sep 07, 2010 1:57 pm

Many thanks for this really useful and illuminating post.
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Jack Theakston

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PostTue Sep 07, 2010 3:02 pm

Just curious-- what format was this shown in?
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PostTue Sep 07, 2010 6:03 pm

Jack Theakston wrote:Just curious-- what format was this shown in?


I think that most was from 35mm film, though it was probably a combination (somehow I think the new Warners shorts were probably digital, though I wasn't really paying that close attention -- sorry! I'm sure Serge could tell you). The auditorium was set up for both film and digital projection.

Only the "Third Dimensional Murder," a very silly short by George Sidney, used old-school red-green glasses. Had it been digital projection, I don't think there would have been a reason to do this? Then Serge showed a non-3D movie "to wash your eyes" (it was a Fleischer cartoon that used model backgrounds to create depth during tracking shots -- impressive for a cartoon, but not stereoscopic). The rest of the program used polarized-light 3D glasses, which are much easier on the eyes and brain.

The putative "Charlie Bowers" film (it's not known for sure) was a very entertaining Chrysler-sponsored animation of a Plymouth, self-assembling piece by piece. There was a lot of personality in the way the car parts moved about, especially a wheel, tire, and inner-tube that wander through from time to time playing bagpipe music. There was perhaps a bit too much of drive shafts and similar parts suddenly leaping into your nose, but otherwise quite amusing.

Here's the description from the TFF program:

Who said 3D began in the 50s? Even the Lumières’ ENTRANCE OF A TRAIN IN
A STATION may have been shot in stereoscopic 3D. Following the success of
last year’s presentation of SAVED FROM THE FLAMES, Serge Bromberg returns
with a completely new show dedicated to the amazing world of stereoscopic
3D, tracing its origins from the invention of cinema. Bromberg reveals
discoveries, gleaned after years of searching attics and flea markets, from
the early days of cinema through the most recent experiments. The program
includes films by George Sidney, Dave Fleischer, Charley Bowers, Jack
Hannah, Chuck Jones, Louis Lumière, Ward Kimball, John Lasseter, Georges
Méliès and, of course, surprises from around the world, including from the
Walt Disney Studios, Cinémathèque Française, the Academy of Motion Picture
Arts and Sciences and the National Film Board of Canada. Bromberg accompanies
this show with live piano and stories. You won’t believe your two
eyes. Special glasses provided at no extra cost. Total run time: 100 minutes


The other silent film events at TFF, if you're curious, were Rotaie, as a "Pordenone Presents" item, and this has been reviewed after the show in S.F. and Pordenone. Judith Rosenberg accompanied the first (scheduled) showing. It came back as a "TBA" repeat showing after Judith left, so my daughter Molly and I improvised a score for trumpet and piano. Also, Mont Alto accompanied Chicago, as part of a tribute to the UCLA Film and Television Archives, who were presented with Telluride's Silver Medallion in honor of their film preservation work.
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Jack Theakston

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PostWed Sep 08, 2010 5:20 am

The Chrysler short was originally called NEW DIMENSIONS (later re-issued as MOTOR RHYTHM), and was a remake of IN TUNE WITH TOMORROW, both of which played at the 1939 World's Fair. Bob Furmanek was the person responsible for its restoration. The 3D Film Preservation Fund (http://www.3dfilmpf.org) also has one eye of the original short.

I'm surprised that Serge advertised this as a Charley Bowers short, because it's extremely tentative as to whether he worked on it or not. I've got some behind-the-scenes photos of the animation of the short (which was done full-scale) and no one who looks like Bowers is in them. Of course, no one is sure what Bowers looked like during that period anyway, so who knows.
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PostWed Sep 08, 2010 6:43 am

Jack Theakston wrote:The Chrysler short was originally called NEW DIMENSIONS (later re-issued as MOTOR RHYTHM), and was a remake of IN TUNE WITH TOMORROW, both of which played at the 1939 World's Fair. Bob Furmanek was the person responsible for its restoration. The 3D Film Preservation Fund (http://www.3dfilmpf.org) also has one eye of the original short.

I'm surprised that Serge advertised this as a Charley Bowers short, because it's extremely tentative as to whether he worked on it or not. I've got some behind-the-scenes photos of the animation of the short (which was done full-scale) and no one who looks like Bowers is in them. Of course, no one is sure what Bowers looked like during that period anyway, so who knows.


Well, in the live presentation he made it very clear that Bowers' involvement was unconfirmed and only speculative. I'm not sure if he wrote the description of the event for the program or not (where, as noted above, Charley Bowers was listed as a contributor to the program, implying perhaps that it was more certain).

This was the "Motor Rhythm" version of the film.
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PostWed Sep 08, 2010 7:53 pm

The show last night at the Academy was projected all from video, with Third Dimensional Murder in anaglyph and everything else in Dolby3D, except the Fleischer short.

The Meiles shorts were impressive; I hope more prints match up!
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PostWed Sep 08, 2010 8:02 pm

Nick_M wrote:The show last night at the Academy was projected all from video, with Third Dimensional Murder in anaglyph and everything else in Dolby3D, except the Fleischer short.

The Meiles shorts were impressive; I hope more prints match up!


Okay! It was probably the same at Telluride. I'm a musician, Captain, not a projection tech...
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PostTue Sep 21, 2010 12:24 pm

Wish I could have been there! I wonder what the feasibility would be for Cinefest or Cinecon to schedule this fascinating 3-D program. The Melies especially sounds amazing.

Now if that whole program were turned into a 3-D BluRay, along with at least a dozen or more of the 3-D classics from the 1950s (preferably a nice variety of 20 or 30 titles), and maybe a few from the 1980s 3-D wave, then and only then would a 3-D TV and 3-D BluRay player become something even to consider, let alone buy. There's sure not enough 3-D product out right now to justify the extra investment.

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PostTue Sep 21, 2010 3:13 pm

The problem with most of the '80s titles is that many of them are TERRIBLY photographed. Unless the studio took the time out to fix most of the wonky shots, everyone will cry eye-strain.

Plus, they want to market everything as "new," and putting out old films goes against their philosophy.
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PostTue Sep 21, 2010 3:49 pm

The problem with most of the '80s titles is that many of them are TERRIBLY photographed. Unless the studio took the time out to fix most of the wonky shots, everyone will cry eye-strain.

Plus, they want to market everything as "new," and putting out old films goes against their philosophy.


Of course it goes against their philosophy. Putting out anything made before last year goes against their philosophy unless somebody famous has already assured them it's a timeless classic AND it's already made the studio a ton of money.

What they need to do is release at least a few titles that will shock the teen and twenty-something techno-geeks into the fact that 3-D is so far from being a new concept, that it was actually the standard form of home entertainment 150 years ago (admittedly in still photos at that time, although the famous Coleman Sellers 1860s experimental movie of his kids with the hammer was in 3-D!), and that the 3-D of the 1950s did NOT generally use red and blue glasses but polaroid filters and could look amazingly good... and that there were actually (albeit rather clunky mechanical) shutter-glasses rigged up for 3-D movies back in the 1920s!

The Serge Bromberg program sounds ideal for 3-D BluRay while there is still such a lack of anything available for the technology and before the novelty wears off. Same with at least a couple token 3-D classics like IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (which also has its original stereo sound), CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON with its first sequel, along with non sci-fi/fantasy 3-D like KISS ME KATE, and HONDO. And Sony could always put out MISS SADIE THOMPSON (ideal for 16x9 with its 1.75 aspect ratio, but does its original 3-channel stereo still exist?) and include the two Three Stooges 3-D shorts as bonus features! That half-dozen titles alone would get me seriously thinking about 3-D TV and a 3-D BluRay player. Add HOUSE OF WAX, DIAL M FOR MURDER, and a few others, and I'd probably be in!

And it would be a lot of fun (and make 3-D equipment much more tempting) if someone would put together some IMAX-style hi-def 3-D documentaries and travelogues made up of the numerous series of 19th and early 20th century stereoptican cards, which could show as perhaps pairs of stills (to utilize the 16x9 frame better) while a famous actor reads aloud the scene descriptions on the reverse side of the cards (or below the pictures in some cases). Now that's something I'd buy if I had 3-D TV.

Some of those 1980s 3-D movies (or scenes within them) were better or worse than others. I remember some severe convergeance problems in some shots of SPACEHUNTER: ADVENTURES IN THE FORBIDDEN ZONE while other shots looked fine, but the entire 3-D cartoon STARCHASER: THE LEGEND OF ORIN looked amazing (and though the drawings of the 3-D backgrounds were computer-assisted, it wasn't even digital CGI like the majority of all of today's 3-D!). COMIN' AT YA had some good 3-D, even if it was so stupid as to be barely watchable. Hey-maybe it could be a bonus disc with the one of the next 3-D editions of AVATAR.

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Last edited by Christopher Jacobs on Tue Sep 21, 2010 4:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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PostTue Sep 21, 2010 3:59 pm

Yeah but, Yeah but....what about those of us who can't see the real world in 3D?
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PostTue Sep 21, 2010 4:12 pm

One of the directors who worked on early 3-D films had only one eye, but I've forgotten which. It was in Serge Bromberg's show, but I've forgotten.

But in any case, we all know that most 3-D films are perfectly valid as quality entertainment even without the depth effects.

:lol:
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PostTue Sep 21, 2010 4:13 pm

Yeah but, Yeah but....what about those of us who can't see the real world in 3D?


Well... that's what 2-D TV is for. I gradually lost the ability to see in 3-D for several years until I finally got a cataract removed, and those first few weeks after surgery just looking around anywhere was like watching a 3-D movie--everything looked like it was in 3-D! Then after a few months you get so used to it that it's only the 3-D movies (or old stereoptican cards) that really make you notice the 3-D effect. We never really look at things in real life to experience a 3-D effect, but just use it as a quick and easy way to judge distance and recognize solid shapes. But just moving your head can do that (which is why dolly shots give sort of a 3-D effect in normal movies). That's just another reason why 3-D is likely only to remain a moderately entertaining gimmick, because if a movie has a good involving story nobody really notices the 3-D, but if the story is snooze-inducing like AVATAR, then the 3-D suddenly becomes the main attraction. The (relatively) recent 3-D remake of JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH was a fun but forgettable kid's adventure by itself, but the 3-D really made it a memorable experience that the story alone couldn't. Some of the digital 3-D cartoons today have very enjoyable staging and art design that take advantage of the 3-D, but the best ones are still great fun on a "flat" screen.

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PostTue Sep 21, 2010 4:16 pm

Rodney wrote:One of the directors who worked on early 3-D films had only one eye, but I've forgotten which. It was in Serge Bromberg's show, but I've forgotten.

But in any case, we all know that most 3-D films are perfectly valid as quality entertainment even without the depth effects.

:lol:


Didn't the director of House of Wax have only one eye?
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PostTue Sep 21, 2010 4:20 pm

Didn't the director of House of Wax have only one eye?


Andre de Toth. But he still staged some great 3-D eye candy on the screen.

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PostTue Sep 21, 2010 5:24 pm

rollot24 wrote:
Rodney wrote:One of the directors who worked on early 3-D films had only one eye, but I've forgotten which. It was in Serge Bromberg's show, but I've forgotten.

But in any case, we all know that most 3-D films are perfectly valid as quality entertainment even without the depth effects.

:lol:


Didn't the director of House of Wax have only one eye?


That's the one! So it wasn't a movie shown at the "Retour de Flamme" (those were all short films), but it was mentioned.
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Silent films in 3-D

PostTue Sep 21, 2010 6:46 pm

Raoul Walsh became one-eyed in 1929 thru a car accident but didn't make 3-D films to my knowledge.
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PostTue Sep 21, 2010 6:48 pm

Andre de Toth also directed two Randolph Scott westerns in 3D—THE STRANGER WORE A GUN (Columbia, 1953) and THE BOUNTY HUNTER (Warner, 1954). The latter was released flat.

The Serge Bromberg program sounds ideal for 3-D BluRay while there is still such a lack of anything available for the technology and before the novelty wears off. Same with at least a couple token 3-D classics like IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (which also has its original stereo sound), CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON with its first sequel, along with non sci-fi/fantasy 3-D like KISS ME KATE, and HONDO. And Sony could always put out MISS SADIE THOMPSON (ideal for 16x9 with its 1.75 aspect ratio, but does its original 3-channel stereo still exist?) and include the two Three Stooges 3-D shorts as bonus features! That half-dozen titles alone would get me seriously thinking about 3-D TV and a 3-D BluRay player. Add HOUSE OF WAX, DIAL M FOR MURDER, and a few others, and I'd probably be in!


Sony has had some interest in their older titles since they announced their 3-D TV sets, but seem to now be mostly interested in offering conversions. (SADIE's three-track is lost, and its AR is 1.85.)

The problem is that "old stuff" (ie. anything before 1990) doesn't sell unless its a "perennial," at least not enough to make a dent in anything in sales. Most people (not just anyone young), simply don't care, streaming is increasingly becoming the norm, and the 3-D arc has already reached its peak with AVATAR. By this time next year, I'm afraid the 3D craze will be over.

I've spoken to WB on a number of occasions in the past—little to no interest. Fox prepared a master of one of their titles in anaglyph, but it hasn't seen use. Since home video takes about six months, the "now or never" point is now.
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PostTue Sep 21, 2010 7:12 pm

Jack Theakston wrote:Andre de Toth also directed two Randolph Scott westerns in 3D—THE STRANGER WORE A GUN (Columbia, 1953) and THE BOUNTY HUNTER (Warner, 1954). The latter was released flat.

The Serge Bromberg program sounds ideal for 3-D BluRay while there is still such a lack of anything available for the technology and before the novelty wears off. Same with at least a couple token 3-D classics like IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (which also has its original stereo sound), CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON with its first sequel, along with non sci-fi/fantasy 3-D like KISS ME KATE, and HONDO. And Sony could always put out MISS SADIE THOMPSON (ideal for 16x9 with its 1.75 aspect ratio, but does its original 3-channel stereo still exist?) and include the two Three Stooges 3-D shorts as bonus features! That half-dozen titles alone would get me seriously thinking about 3-D TV and a 3-D BluRay player. Add HOUSE OF WAX, DIAL M FOR MURDER, and a few others, and I'd probably be in!


Sony has had some interest in their older titles since they announced their 3-D TV sets, but seem to now be mostly interested in offering conversions. (SADIE's three-track is lost, and its AR is 1.85.)

The problem is that "old stuff" (ie. anything before 1990) doesn't sell unless its a "perennial," at least not enough to make a dent in anything in sales. Most people (not just anyone young), simply don't care, streaming is increasingly becoming the norm, and the 3-D arc has already reached its peak with AVATAR. By this time next year, I'm afraid the 3D craze will be over.


Well, I had a very brief chat with Geoffrey Rush at Telluride, and (because of the Bromberg show) we talked about 3D. He said Pirates 4 is being filmed in 3D, and he thought it remarkable how the vocabulary of filming changed -- instead of having a series of shots and reverse shots when a new character approached a group, it was filmed with a single placement. I'm not sure I followed the whole argument, but it seemed pretty clear that many intend to continue 3D on big budget adventures, at least, and are filming to use its strengths.
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PostTue Sep 21, 2010 7:18 pm

Rodney wrote: instead of having a series of shots and reverse shots when a new character approached a group, it was filmed with a single placement


Nice! Maybe 3D will cut down on unnecessary coverage and quick-cutting crap!
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PostTue Sep 21, 2010 8:04 pm

This is nothing new, though. Quick cutting has always been a no-no in 3D because your eyes need to take the time to converge. Unless you're setting same the point of convergence in every shot (unlikely), you've got to give eyes the time to adjust, otherwise you will have eye strain.

The thing that really irks me about this new 3D wave is how everyone thinks they're reinventing the wheel. Absolutely none of this is new, and if filmmakers today were a little less arrogant and a little more patient in listening to their technical advisers, their end product would be a lot more watchable. However, I can hardly blame some of them, since in many cases, these directors have no interest in 3D in the first place, and are having the process hoisted upon them by the studio.
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Re: Silent films in 3-D

PostSun Sep 26, 2010 1:52 pm

moviepas wrote:Raoul Walsh became one-eyed in 1929 thru a car accident but didn't make 3-D films to my knowledge.


Yes, he did: the excellent western GUN FURY, with Rock Hudson, Donna Reed and Lee Marvin. Actually, there were four one-eyed directors of 3-D; in addition to DeToth and Walsh, Herbert L. Strock did GOG, and John Ford shot some second-unit stuff on HONDO as a favor to Wayne.

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PostMon Mar 14, 2011 2:33 pm

Christopher Jacobs wrote:And it would be a lot of fun (and make 3-D equipment much more tempting) if someone would put together some IMAX-style hi-def 3-D documentaries and travelogues made up of the numerous series of 19th and early 20th century stereoptican cards, which could show as perhaps pairs of stills (to utilize the 16x9 frame better) while a famous actor reads aloud the scene descriptions on the reverse side of the cards (or below the pictures in some cases). Now that's something I'd buy if I had 3-D TV.


Original stereoview images were used on a couple of IMAX films: Across The Sea of Time and Mark Twain's America, both directed by Stephen Low. In the first movie, the vintage stereo images were presented for a "then and now" effect. Often, original glass plate negatives were used, and offered plenty of detail for the big IMAX screen.
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PostFri Jun 24, 2011 7:53 pm

Almost a natural stereogram of Jean Harlow, since this photo was shot with mirrors reflecting the image creating multpole image in slight different angles.

Paralell view, like in stereograms. Try and you will see a 3D images of her.

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PostSat Jun 25, 2011 6:06 pm

All Darc wrote:Almost a natural stereogram of Jean Harlow, since this photo was shot with mirrors reflecting the image creating multpole image in slight different angles.

Paralell view, like in stereograms. Try and you will see a 3D images of her.



Yes...lol it's wild when I got it to work.
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Re: Silent films in 3-D

PostSat Jun 25, 2011 8:04 pm

precode wrote:
moviepas wrote:Raoul Walsh became one-eyed in 1929 thru a car accident but didn't make 3-D films to my knowledge.


Yes, he did: the excellent western GUN FURY, with Rock Hudson, Donna Reed and Lee Marvin. Actually, there were four one-eyed directors of 3-D; in addition to DeToth and Walsh, Herbert L. Strock did GOG, and John Ford shot some second-unit stuff on HONDO as a favor to Wayne.

Mike S.


That's a great trivia question: Who are the four 'one-eyed' 3D directors of Hollywood films?
"You can't top pigs with pigs."

Walt Disney, responding to someone who asked him why he didn't immediately do a sequel to The Three Little Pigs

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