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Sunday, July 27, 2008

The How To of Seeing Double

When television was acknowledged as a threat to the cinema, all producers were looking for gimmicks to attract audiences, and one of the ways they lured them into the dark was through 3-D movies, which had their heydays in 1953. "A Lion in your Lap" ...or was it a girl? Anyway, 3-D movies were subsequently blown out of the water by the very wide screen 2-D CinemaScope, that was easier to project and didn't need glasses to view—but not before some very interesting experiments had taken place.

Disney produced An Adventure in Music: Melody with Professor Owl, Ernie Birdbrain, Penelope Pinfeather and the Canary Sisters, a bird and a cricket and a willow tree, and later Working for Peanuts with Donald Duck, Chip'n'Dale and Dolores the elephant...
Melody was released 05/28/53, Working for Peanuts 11/11/53.
Both were shown in Disneyland from 06/16/56 within the recently restored live-action Mouseketeer vehicle 3-D Jamboree.

The system to actually make these films is described in Disney's engineer Bill Garity's patents, the first describing the Methods and Means for producing the films. It is a really simple system, based on punching the artwork differently for each eye...
[Note: Garity made these for Walter Lantz' studio. It would not surprise me if the Disney system was somewhat similar, but I have not seen any evidence of this, or to the contrary.]

...and the second a more specific description of the paper and cell punching device used. The animation is produced in the usual way, and the cells are inked and painted. Then, using this special punch which registers to the original three holes, four new separate holes are punched. Two holes are used to register the cells for the left eye and two for the right. The distance between these holes can be varied between cel levels, which results in different apparent distance from the screen when projected using 3-D projection systems. When the holes are centered, the drawing is in center, and the image is in the screen plane. Turning the knob moves the two sets simultaneously, but in opposite directions. Move the two sets closer together, the image seems to be behind the screen; when moved apart the image appears to be in front of the screen.

A little calculating based on the drawings of the punch: we know the standard "old" Disney pegs to be 3.75" apart. [Though, of course, these were Lantz pegs, probably 4" apart.] The "new" 3-D peg sets, two pegs for each eye, were this same distance apart, and the sets are spaced 1.5" from each other in neutral position. It seems they could move about 1.4" further apart and 0.7" closer together. This seems logical, as the displacement for the area in front of the screen needs to be larger than that for images appearing behind the screen. The center lines for the new pegs were obviously parallel to the original pegs, but half an inch further away from the edge of the cel.

The two patents were filed in 1953. When they finally were granted in 1957, 3-D was a thing of the distant past, and would stay that way for another 50 years.

We have previously seen other Garity patents for Disney, including the ubiquitous click track. He also held the patent for Walt's Multiplane camera, which I intend to come back to later.

During the last 3-D Expo at the Egyptian in Hollywood, during the "specials" screening, not only was 3D Jamboree screened to many wet eyes (Annette in 3-D!), but a film strip was shown for the first time that to me was one of the most exciting experiments of the time:

Though normally the 3-D screenings used two regular film strips and polarized lenses and glasses, this was a SINGLE strip IB Technicolor film with one eye printed POLARIZED on one side of the film, the other eye on the other side. It was generally considered impossible to print the thin polarized lines on film, but here it was! This was a test strip from the Land corporation, and it used Disney's Melody as its subject. And it worked! It proved that a single-strip polarized synchronous 3-D film was possible!But it was too late: when they made this test, Fox had already introduced CinemaScope.
The test was shelved, and not seen until 2006...

Note: I updated the List of Feature Production Numbers!

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Anonymous e-ticket says...

Found your blog on a search for the "Mousketeer 3D Jamboree" -- thanks for the post, and for a great blog. Big animation and Disney fan here, definitely adding you to my subscriptions.

Sunday, September 7, 2008 at 9:14:00 PM PDT  

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