3D by Joshua Cooper

The development of digital technology in the last couple of decades has had a massive impact on 3D in cinema. Since the first ever 3D film was shown to an audience in 1922 (The Power Of Love), 3D in particular has come along way in terms of its performance and it’s impressive effects on screen. A recent landmark, which illustrates the progression of 3D cinema, is 2004 hit animation The Polar Express. It stars Tom Hanks and tells the story of a young boy who commences on a magical adventure travelling to the North-Pole on the Polar Express.


What makes The Polar Express such a milestone in the history of 3D in cinema is that it is the first feature film to be released in IMAX 3D theatres as well as standard theatres simultaneously, as well as the first film to be shot purely in performance capture. Upon the release of the film, Warner Bro’s released their production notes for the film, explaining that: “The Polar Express: An IMAX 3D Experience will be the world’s first feature to be presented in IMAX 3D®.  Using a revolutionary new process called IMAX 3D DMR™, the footage will be converted to 3D and then digitally re-mastered into IMAX’s format through the proprietary IMAX DMRÒ (digital re-mastering) technology, maintaining its 3-dimensional imagery in projection and making its already extraordinarily vivid images virtually leap off the screen for a truly unique moviegoing experience”[1]. Although 3D movies have been released in theatres for over 90 years, the introduction of IMAX 3D was a big step for producers and the industry as a whole and proved to be a success. IMAX 3D is processed through the use of two separate camera lenses where each lenses would be used to replicate a left and right eye. The length between the lenses was 64mm, which is the average length between a persons two eyes. Two individual rolls of film were then used to capture the same image. The main goal for IMAX by creating their upgrade of 3D film was for viewers to see a 3D image on a 2D screen whilst not causing irritation to their eyes. By using these factors producers were able to produce the acquired level for the illusion of depth on screen. The Polar Express proved to be a national success with an impressive $300million was made at the box office from a $165million budget which was a record breaking number at the time. The 3D version was also a big hit to audiences as “The 3-D version out-performed the 2-D version by about 14 to 1. The 3-D IMAX version was released again for the 2005 Holiday season in 66 IMAX theaters and made another $7.5 million prior to Christmas”[2].


There have been several new developments in technology that contested IMAX’s 3D which included the emergence of Dolby 3D, Real D 3D and MasterImage 3D.


Dolby 3D is a marketing brand designed by Dolby laboratories. It has the ability to show both 2D and 3D images. A different method is used for 3D, this method involves using a separate colour wheel. The colour wheel used for the 3D screening contains one more of each of the colours used on a normal 2D wheel (red, green, blue filters). These extra filters mean that the lights are transmitted at different wavelengths. Moreover, the glasses used with Dolby 3D films are more expensive due to the filters used in the lenses, these are more advanced than one used other circular and linear polarisation systems such as REAL D 3D cinema or digital IMAX.


Furthermore, at this moment in time Real D 3D is the most used technological system involved in 3D film showings across the world.

The polarized 3D system used in this specific system is the main aspect of why it is so popular with audiences. The lenses covering the eye use polarisation to create this image. This is done by restricting light that would usually reach the eye. The polarized lenses filter the colours through that are similar to there specialised polarisation. There are 2 different types of glasses when it comes to watching 3D films, linearly polarising glasses which contain orthogonal polarising filters and circularly polarising filters which use circular polarising filters. “This method, together with the help of our brain, creates the desired 3D effect” and also enables the “best effect in 3D”[3].


Masterimage 3D is a company founded in 2004. They develop both stereoscopic images for cinemas and auto-stereoscopic images for mobile devices. Unlike Dolby 3D and Real D 3D, which use the glasses as the base of their 3D images, Masterimage 3D actually relies on the projector which produces a spinning polarized filter. They offer different types of 3D technologies for cinemas to best suit their devices and this gives them the best picture quality possible.


3D is constantly growing in popularity nation wide. MPAA stated in their 2015 annual theatrical marketing statistics reported that the total number of “cinema screens increased 8% worldwide in 2015 to over 152,000, due in large part to continued double digit growth in the Asia Pacific region (+19%)”[4]. They also revealed that “Global digital cinema continues to grow (+11%), although the rate of growth is slower relative to prior years given limits to market penetration. 93% of the world’s cinema screens are now digital, up three percentage points from 2014 (90%)”[5]. The number of 3D screenings stood at 16,441 out of the total of 43,661 within America and Canada alone. There were an impressive 17,580 of 3D digital screens shown throughout Europe and the Middle East in 2015 whilst 35,807 were recorded being shown throughout the Asia Pacific. It was concluded that growth in 3D digital screens rose during 2015 compared to the results from 2014 and that there was a total growth of 2 percentage points (rising to 53%).




[1] http://www.motion-capture-system.com/resources/Documents/History-polar-express.htm

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Polar_Express_(film)#IMAX_3D_version

[3] http://bnext3d.com/how-does-polarized-3d-work/

[4] http://www.mpaa.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/MPAA-Theatrical-Market-Statistics-2015_Final.pdf

[5] http://www.mpaa.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/MPAA-Theatrical-Market-Statistics-2015_Final.pdf


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