Carla Neuss, Greene’s SAT Co-ordinator, celebrates 60 years of 3-D films this weekend by trying to understand how exactly our brains get tricked into thinking we are experiencing a third-dimension in the cinema.
The first 3-D film, Bwana Devil, was made in 1952 and took audiences’ breath away with the unprecedented ability to make audiences feel like they were within the film itself.
The film itself was marketed as an ‘African adventure based on a true story’. The plot, based on events surrounding the building of the Ugandan railway, focuses on the attempts of two heroes to battle man-eating lions who are on the loose. They must kill the lions, save their wives, and restore order to the process of bringing the modern railway to early 20th century Uganda. The film’s tagline indicates that its story may have been merely a vehicle to showcase the exciting new technology of 3-D film: the tagline proclaims ‘A miracle of the age! A lion in your lap! A lover in your arms!’. However, the film itself received little praise; at the time,
Variety magazine reviewed it saying, ‘This novelty feature boasts of being the first full-length film in Natural Vision 3-D. Although adding backsides to usually flat actors and depth to landscapes, the 3-D technique still needs further technical advances’.
While 3-D technology has clearly advanced with the likes of such blockbuster films as Avatar, the method through which 3-D technology works is still mysterious to many film-going audiences. 3-D film and glasses uniquely engage with a particular part of human neurology: the binocular vision system. This system interacts with our eyes and visumotor cortex to allow us to gauge the distance of objects in our field of vision by processing images from two slightly different perspectives, that of each eye. The binocular vision system developed in human based on the fact that our eyes are spaced about 5 centimeters apart. Our brains are able to correlate the two images received and calculate the distance of objects based on that visual input.
3-D film taps into this remarkable quality of human brains. The screen itself projects two, rather than one, images. The 3-D glasses we wear in these films separate these images by color and feeds them separately into each eye. Your brain then reassembles the image to give the illusion of a much smaller distance than you are actually experiencing –hence, you get a lion in your lap and a lover in your arms.
So next time you are eating popcorn whilst watching your favourite 3-D film, take a moment to appreciate your binocular vision system and the brain that is allowing you to feel the thrill of being surrounded by a cinematic experience.