NY Public Library Launches Online Stereoscopic Archive

Planet3D features a section from a 19th century painting of a woman entertaining herself with a stereoscope.

In a brave, creative move the NY Public Library has made more than 40,000 stereograph images available online at a new site along with a tool it’s calling the “Stereogranimator.”

Stereoscopes are a fascinating part of 3D history. They remind us that 3D is not a new entertainment phenomenon but a technique we human beings have been playing with for a very long time.  The cards themselves are windows into other times and places—the stereo effect often brings a startling realism to a old-fashioned sepia image.

This Sterogranimator tool lets users select an image from the archive, render it as an animated gif and/or an anaglyph image (where two color offsets create the illusion of depth). These can then be shared in the online gallery (and in the case of the anaglyph images, viewed with red/blue glasses).

A page of frenetic flashing gifs or anaglyph pictures at first glance may seem, well, silly. Take some time to look at them and notice the subject that photographers chose to shoot (and site visitors chose to “stereoanimate”—the depth of images, the vantage points, the subject matter.  It will bring you closer to some pretty amazing people, places, and things.

While debate continues about 3D as a cheap commercial trick or powerful visual tool this project brings interesting insight and context.

Thanks NY Public Library.

From the private collection of Planet3D: before cats on the Internet there were stereoscopic cats.

 

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Oscar Nominations mark a new era in 3D

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences 2012 Oscar nominations have been announced and two 3D favorites are being recognized.

Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” tops the list with 11 nominations, and Wim Wenders’ “Pina” has been nominated for best documentary feature.

Other important 3D films—Steven Spielberg’s “The Adventures of Tintin” and Werner Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dreams“—were not nominated, and “Pina”, Germany’s entry for best foreign film, was crowded out of that category by stiff competition.

Oscar nominations along with the accompanying recognition and campaigns will raise the profile of any film. In the case of these two ground-breaking films it adds gravitas to the field of 3D filmmaking and proves that the popular success of “Avatar” was not a fluke but the beginning of a new golden age in 3D cinema.

Pina gets wider (limited) release

Billboard in Montreal last week.

I spotted this behind the building where I work, announcing the December 16 release date for Pina in 3D. It’s playing in Montreal now—check and see if it’s close to you. Then go see it!

For more info on the film, 3D, art, and ideas (as well as gorgeous still photography) visit this website.

New Yorker review of “Pina”

Anthony Lane reviews Pina in the latest issue of the The New Yorker.

The question is, What do you get from “Pina” that you could not get from watching the Tanztheater live? Answer: More than you could possibly believe. This is not just a matter of the al-fresco scenes, or of our proximity to the dancers, near enough to hear them pant. There is also Wenders’s decision to shoot the film in 3-D, and, in so doing, to goad stereoscopic technology into its first leap since “Avatar.” Not before time; 3-D was stalling badly, but now we are back on track, thanks to Scorsese’s “Hugo” and to Wenders, who takes no more than a minute to flourish his credentials.

Martin Scorsese’s Hugo 3D debuts: the golden age is here

My review in seven words: the film is excellent, go see it. 

But I’m not here to review films. This is a blog about 3D so this post is going to be about Scorsese’s first 3D film Hugo, a new landmark in 3D filmmaking.

Martin Scorsese has made a fantastic film on at least two distinct levels.  It’s a great story told beautifully.  Plus it’s a turning point in filmmaking that examines another major turning point in filmmaking history with great insight and love.

Visually it’s gorgeous, very well suited for 3D treatment.  Hugo is full of dark moody interior shots that lend themselves beautifully to the low light limitations of 3D. Lush period sets, lots of steam, snow, oversized clockworks—these all work very well in 3D.

Scorsese has also mastered the art of expressive 3D close-ups.  Having an incredibly talented cast certainly helps, but there is an intimacy in his technique that I haven’t seen before. It adds to the story.

Sidebar: at the showing I attended there was something funny going on with the right side of the screen, not in every scene, but many. It looked like perhaps some alignment was off.  I was seated slightly to the left in the theatre, but not far enough to make a difference. It was distracting (so was the row of eight little boys loudly chewing popcorn behind me) but not enough to keep me from being completely caught up in the film.

Hugo is a story-driven film, not the effects-driven cross-merchandised product so many people have come to dread.  The story is a powerful one, featuring an archetype most of us can identify with—the plucky resourceful orphan. From Dickens’ Oliver Twist and David Copperfield to Harry Potter, it’s a great formula.  When you see it bring tissues.

Georges Méliès (1861 to 1938)

But there’s another very meaningful level to the film centered on Georges Méliès, an early enthusiastic pioneer of spectacular cinematic visual effects.  In gorgeous and (as far as I can tell) quite accurate flashbacks Scorsese captures his delight in the new technology, the highs and lows of the business, as well as the risks of ridicule, ignominy, and obscurity.

Méliès took what was literally a sideshow gimmick and turned it into the most important storytelling tool since the invention of the printing press and moveable type. You see where I’m going with this? 

This had special resonance for me.  There are parallels with the artistic tribulations of 3D and I had an overwhelming sense of the historical moment—the cinema crossroads if you will—we’re at today.

Scorsese is a prominent film preservationist, cineaste, and promoter of film history—as well as one of the most respected directors of our time. His study of and respect for film history is visible in every frame.  He shows the seminal L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat or The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station by the Lumière brothers—one of the first things I blogged about here.  Even the film’s poster depicts little Hugo dangling from a clock hand in an homage to Harold Lloyd.  With this film Scorsese now joins the ranks of Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog as pioneers elevating a lowly gimmick into a powerful storytelling tool, an art.

With every 3D film of artistic quality and integrity released the industry gains important experience and the negative stereotypes about 3D are eroded a bit more.

3D isn’t finished—it’s just getting started

Our culture is nostalgic.  The good old days always seem to be behind us.  Every generation believes the parade’s gone by. With Hugo we are finally seeing what 3D can do in the hands of a visionary filmmaker—from my vantage point I am increasingly convinced that the golden age of 3D film is just beginning.

PINA at Last

Let me just say upfront, this is not a review but a reaction. Or, more precisely, an appreciation. 

Some of us have been waiting for a long time to see Wim Wenders’ 3D debut—Pina about the legendary choreographer and dance company leader Pina Bausch.

I saw a brief, tantalizing clip at a conference last summer, and everyone I meet who has actually seen it is raving. But it has yet to achieve wide release and has been hard to find.

I finally got to see Pina this week as part of the events leading up to this weekend’s performances of the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch at Canada’s National Arts Centre. 

This is the 3D film I’ve been waiting for.

It’s gorgeous. Lyrical, subtle, joyful, witty, inspiring, and deeply moving.  The film presents four of Bausch’s modern dance pieces, interspersed with vignettes—danced and spoken by company members as well as some archival footage.

The backstory is heartbreaking—Bausch passed away before shooting could begin and never got a chance to see her very ephemeral art captured so lovingly on screen.  Her work is deeply emotional and very theatrical.  I’ve seen plays within films before (Olivier’s Henry V, Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast) but never anything that emulated the experience of being at a live performance so profoundly.

It’s great work, Wenders is a great filmmaker, but the masterful use of the 3D stereoscopy tool truly makes it transcendent.

The show sold out, the audience included a who’s who of the local art and museum scene. In the lobby people were offering to buy tickets off those who had them.

Unfortunately this was a single screening, in a sub-optimal oddly shaped theatre, with bad sound, cheap glasses, faulty AC and a technical snafu that made the first few minutes unwatchable (double image but not in 3D—hoots and howls from the upscale artsy crowd). I can’t wait to see it again, somewhere great.

I was accompanied by a couple artist friends who were ready to hate it.  They came away saying it was the best film they’d seen in ages.

The truth is, we are on the verge of a golden age of 3D as an artistic medium. Whether or not you care about modern dance—this film is a masterpiece.  In Pina 3D is not a gimmick but an essential component of telling the story and immersing us emotionally into what is on the screen.

I hope it wins every prize. I hope it inspires a new generation of filmmakers and audiences alike.  I know it inspires me.

3D Encounter at the Museum of Modern Art

I dropped by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City the other day for a quick art fix and ended up at the exhibition: Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects.

It’s an ambitious effort to examine the interface designs between humans and objects, something we deal with a lot in the tech world but not necessarily from the designers point of view.

The results are interesting with a design-centric sensibility harnessing trendy tools such as QR codes, smart phones, and Twitter hashtags in an effort to enhance human interaction with the exhibit itself.

One piece in particular caught my eye Keiichi Matsuda’s Augmented (hyper) Reality: Augmented City 3D, a short film illustrating augmented reality (layering computer-generated visual information over a real life view.)  It’s an interesting concept and the design is beautiful, but what caught my eye were anaglyph glasses dangling across from the piece inviting viewers to watch in 3D.

The piece is displayed on one of many video monitors hung down a long, sunlit corridor.  These are terrible viewing conditions in every way (too much light, people jostling as they past) but it was irresistible for a lot of people, including me.

The 3D optics aren’t great, but it is enough to give a better sense of the immersive quality of augmented reality, something we’ll be seeing more of I’m sure. It’s also a testament to the power 3D has to command attention. The show runs through November 7, 2011. I highly recommend it.