Magazine article American Cinematographer

Hollywood Launches 3-D Production

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Hollywood Launches 3-D Production

Article excerpt

Industry's first feature-length 3-dimensional motion picture filmed with Natural Vision Corporation's new stereoscopic cameras

(EDITOR'S NOTE: The following article first appeared in the August, 1952 issue of American Cinematographer and is an account of the filming of Arch Oboler's 3-D production of "BWANA DEVIL", as related by the film's Director of Photography, Joseph Biroc, ASC. Although it was not actually "the first feature-length 3-dimensional color film in history", as it was touted to be at the time, "BWANA DEVIL" must go down as a genuine landmark of cinema history, for it set off a rash of almost hysterical film production in 3-D all over Hollywood. Though the picture itself was no gem of film-making, its 3-D novelty value made it an instant and considerable success, and all of the major studios hastened to jump on the 3-D bandwagon. We are reprinting the article at this time for nostalgia's sake and because the cinematographer's personal account of what it was like to jump off into a new technical frontier, we feel, may be of interest to American Cinematographer readers.)

Three-dimensional movies have been the subject of increasing study in the United States and Europe for the past 25 years. The U.S. Air Force already is using stereofilms for training purposes, marking, perhaps, the most substantial use of practical 3-D movies anywhere. At the present time, three different stereo systems are being developed in this country, but the top contender, by virtue of its recent successful test in Air Force and feature film production, is that of Natural Vision Corporation of Hollywood.

"BWANA DEVIL", the first featurelength 3-dimensional color film in history, went before National Vision's 3-D cameras on June 18th. Produced and directed by Arch Oboler, the picture has an African locale and stars Robert Stack, Barbara Britton,and Nigel Bruce.

Natural Vision is said to be the first 3-D system yet developed which is based on the fundamentals of natural vision, hence its name. The 3-D camera is actually two cameras in a single unit photographing separate film strips. These in turn are projected simultaneously, with two projectors interlocked to run in unison. While other 3-D systems have employed dual cameras, none have pursued the theory that the 3-D cameras should see and record the scene exactly as the human eyes see it. In other words, twin cameras placed side by side and focusing directly on the scene overlook the important factor of parallax. Natural Vision's system has variable parallax as the crux of its system. The result is 3-dimension pictures on the screen that induce no eye strain. Polaroid spectacles are worn by the audience in viewing the pictures, the same as for other 3-D systems.

Credit for engineering the Natural Vision camera equipment goes to Friend Baker, a pioneer in the 3-D field for over 23 years, and camera technician O.S. "Bud" Bryhn. Until recently, Baker's developments have been in the field of 16mm 3-D movies. It was a chance meeting between Baker and Milton Gunzburg which led to developing the 35mm 3-D cameras.

Gunzburg had undertaken to produce a documentary film about a youth and a hot rod. When the conventional motion picture camera attempted to record the innards beneath the hood of a hot rod, the pictorial result was disappointing. Someone suggested it would be better if filmed in 3-dimension. Gunzburg looked around for someone who could supply such equipment, and his search led to Baker's workshop at Motion Picture Center studios in Hollywood. To shorten the story, the 3-D camera used by Oboler in filming "BWANA DEVIL" took shape in record time. Into the picture, meantime, came also camera operator Lothrop Worth who, together with myself, photographed the initial tests with the equipment. The camera was tested periodically for about six months and when it was declared perfect, Gunzburg looked around for a producer to make a picture.

The tests which I photographed were screened before members of the American Society of Cinematographers at their clubhouse early this year. …

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