First Introduced: 1952
The Concept: We wonder how soon after the first public exhibition of a movie in April of 1896 that someone began thinking of ways to create the illusion of “depth” on the flat screen. Patents on 3D-movie processes were given as early as 1900, and even after the first 3D film was screened in 1922, it seemed that moviegoers had little interest in the then-cumbersome technology. It wasn’t until the early 1950s that Hollywood began looking at 3D technology again, though less a means of artistic vision and more as a marketing gimmick. The first modern 3D movie was released in 1952: the “unforgettable African adventure story” Bwana Devil. (The famous LIFE magazine photo of a 3D-glasses-wearing movie crowd was shot at the movie’s premiere.)
How It Worked: To generate the three-dimensional, or “stereoscopic,” effect using the anaglyph process required two cameras, one shooting with a red filter, the other with a cyan (dark blue) filter. In theaters, two projectors running side by side, combine the images, slightly out of alignment—a bewildering jumble of images to the naked eye. But wearing a pair of glasses (usually made of cardboard) with red and cyan cellophane delivered a fairly convincing 3D effect—and countless headaches.
Was It Successful? For a while, yes. It was a genuine fad that lasted for about three years. But technical problems plagued theater owners. And, we’re guessing, audience could only take so many objects thrown or thrust at them from the screen. (As you can see in the clip below, from 1953’s House of Wax.) We’ve pretty much moved on from the anaglyph process: the 3D movies you watch at the cineplex today use advanced technologies to create experiences that are brighter, sharper and a lot more convincing.