A history in 3D

Jens Mortensen for The New York Times

The point wasn’t the plot but to prove that the brain could be tricked into seeing images in three dimensions. The red-and-cyan 3-D system that grew out of their experiment enjoyed a brief vogue in the 1920s. But the technology worked only with a limited palette. Edwin Land would solve that problem by inventing polarized lenses in 1936, which worked in full color. These ushered in a new wave of 3-D mania when the technology made its way to Hollywood in the 1950s. At the same time, cheap red-and-cyan glasses based on the earlier system became popular in the world of comic books and B-movies.

“Every 20 to 30 years, you get this craze for 3-D movies,” says Jack Theakston, a historian with the 3-D Film Archive, which then burns out. Today’s “Avatar”-inspired boom is very likely no exception, Theakston says. Inventors, meanwhile, continue to work on the holy grail: 3-D effects with no glasses.

Who Made Those 3-D Glasses?

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A history in 3D