A less than in-depth look at depth

Media

Mentally I’m standing at a chalkboard writing again and again “3D is not a gimmick. . .3D is not a gimmick.”

Before Oculus Rift or Avatar, 3D to me meant red and blue blurry videos and the one 3D Spy Kids movie where the kid reaches his arm out into your face and it the previews showed audiences leaping out of their seats and throwing up popcorn in surprise and delight.

Someone left their cell phone and had to be punished. Credit: imdb.com

Someone left their cell phone on and had to be punished. Credit: imdb.com

But while I was a child watching children’s movies, some very smart people were doing some very smart things with 3D and were even kind enough to write guides so even people like me can know what what is going on. Or at least know what they’re called.

That red and blue 3D I mentioned before, for instance, is called an “anaglyph.” In this method of 3D, two differently colored images are laid on top of each other to make one picture and each eye only sees one color. And then 3D happens. So I still don’t understand, but now I have a name.

I got that particular nugget of information from an informative pdf from sky.com.

That page describes types of stereoscopic 3D, of which anaglyph is one form. Stereoscopic refers our two eyes, like stereo sounds refers to the left and right channel of sound.

Since our eyes are about two and half inches apart, each eyes gets a slightly different picture. Our brain then analyzes the differences in these pictures to determine depth. Stereoscopic 3D uses different techniques to get our brain to process the image in a way to fool our brains into creating depth.

In addition anaglyphs, another stereoscopic technique is called circular polarization, where instead of different colors the glasses have each lens polarized in an opposite swirling direction. Just like the color, the goal is to get each eye to see a slightly different image in order to trick the brain to create depth.

So 3D is basically the science of lying. But in a really cool way.

Where this goes beyond the gimmick is when filmmakers and journalists use the new depth their videos and stills have to tell more story in the same space.

One new technology that we’ll be playing with in the lab is the Lytro Illium camera that takes still photos with depth. Here’s a quick demo of this new tool:

In the coming weeks I hope to fill in the gaps in my knowledge of 3D and get some hands on experience. But no matter how much I learn, I’m sure part of me will still believe it’s more magic than science.

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