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What is 3D filmmaking?

3D technology has gone through many incarnations over the past century. Here is a brief breakdown of this technology's varied history and how you can get started with your own three-dimensional project.

From novelty to blockbuster
3D film-making has primarily been a small niche in the motion picture business. After the 1950s' "golden era," 3D films were mostly relegated to theme park rides and novelty releases. However, in the past decade, 3D technology saw a cinematic resurgence that culminated with the unmatched success of James Cameron's "Avatar."

The illusion of depth
This potential future of film has roots in the 19th century with the invention of 3D photographs. When we look at pictures, we perceive an illusion of depth, through color, resolution, perspective and other cues. Stereoscopy, or 3D imaging, boosts this illusion of depth by presenting two slightly different images to your right and left eye. Just as you do all the time, your brain combines these images, resulting in one image with an illusion of heightened depth.

Red-blue 3D
When looking at a large screen, it isn't possible to simply present two different images, so filmmakers needed a way to make sure each eye received a slightly different image. Movie-makers accomplished this by filming with two cameras: one with a red lens filter, one with a blue lens filter. The iconic red and blue 3D glasses only allowed red light to reach one eye and blue light to reach the other. Although this process didn't allow for a diverse array of colors, it initially enabled 3D films.

Polarized light
Polarized light is light that vibrates on a single plane. Un-polarized light can be altered into polarized light if it passes through a polarizing filter. In modern 3D films, instead of separating the images by color, the images are separated by polarized light. The 3D glasses have parallel lines etched into them: in one eye horizontally, in the other eye vertically. This allows only light on a certain plane to reach each eye. Like classic red-blue 3D, the images are combined in the viewer's head, enabling a range of colors to be seen.

No gear required
This innovation of seeing in 3D without glasses has been referred to as autostereoscopy -- and it still boggles viewers. The Nintendo 3DS is one of the most famous products to employ it by using a parallax barrier, a device placed over the screen with a series of slits that allows each eye to perceive its own images. Since this depends largely on your eyes' natural perception, the location from which you view autostereoscopic images affects their efficacy.

3D filmmaking
You will need two cameras, red-blue 3D glasses and video editing software, such as Final Cut Pro. Shoot your material with both cameras simultaneously; the camera lenses need to be several inches apart. Greater distance will create more depth but closer distance will ensure the audience can reconstruct the images.

Ensure that the cameras are properly aligned. They need to be on the same level. When you upload the images to your computer, apply a red and blue overlay to both videos. Place both videos on top of each other so they play simultaneously and show a muddled composition. Finally, put on your 3D glasses to see if everything went well.

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