On Sunday my nephew showed me one of his new DVDs, the computer animated film Fly Me To The Moon, about three flies who hitch a ride on a space craft to the moon. Â One of the interesting features of this DVD was that as well as the standard version there was also a version of the film that was in 3D, requiring you to wear a pair of those funny glasses with the blue and red lenses.
We watched a bit of it, but soon switched back to the standard version so we did have to watch everything in a strange purple tinted monochrome, and because it made your eyes ache after a while. Â The 3D effect was quite good though, assuming you could get the cardboard 3D glasses close enough to your eyes to make it work – tricky if you wear glasses.
Anyway, all that aside, this reminded me of the good old View-Master toy, which was capable of generating an incredibly good 3D effect, even if it was only with still images. Â The View-Master was usually made of red plastic, and looked like a really odd pair of binoculars. Â Insert one of the special picture discs and look through the eye holes and you’d see a scene which popped out at you in three dimensions. Â Pull the little lever at the side of the toy and the disc would rotate to reveal the next image.
The View-Master generates this incredible effect by displaying a slightly different image to each eye. Â Why does this work? Â Well, we have two eyes which each have a slightly different view of the world. Â Our brains take these two slightly different images and we can then perceive depth. Â The View-Master basically just takes advantage of this to trick our brains into thinking that we’re looking at a three dimensional scene, when in fact it’s actually just two 2D images!
When you bought your View-Master you normally got a single demonstration disc with it, but you could buy extra sets of discs to expand your collection. Â Some of these were of general interest, but many were licensed TV show or film tie-ins. Â Two sets I remember having personally were of Rupert the Bear and The Flintstones. Â I believe models of the various characters had been made and photographed to give the images a very solid look, rather than being hand drawn cartoon images. Â The discs told a story, with text describing each scene visible in a little viewing window in the middle of the View-Master.
It may surprise you to know that the View-Master has actually been around since 1938, so has been around for more than 70 years in one form or another. Â It was not originally conceived as a children’s toy either, instead being an educational tool for adults, or a fancy alternative to postcards. Â The US Military even bought thousands of them during World War II as a training aid for aircraft spotting! Â For more on the history and a complete reference to the various models that have been available over the years take a look at the comprehensive 20th Century Stereo Viewers website. Â The View-Master is still in production, currently under the auspices of Fisher Price, so you can follow the link for the official View-Master website.