In This Article 3D Media

  • Introduction
  • History and Technologies
  • Early Developments
  • Filmographies
  • Film Theory
  • Virtual Worlds
  • Art and Design
  • Education
  • Health
  • Science
  • Organizational Development

Communication 3D Media
Doris Baltruschat
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0162


Media content can now be experienced on various “screens,” be it in traditional theater space, at home, or in transit via digital distribution platforms like the Internet and mobile devices. With recent innovations in 3D, media applications now have added another dimension to their digital-convergent universe. However, it may be surprising to learn that stereoscopic imaging and more recent 3D innovations (especially in 3D animation) precede the development of 2D cinema and television. Discovered in 1838, 3D arrived nearly fifty years before conventional cinema made its first mark at the turn of the century. Stereoscopic still images, depicting nature scenes and historic sites, highlight the popularity of this early form of 3D entertainment. In the 1950s, the “golden age” of 3D entertainment arrived with films such as Bwana Devil (1952) and Kiss Me Kate (1953). However, audience fascination with the third dimension soon dimmed due to poor production values, bad scripts, and 3D technology being used mostly for a few surprise effects. 3D cinema experienced a brief revival in the 1980s with blockbuster hits like Jaws 3D (1983), only to fade into the background again for another three decades. This all changed with the arrival of the new generation of 3D films such as Avatar (2010). Indeed, 2010 marked a new era in 3D media with the standardization of 3D technologies and the dramatic increase of 3D movies in the cinema, which were then released on 3D Blu-ray to be enjoyed at home around the 3D television set. To date, 3D has advanced beyond traditional stereoscopic imaging to embrace innovations, especially with regard to 3D capture and display technologies. Additional differences between previous eras of stereoscopic entertainment and the current 3D renaissance is that the technology is now being rolled out across media platforms, from large cinema screens, to television sets, game consoles, the Internet, and the mobile phone. This new era of digital 3D therefore has to been seen within the context of 3D entertainment across the field, from increasing 3D film production, to event programing (e.g., 2012 Olympics) and the use of new 3D technologies to create virtual online worlds as in “machinima.” 3D media also play an increasing role in education, the sciences, and the arts. Many books and articles exist on the history and technological evolution of 3D media. However, the implications for aesthetic and narrative development through the use of 3D are only gradually emerging, as are research studies on virtual 3D worlds and their impact on social relations, online communities, organizational development, and society.

History and Technologies

A number of works have been published that cover 3D media from a historical perspective, in addition to detailing the evolution of stereoscopic technologies. Zone 2007 provides an introduction to early 3D technological developments and applications, highlighting the invention of the first stereoscopes as well as the 1950s “golden age” of 3D cinema. Early writings such as Spottiswoode and Spottiswoode 1953, McKay 1953, and Lipton 1982 offer insight into how 3D media were interpreted by the mid- and late 20th century, while works like Hayes 1998 and Smith, et al. 2011 create the basis for studying 3D entertainment as an early-21st-century phenomenon. For a comprehensive overview of historical and recent development in 3D technologies, the Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers’s (SPIE) annual conference proceedings cover a wide variety of topics (Stereoscopic Displays and Applications Conference Proceedings Volumes).

  • Adler, Dan, Janine Marchessault, and Sanja Obradovic, eds. 2013. Special issue: 3D cinema and beyond. Public 47 (Spring).

    E-mail Citation »

    A journal issue dedicated to the history of 3D, from the early beginnings of stereoscopic 3D film to more recent innovations such as 3D video games and augmented reality. The edited collection highlights emerging technologies, new approaches in film and documentary production, as well as perceptual experiences of 3D media.

  • Hayes, R. M. 1998. 3-D movies: A history and filmography of stereoscopic cinema. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

    E-mail Citation »

    A comprehensive historical overview of stereoscopic cinema from its beginnings at the turn of the 20th century, to its first boom in the 1950s, to its ensuing decline and revival in the early 1980s. A detailed filmography is accompanied by black-and-white photographs of movie posters and film images.

  • Lipton, Lenny. 1982. Foundations of the stereoscopic cinema: A study in depth. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

    E-mail Citation »

    A historical overview of technological developments and innovations in 3D cinema, highlighting stereoscopic imaging, transmission systems as well as binocular symmetries and asymmetries. Includes an appendix of early conceptions of 3DTV. Black-and-white graphics, diagrams, and photographs. Downloadable from the Internet for research purposes.

  • McKay, Herbert C. 1953. Three-dimensional photography: Principles of stereoscopy. Minneapolis, MN: Jones.

    E-mail Citation »

    An early overview of the principles underlying 3D photography, from stereoscopic cameras, to techniques, color, and trick photography. For the student interested in the history of 3D stereoscopic imaging and 3D equipment such as cameras and projectors. Downloadable from the Internet for research purposes.

  • Ross, Miriam, and Leon Gurevitch. 2011–. Stereoscopic Media. Univ. of Wellington.

    E-mail Citation »

    This online resource on innovative research of 3D media covers historical developments and highlights aesthetic properties of the stereoscopic image. It also presents insights into evolving 3D technologies and their impact on audiences and texts.

  • Smith, Michael D., Peter Ludé, and Bill Hogan, eds. 2011. 3D cinema and television technology: The first 100 years. White Plains, NY: Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers.

    E-mail Citation »

    A compilation of fifty-five essays published in the Motion Imagining Journal by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) between 1919 and 2010. Essays provide insight into the development of 3D media ranging from technological developments and innovations, content creation, distribution, and display formats. Black-and-white photos and illustrations.

  • Spottiswoode, Raymond, and Nigel Spottiswoode. 1953. The theory of stereoscopic transmission and its application to the motion picture. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    This electronic version of a classic text covers early theories underlying stereoscopic production and projection of 3D motion pictures. Includes anaglyph diagrams illustrating concepts presented throughout the book. Downloadable from the Internet for research purposes.

  • Stereoscopic Displays and Applications Conference Proceedings Volumes. 1996–. Bellingham, WA: Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers.

    E-mail Citation »

    Technical papers and studies on 3D media from 1990–2012 resulting from the proceedings of the Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers’s annual conferences.

  • Zone, Ray. 2007. Stereoscopic cinema and the origins of 3-D film, 1838–1952. Lexington: Univ. Press of Kentucky.

    DOI: 10.5810/kentucky/9780813124612.001.0001E-mail Citation »

    A key text on the historical and technological developments of 3D film, beginning with the invention of stereoscopic image projection in 1838, to the first 3D movies and 3D cinema in the 1950s. Black-and-white technical drawings, as well as photographs of historic stereoscopic materials and camera and projection equipment.

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