Stereovision

Some time in the nineteen fifties a serious attempt was made to bring stereoscopic photography to the masses. Stereoscopic photography faces similar adoption challenges to 3D movies and Virtual Reality because up to this point there is no easy way to experience any of them without attaching a contraption to your face. An interesting note is that while 3D movies and Virtual Reality are fairly recent, stereoscopic photography has been around since the eighteen fifties, and even commercial viewers were mass produced back then.

In my quest to learn how to make my own Virtual Reality work, I got interested in the display of stereoscopic photography in VR. Inspired by the idea that properly placed in VR space, a stereoscopic photo can feel a lot like a VR sculpture of VR hologram, a moment frozen in time with a large potential to make the viewer feel “there with it” as opposed to just looking at a flat projection of it in a two dimensional picture.

While I was looking for cheap and easy stereoscopic camera systems I came across the historical mid twentieth century consumer cameras, and it was easier for me —or at least more reliable/fun/interesting— to get my hands on a couple of film cameras and start taking pictures than to find a digital solution. Eventually I came across a smartphone solution in Kickstarter that worked fairly well, but not before I was already shooting stereoscopic 35mm film all over the place. Here is an inventory of my stereoscopic gadgetry:

  • Revere Stereo 33 35mm Camera Released around 1953. In perfect condition. Works great.
  • Stereo Realist by the David White Company, available from 1947 to 1971. In perfect condition. Works great.
  • Poppy 3D for iPhone via Kickstarter. This works great too. Except it’s a little painful to manage the files. Overall easier than shooting film, developing it, scanning it and putting it together for digital viewing, but it could be easier on the viewing/playback aspect of the product.

Once I had my pictures, the next step was to build a program that could let me look at them through a VR headset. Since I have no time or interest to learn how to use a game engine, I was left with only one option: the web browser and WebGl/ThreeJS. I already knew there are experimental builds of Firefox and Chrome that are compatible with the Oculus Rift DK2 headset, and I also wanted something that could run on a mobile browser for Google Cardboard viewing. I knew where to get sample boilerplates from the VR Chrome team and Mozilla, so all I had left to do was to find a way to feed two textures onto the same piece of geometry while rendering for each eye. Luckily I found a code example that did just that, and it didn’t take me long to adjust it to my needs. You can find the code here (Stereovision).

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A stereo card of a woman using a stereoscope circa 1901. Via Wikipedia

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My Stereo Realist after a photo session

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Stereovision for Cardboard on my iPhone. Featured photo taken with the Stereo Revere

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Stereovision screenshot. Left and right images are rendered for the corresponding eye

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