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'It Came from Outer Space' -- but is 3D here to stay?

  • Story Highlights
  • 3D technology was first patented in the Victorian era
  • The 1950s saw moviegoers flock to 3D films like "It Came from Outer Space"
  • "Amityville" and "Jaws" revived 3D in the 1980s
  • Now CGI is bringing 3D back, in Zemeckis's "Beowulf" and Cameron's "Avatar"
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By Laura Hodgson
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- 3D is no modern technology: its roots are planted in the Victorian era.

desaturated shot of people in cinema theatre wearing 3D glasses

3D: Back for good?

The first 3D patent was registered in 1890 by inventor William Friese-Greene, just a few steps from the heart of London. His system involved two films being projected side by side. When the viewer looked through a stereoscope, the two images united. But this type of machinery was too obtrusive and impractical for cinema.

Over the years, the technology was refined, bringing 3D to the cinema. In June 1915, Edwin S. Porter and William E. Waddell tested the first red-green "anaglyph" on an audience at the Astor Theatre, New York City. The most widely known 3D system, "anaglyph" creates a three-dimensional effect by dyeing two images a different color, usually red and green, and then viewing them through colored filters, one over each eye.

World War II interrupted the development of 3D and it wasn't until the 1950s where the technology really saw a boom in popularity.

Dr. David Burder, one of Britain's leading 3D enthusiasts, believes that 3D tends to run in 30-year cycles. He told CNN, "It takes one generation to discover the third dimension, grow tired with its capabilities and the next generation to re-discover it as the next big thing." He continued, "The fundamentals of 3D technology have not changed since the 50s. All that has improved is the way we can watch it."

From 1952 to 1955, often described as the golden era of 3D, audiences crowded to see 3D films. "Bwana Devil" (1952), "House of Wax" (1953) and "It Came From Outer Space" (1953) all had huge success at the box office. But towards the end of 1954, the popularity of 3D started to wane, due partly to the headaches and nausea that the early systems could trigger, before fading out of the limelight.

In the 80s, 3D emerged again. Films such as "Friday the 13th Part 3" (1982), "Amityville" (1983) and Spielberg's Oscar-winning epic, "Jaws" (1983) thrilled audiences. But once again, 3D failed to force its way onto center stage for good.

Since then, the technology has evolved. In recent years, companies such as REAL D have created systems enabling 3D to go digital and CGI has been used to enhance the effects. The infamous red and green glasses have also been put aside for new polarized filters for more comfortable viewing with no side effects.

Now 3D is set to return once more. The newly released Robert Zemeckis film, "Beowulf" (2007) and James Cameron's upcoming feature, "Avatar" (2009) have put a new burst of energy into the 3D film industry.

But will 3D stick around for good? Movie audiences will have to wait and see... E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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