Look Magazine: The first mass-produced 3D Picture

The magazines LIFE and LOOK were regular guests in our home, along with the New Yorker, the Saturday Evening Post, and a few other esoteric offerings. At one point in the 1960s, LOOK began including small postcard-sized attachments in the back of their magazine – mass produced parallax panoramagrams, or 3D pictures; the one you see below was the first.

Look2

Look1

The principle was very similar to the “wiggle pictures” one still occasionally sees today on toys and games – I remember being delighted with the little ones I found in Cracker Jack boxes in the 50s (before their prizes went to hell in a handbasket); the idea is to present a different image to the eyes as the ridged surface is rotated and refracts the underlying picture differently. In this case, however, the image is engineered to present a slightly different parallax to each eye at the same time.

TIME magazine had the following writeup about this innovation:

“A LOOK FIRST: 3-D PHOTO,” proclaimed the message on the cover. The Parallax Panoramagram “may mark the beginning of a new era in graphic-arts,” said the press release. As it turned out, Look’sfirst ran almost last in the magazine. On page 105, just short of the back cover, persevering readers found a stiff, postcard-size appendage, attached in the manner of a subscription renewal card. On the card was a black and white picture that showed a bust of Thomas Alva Edison surround ed by some half-dozen of his inventions. What made most readers stop and look twice was the picture’s distinct illusion of depth.
Look’s stunt, the result of 13 years’ research, constitutes the latest effort to translate the real world of three dimensions into the picture world of two. Artists have employed trompe I’oeil three-dimensional techniques for centuries. But true success for photographers awaited the invention of the stereopticon camera in the 19th century, which took two pictures of the same subject through lenses that were separated like a pair of human eyes. When the viewer saw each picture separately, through separate lenses, his brain automatically supplied the missing dimension of depth.
The Look process is almost identical. A specially designed camera takes pictures through a transparent screen that is serrated to break up the image into hair-thin vertical slices. The camera is then moved slightly to the right or left, as other, sliced-up pictures are taken on the same negative.
The process is laborious, costly and slow, and not yet adaptable to highspeed printing. Merely to pose the static picture in last week’s Look took two full days of work with a one-ton, cubical camera as complicated as an electronic computer. Five additional weeks were required to engrave the photograph, print it some 7,000,000 times on a sheet-fed offset press and then pour on and properly shape the clear plastic film that covers the picture with what amounts to a collection of lenses. The plastic lenses are so arranged that the viewer’s left eye sees one of the serrated pictures, the right eye sees the other (see diagram).
Look and its partners in the enterprise, Eastman Kodak Co. and Harris-Intertype Corp., which built the equipment that adds the plastic lens coat, have high hopes of commercial success. Cowles Magazines & Broadcasting, Inc., Look’s parent company, plans to establish a separate corporation, to be called Visual Panographics Inc., to sell its 3-D process to greeting-card manufacturers, display-art companies and anyone else willing to pay the price in money and time for an unspectacled illusion of depth. TIME Magazine

A much more detailed treatment of these images can be found over at Tattered and Lost.

An interesting bit of history, this was. It was impressive enough to me that  I’ve had it in my files for over half a century.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

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