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My Love Affair with 3D – How it All Began

tru-vue viewer with boxMy fascination with 3D started when I was about ten years old. My parents bought “us kids” a Tru-Vue stereoscopic viewer. If memory serves (which it occasionally does), it was this one (at right), a model number 502. It was the kind that had no internal illumination, you had to hold it up to the light. It took rectangular cards, like the one shown below, rather than the discs used by the ViewMaster. You advanced through the pictures by pressing the red lever. Each of the cards came in its own envelope, and as you can see in the picture, cost 49 cents! In 1957 the Tru-Vue viewer cost about $2.00.

tru-vue slide cardTo give a bit of history, the Tru-Vue company was founded in 1931, and grew and flourished through the 1930’s and 40’s. The original viewers were created as a “modern” update of the 19th Century stereoscopes, and were designed in the “streamline moderne” style. They used 35mm filmstrips, generally containing 14 stereo views, which were pulled through the viewer using a lever. By 1939, they were selling over a million reels of film. In 1950, they introduced their first color films, to compete with their main rival, View-Master, made by Oregon-based Sawyer’s Photo Services. The View-Master had been introduced at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, originally intended as an alternative to the scenic postcard. The main subjects of View-Master reels were popular tourist locations like Carlsbad Caverns and the Grand Canyon.In 1951, Tru-Vue was purchased by Sawyer’s. In addition to eliminating their main rival, the takeover also gave Sawyer Tru-Vue’s licensing rights to use Disney characters.

Tru-Vue Donald Duck sceneTru-Vue Lady and the Tramp chase sceneThat’s where I came in. I didn’t care much for the “scenic” views. They looked kind of flat and unreal. But I loved the Disney scenes with Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Lady and the Tramp. I liked the characters, sure, but what really caught my imagination were the ingenious cartoon sets they appeared in, the cartoon streets, cafés, houses, shops, back alleys.

Tru-Vue Lady and the Tramp dinner sceneTru-Vue Lady and the Tramp alley sceneBefore computers, before CGI and computer games and 3D Studio Max, this was my virtual world. Of course, analytically I knew these were models made by Disney artists, but in my imagination, the streets went on and on. I imagined walking down that cartoon street, turning that corner, and discovering a whole new scene. Disney artists had supplied the Tru-Vue scene, my imagination took off from there.

And I realized that, yeah, you can pretty much create anything you want. Whatever you can imagine, you can create. And once you’ve created your own 3D street, maybe someone else can walk down it and turn that corner…

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