Polarized 3-D projection was demonstrated experimentally in the 1890s. The projectors used
Nicol Prisms for polarization. Packs of thin glass sheets, angled so as to reflect away
light of the unwanted polarity, served as the viewing filters. Polarized 3-D glasses only
became practical after the invention of Polaroid plastic sheet polarizers by Edwin Land,
who was privately demonstrating their use for projecting and viewing 3-D images in 1934.
They were first used to show a 3-D movie to the general public at "Polaroid on Parade", a
New York Museum of Science and Industry exhibit that opened in December 1936. 16 mm
Kodachrome color film was used Details about the glasses are not available. At the 1939 New
York World's Fair, a short polarized 3-D film was shown at the Chrysler Motors pavilion and
seen by thousands of visitors daily. The hand-held cardboard viewers, a free souvenir, were
die-cut in the shape of a 1939 Plymouth seen head-on. Their Polaroid filters, stapled over
rectangular openings where the headlights ought to be, were very small.
Cardboard glasses with earpieces and larger filters were used to watch Bwana Devil, the
feature-length color 3-D film that premiered on 26 November 1952 and ignited the brief but
intense 3-D fad of the 1950s. The well-known Life magazine photo of an audience wearing 3-D
glasses was one of a series taken at the premiere. The film's title, imprinted on the
earpieces, is plainly visible in high-resolution copies of those images. Imaginatively
colorized versions have helped to spread the myth that the 3-D movies of the 1950s were
projected by the anaglyph color filter method. In fact, during the 1950s anaglyph
projection was used only for a few short films. Beginning in the 1970s, some 1950s 3-D
feature films were re-released in anaglyph form so that they could be shown without special
projection equipment. There was no commercial advantage in advertising the fact that it was
not the original release format.
Polaroid filters in disposable cardboard frames were typical during the 1950s, but more
comfortable plastic frames with somewhat larger filters, considerably more expensive for
the theater owner, were also in use. Patrons were normally instructed to turn them in when
leaving so that they could be sanitized and reissued, and it was not uncommon for ushers to
be stationed at the exits to attempt to collect them from forgetful or souvenir-loving
Cardboard and plastic frames continued to co-exist during the following decades, with one
or the other favored by a particular film distributor or theater or for a particular
release. Specially imprinted or otherwise custom-made glasses were sometimes used. Some
showings of Andy Warhol's Frankenstein during its 1974 U.S. first run featured unusual
glasses consisting of two stiff plastic polarizers held together by two thin silver plastic
tubes slit lengthwise, one attached across the tops and bent at the temples to form
earpieces, the other a short length bent in the middle and serving as the bridge piece. The
design managed to be both stylish in an appropriately Warholesque way and self-evidently
simple to manufacture from the raw sheet and tube stock.
Linear polarization was standard into the 1980s and beyond.
In the 2000s, computer animation, digital projection, and the use of sophisticated IMAX 70
mm film projectors, have created an opportunity for a new wave of polarized 3D films.
In the 2000s, RealD Cinema and MasterImage 3D were introduced, both using circular
At IBC 2011 in Amsterdam RAI several companies, including Sony, Panasonic, JVC & others
highlighted their upcoming 3D stereoscopic product portfolios for both the professional and
consumer markets to use the same polarization technique as RealD 3D Cinema uses for
stereoscopy. These highlighted products cover everything from recording, projecting,
viewing and digital display technologies to live, recorded and pre- and post production
facilities and soft- and hardware based product to facilitate 3D content creation. Their
systems are interoperable and compatible with existing, passive RealD 3D glasses.