Disney in 3D: The Multiplane Camera

In the past few years, 3D movies have become all the rage, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Disney has started re-releasing their films in a new and improved 3D format. The Lion King was first, followed by last week’s release of Beauty and the Beast. Up next is Finding Nemo, to be released in 3D in September 2012. But as I donned cheap plastic glasses and sat in the dark theatre yesterday afternoon–and tried to refrain from singing along with Be Our Guest–I wondered…is this truly new or improved?  

One of my favorite Walt Disney World attractions is the often under-appreciated One Man’s Dream at Hollywood Studios. About halfway through the pre-movie museum-like portion of One Man’s Dream is a display describing Walt’s multiplane camera–shown in diagram in the photo above. According to the short film describing this peculiar invention, Walt created (or, more accurately, Walt’s studio perfected) this camera to make cartoons look more realistic.

The goal was to make two dimensional pictures appear as though they had depth. This was done by filming multiple pictures on different planes–thus the term multiplane–and then moving the camera through the various portions of the scene. In this way, the camera would ‘see’ images in the foreground first and images on the horizon last. This created a sort of pop-up book effect, and that effect was used in almost all of Disney’s feature-length animated films from the late 1930s all the way through the mid-1990s.

That’s right. Walt Disney was making cartoons 3D–or at least as 3D as possible–more than 70 years ago. And so, while the new Disney 3D re-releases are a worthwhile use of an afternoon and $11.50, the concept is far from new. This is yet another example of Walt Disney’s dream being decades ahead of his time–and a great reason to skip purchasing one of those new-fangled 3D televisions. Simply rent some great Disney classics and save your money for your next trip to Walt Disney World.

And while you’re there, be sure to check out One Man’s Dream, where you can learn more about Walt’s life, Walt’s ideas, and the magical multiplane camera.


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