GLO- THE ON LINE MAGAZINE
By Geoffrey Sherrard
What is the attraction of a slice of life we can hold in
This is the first MacroMedia ShockWaved article that is not about
MacroMedia's ShockWave technology itself. It is about another
visual technology, lenticular optics that also was revolutionary
at the time it was first deployed (in the 1940's). Almost everyone
has seen examples of it but hardly anyone knows it by name. Encyclopedias
don't mention it. Engineering databases don't reference it. There
are no textbooks about it, no manuals, nothing. Nevertheless,
almost sixty years later, it is still blowing people's minds.
The odd truth about lenticular optics is that, unlike ShockWave,
no other use besides mind boggling has been found for it. It's
only commercial application has been novelty toys, novelty advertisements,
and astounding demonstrations of lenticular optics. The principle
behind it is deceptively simple: look at it from a different
angle and you see a different picture. How that is accomplished
is quite a trick. It's also a secret. Basically, a lenticular
lens sheet is laminated to an image that has been encrypted (usually
in vertical slits) such that the lenses register with the slits.
Usually the lens sheet is also used in the camera or the darkroom
to accomplish the encryption.
All of this allows the creation of two distinct effects: autostereo
images, which are three dimensional images that do not require
a viewer to be seen, and auto-animations, which appear to be
in motion as you tilt them (or walk by). The two effects may
be combined into moving 3D, or 4D, as it is called by lenticular
No one is credited with exactly inventing the process, but Victor
Anderson is its undisputed father. Robert Munn, its reigning
genius, brings the background to light:
"Victor Anderson worked with the Sperry corporation during
World War II. There was a lot of 3D imaging used during the war,
instructional stuff like how to use a bomb sight. The advent
of plastics around the same time made lenticular optics commercially
viable. The lens sheets could be made of plastic instead of glass.
Anderson got together with some backers and got the whole thing
going even though plastic was in its infancy. "The plastic
that VariView used in the early days was made out of this stuff
that gave off this really foul smell. It smelled like vomit.
If you went into the VariView plant, the whole place smelled
like this rank shit. Butyl Acetate is the name of the plastic.
They don't use it any more. Victor had to really break his ass
to get stuff to work right." "VariView" was actually
the process name Victor Anderson used in the his first company,
Pictorial Productions. Later, it became commonly used as the
name of the company itself, so popular was the "process."
Anderson elaborates: "The first application was just after
the Second World War when I made the 'I Like Ike!' buttons. That
was the first animated button ever made. From there I did a whole
series of animations for Cheerios, I made about 40 million of
them. Originally they stuck them to the outside of the box, but
they were so intriguing that they were frequently stolen even
before they made the stores' shelves. So that was when breakfast
cereals first started putting things 'Free Inside.'
"It was always a big problem trying to explain what you
were doing. You can't explain it. You have to see it. I did a
really big one once for a billboard, a big eye that winked as
you went by. The trouble with that one was that it caused a lot
of accidents. We were out testing it to see how it looked to
pedestrians. Three little kids were walking by and they were
looking up at the thing, naturally, because we were all looking
up at it, and one of the little kids says to the other one, "Well,
I have one of those!" Isn't that an astonishing thing? That
he related the little wiggle picture he'd gotten from a cereal
box to a billboard that was a long ways away, that changed as
they walked past?"
Munn, who with Sara Cook and Gary Darrow runs Depthography, Inc,
describes his own obsession:
"First I checked out holograms, and that was a dead end.
I checked out holograms when they had them at the World's Fair
in 1964 - 65 and it was the same jazz. I mean, they've upped
the ante a little since then, they've made them color, but you've
still got to stand on your damn head to see them. And it looks
like a puddle of gasoline with that chroma. By the time you've
got everything right, you still see this murky thing that looks
like Dizzy Gillespie on a bad night."
"Then a friend of mine called me up and said 'There's something
on the Sunday Times Auction Page that you'll get a kick out of.'
I get the Auction Page, I look at a few things that I think she
might have been referring to, and all of them were, like, no
big deal. Then I see '3D Advertising Company. VariView. 3D cameras...'
and all this stuff and it starts listing all the equipment. I
call up my friend Henry, and I say 'VariView. They're lenticular,
right?' He says, 'Yeah, yeah, Victor Anderson.' I go to the auction.
I didn't know anything about this technically at all. I went
in there with some money; I figured maybe I could get a camera
or two, part of a screen, and if I was lucky, I could figure
out how to use it. Most of the people who were there were there
to get political buttons. Because they were, and still are, a
huge collector's item. All that jazz was bagged up separate because
the auctioneers knew that shit was valuable. And they let that
stuff go at a buck a badge for like 10,000 badges. So that's
where the auction was at. People were buying the forklifts they're
buying cabinets, shelves, they're not buying any of the STUFF!!!
They're not buying the cameras.
"For VariView to produce the stuff, this is what had to
happen: They had to shoot the image. They had to have separations
made. They used a special press that they had made that had some
kind of incredibly fine degree of registration like a 1/10,000
of an inch. In a four color press, you have to run four separate
prints, and if the registration is even slightly off, it's no
good. You get moiré patterns and dot structure problems
that look like bad op art. I didn't get the press. I couldn't
move it even if I had the money to buy it. So I was doing it
photographically. And step by step I got better with the camera,
too. I modified it to do more than it was doing.
"In 1990 I met up with this computer guy Oppenheimer and
I saw these other people that had these computer lenticulars
that were really bad. The lenticular part was the bad part. The
computer art was good but suffered from the limitations of their
knowledge of lenticulars. I figured if I could just whip out
some computer stuff and get my effect where you can just walk
right up to it and hold it in your hands, then boy we'll really
have some drama.
"Eventually that led to 2D into 3D via the computer. VariView
used to do it by cutting the original into pieces and putting
them at different levels, but it didn't look real at all. With
the computer, we can put anything at any of over a million layers,
and place them algorithmically. And everyday, we think of something
The lenticular optics reproduced here by MacroMedia's ShockWave
are from three collections. One is Sheldon Aronowitz's. Sheldon
has what is documented to be the world's largest collection of
3D images, and in the top ten of lenticulars. His interest extends
past the passive, he recently produced the Viewmaster reels for
the IMAX 3D spectacular, "Across the Sea of Time."
We also thank Steven and Gary of Alphaville for access to their
vast collection. Lastly, one very kind collector went out of
his way to allow us to photograph his dazzling collection, but
asked to remain anonymous.
My own work with lenticulars began and ended in 1959, when I
was three. I had a flicker picture ring that I for some reason
I thought was the answer to all questions everywhere. I had to
share this knowledge with the world, so I asked my father to
take a picture of the ring, thinking that the magic could be
captured by a Brownie. Nearly 40 years later, technology has
finally caught up with me.
Glow is a New York magazine about the world. It is published
GreenLynx Media, Inc. Copyright 1996, All Rights Reserved.