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
"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, who at 84 directs the process at Optigraphics in Texas, 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
Munn, who with Sara Cook and Gary
Darrow runs Depthography, Inc, describes his
"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 else."
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.
Graphic Illustration provided by Fish Eng
Glow is a New York magazine about the world. It is published quarterly by
GreenLynx Media, Inc. Copyright 1996, All Rights Reserved.
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