Tuesday, 17 February 2009

JOURNEY INTO THE THIRD DIMENSION

Mentioning View-Master 3D slides the other day set me thinking about the toy that was so much a part of my '50s/'60s childhood and, in particular, those recreated scenes from Disney animated features that I loved almost as much as the films themselves...

Of course, that probably seems rather childish, but it should be remembered that we are talking about a time that was not only before DVDs, but before videos!

As a Disney-nerd, I could only see the studio's classics when they were re-released at the cinema (at roughly seven years intervals) or when clips were occasionally screened on TV (in black and white) on compilations shows.

Being obsessed, I collected books and records that had still photographs from the films and - once I'd discovered shops that sold them - sets of the advertising lobby cards that used to be displayed outside cinema marques.


The View-Master slides were the next best thing - and, in a way, better even than stills from the films because they were in 3D!


The story of View-Master is a fascinating one dating back to it's launch at the 1939 as a souvenir of the New York World's Fair and, quaint though it now seems, there really was a time when seeing a 3D image of a giraffe on the African veldt projected onto your living room wall was quite a thing...

Click on image to enlarge

I yearned for - but never had - one of View-Master's 'Give-a-Show Projectors', [and, as you'll see from the comments below, they weren't called 'Give-a-Show' (they were something else) and they didn't actually project in 3D], but I did spend a lot of time viewing my Disney movie slides and those of Disneyland: the Californian Never Never Land that, at the time, I could only ever dream of visiting...


Just like being there...

Well, no, not quite! After all, none of us would have taken a photo of the castle with the spires chopped off and the scene generally cluttered up with an ice-cream cart and a load of bloody tourists!

However, the addition of Disney titles to the range of slides undoubtedly helped popularise View-Master by widening the repertoire of subjects from the instructional and educational to pure entertainment. And where Disney led, others followed and there were soon numerous popular sets featuring most of the top TV shows (The Munsters, Flipper, Batman and so on) as well as other cartoon characters such as Yogi Bear and The Flintstones...


And yes, I did buy The Flintstones set (well, it had dinosaurs in it, didn't it?) although it was chiefly the Disney sets that made a monthly dent in my pocket-money.

Some, like Jungle Book (left) accompanied newly-released movies, others were based on the back-catalogue of Disney classics such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Bambi, and Peter Pan.

But, as a Disney completist they all had to be collected!

These are just a few of my favourite slides...








What was so remarkable about these slides based on animated films and TV series was that the selected scenes were built as models based on stills from the originals and then photographed with 3D cameras.



Much of the art work in the early years was by and Florence Thomas, whose models were carefully hand sculpted and painted and who appeared on many TV shows in response to public interest in View-Master.

Here she is working on a scene from Walt Disney's 1963 film, The Sword in the Stone....


The attention to detail is exceptional - the books and paraphernalia cluttering Merlin's cottage, the miniature tea-things and the fact that Wart is in mid-fall from the hole in the thatch to a chair at the tea-table!

Florence Thomas' assistant was Joe Liptak who went on to be one of the best View-Master artists, creating the models for most of the the Disney sets. Here he is posing with one of his scenes from the 1953 feature Peter Pan which - like a lot of scenes from that film - included flying effects...


And here is Joe again, some years later, constructing a set based on a scene from the animated version of Robin Hood with the leonine Prince John and his sibilant, serpentine sidekick, Sir Hiss. One gets an idea from this photo of how much work went into creating just one of the twenty-one slides from a particular set...


And here's the finished scene (revealing that the above photo has, in fact, been flipped!) courtesy of Tim Hodge of Bald Melon who left a comment and link below...


There are a couple more View-Master slides (this time from Jungle Book) on a post blogged by Tim last year along with the following instructions on how to see them in 3D without the aid of a viewer...

"To view them in stereo, you will have to use the 'cross-eyed' method. That is, cross your eyes until you can see three images instead of just two. Then the center image should pop out in 3D. It takes some practice if you've never done it before."

Thanks, Tim! I got it! What's more it works on those earlier Disneyland castle photos!

So, there you have my unashamed paean to View-Masters! Of course, like all nostalgia items, the appeal of the View-Master slides is less to do with what they are than what they were --- once upon a time...

***

Apart from using Tim's cross-eyed system you can get a sense of how good (or not!) the View-Master 3D effect was by visiting What My Dad Saw: scroll down to 'Labels' on the right-hand side-bar and click on 'View Master' which will allow you to view Batman and Flintstones slides --- with movement effect!

And you can find out lots more information about all kinds of 3D from the 3D Center of Art and Photography in Portland, Oregon, which city was, for many years, the home of View-Master.

Images: 'Ode to View-Master' (top left) by iloyd; Captain Hook and Tink slide from Kerry Callen's Blog; Flintstones slide from What My Dad Saw; all other slides from various contributors to flickr

32 comments:

Ian said...

Used to love these too. My favourite sets as a kid were The Queen's Coronation, Mary Poppins and (best of all) Star Trek (The original series).

Boll Weavil said...

Just looking at those pictures is sending me right back to a green paper bag that my Dad kept all his viewmaster slides in - most typically the boring views of Wales and Scotland. We also had Bambi but my favourite was 'The Apollo Moon Landing' which started off with a large but boring building and finished up with the silver space craft hanging in the blackness above the Moon...fantastic !
TOCOMI : A collector on Ebay who is forcing up the price of the 'Disney Adventures' viewmaster reel you would love to see again because he needs Reel 2 in the original jacket with the price on the bottom left corner rather than the spine.....ahhh

Brian Sibley said...

IAN - I remember the Mary Poppins set, which was film stills rather than models, but Star Trek... Wow!

BOLL - Never saw The Apollo Moon Landing set, but then I was living in Disney's alternative fantasyland at the time!

Suzanne said...

My little ones have been watching "101 Dalmatians" over & over and I couldn't help noticing in the credit the name John Sibley... any relation?
ouseli: an obsession with Winnie the Pooh (from the French for bear "ours")

Brian Sibley said...

Not that I'm aware, SUZANNE. John Sibley was a veteran Disney animator and whilst I got to know many other Disney artists who remembered him, I sadly never met the man himself... Of course, watching Disney films as a kid, I was thrilled to see someone on the credits with the same surname as ME!

George Taylor said...

Thanks for sharing these images (and the recollections).

My first vision of the Haunted Mansion was from a view-master type slide back in the early 70's. It only took me 20 years to finally see it in person!

Phil said...

I think all people named Brian have an interest in stereo photography. Queen guitarist Brian May, for instance, who set up a website for Victorian and modern stereo images:

http://www.londonstereo.com/index.html

And did you know that Dali painted some stereoscopic paintings? (OK, he was Salvador rather than Brian.)

Although I find 3d images fascinating, our house was Viewmaster-free. Instead we had the glorious 2d of the Chad Valley projector, like the one here:

http://theherbs.homestead.com/ChadValleyGive-a-Show.html


Gadef: Tolkien character name, as compressed by Chad Valley in a vain effort to reduce LOTR to a seven-frame slide show.

Deniseletter said...

Many Thanks for share!! Despite I knew it,I didn't know how was the magic secret of viewmaster.Those awesome Disney accurate miniature artists deserve all the credit.I still have another toy,is fisher price,is more little, with some viewmaster properties as the disks and looks like a movie camera.

Brian Sibley said...

GEORGE - Like you, my impressions of Disneyland were, for many years, those of the View-Master photographers! I was amazed - when I finally got there - to find that things MOVED! :-)

PHIL - Thanks for the info about the other Brian (and Salvador) and their stereoscopic interests. As for the Chad Valley projector, I always wanted one of those as a kid - even though they weren't in 3-D...

DENISELETTER - You are right, the View-Master model-makers were amazingly gifted. What staggers me, is that they created their sets rather as a 3-D model animator would do -- but for just one or two images!

I wonder if your 'movie camera' toy shows 'still' or 'moving' images - I had one that showed very short 'clips' from Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck shorts... It was (long before videos and pause buttons) a wonderful way of looking at animation frame-by-frame.

Alex Milway said...

I loved my View-Master, and my favourite slides were of Danger Mouse, I think!

I recently got a chance to look into an old Victorian Stereoscope, with images of the Crystal Palace Exhibition back in the 1850s. I love the fact that even Queen Victoria would have been a fan of the View-Master!

Brian Sibley said...

ALEX - Was Danger Mouse done using models or line animation treated to look 3-D?

I wonder if Queen Victoria used to ask Albert to show her the dinosaurs again!

Matt J said...

FANTASTIC post!

Jedi Sue said...

Wow, thanks for the memories!! I loved my Viewmaster!

Brian Sibley said...

MATT J and JEDI SUE - Thanks both of you...

thepaperguy said...

Loved your View-Master comments and pictures. Alas, I don't think it was possible to project in 3D View-Master images on a wall. You could do so onto a silver screen(or a flat silver surface like a silver plate if you had one around) and only with a very expensive projector. The lower price projectors could show one picture of a pair on any surface.

If you are interested in buyiing some of the old vintage View-Master reel, let me know.

Ronn Roxx said...

Not 100% why I like it so much, but that photo of the red ViewMaster poking though all the white reels is awesome!

Brian Sibley said...

The Paper Guy - Thanks for putting me right! Of course, thinking it over, I realise you couldn't project those slides in 3D, but I almost believed that ad!

Ronn Roxx - I visited your sites... Wow! A true heaven for Disney collectors. Great stuff!

Tim said...

I posted the twin images from that "Robin Hood" set up on my blog about a year and a half ago. It's so cool to see the photo shoot set-up!

http://timothyhodge.blogspot.com/2007/07/3d.html

Paul Brenner said...

Anyone visiting Portland, OR should come by and visit the 3D Center of Art & Photography. We are the only such gallery/museum devoted to stereography in the US.

We have a large collection of View-Master material; as you may know, VW was invented in Portland by Wm. Gruber and the VM headquarters was here 1939-1996. Several of our Board members have massive collections of VM reels, viewers, projectors, and ephemera (company newsletters, ads, etc.)

In, fact, we have several of the original sculptures made by Joe Liptak. They are on loan from him. He's in his 80s and still lives in Portland Metro. We used that same image of him on the postcard we printed for a big VM show in May 2007.

More information on the 3D Center can be found at:
http://www.3dcenter.us

Brian Sibley said...

TIM - Thanks for this, as you'll see, I incorporated your Robin Hood photo(s) into the original post...

PAUL - If I'm ever in Portland, you'll be my first stop! Thanks for coming by and for the link to the 3dCenter.

wich2 said...

Brian-

Nice - thanks!

As others have said, you could INDEED project VM's in 3-D; but you needed the very expensive projector, and movie-style Polaroid glasses for everyone.

I've had the pleasure of corresponding with Joe Liptak. Very talented, and very nice. It is no insult to Florence Thomas, to say that I think his tabletop work took VM to a whole new level.

And "Give-A-Show" was a different animal; from Kenner, and using MUCH cheaper, painted 2-D images.

Best,
-Craig Wichman
Quicksilver Radio Theater, etc.

Brian Sibley said...

CRAIG - Thanks for tidying up those points - errors due to faulty memories of childhood, I fear - and for telling us about Joe. I agree, his work was wonderful...

Mary Ann Sell said...

There is a great deal of information about the View-Master artists and their work in my book 'VIEW-MASTER MEMORIES'. Check it out on Amazon or at my website: The View-Master homepage. I'm available to answer questions - I'm Viewmasterlady on facebook :-)

Mary Ann Sell

Mary Ann said...

There are some original clay figures that still remain from the glory days of View-Master when the fairy tale reels and early Disney reels had hand crafted figures used in the reels. One of my favorites is Thumbelina. Would love to know which other ones are known and loved by fellow posters. Mary Ann

Pamela said...

How great to see this! Florence Thomas was my dad's cousin and I'll never forget visiting her in the 60s in Portland. I was quite in awe of her. Somewhere I have a photo of her in her gardening clothes with her cat, Maggie. So glad you posted!

Brian Sibley said...

Mary Ann, belated thanks for the information about your book; and, Pamela, for your memories of Florence. View-Master views will always be a fond part of my childhood memories

junkthief said...

Thanks for this terrific overview. It reminds me that I am glad that I have held on to my nearly 50-year-old Viewmaster and the original sets. I always loved the Viewmaster sets of Disney films more than the animated films they recreated. I always wanted to enter that magical, miniature world. Thanks for the backstory on the talent that made it happen.

Brian Sibley said...

You're very welcome! I share your love of those miniature worlds!

Saffron said...

I had them in Ireland - my grandpa sent them from England - spent hours gazing at the jungle book, bambi and snow white - why oh why don't Disney re release them? We would all buy them for our own kids - there is nothing nearly as good as these models on the view master now!

Brian Sibley said...

How right you are!!

Francesca Slone said...

I’m a Disney buff myself. Anyway no matter how we look at these characters, we will always look at them with fascination, but Disney always have some brilliant ideas to share, don’t they? Adding some 3D twist to the still images of the characters is genius! It only made the Disney world even more fascinating! And the rest is history.

Richard Kaufman said...

I too loved the Disney films View Master slides as a kid.

For those who collect Disney theme park/View Master items, your collection is not complete without the TALKING View Master complete with Disneyland slides that have narration!