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Commentary & Analysis

It Ain't the Holodeck Quite Yet

By Noel Ward,

By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: October 13, 2005

By Noel Ward, Executive Editor October 13, 2005 -- When I was a kid I had a hand-held viewer that took cardboard disks with maybe 25 tiny slides around the perimeter. These slides, when viewed through the device's binocular lenses, appeared to be 3D. Well, sort of. Long before that were stereopticon projectors like the Magic Lantern and others that did much the same thing for (mostly) monochrome images. Such devices try to fool the vision center in the backs of our brains into thinking it's seeing something it's not--in this case, making 2-dimensional photos look 3-dimensional. To avoid cumbersome projection systems, sheets of lenticular plastic can be placed over the image. These, as the name implies, are comprised of a myriad of tiny lenses configured to create the illusion of depth on a suitably composed photograph. The magic of the process is in the image processing software Well, sort of. For the past year or so there has been a moderate level of hype around a 3-dimensional printing technology developed and marketed by Human Eyes Technologies. For those of you who missed it, Human Eyes has developed an imaging process that uses standard digital cameras and digital or litho presses to produce stereo panoramic 3D pictures. The process uses three steps. First is taking several digital photos of a scene, moving the camera about one degree between each shot. These images are processed by HumanEyes software, then printed using existing technologies--primarily digital presses. After printing, images can be laminated to various types of lenticular plastic sheeting. These offer special lenticular effects such as flipping, morphing, morph-and-zoom, layered 3D, and 2D to 3D conversion. The magic of the process is in the image processing software, which uses a variety of proprietary mathematical algorithms that combine the multiple photographs to create a 3-dimensional perspective--or at least one with accentuated depth of field. I'll no doubt get some flack for this, but I don't see what all the fuss is about. Well, sort of. Now I'll no doubt get some flack for this, but I don't see what all the fuss is about. I'm enough of a geek to admit that what's going on under the covers is pretty slick, and despite the technology winning a GATF InterTech award in 2004, this is still just a gimmick to me. To my eyes, the printed images without the lenticular sheets look contrived and don't hold a candle to well-composed and properly lit conventional images. Despite the quality of the original photos, when laminated to a lenticular sheet the images are fuzzy, garish, and when poster sized (like for display advertising) make me want to leave the area. The postcard-sized images HumanEyes hands out at trade shows are cute, but are really just updated versions of the stuff I used to pull out of Cracker Jacks boxes. None of them make the cut to go in the show bag that comes home. But that's just my opinion. The real point is whether print providers can make money with it. The real point is whether print providers can make money with it. The Human Eyes web site lists some big-name companies whose marketers think these dimensional illusions have marketing and branding value because the images are different enough to attract notice. And they may be right, in this age of attention-deficient consumers, for whom only the latest version of anything has any credibility. This means HumanEyes' technology can offer print providers and photographers a way to expand their services with an offering that can be a real differentiator. Like most other technologies, this one will surely improve with time, and while it does there'll be some early adopters who'll make some dough--and that's a good thing! But I'll wait for version 4.0 before I get excited. What do you think? Send opinions, hate mail, and other abuse to let me know.



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