View-Master preservation project – behind the scenes | BTS


The View-Master debuted at the 1939 World’s
Fair and received its US patent in 1940. It was developed as an updated successor to
other stereoscope designs that existed since the 1800’s. It’s main innovation was its compact, multi-slide,
color reel which was made possible by advancements in film stock. Whole families used View-Masters for story
time or to get a three dimensional peek at unique sights all over the world. In 1966, the original producer, Sawyer’s
Inc. was acquired by GAF Corporation and the subjects selected for the reels started to
favor a younger audience with an increase of cartoons, TV shows, and movie tie-ins. This change in marketing strategy boosted
sales for a time but also relegated this innovative 3D viewer as nothing more than a toy. Although unique variations were introduced,
such as Talking View-Masters, and various projectors, by the late seventies and early
eighties, sales were declining. There was so much more new media vying for
children’s attention, be it other viewer toys, home video games, cable television,
or the rise of the home video market, that the View-Master fell out of prominence. Thankfully, they haven’t completely disappeared. They can still be found in some toy stores
under the Discovery Kids label. And beginning in 2015 they entered into the
mobile VR space. Partnering with Google, they produced a couple
of VR headsets with purchasable experience packs and apps that run under Google Cardboard. The View-Master remains a unique piece of
Americana that still shows pop culture influence to this day. Here’s my personal viewer and reels. They originally belonged to my Grandparents. During our visits, this was one of their available
toys. I would sit there marveling at these images. I loved seeing the scenes in 3D and appreciating
the artistry involved in creating them. Since my grandparents are now gone, these
keepsakes now hold I high sentimental value for me. I think of YouTube as a wonderful place to
archive and share media from years past. To that end, I decided to let some of these
reels from my childhood live on in a new format so others could check them out. And because of the experience I’d learned
in making other videos earlier this year, I want to make them viewable in 3D as well. First I needed to figure out how to capture
the images from these slides. A while back I mentioned that maybe one day
I’d have a chance to properly scan these slides. “Maybe one day I’ll have a chance to properly
scan these slides.” See? Well, I don’t have a slide scanner so I
needed to develop some way using the equipment I have available. I discovered that you can get a pretty good
result from simply pointing a camera through the viewer lens, but scaling this up to archive
every scene on multiple reels would present a bevy of issues. Every pair of captured images would need to
be manually adjusted and aligned to minimize differences in lighting, scale, perspective
or rotation. Otherwise the stereographic effect would be
impaired. That’s a bit too complicated an endeavor
at my skill level considering my previous small scale results were sub par. If I could capture a high-resolution image
of the entire reel, that could really simplify this workflow. After a couple of failures, here is what I
did. Here’s the setup. I just have the ring light, shining, shooting
down on a plain white paper. Uh, with the elevated reel. Ok, the camera’s on a tripod above that. Feeding out to a TV monitor so that I can
get my proper focus in. And a remote shutter. Next, I took all of the photos of the reels
and cropped and aligned them equally. Now the real challenge will be in the video
editor. I wasn’t sure how to do it at first, but
as I thought about it, the solution became clear. In the editor, I created a sort of digital
recreation of the View-Master’s internal mechanism. Using this as the base I composited the two
proper images and text window into one master shot. This way I was able to emulate the experience
of using an original viewer as closely as I could. Using this as a template, I could essentially
drag and drop in the actual reels to replace the placeholder. Then for each reel I added music and narration
and exported them out. These seem like pretty simple composite shots,
but my computer took about an hour to render for every 30 seconds of finished footage! To keep the experience authentic, the left
eye view is on the left, the right eye on the right. This will allow you to see the image in 3D
through a VR viewer such as Nintendo Labo VR, or the very apropos View-Master Deluxe
VR Viewer. I could render versions with the images swapped,
which will allow you to use a cross-eyed viewing method to see them in 3D without a device. Let me know if that’s something you’d
like. And if you have issues seeing 3D images, here’s
an example of the perspective change from eye to eye. I’m thankful that I took on this challenge,
and am pleased by the finished works. Although there are many ways in which my method
just can’t hold up to the original experience. Through a real View-Master, you can see seemingly
unlimited photographic details. By shooting the whole reel in one frame, I’ve
sacrificed a lot of those details. When I start a project like this, I don’t
like to investigate what others have done before me, lest I get discouraged from trying
it at all. And while I was wrapping up my work on it,
I finally did look into other archives and, my goodness, they are impressive! There’ll be links to all of the following
examples in the description below. When you can see the original slide, or a
very high resolution scan like this, it’s easy to marvel at the craftsmanship of a shot
like this one. What you see is a real environment, real pool
table, balls, cue stick…these are not an illustration, but a true physical space. This space happens to be shared with these
illustrated characters. Most of that nuance is lost in my captures. Here’s another example. Compare this scan to my capture and you can
see the limits of my method. I’ve introduced unavoidable digital artifacts
as well. Rotating a digital image will either produce
artifacts like the seam in this frame or smearing of detail due to pixel interpolation. At any rate, it isn’t like my personal collection
is truly archive worthy. I have slides with nicks and scratches. Some are very color faded. And it seems I overlooked cleaning some of
these reels in preparation for being photographed. Plus I can’t be certain I always got the
focus perfect. In the end, I only photographed about half
of my reels, albeit the more interesting half. If there’s enough community interest and
support for this project, I could finish off my collection, and reshoot some of these others
to get better results. But anyway, please see this project for what
it is: not truly an attempt to properly archive, but rather an indulgence of personal nostalgia
and an effort to rise to a video editing challenge. Doing this project was a bucket list item
for me and I’m glad to have found a way to accomplish it to the degree that I have. And with that, I’d like to thank you for
letting me explain my passions. I have a feeling that these videos will not
gain many views and launching them all at once will probably hurt my channel in the
suggestion algorithm. If you are able to look at one or two of them,
that would be greatly appreciated, but at the very least, I’d like to thank you for
watching my behind-the-scenes process.

1 Response

  1. Reagan Dow says:

    These are really neat man. Thank you for sharing these very personal
    Memories.

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