Thoughts on “A Short Introduction to Stereoscopy”

Raine, I have a question for clarification, since you mostly seem to refer to photographic images or cinematography when talking about stereoscopy:

Is your interest in stereoscopy restricted to recorded/replayed linear content (= e.g. movies), or does it also include 3D rendered scenes and processes, where the viewpoint may be controlled by the user in real time (= e.g. simulations, games)?

Goals important to me in this seminar would be:

  1. Connecting Pedagogical Media Theory approach to a supposed widespread stereoscopic media usage. What may be its educational-aesthetic-cultural impact?
  2. Supplementing your MA thesis with interesting addendums, different views, side glances. I think this is an important aspect: You should somehow be able to use ideas and texts developed in this course in your MA thesis or your general work.

A new medium: Trends, possibilities and questions

I’m no expert in the field of 3D visuals, too; but I believe that there is much to be expected in future aesthetic, didactic, and cultural impact from 3D as medial extension.

As you stated, 3D has a long tradition with several attempts during the last hundred years to establish it as regular technical and artistic medium. Sight is our primary esthesia, and dominant in our visually oriented global culture; resolution, framerate, color depth and 3D-rendering both in recording/design and playback/interaction have advanced greatly, with a market hungry for innovation in further modes of visualisation.
3D seems like a ‘natural’ extension of the trends in displaying images we witnessed over the last years. But maybe it has the potential to be more than ‘just’ the continuation of a trend (the strive for better, richer, extended image display), but opens up a space for unique and innovative modes of applications, too.

Medial developments preceding or parallel to 3D visuals

If we follow McLuhan (e.g. “The Gutenberg Galaxy” or “Understanding Media”), that the printing press has shaped modern man and his/her culture, we can assume that the 2D-mode of presentation has been even more formative for us, since it predates prints, going back to cave paintings and clay tablets. Basically any form of artificially laid out trails on surfaces are 2D-depictions.
With the advent of digital copies, of networked data spaces and of ubiquitous, mobile devices to produce and disseminate texts and images there followed – after scripture, printing press, TV – another explosive proliferation of this kind of 2D-based information.
Autostereoscopy delivered via a 2D medium, like holography, lenticular prints etc. remained exotic in its applications because of the effort to produce or copy such images.

• McLuhan talks about the medium being the message – what may be the message of culturally predominant 2D imagery?

In the 18th to the early 20th century, industrial manufacturing and cinematography opened a path for the dissemination of visual arts’ sculptures, of designed physical objects ( and of performing arts (theatre) – though with a hard limit due to the corporality of the product (= mass production) and because of the loss of the performative character during translation, thus creating a discernible, different medium (= cinema).

Another medial development, arguably the most radical since the invention of the printing press, is the introduction of user’s choice effecting the reception: Interactivity, hypertext, ergodic literature (recom.: Espen J. Aarseth (1997): Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature), a radically different mode of handling information compared to print, cinematography etc., permeates increasingly our culture. An authored content can become a medium in itself, by providing choices of its usage and challenging the user to ‘shape’ his or her experience of the content.

• Has stereoscopy an innate ergodic potential, giving a user a non-trivial choice to perceive images in more than one way?
(one could imagine a user-traversable tableau like Adam Berg (2009) Philips Advertisment )

YouTube Preview Image

3D-Visualisation could be of great profit in combination with 3D-rendering-Software and 3D-printers. Choosing one’s viewpoint with consequences of how the plot of the film is received may be a much needed extension to help the stalling medium of cinema (

Some further questions:

• How would you – in the ilk of Scott McLoud – describe this new medium in short?
If we assume that cinematography has become a “dominant convention” to represent past processes via visual information, is there a simple differentiation possible to cover 3D cinematography?

• What trend of applications may be followed by cheap, ubiquitous and simplified usage of 3D recording and playback, and what may be its use in education, science, arts and entertainment?
E.g. How can this be a better means for training professions where passive depth perception and spatial sense play an important role? What may be the impact on cinematography if depth is added to complementing (and complexity increasing) information? So far 3D is still a ‘gadget’ in cinematic productions, to not to stall sales for devices not able to display non-3D.

• What medial space may be opened by such a development, which takes advantage of our ability to stereoscopic representation and procession, connected to the fact that we are actually mobile 3D-beings in interaction with a shared, given 3D-environment (“Physical Reality”)?
The impact of scripture and print on the *perception* of knowledge and its handling in science and education is described by Christina Schwalbe (Dropbox: Schwalbe (2010), “Change of Media – Change of Scholarship – Change of University”).
Is stereography just an extension of existing visual media (= video with added depth information)?
Does it require juxtaposition or support by other media to reach its full potential or counter its restrictions (= e.g. as augmented reality overlay; as real-time rendered ergodic 3D imagery; or in combination with eye-tracking depth-focus-feedback-mechanisms)?
Or – maybe in combination with the second option – has it the potential to be used as a unique medium, with also unique potential for scientific, educational or aesthetic cognition (= has it the potential to change not *what* we perceive but *how* we perceive)?
Some unusual examples for the usage of stereoscopic representation:

From the XKCD-Comics: Another kind of depth perception.

German “Scherenfernrohr” (rabbit-ears-telescope)
for increased depth perception and estimation
of distances.

• Besides the technical problems, do you see any kind of potential for ‘misuse’, for cultural limitations or problems with the introduction of autostereoscopic 3D?
E.g. in Platon’s “Socrates Dialog with Phaedrus” (Dropbox), Socrates talks about the disadvantages of the new medium “scripture” compared to “live speech”:

“Writing, Phaedrus, has this strange quality, and is very like painting; for the creatures of painting stand like living beings, but if one asks them a question, they preserve a solemn silence. And so it is with written words; you might think they spoke as if they had intelligence, but if you question them, wishing to know about their sayings, they always say only one and the same thing.”

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About Wey

My name's Wey-Han Tan, I graduated 2007 as Diplompädagoge (educational scientist) in Hamburg, and 2009 as M.A. in ePedagogy Design. Currently I work at the project "Universitätskolleg" as scientific assistant at the Faculty for Educational Sciences, Psychology and Human Movement at the University of Hamburg. My research interests are game based learning, second order gaming, media theory and (radical) constructivist approaches. I like pen-and-paper-roleplaying, especially in contemporary horror settings like "KULT" or "Call of Cthulhu".
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