A reminder that 3D technologies have had their ups and downs a number of times in the last 150 years can be found in groundbreaking the new 3net documentary Sky Soldier: A Vietnam Story in 3D that the 3D channel is airing on Memorial Day.
Stereoscopic still photos were wildly popular in the last half of the 19th century and thousands were taken during the Civil War, but the technology had fallen out of favor by the 1960s. Recently, however, producer Tom Jennings came upon a rare cache of 3D photos that had been taken during the Vietnam War by Major Joel Glenn, a Silver Star-decorated soldier who had served two tours of duty in Vietnam.
Jennings had been looking into the idea of using older 3D still photos as the basis of a war documentary and had been told by Discovery that they would be interested in a documentary on Vietnam if he could find some 3D photos from the war.
"But 3D photography had gone into a lull during the 1960s, when only a hobbyists were still doing it," Jennings says, and he was initially told that there were no 3D shots of the war. But the editor of Stereo World Magazine told him about a booklet of 3D shots that had been produced by Joel Glenn and his wife Judy.
Jennings managed to track down Judy, who showed him a large collection of 3D photos taken by her then-deceased husband, who had remained an avid 3D photographer until his death of cancer in 2007.
This collection included around 100 pictures from Vietnam that became the basis of the documentary. Joel and his young wife also exchanged extensive audio tapes, which were supplemented by extensive interviews with Judy Glenn, the Glenn family and soldiers who had served with Glenn in Vietnam as well as some war footage.
"The photos and tapes really take the viewer into the daily lives of soldiers in Vietnam," Jennings says. "It is an intimate portrait of their lives and a wonderful love story," between Joel and Judy Glenn that is narrated by their audio tapes, he notes.
The story is also greatly enhanced by 3D technologies, he notes. "3D documentaries aren't like films, where there are rockets flying out of the screen," he says. "The whole point is to make you feel like you are sitting in the living room with Judy and it makes it much more immersive experience."
While the 3D photos were in pristine shape, some shots required extensive work to recalibrate them for video. During the 1960s, 3D photos were shot with a camera with two lenses, producing a shot for the left eye and another for the right eye that were then developed into a slide that was viewed in a 3D viewer. "It was a very painstaking process," to realign photos so the focus and resolution was correct on video, Jennings says.
The production also broke new ground by actually filming Judy Glenn showing her husband's photos with a 3D projector. While the viewers watching the projection could be captured with a normal 3D camera rig, the crew had to take the glass from 3D glasses and put them over the camera lens in order to film the projector in 3D.
"We wanted to show that these kinds of images, this old 3D technology will work wonderfully with the new 3D TV," Jennings says. "I think this shows how well it can work."
The special, which airs on Memorial Day on 3net, begins as Joel Glenn goes into basic training and then begins his first tour of duty in Vietnam, where he takes his voice recorder and a 3D camera. Glenn documents his first tour with 3D photography and by sending heartfelt voice "letters" to his young bride.
Following a bout with cancer, later linked to Agent Orange exposure, the Glenn family goes to Germany where he is treated for testicular cancer. After this he returns to Vietnam for another tour, serving as the commanding officer of an Army attack helicopter squadron and continuing his 3D photography and voice recordings.
The special ends as Glenn returns to his Florida farm with his cherished photographs, which may very well be the only 3D account of the Vietnam War in existence.