Daniel L. Symmes


NOTE: This article is dynamic in that it will change over time as new or different information is found.
First published 6NOV08 - current revision 20DEC2009

The George Eastman House has in its collection a reel of nitrate film they attribute to William T. Crespinel.

I say attribute since there is so far no direct evidence linking it to Crespinel, though I have every reason to suspect it was either Crespinel or his partner Jacob F. Leventhal or both.

The background of these two 3D pioneers is covered in previous articles, which left off in 1923 when they showed a "demo film" to the management of NY's Roxy Theatre. The demo was rejected for not having "off the screen effects."

So Crespinel and Leventhal went off and sometime before the end of 1923, shot at least one short subject, PLASTIGRAMS, which was distributed by Educational Pictures and first seen at the Roxy on 3FEB1924.

More shorts were shot but Educational Pictures lost interest, possibly because of the cost and effort of the 3D glasses and the fact shorts made very little money.

On the other hand, Pathé apparently felt otherwise and gave the next four shorts the collective title of STEREOSCOPIKS.

The Pathé releases started on 25MAR1925, and continued through 1926.

Crespinel partnered with Leventhal to produce these films, though Frederick Eugene Ives apparently provided the cameras and "prisms" and thereafter it was "IVES & LEVENTHAL," in official billing. Not having seen any of the shorts, we cannot say if Crespinel received any credit.

There is no evidence that Ives had any other hand in the making of the Crespinel/Leventhal films.

The so-called Crespinel reel is curious for a number of reasons. The date codes on the various scenes (from the negative) indicate being produced from 1924 through 1927! So it is possible at least some of the scenes were part of the STEREOSCOPIKS titles, though until we find ANY specimens of them we'll likely never know.

The obvious effort in setting up these scenes (costumes/props/actors) tells me these aren't simple "lab tests" and probably were destined for theatrical release.

Finally, there is an unusual display of considerable depth of field. I believe even then it was recognized that a scene fully in focus was desirable.

This reel is the SECOND oldest 3D film footage known to exist (after the PLASTICON demo).



(The original film was "RED RIGHT" as is the restoration, so make
sure you have the RED lens over your RIGHT eye.)

The first three scenes are quite interesting and the fact they were printed from an EDITED negative gives a strong hint they may be from one of the released shorts. The other three scenes are of the same appearence (print/subject-wise).

Cowboy 244 1924
Pitcher 124 1924
Fisherman 587 1924
Chaplin Mop 804 1924
Construction 1,130 1924
Baseball 257 1924

The first thing one notices is the "shadow" imagery: white background with silhouetted actors.

At first I thought this was like the 'shadowgrams' created by Laurens Hammond DEC22, but each time I viewed the footage, things didn't "work" for me.

Having now studied it at length, I am of the opinion that we are looking at silhouette images: large white screen with actors in the foreground with NO lighting on them.

The reasons for my opinion are: depth of field and shadow sizing. A true shadowgram would NOT exhibit depth of field (some things sharp, others out of focus), as these scenes clearly do. Impossible. And in a real shadowgram, as the actor comes closer to the screen (toward the camera), his shadow would get SMALLER, which it doesn't. Thus the actors are in front of the screen.

"Why?" Hammond's shadowgrams of 1922 were VERY popular and effective. Hammond filed for a patent for the shadowgram on 23JAN23 (granted 15JAN24).

The anaglyph version of Hammond's shadowgrams (the first time was not anaglyph) was first seen by the public on 27OCT23 in the current run of the Ziegfeld Follies. It was apparently a smash success.

The film date codes for the 'silhouette' footage are 1924. It can be assumed Crespinel/Leventhal knew of Hammond's patent (Leventhal was very familiar with patents), and seeing the effectiveness of shadowgrams, but to avoid Hammond's patent, they "faked" the shadowgram, producing instead this 'silhouettegram' concept.

It's an interesting experiment that demonstrates the power of stereoscopic vision without the usual visual cues of lighted subject matter.

The Charlie Chaplin character is simply a copy, which was common at that time. Interesting how recognizable the character is in silhouette.


The following scenes were shot one or more years later, and generally concentrate on the newly discovered "off the screen" idea.


Military Parade 672 1925

This is the image as it appears on the print. Not "too bad."

This is the result of the 20/20 Process, with corrected
contrast, alignment and convergence.

Subject to expert analysis, I'm assuming this is Army. And while Crespinel shot Army activities in 3D at Arlington Cemetery in 1923, which were seen in the Crespinel/Leventhal 'demo,' could have been Arlington Cemetery or West Point. We may never know.


Hag 625 1926

This is the first shot on this reel that has a visible ring or tube ahead of the lens, and just visible surrounding the image. I can't say for sure, but it could have been some kind of "target" for the "actors" to aim at for their 3D "pokings."

I say this as this and following shots have the actors poking at the camera in an extreme manner (ouch), yet they all remain in the frame. This was unusual since the cameras of the day were not reflex, so the cameraman couldn't tell the actor "a little to the left," and therefore the pokes tended to miss.

This shot is also the FIRST example of the use of convergence (though modified in this restoration). All prior 3D motion picture footage that I have seen had parallel lenses, including many on this reel.

In this case, the convergence tends to be nearly on the subject or a little behind them.

I'm not going to read too much into this since it is remarkable, but we can't say WHY they converged for these shots. It should be noted that all these shots have black backgrounds, close to the actors.

Note: convergence has been changed/introduced throughout the 20/20 Process restoration to make the images easier to view.

Again, as the "actress" pokes the shot glass at the camera in this scene, she does so with extreme accuracy.


Hand 391 1927

This shot will never look right. Extreme contrast and extreme parallax.


Kid 283 1926

Again, black background, convergence. Again the circular shape in front of the lens, and the kid aims with excellent accuracy. Could he still be alive??? Assume he was about 11, he'd be 93 now.


Canon 406 1926


...and after 20/20 Process restoration.

Are there any canon experts out there who can identify this location? The footage has been manipulated in probably two ways: first, unless it's stop motion, it was shot slowly so the canon would move faster. Second, they added the animated discharge (and not very well). So this footage is likely "multi generation" which explains increased grain and considerable unsteadiness.


Camera 641 1926

Wacky prop, but rather well done, though carried way too far for comfortable viewing. Again black background and convergence just behind the actor. Overall this could never be easy to observe (parallax).


Swordsman 651 1925

Black background, convergence, accurate 'poking.'

Can there be a connection between this shot, and...

...this one from a 1925 stereo card?


Man With Gun 339 1927

Black background, convergence, accurate 'poking.'

And another "coincidence:"

Again, a stereo card from 1925.


Execution 312 1926

Black background, convergence. This is one weird scene. Note the cut near the end to setup the head coming at the camera.


Indian 89 1926

Not well shot, and the arrow is WAAAYYY too much. Too much interaxial (parallax).


Chaplin Pie 391 1927

Now we see the Chaplin character and he is a good likeness. The outstretched pie is too much.


Not the same actors, but the scenes on these stereo cards OBVIOUSLY look like the Crespinel scenes. When I first saw this footage in 2002, I recalled these stereo cards. The cards stuck in my mind because they were the first I had seen that took a deliberate "off the screen in your face" gimmick approach, which was not normal.


All the stereo cards are dated 1925, contemporary to these film scenes to the degree one has to ask: which was first? I believe they are related. And a point to note in this last example (not in the footage we have) is the "Courtesey of Pathe Exchange, Inc." credit which is the company that released the STEREOSCOPIKS.


The overall length of the reel is 8,586 frames / 24 fps = 357.75 seconds = 5.9625 minutes (715.5'). Nitrate film stock, duplitized, almost certainly Kodachrome two color process, silent, full aperture. When holding the print in hand, right reading, the cyan faces you, orange on the back side. Apparent shooting speed approximately 20 fps.



Transfer was handled at International Video Conversions (IVC), Burbank, CA. Philips Spirit DataCine direct to IVC's system for output as DPX image files, HD (1920x1080), 4:4:4, 24 fps.

At the DIMENSION 3 facility proprietary tools and techniques were used to separate the left and right images. There is no editing, except for one scene that was out of 3D sync (1 frame). Otherwise, all image frames (including black and bad frames) are intact. Final image is cropped to eliminate some of the distracting image edges. Specific changes to the images involved correcting vertical misalignment and introduction of convergence to make viewing easier on the eyes. 'Reasonable' left/right image tonal parameters are adjusted to better match each other. Final format is uncompressed HD as left & right pairs (for polarized projection) and anaglyph.

UPDATE: (20DEC09) On 19DEC, Jeff Joseph was kind enough to have a group of about 15 friends out to the SabuCat Theatre in Palmdale, CA, to watch several 3D films.

The first one up was the world 3D premiere of this restoration in dual projection POLARIZED. The audience reactions were wonderful, and indeed, this footage was VERY impressive. If only Crespinel and Leventhal could see it now.

I wish to thank the George Eastman House for allowing us the privilege to restore this very important piece of 3D film history.

Next are Jeff Joseph and the 3-D Film Preservation Fund (of which I am a member). We now have another important restoration, demonstrating our unique goal and abilities.

And thanks to Ray Zone for providing the scans of the stereo cards (converted to anaglyph by D3).

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© 2010, Daniel L. Symmes
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