Experiments in Stereoscopic Film Photography
Using 35mm film to create 3D gifs and wigglegrams
This article was originally published December 5, 2020
Using An Old Toy Film Camera
Around this time last year I bought a Nishika N8000 camera to document the holidays in 3D gifs, also known as wigglegrams. This vintage camera from the 90s is as much toy as it is camera. It’s called a one trick pony by just about every photography blog out there for its singular purpose of creating wigglegrams and even then you don’t need it. There are several tutorials on creating wigglegrams sans Nishika like this one. There are apps. There are other cameras. And yet here we are.
Wigglegrams are a trend that have been around for a while. There are online communities and articles dedicated to these 3D gifs going back at least 10 years. They’re popular in music videos and celebrations with anything that splashes or can be thrown in the air, which adds to the illusion of depth. Some credit artist Jaime Martinez and musician M.I.A. for popularizing this trend in 2010. Going back to 2002, interaction designer Jim Gasperini was credited for contributing “wiggling scenes” to the internet tableau of the early aughts.
Others call it the Mura Masa effect, named after the band Mura Masa who used a slew of 3D Gifs in their Music Video for What if I Go. Three months after Mura Masa, DRAM released the video for Broccoli (featuring Lil Yachty) also using 3D Gifs. The list goes on.
A Brief History and Practice in Stereoscopic 3D
Before 3D gifs, there were stereograms. First invented in 1832 by Sir Charles Wheatstone, stereograms were two offset images in the left and right eye of a viewfinder, which the brain would then perceive as 3D depth. These were viewed through a stereoscope, though most will recognize this technology from playing with View-Masters as a kid.
As photographic processes and technology progressed, so did stereoscopy. During Hollywood’s Golden Age of 3D Cinema in the 1950s, Kodak came out with the Kodak Stereo Camera--a 35mm camera with a dual lens system. Around the same time, in 1952, Bolex started selling the Bolex Stereo, a 3D kit that included a dual lens to attach to the body of your Bolex H16. The film exposes two side-by-side images onto the 16mm film stock. I had the opportunity to shoot in stereoscopic 16mm in 2016 after taking a workshop with Mono No Aware. Like the Nishika, its purpose is a little weird and singular, but equally fascinating.
A couple of years later, I returned to shooting stereoscopic 16mm film, though I never quite felt I cracked the code with 3D 16mm, so I ended up painting the film and calling it a day. Even as a flat image, the results were fascinating if only for its ability to create a self-reflective film space--one that draws attention to the doubling of the image and the medium itself. There’s a lot to explore there, but more on this later.
Footage from Stereoscopic Workshop with Mono No Aware, 2016
1980s - Present
In the 1980s, Nimstech created the Nimslo stereo camera, this time with 4 lenses. This camera, developed in my hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, was the predecessor to the Nishika. In a pre-gif world, creating photos that served the 3D technology required lenticular printing (think a sort of holograph) and while Nimslo had a blip of success in 1982, the high cost of lenticular printing stilted the camera’s success. Still, copycats emerged and that’s when the Nishika N8000 and N9000 arrived.
Jumping ahead, the most recent use of stereoscopy has been in virtual reality. With the transition from stereogram to viewmaster and all the way up to PS4 and Occulus Rift, one has to wonder if artists were imagining 3D world building in 1832. These connections between steroscopy to VR make sense, as stereoscopic technology is quite literally the building blocks for VR, with two images in each eye that the brain perceives as one. Beyond this, there is something beautiful and poetic about looking to the past for guidance in burgeoning industries.
Hand-processed sterescopic on 16mm
Using the Nishika N8000
At some point in the past few years, amidst this analog film resurgence, the Nishika N8000 became popular again and prices on eBay shot up. I was able to grab my N8000 for $100, but at the current moment you’re more likely to find these cameras for around $200-300. Perhaps even more if you’re looking for one with a flash.
I loaded my camera with 35mm Ektachrome E100 film. Ektachrome is a go-to of mine. It’s beautiful and easy to process at home (see my recipe for processing Ektachrome Film here). Loading instructions included with this camera suggest using 35mm print film with an ASA or ISO of 100, but I would recommend experimenting with this. Some photographers have found working with 400 ISO film yields better results.
Set your scene with a clear foreground, middle ground, and background. This will help solidify that 3D effect. After shooting, processing, and scanning you’re ready to build your gif.
I used Photoshop and Premiere to do this, but use whatever photo or video editing software you feel most comfortable with. Start by importing all four images into your photo editor. These four images will act as 4 individual frames in the gif. Find a point in the scene to line up your photos with. This can be a nose, an eye, a cup of coffee, etc. One by one, drop the opacity in each frame to line up the point you’ve chosen. Restore the opacity in each image to 100 percent. At this point, you will likely need to crop in a bit. Adjust as necessary.
At this point, you can choose to edit your video together in a photo editing software like Photoshop or use a video editing software. If using Photoshop, I recommend using Frame Animation to build the gif. Here are the basic steps:
- Go to Window>Timeline to ensure your timeline is visible in your workspace.
- Under Timeline Click “Create Frame Animation.” If it says “Create Video Timeline,” just click that drop down arrow to the right and to find the frame animation option.
- Create four frames using the duplicate button.
- On the first frame hide all layers except the bottom layer. One the second frame, hide all layers except the bottom 2 layers. On the third frame hide just the top layer, and on the last frame make all layers visible.
- Set the delay to a time that works for you. I would recommend 0.08, but this is ultimately up to you.
- Export as a Gif.
For my own workflow, I prefer to export my layers into images and build my Gif in Premiere. It’s an extra step, but I live in Premiere and find the workflow clicks a little easier with my filmmaker brain. From there, I just line them up, copy/paste, and nest my sequence. The Benefit of building your 3D Gif in Premiere is if you’re editing your gif into a video, then you can stay in one application to make tweaks and edits.
Moving Beyond 3D Gifs
Despite, it’s singular use, I began wondering if this camera could be used to create something that wasn’t 3D Gifs. I started by removing motion and experimented with displaying each individual frame individually. Note the processing errors when loading a 35mm tank in a rush.
Then I experimented with creating composite images out of the four images. Here, I played with opacity filters to layers the frames.
I then experimented with adding motion back in, this time with composited images.
Working with the composite image where each frame is slightly offset you can experiment with adding video effects to push in. This is similar to an effect I did with my 16mm film Kudzu, where I duplicated the same shot and offset them a bit and used opacity filters alongside painted film to create this oneiric space.
This is about as far as I got with experimenting with this camera, but others have experimented with multiple exposures and adding color filters over hte lenses. Here’s a thorough tutorial on creating multiple exposures and adding color filters over the lenses.
I think the appeal of the Nishika N8000, Nimslo, or Bolex Stereo kit is its potential that in so many ways feels untapped. It feels more cinema of attraction, enticing its viewer with the mystical possibilities of the machine, than a pragmatic tool in a filmmaker or photographer’s arsenal. Perhaps this is why it fits so well in music videos–the non-narrative structure and emphasis on a feeling or a brief moment above all else lends itself well to this wiggling image. After all, how many of us turn on a song to relive a moment? With a wigglegram, 3D gif, Mura Masa effect, or whatever new name emerges for this form of stereoscopy, we can capture a moment and loop it. Over and over again.