Text and Image from Ray Zone’s book: Stereoscopic Cinema & the Origins of 3-D Film, 1838-1952

Laurens Hammond of New York, in addition to originating the Hammond Organ, was also an inventor of stereoscopic displays and processes.  Hammond had the ingenious idea to create stereoscopic shadows of live performances using red/green rear illumination and a backlit screen. David Hutchinson writed that “in 1918, the Keith-Abbey vaudeville circuit featured a 3-D shadow-graph act, which featured a chorus line strutting its stuff and flashing high kicks at the audience.  In the midst of the number a translucent screen was lowered in front of the girls who were then illuminated from the rear with red and green light –casting red and green shadows on the screen.”  The stereoscopic shadowgraph act was a popular addition to theatrical  productions in the 1920’s, and it had a significant influence on the anaglyph films that were subsequently produced.

Hammond’s U.S. patent no. 1.481,006 (Janurary 15, 1924) was titled “Process of and Apparatus for Stereoscopic Shadowgraphs.  Like Macy’s patent , Hammond’s described stereoscopic imagery that projected into the viewers space with negative parallax.  Hammond described “stereoscopic shadows of actual object such as actors” that the spectator sees “moving about in the hall over the heads of the audience and in advance of the stage on which they are actually located”

Hammond licensed the process to Florens Ziegfeld, who incorporated it into the “Ziegfeld Follies.” his “National Institution Glorifying the Glorious American Girl.” and stage is as the “Ziegfeld Shadowgraph.”


An Excerpt from Laurens Hammond’s British Patent Application for the Shadowgraph Process

Two shadows of an object are cast on to a screen by two light sources, and means are provided whereby the left eye of a spectator sees one shadow only and the right eye sees the other shadow only, the effect produced being that of one shadow located between the screen and the spectator. As shown diagrammatically, light sources 11, 12, at a distance apart corresponding to the interpupillary distance, cast shadows of objects 13, 14 on to a screen 10. Red and green or other complementary colour filters 16, 17 are provided in the light beams, and filter holders in the form of spectacles having red and green filters 18, 19 respectively are worn by the spectators so as to cause the shadows to appear at the positions shown in broken lines. Movement of the objects causes apparent movement of the shadows without variation in their size. In a modification, the colour filters are dispensed with, and rotating shutters are provided to obstruct the light beams and the view of the spectator, such shutters being synchronously rotated so that the left eye sees only the shadow cast by one light source and the right eye sees only the shadow cast by the other light source.


Ken Jacobs on his Work with Stereoscopic Shadowplay

“In 1969 I came up with a simple way to project shadows in 3D, voluminous color shadows, by which time I was teaching in Binghamton, with space and a big translucent rubber rear-screen and students I could yell at for not showing up for rehearsal on time. Some thought the pure pleasure of 3D shadowplay (“optical-auditory vaudeville”) would take me into the bigtime but four close events took the wind out of me: someone carelessly burnt out an ideal presentation space made available to me on Reade Street; I got cheated by a crooked lawyer out of one NY place and cheated by Flo’s parents out of another (you don’t want the details), and then when Yoko Ono and John Lennon were up for staging a shadow-show in a proper theater the Feds came down on them, determined to deport John. Very bruising, after which he and Yoko went into seclusion to pull themselves together, and -bummed out as I became- that was it for The Apparition Theater of New York. Once in a great while I shake out the old shadows and present an evening, but I can’t tell you how often, going through the city, I see a place advertising for a renter and think, “Perfect shadowplay theater.” David Schwartz has invited us to perform at AMMI so perhaps the shadows will lift from slumber yet again.

THE BOXER REBELLION began with a 3D slide projection -viewers wearing polaroid spectacles- of antique stereopticon photos of that bloody insurrection and similar soldierboy tableaux. Music of Benjamin Britten, his Serenade For Tenor Solo, Horn and Strings. After stereo projection each picture was again shown as 2D (with one of the two projection lamps turned off) against a board covered with luminescent paint, temporarily preserving the image. A dozen or so such illuminated boards were sent circulating among the audience for close perusal. Followed by a short color-film of a Chinese magician and then a particularly colorful 3D shadowplay to Chinese celebratory percussion music: Flo and Helene Kaplan and seven year old Nisi going through the motions of preparing food, slicing lettuce in 3D close-up and so on, with savory smells preceding their emerging from the shadow realm bearing trays of hot egg-rolls with hot mustard -What hath shadowland wrought?- (but in fact raced over from Chinatown) for the audience to eat, to relish, tangy shadow consumables.

There’s a detailed article, “SLOW IS BEAUTY,” on RODIN in The NYU Theater Drama Review (Dorothy Pam, Volume 19, Number 1, March 1975). Our kids ate 3D spaghetti in this one, which came with naked ladies and live chickens (had to drop the chicken act because of the smell and because the poor things were manufactured and conditioned to caged indolence). Shadowplay has always had a place for toddlers and for small animals. A great animal moment was in a 2000 shadow revival at CalArts when a King Kong puppy (apparent size being malleable in shadowplay), projected from underneath, pissed a hearty jet on a screaming audience, 3D shadowplay being a wrap-around experience and not something only happening upfront. When the Walker Art Center was able to borrow two spider monkeys, the audience entered and shared the interior of their cage, optically enlarged to fill the entire theater. The naked ladies: one close behind the screen and the other before it on the audience side in a -temporarily and illegally- entirely darkened theater space. They were near-identical in build and, in the soft 3D illumination, viewers wearing Polaroid spectacles watched the silhouetted women, one actual and the other a projection, quietly merge into one multi-limbed and two-headed dreamgirl doing chance-combination art-class poses.”

Millenium Film Journal Summer/Fall 2005


Shadowplay in the Explorations in Stereoscopic Imaging course at CalArts  in 2011

Ray Zone visited CalArts in 2011 to present a talk on the history of Laurens Hammond’s Shadowgraph work. After his presentation he joined us in the B&W Studio to participate in visiting artist Amy Halpern‘s demonstration of anaglyph 3D shadow play based on her work with Ken Jacobs as a member of the Apparition Theater of New York.  Amy engaged students in a recreation of Ken Jacobs’ performance of La Mer which involved 3D shadows of a billowing polyethylene sheet and ended with a recording of Jacobs flatly stating  the title “La Mer, La Mer“.  The following slideshow video was originally posted to YouTube, however with the adoption of HTML5, YouTube 3D viewing options such as cross-eye for free viewing or side-by-side for 3D TV viewing were broken in the most popular browsers. A fix for that was found wherein you could  download a Chrome extension to Disable YouTube HTML5 in order to restore the stereoscopic viewing options available through the older Flash viewer.  That became broken once YouTube entirely disabled the ability to use the flash viewer.  In 2018 I began the painful process of downloading my YouTube 3D videos and converting them to run as side-by-side on Vimeo so that I could at least show the work to my classes on a 3D TV or other side-by-side anamorphic stereoscopic viewing device.  Unfortunately other viewing options are no longer available


The Stereoscopic Shadow Projection of Christine Marie

CalArts Alumna Christine Marie (Theater/IM MFA 09) has developed a body of work incorporating shadow projection.

Christine reached across disciplines at CalArts including work with the now defunct Cotsen Center for Puppetry and the Arts. She presented an anaglyph shadow installation, Shadows in Stereo in the C113 gallery using custom wide angle red and cyan filtered lamps that she devised for installation/performance.



Her work Ground to Cloud was included in the New Works Festival at REDCAT and went on to be performed at RadarLA and the New York International Fringe Festival, where it won Most Innovative Theatrical Performance award.

From TEDx on YouTube:

“Christine Marie is an artist and director, creating original lo-fi spectacles of large scale cinematic shadow theater. She seamlessly integrates performers, objects, and handmade special effects to elicit connections with concepts, phenomenology, and history in emotional and visually stimulating performances. She is pioneering the use of 3D/stereoscopic shadow theater by inventing lights that project thirty-foot shadows.”

She studied Wayang Kulit traditional shadow puppetry in Bali and is a former member of ShadowLight theater. Christine Marie received an MFA from CalArts in Integrated Media and Theater.

She has taught shadow animation at Pixar and consulted for the film, Me and My Shadow, for DreamWorks studios, and is a 2012 TED Fellow. In addition to her work with shadow play she also directs, designs and edits for film and video. You can learn more about her work on her website.



Polarized Light Shadowgraph

When I was a young film student, Sandy Mackendrick, Founding Dean of the CalArts School of Film, suggested that I should read R. L. Gregory‘s seminal book on visual perception, Eye and Brain.  I still have my well worn copy of that book.  A few years ago I was researching the history of stereoscopic shadow projection and I came across Gregory’s description of his experiments with twin polarized light source shadows.  This work, published in the journal Nature in 1964, was clearly an extension of the anaglyph and mechanical shutter shadowgraph process patented by Laurens Hammond in 1923, and discovered by Ken Jacobs in 1969.  Following is an abstract and a poor quality scan of R. L. Gregory’s full article in Nature:

“The following simple arrangement makes it possible to project, in stereoscopic depth, three-dimensional objects such as wire models of molecular or crystal structures. Small models may be presented enlarged in three dimensions, magnifications of ten or more times being possible. The optical arrangement consists of nothing but a pair of small bright light sources, separated horizontally by a few inches. The sources are placed behind ‘Polaroid filters’, set at orientations differing by 90°. The point polarized sources give a pair of shadow images of an object, such as a wire model, placed between them and a silver screen. Alternatively, back-projection with a ground-glass screen can be used; but the screen must not de-polarize the light. When the shadows are viewed through crossed ‘Polaroid’ glasses, they are fused by the brain to form a single stereoscopic shadow-image lying in space.”

This technique was devised for experiments supported by U.S. Air Force grant AF-EOAR 63–93, monitored by the European Office, Office of Aerospace Research.

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Scans of Laurens Hammond’s British Patent Application

  • Patent in PDF form
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