1924 Phantom of the Opera online in 3D
Carl Hernz is announcing that the 3D restoration work on the silent classic THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is now online for free public viewing as a work-in-progress cut. It will run from today through November 30, 2012.
A man living in Pensacola, Florida has discovered and reassembled what may have been Hollywood’s first attempt at a 3D movie. After having been announced to the world’s top 3D specialists at this year’s Stereoscopic Displays and Applications Conference held in January 2012 in San Francisco, CA, the silent film, ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ (starring Lon Chaney in the iconic role) can now be freely viewed on the Internet as originally captured on film almost a century ago, with many of its scenes restored in full stereoscopic 3D and put online in anaglyph format for anyone who owns a pair of red/cyan 3D glasses.
Phantom of the Opera was shot with two cameras
Beginning of the 20th century, shooting with two cameras was common practice. Most often it was not to create 3D effects, but to have a backup copy. It seems however that in our case, some creative thinking was added in order to get nice 3D effects.
While it has been common knowledge that ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ was filmed using two cameras to capture each scene simultaneously (a practice common to all silent film production of the time), the idea that the cameras were constantly close enough to capture the entire film this way, let alone produce a single 3D image, was previously dismissed by both film historians and stereographers alike. In fact the idea that such a discovery had actually been made was originally balked at by some.
A Mysterious 3D Portal Into the Past
Being over 80 years old, some of the restored 3D footage may be a bit difficult to adjust to at first, nevertheless the images are strikingly beautiful as one can see layer upon layer of detail suddenly come to life. Audiences can now see for the first time how depth was intricately built into each scene.
Beginning today everyone is being offered a glimpse at this historical find in the form of a free Halloween treat that will last throughout the month of November. While a far more complete and pristine version for digital 3D release will be ready next year, people can view ‘Le Fantome de l’Opera: Version Stereoscopique-The Work-in-Progress Cut’ by grabbing some red/cyan 3D glasses and logging onto vimeo.com/52424187:
While the restored 3D is at times admittedly rough, and only about three-quarters of the restored 3D film is presented, viewers and some stereographers can’t help but comment on the fact that the film appears to be designed for 3D presentation. So the question comes up as to whether what we are seeing is merely incidental due to the twin camera setup or actually constructed to be viewed this way. Carl Hernz, the stereographer who made the discovery and who has been restoring the 3D views for two years now, doesn’t have a definite answer yet.
“The only empirical evidence on hand is that this is a byproduct of having two cameras so close together, so I can’t say this was done on purpose. But I do understand why some of my colleagues in the field believe this may have been an experiment in 3D film production. When you watch the movie you see how the scenes seem to be brilliantly orchestrated for 3D presentation, challenging much of what we can produce today. So what are we looking at? Right now it’s still a mystery.”
How He Did It
Carl made the 3D discovery of this iconic film while visiting a public film archive and being presented with two frames from the movie (a set of 3D pairs–the left and right images that are needed for stereoscopic vision). Having never seen the film before but with a lifetime of training and practice in stereography since childhood, Carl immediately identified the footage as stereoscopic.
Some of the 3D footage was easy for Carl to spot, matching some of the identical scenes from the original 1925 edit of the film with the 1929 cut (the version that most are familiar with today). But a lot more of the 3D pairs needed to make up the rest of the movie were not that easy to see. Because most people had little knowledge of the two angles created by the dual cameras, and due to the fact that few can identify twin 3D images without some type of aid, over the past century the clips were cut up and became parts of the various copies and negatives of the film now in circulation. “It’s a bit like searching for feathers released from a pillow from way back in 1925,” Carl explains.
Making it even more difficult to find the mismatched 3D pairs was the damage due to aging of the original film footage as well as poor processing (some of the footage was actually discovered to be backwards). Altogether this meant that the matching 3D footage was usually unrecognizable, even to specialists. Due to a keen eye and an eidetic memory, however, Carl has been able to locate the pairs in these various versions and develop a formula for reconstructing and synching the images together. At 45, Carl has been creating 3D art for 39 years since he began the hobby at the early age of 5 (Carl was already reading and writing at age 3, thus making such a hobby quite normal for a boy of his advanced abilities back in 1972).
A Musical Treasure As Well
It’s not just 3D that awaits the viewer. The work-in-progress presentation of ‘Le Fantome de l’Opera: Version Stereoscopique’ is accompanied by a soundtrack made up some of the first electronic recordings of classical music ever made and rarely heard by the public.
When preparing the film, music was quickly assembled by Carl as a demonstration to show a composer (who was to originally write a new and original musical soundtrack for the film) the type of feel Carl was looking for to accompany the 3D restoration. When hearing the old recordings and watching how they seemed to fit the film so well, the composer refused to take the job, encouraging Mr. Hernz to leave his assembled soundtrack in place. “He called it a find in itself,” adds Carl, “and apropos for what we had been doing with the film.”
The type of 3D glasses needed to view the film (red/cyan) can be purchased via many online stores. They are necessary to view the work-in-progress cut here above. Carl Hernz is currently available for interviews and can be reached by email at carlhernz@gmail and telephone at +1 (850) 453-7011. Skype interviews can be scheduled as well. Scenes from the film can be requested directly from Carl. Some stills can be captured from the film’s Facebook page.