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Through the Looking Glass: 3D Everywhere

By Jon Fox
Sep 2, 2010 5:00 AM PT

"What is the use of a book, without pictures or conversations?"

Through the Looking Glass: 3D Everywhere

That's the question Alice asks at the beginning of Lewis Carroll's classic adventure. Perhaps Mr. Carroll knew more than he realized.

3D Movies. Multitouch screens. iPads. Everywhere you look, consumers increasingly demand more of an "experience" when engaging with their content, be it a book, a movie or their computers. This change in expectations has put pressure on the print world to deliver a similar experience in that medium. In a crowded and frenetic market, brands need to find more compelling ways to grab the attention of their customers beyond the static print advertisement or billboard. If marketers and their printing partners can adjust and adapt successfully, the technology they embrace will help them become increasingly relevant in a dynamic marketplace.

Thankfully, it's an exciting time to be exploring the different ways organizations can accomplish this very task, with many cutting-edge technologies redefining the future -- and giving "print" a new lease on life. In my role as chief creative officer at a company whose mission is to evaluate and deploy various display technologies, I'm fortunate enough to get a first glimpse of what's genuinely innovative. In our shop, we routinely apply the "it may be cool, but is it relevant to the real world?" test.

3D Glass

One of the more compelling, and relevant, technologies I've come across of late was originally developed by two MIT graduates for DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Its working name is "3D Glass," and it involves a completely new printing process.

Imagine a movie poster on a bus shelter where the viewer is totally immersed in the image -- genuine 3D, without the aid of special glasses. Forget about the lenticular images you're thinking of from the prizes in the Cracker Jack box, or even the more sophisticated attempts using the same process. 3D Glass is like nothing seen to date. It's a brand new way of printing holographic images on a two-dimensional surface.

Instead of using pixels, the 3D Glass technique uses holobytes. The old-style lenticular printing uses two to three facets -- while 3D Glass printing has 3,000 angles of view per holobyte. This allows for greater image resolution, and spectacular 3D effects. For example, if you had the image of a mountain with a tunnel going through it, you could see into the tunnel. For the image of a car interior, you could see around the seats, the dashboard. If you had the image of a human heart, you could see into the arteries and ventricles, and so on ...

Scaling Up

Currently the 3D Glass process, which involves a piece of special 3D film mounted on Plexiglas, can produce images only in sizes up to two by three feet. However, work is now underway to explore tiling the images on a much larger scale. The possibilities for deployment of this new process are endless. From movie posters to POS (point of sale), brands could engage with their customers on an entirely new level. Add to this the future possibilities of actually interacting with these displays and things begin to look exciting.

Like the other visual mediums around it, the printing industry is entering a new phase. New processes like 3D Glass will enable them to bring their messages to their audience in ways they never dreamed of, and truly engage consumers in experiences that transcend the visual. As we move into the next decade it will be critical to invest in such technology so we can all follow Alice through the looking glass.

In 3D, of course.


Jon Fox is chief creative officer of Helios Interactive Technologies.


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