Space, now in 3D

By Phil Plait | March 4, 2009 3:43 pm

Regular readers know I loves me some three-D anaglyphs, and longtime BABloggee Paolo Amoroso pointed me to some awesome ones! The Italian bulletin board Forum Astronautica has a bunch of them created by the reader LEM. Put on your red-green glasses, scroll down that page, and click on the thumbnails to see some terrific 3D views of Apollo. Check this out:

Apollo 17 anaglyph

This is clearly a labor of love for LEM, and we reap the benefits. I have no idea how he makes these — my Italian is limited to sono ferito — and translation sites generally leave me with a waning feeling of hilarity after a few words. Anyway, you don’t necessarily need to know how they are made to enjoy them. Go take a look!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Pretty pictures

Comments (30)

  1. Alex

    Hello Phil,

    I was wondering if you would comment on John McCain’s speech to the Senate regarding earmarks on Tuesday. If you didn’t catch it, allow me to excerpt from Maureen Dowd’s column in the New York Times (

    $2 million “for the promotion of astronomy” in Hawaii, as McCain twittered, “because nothing says new jobs for average Americans like investing in astronomy.”

  2. Daniel J. Andrews

    Here’s a tutorial for Photoshop on how to make anaglyphs.

    I started making them myself a couple of months ago using two photos. I’m not sure how he did it using one photo, but all the ways I can think of doing it require a lot more work than just colour converting and stacking two photos.

  3. Alex, a search of this blog might just turn up a lengthy blog post I wrote about McCain. :)

  4. I dunno if it is just me but the foreground (the astronaut and flag) look heaps better than the background (the lander and buggy). Very cool regardless.

  5. @ Daniel Andrews:

    With one photo the process is basically the same — separating out the blue and red into separate layers and shifting them slightly. The only difference is you’ve got to isolate the foreground elements from the background and shift their colors separately, each one a slightly different distance left-to-right.

    The one Dr. BA posted above seems a little off, to me. There’s too much difference in the color shift between the astronaut, and the LM and background mountains. The bigger shift creates too great a false parallax, making it tough to resolve.

    But cool, nonetheless, and an excellent example of lunar fakery at work. 😛

  6. Clearly, the fact that there was a stereo camera pointed at the Apollo landing site proves that it was all filmed on a soundstage. Also, there are no stars in the background like there are in _Star Wars_.

  7. Quiet_Desperation

    They have algorithms now that can recapture the 3D information from 2D photos and movies. Movies might actually be easier due to the motion giving better hints about the depth of any particular object. I think there is an effort to convert some classic films to 3D.

  8. @ QD:

    It’s the same basic process, whether it’s automated or done “by hand.”

    The fact that some people think a “classic” film needs to be converted, just goes to show what a dearth of ideas can be found in Hollywood.

  9. And not to be picky, but there is no 3D information stored in a photo. It’s all a matter of determining what you want to be in the background and what you want to be in the foreground, and going from there. While the composition and the “3Der” who’s in charge can use common sense (a mountain will probably be farther away than a lunar lander), the actual parallax that is mimicked is totally arbitrary and based on nothing in the photo.

    A video, on the other hand, assuming the objects or camera was moving, contains actual depth information that can be interpolated from different frames.

    Sorry, everyone else gets to be a geek now and then, why not me?

  10. Daniel J. Andrews

    Thanks kuhnigget, for confirming there is no 3D info stored in the photo. I have a few single photos I’d love to try and turn into 3D. I notice the background is shifted quite a bit (as you mentioned), which seems counter-intuitive as you’d expect closer objects shifted more and background objects shifted less, just like you get when you alternate opening/closing one eye. Time to experiment…

  11. @ Daniel:

    Yeah, it seems to me the photo here is actually backwards…the background is artificially made to appear in the foreground, while the actual foreground elements are shifted to appear in the background. Pretty weird. Your eyes and brain just interpret the difference in simulated parallax as “something’s going on here.”

  12. dreikin

    Of course, it’d be nicer in cross-eyed stereo. At least that way you don’t need special equipment, AND you can retain all the color (the latter of which is not important here, but is in other images)

  13. lurker_above

    Thanks, Phil. Now I have to look for my daughter’s Hannah Montana 3-D glasses again.

  14. Len

    I understand the depth info we’re seeing is not real, but it’s still a gas. Well done, and if the author is reading this — thank you for your effort. It helps those of us who care, imagine better what it would be like to be there. I still haven’t gotten over the fact that we did that. There really are cars on the moon. Unreal.

  15. Len

    I think Google does an admirable job of translating web pages. Looks like a goldmine there to me –

  16. Len

    …only downside to the google translate function is that you have to go back to the original site to download the fullsize photos, but it’s worth it. Some of them look very good enlarged. Check out the one of the footprints and shovel scars from Apollo 15 blown up to full-screen.

  17. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    I dearly hope some of the new generation of 3D techniques will replace anaglyphs on the market. Even shuttered glasses should improve the experience – and allow for better 2D compatibility. (Though I would prefer non-aid variants.)

    It would probably be relatively easy to convert anaglyphs to time or polarization based presentations too.

    the actual parallax that is mimicked is totally arbitrary and based on nothing in the photo.

    But isn’t it more accurate to say that 3D info is modeled (rather poorly) by the 3Der based on the photo view?

  18. MadScientist

    It’s faked! 😛 Seriously – to get a true stereogram you actually need that second shot taken at the correct angle and from the correct position.

    @Larsson: I’ve seen the LCD shuttered headsets available as a computer accessory back in 2002. All you need is the program to generate the alternating images and sync the LCD shutters. I’ve also seen LCD shutters like those at the IMAX cinemas used with digital projectors controlled by an SGI Onyx – that was back in 2000. I suspect game machines will push that technology – especially since the games are largely just the same as 20 years ago but not as creative and people always want a new gimmick.

  19. LEM

    To my anaglyphs use always and only 2 files.

    Thank you! 😉

  20. Mark

    “some terrific 3D views of Apollo.” Uh, no. Not that I can’t appreciate the effort, but at least that one example here is of the “terrible 3D view” kind, with the red/cyan far too disjoint for comfort. I guess when it comes to stereoscopy, nothing beats actual stereo pairs or true 3D reconstruction for now…

    Just my 2c, grain of salt, etc. etc., of course 😉

  21. Sir Eccles

    The best I’ve seen recently was a system that used differently polarized lenses. No color issues and no shuttering head aches.

  22. @ torbjörn:

    But isn’t it more accurate to say that 3D info is modeled (rather poorly) by the 3Der based on the photo view?

    Um, yeah, that’s what my convoluted sentence above was supposed to imply. The composition of the photo will be interpreted by the viewer, who then adjusts the blue/red layers left or right, accordingly.

    But again, this one is rather oddly constructed, as the background elements are actually shifted more than the foreground, causing the whole thing to be “backwards,” depthwise. That’s why your brain just says, “something’s going on here” and interprets the conflicting info as some sort of depth, tho not spacially (!) correct.

    BTW, I was involved with an Imax project that was one of the first to use the shuttered 3-D goggles, which at the time were huuuuge! It was pretty good, but one issue was synchronization. If the projected frames were not in perfect sync with the electronic shutters (which used some of that 3M liquid crystal stuff to blink opaque and clear) you got one seriously massive headache.

  23. LEM

    Sorry for google translator … ; (
    Stereo effect so strong pictures like that!
    Next lunar mission move astronaut and car! 😉

  24. Rob

    kuhnigget, there is actually some 3D information in photographs from the depth of field. In any photo, there is a distance where focus is sharpest and away from this the focus becomes less and less precise. There is still a degeneracy between foreground and background, which would require human intervention to sort it out. Whether the Apollo photos could be used in this way, I don’t know – they may not be high enough quality to see the focus, or there may be motion blur from the wind flapping the flag :)

  25. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    @ MadScientist, kuhnigget:

    Yay on gaming and cinema applications. Today I read an article that describes at least one swedish cinema getting the polarization technology – the visitors will have to return the glasses after the show. And I believe they have solved the synchronization issue with bluetooth for small scale gaming.

    The article mentioned Phillips (IIRC) technology for so far expensive television fully without glasses. (Modern flat screen technology admit projecting views from different angles to each eye; at least within some smaller set of viewing angles.) Want!

    @ kuhnigget:



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