COLUMBIA — Today’s technology is rolling in big bucks at a movie theater near you, from blockbuster summer action movies to the most recent 3-D cartoons. And you can also settle into the third dimension in the comfort of your own home by purchasing a 3-D television.
Pretty futuristic, right? Well, not really.
The 3-D technology goes back to the 19th century and the earliest days of photography through the use of stereographs – two postcards placed in a handmade device and viewed through a special lens called a stereoscope.
This past week, the S.C. Confederate Relic Room & Military Museum debuted a new, 30-minute film made from these stereographs, entitled “The Civil War in 3-D.”
“It was new to the Civil War generation, but it’s not new today,” said Kristina Johnson, the museum’s curator of history. “Most of the pictures were taken with two cameras set a special width apart. It’s the same thing we use today.”
The film features Fort Sumter, Abraham Lincoln and other iconic figures from the Civil War era, as well as 3-D images of the devastation of war that jump off the screen. It features more than 75 stereographs and an original soundtrack with sound effects that add drama.
“The great thing about this exhibit is (visitors) may have seen some of the images in books but they haven’t seen them as the photographer intended, which is to have that dimensionality,” Johnson said.
The film features some of the most famous images from photographers such as Matthew Brady and Alexander Gardner – from Fort Sumter, Antietam and Gettysburg through the fall of Richmond, Va., and the Lincoln assassination.
The images were gleaned from the museum’s collection of nearly 5,000 stereographic cards. The cards were donated to the museum in 2007 by Joseph Matheson of Camden. Some additional cards for the film were obtained through a sharing agreement with the Center for Civil War Photography of Oldsmar, Fla.
The museum’s staff employed the center to make the video from the original stereographic cards. The company had produced a 3-D film for the Gettysburg Visitor Center when it opened in April 2008.
The presentation took about a year to produce and cost about $5,800.
Viewing stereographs with a stereoscope creates a unique 3-D effect, and it was a popular amusement in America from the 1860s through the 1930s. This exhibit combines 3-D stereograph viewing with modern technology to display the collection of Civil War stereographs.
Each stereograph has been digitally processed to display in the originally intended format, but in a theater setting.
The exhibit also includes a stereoscope and several stereographs.
The film will be shown in a continuous loop through the end of the year. There is no additional charge.
Founded in 1896, the S.C. Confederate Relic Room & Military Museum is the oldest museum in the Columbia area. It focuses on South Carolina’s military history from the Revolutionary War to the current War on Terror.