Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Yosemite Sam and the 3D movie era

Remember the days of 3D movies? When arrows would come through the screen right at you? When bar fights resulted in fists coming at YOU rather than at its intended foe? BUT… the worst part was having to wear those stupid stereoscopic 3D glasses.

Well, let me take you back to 1972 when the film industry came very close to seeing an end to those annoying 3D glasses, a time when movie-goers came very close to being spared the use of these grotesque gizmos hanging on their faces.

Four Baton Rouge locals were the principals in this gripping and mesmerizing adventure … the late Ray Spruel, Larry Hubbard, Tony Thompson and myself. All great inspirations begin with a seed of an idea. Ray and I were en route to New Orleans one balmy day in the late 60s when the subject of 3D movies crept into the conversation. I mentioned that it was too bad that 3D movie-goers had to be subjected to the annoyance of having to wear those goofy, paper contraptions. Then Ray said “If a motion picture camera could shoot alternate frames, i.e. left eye, right eye, etc, then there would be no need for the glasses.” I said “You sure?” He said “The optic nerves in concert with the brain would automatically fuse the projected images and the viewer would see 3D.” I said “Ray, that sounds very feasible. Have you thought about developing such a lens?” He said “Hell, I’m not a camera technician.”

While the idea of alternating frames was quite intriguing, I had to admit that I too was no camera technician. So this concept laid dormant for about 3 or 4 years until the day came that another great inspiration blossomed.

When my father passed away in 1971 my mother gave me his 8 mm Bell and Howell camera. This camera, in addition to shooting movie footage, was capable also of shooting single frames. If occurred to me that with this capability I could at least test Ray’s theory.

I ran this idea by my two GSRI (Gulf South Research Institute) colleagues, Larry and Tony, and we all agreed that this just might work. GSRI had just opened its labs on GSRI Ave and we agreed that the new engineering lab would be the ideal “scientific” venue for this exciting undertaking. After all, this lab was not yet in use and we thought it certainly needed to be christened with a worthy project. The GSRI bosses signed off and we began planning our strategies. We pooled our considerable financial resources in order to purchase the items we would need. We set up a light table in the lab and purchased a roll of 8mm film (mail-off processing included), a 6 foot 2x4 board, 2 large nails and a 6 inch bolt.   

Since this was going to be a movie, we needed a “star.” We didn’t have to conduct auditions because Larry said he had a little 4 inch tall Yosemite Sam figurine. Great! Casting was complete. Our star would be Yosemite Sam. Our total investment in this venture up to this point came to just under 7 dollars.

Here was the plan. The two nails would be mounted onto a small platform, ….. Aw heck, let’s not to get too technical; suffice it to say we shot all 3600 frames showing Sam in motion against a small cardboard set. We had placed a few other stationary objects on the set in order to increase the effect of depth. We then sent the film off for processing.

Now all we had to do was await the processed film and we would be treated to 3D without the need for stereoscopic glasses …. presumably. I called Ray and told him what we had done and he said to let him know when the film came in. I told him that we were going to form a corporation, producing gizmo-free 3D motion pictures. He said to make him a “silent partner.” Agreed.

It seemed that the processed film was going to take forever to come in. “Forever” is a euphemism for “we were very anxious.” In the meantime Larry, Tony and I spent several lunch hours contemplating what our soon-to-be multi-BILLION dollar corporation should be called. We toyed with many possibilities. Tony said we should incorporate our own names. I said that we were not going to be a law firm. So we discarded the idea of calling it Leggio, Hubbard and Thompson. Then Larry said it wouldn’t sound like a law firm if we simply incorporated some of the letters of each of our names into ONE name. Because Ray chose to be a silent partner, we rationalized that he would also prefer not to be included in the name. We did, however, agree to make him a 25% partner. After all, the concept was Ray’s.

After minutes and minutes of brain-storming we came up with “Thule Tri Dyne Corporation”. THule (for “THompson”), tHUle (for “HUbbard”) and thuLE (for “LEggio”)….. pronounced “thoolee”. The “Tri” represented the number 3 as in 3D and Dyne was for Dimension. Why the “y” in Dyne?  Well, it just looked more elegant as “Dyne” rather than “Dim” for Dimension. Thule Tri Dim just didn’t sound right. Of course on further reflection neither did Thule Tri Dyne. But lets not quibble.

One thing we all agreed on was that the corporate title sounded truly goofy (Thule Tri Dyne) (thoo lee try dyne). But we knew that the end product would bring the corporation the distinction and respect it would rightfully deserve. Remember “Smuckers”? “With a name like Smuckers, it has to be good.” Back then there was not yet “Apple” because Steve Jobs would have been a mere child at that time. But of course we all have come to associate high tech computing and cell phone technology with “Apple” and its missing “byte”. The 3 of us found ourselves fantasizing about the advent of a 3D market dominated by Thule Tri Dyne Corporation. Ok, our new corporate name would probably work. We even agreed to cut GSRI in for some of the profits, which would surely be ample.

The day finally came when the much awaited processed film arrived. Larry was beginning to regret having asked GSRI’s highly educated urban planners, economists and physical scientists to constitute our premier audience. Larry kept muttering “it’s not going to work. We’re going to want to hide when this is shown.” Tony and I didn’t attempt to re-energize Larry’s optimism because we too began having some misgivings.

But too late! Everyone was comfortably seated in our make-shift theatre in the engineering lab. I loaded the film in the projector, Tony set up the screen and Larry curled up in a corner near the side exit. Lights out, projector on, Yosemite Sam was now performing. Had Yosemite been a life form, he’d have gotten sea-sick within 15 seconds. Yosemite fluttered viciously from side to side. Even the viewers were beginning to get sick amid sadistic laughter. Flutter! FLUTTER!! After about 30 seconds I shut down the projector, Tony flipped on the lights and Larry announced “I think we need to do a little more work. Next time we will …” But he was cut off by one of the senior staffers saying “Who says there will be a next time?”

It’s been over 40 years now and Thule Tri Dyne Corporation has remained dormant, quiet and, mercifully, inactive.

Ray was not able to attend our premier, but when I told him about the debacle, he simply said “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.” Thanks, Ray. Well, yes, I guess it did sound feasible. At least we saved Kodak, Sony and Panasonic the expense of developing an eye-width frame-alternating lens.

 Larry, Tony and I took a tally of our loses. We each had put in about $2.25 into this investment. At least we didn’t have to mortgage our homes.

Somewhere deep in a warehouse there resides the 8mm flutter-footage of Yosemite Sam. But having been in a NON-climate controlled environment now for over 40 years and having not cranked up my 8mm projector for over 30 years, I have serious doubts about the prospects of ever again viewing this epic footage. And Larry has no idea where his Yosemite Sam figurine is. Too bad; so sad. Perhaps in some far off century when archeologists discover a lost, former capital city in their exploratory diggings, some heads may be scratched … “What the hell was this all about???

When we form our next corporation, you will only hear about it if it becomes a public offering on Wall St.

But don’t hold your breath.

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