- FAQ

How to make 3D-Pictures by Computer  
Based on an article by Sylvain Roques; computer graphics by Bruno Pesce

Numerous 3D rendering software is now available to easily play the power of computers. It allows more and more people, artists or engineers, to produce photo-realistic images.

Each time one needs to VIEW something unreachable with a camera, whether it is because it does not exist or is out of scale for human eyes, one can use a computer.

However, how realistic can those images be? Anyone looking at the computer screen can perfectly SEE that he is looking at an image, not directly at a real scene, or model.

This difference comes from the fact that in our three dimensional real world our two eyes give us two different images. This is because they are in two different positions in space, separated by an horizontal 2.5 inches offset (~ 6.5 cm). The brain accepts the small horizontal disparity between those two images, and in return gives a single image with accurate depth perception. This ability is known as stereoscopy.

Due to stereoscopy, you can perfectly notice the difference between a model car in a box and the image of it on the top of the box despite both having the same dimensions. Looking to the model, you see in stereo as each eye has its own image of the car model. But when looking at the image on the top, you see a flat image as both eyes are focused on the same image.

Now, as we know the difference between "flat viewing" and "stereo viewing", let's see how to use the first to create the second.

1.) Stereo 3D on computers

Creating a stereo image means first creating two flat images, i.e., a stereo pair: one image for the left eye and one for the right eye. This is easy to achieve: you render one image with the observer in the left eye position, apply an horizontal offset to the observer position and then render the right eye image. The offset is called the BASE in the stereoscopy vocabulary and is assumed to be the same as the inter-ocular distance (About 6.5 cm).

The base has to be increased or decreased relatively to the scale of the scene to have a significant stereo effect. Obviously, you cannot use the inter-ocular distance to view in stereo a chemical molecule or a galaxy. A typical average value for the base is 1/30 of the distance from the observer to the nearest object of a scene.

Why 1/30? If you stand in front of a window, which opens to a landscape to the horizon, you will notice that you cannot see clearly both the horizon AND the window itself if you stand within two meters away from the window.

When you are two or more meters away from the window, you can view all the scene comfortably from the nearest point (the window) to infinity (the horizon). This value of two meters depends on the person but is a statistical value. The fact is that 6.5 cm (inter-ocular distance) is about 1/30 of two meters.

So, if you take for the base 1/30th of the distance from the observer to the nearest object of the scene, you're sure that you will see the full stereo image comfortably from the first point until the last. You will also be able to see it with enough stereo sensation. When the base is larger than the average inter-ocular distance, the resulting stereo is called hyper-stereo. It gives you the sensation of looking at reduced models, as if you were a giant. On the other hand, when the base is smaller than the average inter-ocular distance, the resulting stereo is called hypo-stereo. It gives you the sensation of looking at enlarged models, as if you were a Lilliputian.

An error that needs to be avoided is making a stereo pair with converging viewing axes. It appears natural to use convergence since eyes converge while they are looking at something, although it is not the right way. When your eyes converge, the point at which they converge appears perfectly clear. The fact is that everything else appears blurry but you don't notice it because you are used to it. However, due to the accomodation reflex, when you look at something blurry your eyes will naturely adjust to it. In a stereo image, all the image has to be sharp to be viewed clearly at whatever point you look in the image. Converging on one point would make the image comfortable for all points in front of the converging point. However, this would be difficult for points behind it to fuse. By converging at infinity, i.e. by keeping viewing axes parallel, the whole image will be easy to fuse.

Things become a little more complex when you want to see in stereo a stereo pair . . . To fuse the two images you've produced in a stereo one, each eye must see only its own image. Different solutions have been found over the years, mainly a result of the use of stereo pairs from stereo cameras used during the 1950's and 1960's. You can use a lens stereoscope but you will have to transform your two images onto slides. You can also use a mirror stereoscope (if you can find one ...) but you will have to print your images.

It's possible to directly use the computer screen but that will divide the usuable surface on the screen into two; as you will have to display the two images side by side. If you do not have stereoscope, you could train to "free-view" by crossing your eyes with the right view on the left and the left view on the right as many stereo enthusiasts do. You will need time and patience as it is not totally obvious . . .

The best known solution is to write your own "SoftStereo" code. Then, use LCD shutter glasses.

The trouble is that this solution is not adapted for your aim if you just want to make some stereo images yourself. You can do this out of curiosity to see what it looks like by using your own computer and software you are accustomed to.

To do so in a cheap and quick way is absolutely possible, but (of course there is a "but") there will be some restrictions about the kind of images you will be able to convert properly into stereo. However, that will give you the opportunity to verify by yourself the interest to escape "flatland".

2.) Andy Warhol, Creature from the Black Lagoon and 3D-Comics

They have all used a stereo process. Andy Warhol produced a 3D movie "Frankenstein" in the 1970's. "Creature from the Black Lagoon" is one of the most popular 3D anaglyph movies. From time to time, comics use that process too. (Notice that, in that last case, each stereo pair is hand-made ...). Unfortunately, most of those creations suffer from terrible defects. They often have as a result an audience that is disgusted from stereo. The fact is that the anaglyph process by itself is not a bad one but is difficult to apply with optical systems. Let's analyze those old results and have a close look to the "theory". Let's see how to apply it correctly with a computer.

In 3D-Comics, left and right images are printed, one with blue ink and the other with red ink. Looking with red-blue anaglyph glasses, you can see monsters jumping from the page. In movies, red and blue filters are added to the cameras as well as the audience wearing their own red-blue glasses. Red and blue are used as they are opposite colors: you cannot see through a red filter what you can see through a blue one, and vice versa. The stereo separation is correct for each eye but the stereo image is black and white.

If you're aware about computer image formats, when reading "red-blue" you've probably the temptation to insert "green" to read "red-green-blue". Congratulations, you've found the first step to the solution.

3.) All color screens are stereo ready

Computer images are displayed on color screens and those screens use the RGB (Red, Green, Blue) system to create the color of each pixel of the image. That means all computer images are made with three channels: a red one, a green one and a blue one. Suppose now we have tools to take only one color channel from an image. If we take the red channel from the left image and the blue channel from the right image, we will just need a tool to glue those two channels together and we will have a computer anaglyph giving black and white stereo when wearing anaglyph glasses with the red filter in front of the lefteye and the blue filter in front of the right eye.

Numerous software to manipulate images and to translate them between the different formats can be used to process the color channels and produce 3D (For complete stereo solutions, see the Downloads section). You just need tools which allow the separation of channels and allowing black and white images to be glued back as color channels; thus producing a color image.

If you rush immediately to convert your own stereo pairs into red-blue anaglyphs by playing with the RGB channels you will probably be disappointed. First, you will only have magenta and white stereo images, not really black and white ones (Red + blue = magenta). Secondly, stereo images are definitively not flat images and special manipulations have to be applied to them for correct viewing.

4.) Playing on the green

Magenta and white stereo is not interesting, black and white should be better, but color should be much more interesting. So, how can we produce color stereo images on the screen? Flat color images are made with three channels. This means that the three channels will probably also have to be used for color stereo. From which image will we have to take the green channel? Red and green filters are opposite and turn to dark if added. In contrast, blue and green filters are not opposite and turn to cyan if added. The green information has to come from the same filter as the blue. This means that the blue and green channel will both have to come from the same image: the right one.

(Why use the red filter on the left and the cyan on the right? It could be the reverse but the International Stereoscopic Union has chosen the red on left for standard disposal. It is also in coordination with the red used in international marking such as: ships, planes, and politicians!)

Now, if you convert a stereo pair into a color anaglyph by separating the channels and after gluing them back together, you will be able to see in stereo and in color directly on your monitor by just using red-cyan anaglyph glasses. It's that easy!

If you do not have anaglyph glasses with a cyan filter, you can use ones with a blue or a green filter: the stereo 3D effect will remain, but colors will change. With a blue filter, colors will slightly shift to blue. Avoid green anaglyph glasses as the green filter really wipes out too many colors.

5.) Color tricks

Things are a bit more complex than they should be relating to the previous explanations.

The fact is that not all images can be converted. Images with strong contrast zones are definitively not suitable. They produce what stereo addicts call "ghosting". Strong contrast zones produce anaglyphs with too close and too strong red and cyan spots. This produces a very uncomfortable sensation through the red-cyan glasses. Images with large zones of saturated colors will produce "ghosting" too. All the left information comes from one color, red. If your image has large red zones, there will be no information (No green nor blue) for the right eye about those zones. No stereo effect will appear there. The same trouble happens with green and blue zones. There is nothing to do for images with strong contrast (except for creating the same image without the strong contrast . . . For example, you can change a black background into a grey background or you can try to change the lighting), even though it is still possible to use images with saturated colors. If those saturated zones were gray there should be no problems as all the three channels should be the same on the zones.

Therefore, we have to find a solution that will shift colors to grays but, yet respect the balance of space information between the two eyes. This solution should also respect the original colors (if possible) and the three color channels. The solution will be to modify the saturation of the images. Modifying saturation will allow us to modify the quantity of colors in an image by keeping for the resulting image only a few percentages of colors from the original image. Notice that fully decreasing saturation turns the image into some kind of black and white version still coded on RGB. The correct way to produce really black & white images is to use a dedicated tool. (We will see later where is the difference.) A tool converting into Black and White will allow us directly to produce black & white stereo images.

Saturation 0 is the ultimate weapon against saturated spots. The trouble is that it wipes out all colors. It would be better if it were possible to modify the colors wiping out only the spots that produce "ghosting". A way to do this is to use an image processing software to change the hue or to reduce the saturation of the spots before producing the anaglyph. The fact is that using an image processing software, fighting the ghosting can be long and tedious.

That's why many different softwares dedicated to anaglyphs are proposing you different automated easy and quick tricks to play with colors. With them, you can find the best solution for each kind of stereo image, depending where is the particular trouble on each particular image. You'll find a list of such softwares and methods on top of page, paragraph "Optimised anaglyphs".

The result of such manipulations is to shift the colors to shades of dark green and brown, yellow, or gray. It is not very aesthetic but it works perfectly well with red-cyan glasses ...

All those tricks should allow you to find quickly a comfortable anaglyph version from most of your stereo pairs.

6.) Stereo advanced rules: windows

Without Stereoscopic WindowIn anaglyphs, and more generally in all stereo images, we find that they are not images but volumes. Specific rules, which are not in use with flat images, have to be respected to display the volumes.

Unless you are standing alone with nothing more than the horizon and the sky around you, space appears relative to some frontiers. This is what happens when you look through a window. In the case of a stereo image displayed on a computer screen, the four physical sides of the screen (Left, right, top and bottom) are absolute frontiers. They build a window through which you can see the stereo reconstructed space. That introduces the following specific restriction: if any side of the images of a stereo pair cuts any part of the scene, this part must stand just beside the screen borders on the stereo image. That means that you cannot see in front of a window something that is too large to go through this window. The spatial coherency has to be respected between the stereo scene and the screen that displays it.

Very often you will have to move your stereo image back into the screen . If you don't do it, you will produce stereo images viewers will not be able to fuse. A typical reason is that points that normally should be at infinity (or at least far away) will lie just on the plane of the screen. They will have quite no parallax. This will make an aberrant springing stereo image, completely out from the screen.

7.) Backward and forward

With Stereoscopic WindowIn the anaglyph image, the two pixels reconstructing one stereo 3D point have a horizontal offset (parallax). The position of a stereo-reconstructed point depends on the distance between its left and right pixels. Stereo points lying on the physical screen surface have no offset.

Moving the stereo image relatively to the screen will simply result in changing the distances between the left and right pixels. If you do so in an anaglyph image, you will notice some rather blurry stripes when looking at the sides with the red-cyan glasses. This is because the stereoscopic window is not set. With stereo paper prints, the window is set by cutting those stripes away.

If a stripe is cut from the left side of the left eye image and another stripe is cut from the right side of the right eye image, the entire stereo image moves backward. If a stripe is cut from the right of the left image and another stripe is cut from the left of the right image, the entire stereo image moves forward. A version of that operation is for a computer anaglyph to horizontally shift the red channel. Afterwards, one can cut the ghosting stripes appearing on each side away. Notice that, as a consequence, the finished stereo image will be represented by an anaglyph which has a width less than the width of the original images of the stereo pair.


The drawing below summarizes the whole computer anaglyph process. Despite it suffering from tremendous restrictions, anaglyphs remain among the easiest ways to experience color stereoscopy on a computer.

Computer Anaglyph Process

Have a try: you'll be surprised to see how a stereo 3D scene is different from what you thought while just looking at it from so-called 3D images.

About the authors:

Sylvain Roques is a 3D graphic designer and freelance writer. He's a member of the following stereo associations: Stéréo Club Français (France), Stereoscopic Society (Great Britain), International Stereoscopic Union. Web:

The Computer generated stereo images "Monad", "Life", "Meteor", "Gorgon" & "Weird World" below are from Bruno Pesce, Artist, software developer and freelance 3D graphic designer.

Sample 3D-Images

Gorgon © by Bruno Pesce

Life © by Bruno Pesce


Monad © by Bruno Pesce


"(A drink for) Phoebe" Stereo-photography © by Susan Pinsky.
Reel 3-D Enterprises, Inc., P.O. Box 2368 Culver City, CA 90231 USA, Phone +1(310)837-2368, E-Mail:


Weird World
Weird World © by Bruno Pesce


Meteor (left) Meteor (right) Meteor (left)

Meteor © by Bruno Pesce









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Last modified on May 28, 2010
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