Kurland, who curates frequent festivals of stereo shorts and serves as president of the Los Angeles 3-D Club, argues that Hollywood studios are biased toward using very conservative stereography techniques, so as to minimize the potential for eyestrain or visual distortion. A 3-D guy on a summer blockbuster will try to ensure that the effects look OK in any theatrical context, even for people watching on a 40-foot screen from the first few rows. But that approach can leave Hollywood 3-D looking underwhelming and uninspired. "The studios have a lot on the line with a tent-pole feature," he says, "but at the independent and enthusiast level, people have more room to experiment."
Along with the 3-D filmmaker and historian Ray Zone, Kurland curates a YouTube channel called 3-DIY, which highlights films made using everything from consumer-grade camcorders and 3-D cellphones to elaborate dual-camera hacks. They've championed the work of vivid experimentalists such as Santiago Caicedo, a Colombian filmmaker who combines unusual stereoscopy methods with computer- and hand-drawn animation. The hybrid video below, called "Moving Still," was shot through the windows of a moving train, and there are several other gorgeous Caicedo shorts available online.
Another dazzling hobbyist, Takashi Sekitani, posts his work to YouTube from his home in Saitama, Japan. He's posted some videos in what's called "hyperstereo" 3-D, in which the two recording cameras are positioned farther apart than normal. In most cases, a 3-D filmmaker would position the cameras at less than 2.5 inches apart—the distance between the eyes on an adult face. But using an extra-wide separation allows filmmakers like Sekitani to exaggerate the effect and give the appearance of depth even to distant objects. For the fireworks clip below, Sekitani spilt his cameras by 50 feet, giving the explosions a dreamy, globular form. When we're watching fireworks in real life, they tend to look flattened out and far away. Seen in hyperstereo, they explode in a luscious volume of sparks.
Hyperstereo views of city streets or landscapes can make a scene look weirdly miniaturized, too. This "dollhouse effect" comes off as an unfortunate glitch in mainstream 3-D films—see, for example, the scene in Avatar when it looks like Colonel Quaritch is addressing a battalion of GI Joes. But Sekitani uses this to his advantage in the time-lapsed montage below. Other filmmakers, like Ryan Suits, have also exploited stereoscopy "flaws" to create strange visual effects.
As is often the case with online video, some of the best clips are the personal, oddball ones. "It's kind of fun because a lot of the current stuff is more YouTube-y," said Bradshaw, the engineer, in a 2010 interview with Gizmodo. "Instead of being this blockbuster or some guy working a CGI animation, it's just like, 'hey, here is my garden.'" Indeed, gardens make such a lovely subject for homemade 3-D that they appear to have inspired an international subgenre. Lately I've been following a stereo-outdoors-enthusiast based in Springfield, Mo.—screenname: "3DMOVIEMAN"—who likes to record his walks in the park. The video below, of flowers and plants swaying in the wind, is a wonderful antidote to the mutilated 3-D of the cineplex. If you're tempted to write off 3-D as a gimmick or Hollywood marketing scheme, it might be worth spending a few minutes online instead, for some quiet, cross-eyed contemplation.