Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Deja View-Master

I've long wanted to do a piece on View-Master stereo and 3D picture reels and viewers, and with this week's mention of "The Omega Glory" (TOS) and "Yesteryear (TAS) Star Trek View-Master products on TrekBBS, I'm feeling a burning need to bring something together.

Today I actually saw the newest packaging, still carded on blister packs, as they have been for about 20 years, but now much closer in size to the traditional, square, paper envelopes of the 60s and 70s. I'd been hunting for "Superman Returns" ever since that movie came out last year, and eventually ordered one (on the US rectangular blister pack) via the Internet, but today I actually saw European "Superman Returns" sets on the new square blister pack. (A little underwhelming, though. Most people wouldn't even know to open the minimal packaging carefully so the reels could be stored safely.)

I've been collecting View-Master reels since Christmas 1974, when - at a loss as to what else I wanted on my Christmas want list - my mother bought me a viewer and several reel sets (of her own choosing): "Adam-12", then a current US TV police drama; animated old-time family favourite, "Top Cat"; "Insect World: Entomology"; "Pan Am's 747" and "France". I was quite impressed with her selection. "Insect World: Entomology" looks amazing in stereo pictures! "Pan Am's 747" gave me itchy feet for my first aeroplane ride. And "France" was highly suitable to a then-high school student studying French.

Sadly, what has disappeared over each change to the View-Master format is text. Originally, most View-Master envelopes came with 16-page illustrated booklets, which described each of the 21 sets of stereo pictures. In the 80s, the tall, rectangular blister packs came with several paragraphs on the reverse of the packet, synopsising the production contained on the 3D reels (although European-released versions often had to reduce font sizes to squeeze in multiple translations).

In recent years, the three reels in each rectangular pack have had foil character stickers added to their reverse, and these now face outwards - but there are no instructions on how to preserve the blister pack as a "convenient storage container". The new square blister packs really have no text synopses at all, and appear to be quite disposable. Sigh. (I guess you're supposed to buy up several vinyl View-Master collectible, zippered storage containers!)


Star Trek has been quite well-represented in View-Master reels over the years, much to my delight:

* "The Omega Glory", a live-action episode of TOS (The Original Series).

* "Yesteryear", as "Mr. Spock's Time Trek", from TAS (The animated series from Filmation).

* One image of 21: TOS USS Enterprise filming model at the Smithsonian Institution's "National Air and Space Museum".

* "Star Trek: The Motion Picture", one of the first sets with recreated "3D" images, rather than stereo pictures shot on-set. The b/w booklet has trivia and "foto-fun" rather than a text description of each image.

* "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan", one of the first rectangular blister packs - no more booklets! Sigh.

* "A Matter of Honor", an episode of TNG (ie. "Star Trek: The Next Generation").

* Two images of 21: "A Star Trek Adventure" (including the bridge and "beaming up") on the revamped rectangular blister pack version of "Universal Studios, Hollywood, Set 2: Entertainment Center".

I hadn't really thought about the View-Master "Yesteryear" images not being actual stills and cels from the show itself, until the matter was raised on TrekBBS. Of course, all those old View-Master "Peanuts" (Charlie Brown and Snoopy) animated specials, and "Bugs Bunny" cartoons were reels of images recreated with little three-dimensional statues and amazing table-top dioramas, and filmed with a stereo camera!

Checking out "Mr. Spock's Time Trek" anew, some frames have over seven layers of 3D action! Like the now-rare Tuttle & Bailey TAS collector cels (including the six-fingered Spock from "Yesteryear", and Arex and M'Ress with "The Jihad" aliens), and the ones provided to Japanese "Starlog" (eg. Arex and M'Ress interacting with the kzin Chuft-Captain), it seems that Filmation was happy to create special, all-new images (below right) for these TAS tie-ins. The booklet in the View-Master pack seems to have newly-created artwork, too, and different to what's on the reels.

Additional work used to be done for live-action View-Masters of the 60s, too. When the View-Master cameras visited the live-action sets of "Batman", "Mission: Impossible" and "Star Trek", for example, they took stereo photos alongside the guys filming the episodes! And the USS Enterprise and USS Exeter in orbit was a shot re-created with the three-foot shooting model of the Enterprise and a licensed AMT plastic model kit (for Exeter). The set-up (below left) was photographed in stereo in View-Master's own studio. It's not a still from the episode made 3D, it's a recreated shot made with physical models. (By the 80s, View-Master wasn't using on-set stereo cameras at all, but simulating the 3D effects by manipulating 2D images of studio publicity photos. Sigh.)

I did once read an interview (in "Starlog"?) with someone who described the day View-Master came visiting Desilu to shoot "The Omega Glory". They had to snatch their moments - at rehearsals and after the film cameras moved off to other locations, but they weren't any more obtrusive that the Desilu stills photographer who turned up all the time.

There's one amusing bridge shot of Sulu and Uhura, supposedly talking with Kirk on the planet, but Nichelle Nichol's script is sitting on her lap!

I was always flummoxed as to why they didn't choose a more colourful episode, like the alien-filled "Journey to Babel", but essentially View-Master had to take pot luck with all the TV production sets they went to in the 60s and 70s. They were actually due to visit "Star Trek" the previous week, but Gene Roddenberry kept putting them off, which seemed weird in retrospect since Gene Roddenberry was rarely down on the studio floor and was busy prepping Art Wallace's "Assignment: Earth", the Gary Seven/Roberta Lincoln "back door" pilot, which was due to film the next week.

But, of course, moving View-Master's appointment by a whole week meant that it was a pure (even if not good) Gene Roddenberry script that was adapted, and not DC Fontana and Laurence N Wolfe's "The Ultimate Computer". So Gene picked up yet another royalty: adaptation rights for the little View-Master booklet! (Mind you, DC Fontana had her revenge, as it was her TAS episode that got adapted by View-Master a few years later.)

Fascinating stuff, and how great that View-Master continues into the 21st century?

View-Master - TOSwhiteView-Master - TAS
Images from "The Omega Glory" (TOS) and "Mr. Spock's Time Trek" (TAS)

* TAS View-Master frame originally scanned by Kail Tescar.

* SF author, Robert J Sawyer, briefly discusses "The Omega Glory" View-Master SPFX shot on his blog.


Frederick said...

Enjoyed your post on the VM reels! I enjoyed them so much as a kid, and I still have them. I posted about them recently myself:


Good memories!

Therin of Andor said...

As I briefly mentioned above, GAF's stereo camera operator had little choice what episode would be shooting the week they visited a TV series set. Knowing Gene Roddenberry as we do, it was probably more than happy coincidence that a GR script was to be adapted. Royalties!

However, on paper, it probably seemed like a good choice. Crewmen turned to crystals, two starships sharing a scene, alien planet, cave scenes, hand-to-hand combat... Plus the fact that it had been one of GR's potential second pilot scripts.

Had they been able to plan way in advance, the most colourful/popular episode to do in 3D might have been "Journey to Babel". But, on paper, JtB was essentially a "bottle show", and the fact that it would be filled with colourful one-day-to-be-iconic UFP aliens wouldn't be as obvious from a reading of its draft script.

By the way, "Bonanza" fans need to check out the hilarious shot on this page!