An in-depth interview by VALENTINO--PART ONE

I have had the great pleasure of knowing Ray Zone for a number of years now and perhaps it is that friendship which made this interview, my first, run so smoothly. Conversations with the Zone are easy--he is intelligent, articulate, and extremely pleasant to talk with. I believe that his warmth and his wit shine through in the interview you're about to read. This interview was co-edited by myself and Ray Zone and transcribed by....-VALENTINO

VALENTINO: Where did you first see 3-D?

RAY ZONE: I first saw 3-D when I looked into the pages of Three Dimension Comics starring Mighty Mouse in 1953. I was six at the time and it was really my first religious experience (laughs).

VALENTINO: How did you come by the comic book? Did your mom get it for you or something like that?

ZONE: Yes. She wouldn't let me buy the EC and horror comics that were out at the time.

VALENTINO: No, of course not.

ZONE: But that book is what really made a 3-D fanatic out of me.

VALENTINO: And you started collecting them right then and there?

ZONE: I was somewhat eclectic, even then. I collected all kinds of comics then. Subsequently, I saw the classic Universal 3-D films It Came From Outer Space and The Creature From the Black Lagoon and that confirmed my 3-D mania.

VALENTINO: How about House of Wax and the others that followed it?

ZONE: I wasn't able to see House of Wax. I did see a wonderful western called Charge at Feather River which I remember had these flaming arrows being shot out into the audience and that was great! I never got to see enough movies when I was a kid. Another one of my religions was to go to the Saturday matinee.

VALENTINO: Oh, yeah, when they cost 50 cents a seat and you could buy popcorn for a dime, or whatever it was.

ZONE: Right. A dollar would get you through the whole day.

VALENTINO: Oh, yeah, I remember those days. We're dating ourselves here. There were also some Three Stooges movies that were done in 3-D. Do you remember them?

ZONE: Yes, there were three short 3-D films made: Tails of Horror, Spooks, and Pardon My Backfire.

VALENTINO: Did Norman Maurer have anything to do with those?

ZONE: I don't believe so. This was prior to his actual association with the Stooges as a producer. I think he was married to Joan (Howard, daughter of head Stooge Moe) at the time and he may have been on the scene, but I don't think he produced them like he did subsequent Three Stooges films.

VALENTINO: Let's talk a little about your collection. You have the most extensive 3-D collection I've ever seen. How did you amass it all? How did you come by getting all this neat stuff?

ZONE: Well, first, this is not the world's largest collection of 3-D material. A couple of friends of mine who have a company called Reel 3-D Enterprises have the largest collection I've ever seen of 3-D cameras, 3-D viewers, display material and so forth. But I do have a very nice collection of 3-D. I've just slowly been building this collection, primarily the 3-D books and photography in the 1980s. Prior to that I was a hard core collector of 3-D comics.

VALENTINO: So it's a fairly recent collection?

ZONE: Yes, it is. I've really gotten active pursuing this stuff in the 1980's.

VALENTINO: So where did all this stuff come from?

ZONE: All over. I have people who send me this stuff. They know that I'm a 3-D maniac so they send me things. Also, I mail away for it from various sources and I keep my eye out for it.

VALENTINO: Let's get an idea of some of the various products that you own beyond just comic books and magazines. For instance, I see a couple of McDonalds' Happy Meals, a plastic cup with a baseball player on it. What else have you got?

ZONE: I've got 3-D hats: it doesn't have 3-D printed on it, but it says 3-D. I've got some 3-D sunglasses that were made in the 1950s for use with 3-D comic books using standard sunglass frames and this company decided to put 3-D lenses in it. And, oh, I've got a lot of 3-D Tarzan gum cards and several 3-D cameras . . .

VALENTINO: Colorforms playsets featuring Thundercats, Muppet Babies, coloring books, Star Trek 3-D coloring poster, 3-D buttons. . .

ZONE: Those are projects that I've worked on. What I'm doing now is basically being active in producing those things that I would otherwise collect (general laughter).

VALENTINO: So you actually get paid to add this stuff to your collection.

ZONE: (laughs) Right. Of course I have to convince my clients to produce this stuff.

VALENTINO: I think that most fans would find that to be an enviable position to be in. I want to ask you about organizations. Is there a fan club for those people who enjoy 3-D? Is there a network of 3-D aficionados?

ZONE: Yes, there is the Southern California Stereo Club. This club has meetings every month in Los Angeles and is a 3-D photography group. It is open to the general public and meets the third Thursday of every month to present 3-D slide programs and competitions. I really got involved in 3-D professionally, in part, by my association with this club. There is also the National Stereoscopic Association which publishes an excellent quarterly magazine called Stereo World which is very much involved in all aspects of 3-D, old time stereo cards, and new camera technologies that are created for 3-D. Internationally there's an organization called the International Stereoscopic Union which holds an annual convention and has a newsletter.

VALENTINO: You brought up the old stereo cards. What are those?

ZONE: The stereo cards were an omnipresent thing in peoples' homes at the turn of the century, where they reached their zenith. This was before radio, television and the movies. This was how people saw scenes around the world and events of the day. If you were in Topeka, Kansas, using a stereoscope you could see the Sphinx in Cairo, Egypt. You could see people in India. You saw exotic views, plant and animal life, comic scenes, all kinds of images that were in 3-D.

VALENTINO: Were these photographs?

ZONE: They were photographs and there were a number of companies that produced the stereo views and the stereoscopic viewing device to look at them. There were door-to-door salesmen who would go around and sell the cards and the viewers.

VALENTINO: How did these stereoscopes work?

ZONE: They had a left-eye and a right-eye image side-by-side on a single card. The basic principle of 3-D is that the left eye and the right eye are actually looking at different images and the difference is parallax, which is a slightly different perspective corresponding to the difference in point of view we have between the left eye and the right eye.

VALENTINO: Right--this can be demonstrated by someone holding their finger at arm's length in front of them and. . .

ZONE: . . . and closing one eye or the other and looking at it and seeing it move---that's parallax happening there.

VALENTINO: Okay and that parallax is the basic foundation of what 3-D is, isn't it?

ZONE: That's right. Parallax is what 3-D's all about. That's why it works.

VALENTINO: Let me ask you how it was that you first became involved in converting flat art to 3-D. How did you first learn how to do it?

ZONE: It was a lot of trial and error and I was taught a few things by several people. Basically, the way I got started in 3-D was that I was writing articles freelance and had a couple of articles on 3-D published. One was in the 11th edition of the (1981) Overstreet Price Guide and another, called Stereovisions, was in Fanfare Magazine.

VALENTINO: Issue number four right?

ZONE: That's right. And that article was an attempt to create a single historic overview of all forms of 3-D imaging, including photography, comics, holography, 3-D movies, the whole thing. When that article appeared a lady named Susan Pinsky contacted me. She was employed at 3-D Video Corporation in North Hollywood, the company that was producing anaglyphic conversions of old 3-D movies for television in 1982. She asked me to write a 3-D comic book that would be a graphic history of 3-D and hired me to create an original superhero that would be a vehicle to tell that history.

VALENTINO: Which was The Battle For A Three-Dimensional World?

ZONE: Yes. And, after I hung up the phone after talking with her, I jumped up and down for about an hour and a half. It ultimately was published as The Battle For A Three-Dimensional World. So I wrote the synopsis and dreamed up the characters Stereon and Videora.

VALENTINO: How did you manage to get Jack Kirby to do the art?

ZONE: Well, what happened was, I wrote the synopsis and the script and a couple of weeks after that they had accepted it and I was overjoyed, this was a real dream come true for me.

VALENTINO: (laughs) I'll bet.

ZONE: A month later Susan Pinsky informed me that they had engaged Jack Kirby to illustrate my script. Then I was jumping up and down for about two days! I still can't believe my incredible good fortune to have this absolute king of comic books illustrate my script. That was, and is still, just amazing to me.

VALENTINO: Well, I'm sure all our readers will know who Jack Kirby is, but perhaps not all of them will know that back in the early days of 3-D, in the 1950's, he produced one of the finest 3-D comics of them all, Captain 3-D. To get him for your first script must have been quite a coup.

ZONE: I was amazed. And what happened subsequent to that was that after the script had been completed and Jack was illustrating the pages I saw what was happening at 3-D Video Corporation , that there was a lot of activity with 3-D TV programs being broadcast all over the country, then I went to the president of the company, James F. Butterheld, and told him I wanted to work there. He hired me to work in the 3-D Cosmic Publications division, which was the print media side of the company. We produced the 3-D Cosmic Poster, which was a preview of the comic and I worked on the creation of point-of-purchase displays and different aspects of the print media. This was a cosmic book, by the way, it wasn't a 3-D comic book--hyperbole was the real stuff of our day-to-day existence at 3-D Video. So I worked there for about a year and in December of 1982 the Battle comic actually was printed and I was there at the printers when it rolled off the press. I have 3-D photos of the book being printed.

VALENTINO: Like a new daddy at the birth of his child. Okay, so that's pretty much where you learned how to convert, correct?

ZONE: Yes. Tony Alderson and others converted the Battle book and I learned a lot at that time from them. In 1983 I started my own company, The 3-D Zone, which was to be, specifically, a company to convert flat, existing images into 3-D, make 3-D glasses, and do 3-D printing.

VALENTINO: How did you become involved with Pacific Comics, who were, at that time, a fairly new publisher and one of the founders of the alternative comics movement?

3-D Posters for Honeycomb Cereal

ZONE: In 1983, when I started The 3-D Zone, I did a record jacket and a 3-D T-shirt, for different clients. But, most importantly, I did a 3-D conversion job with Jack Kirby for Honeycomb cereal. Jack drew great images of a kid on a skateboard, a baseball player, and a scene with a BMX bicycle. I sent down a proposal to Bill and Steve Schanes at Pacific with copies of the Honeycomb 3-D sports action posters and a specific proposal for a 3-D comic that had all the prices I was charging, including the glasses that could bind into the book. They got back to me in late 1983 and said they wanted to do a book. Early in 1984 the art started coming in and, again, I was just thrilled and amazed to see incredible art by John Bolton, Bill Wray, Dave Stevens. Rand Holmes, and Art Adams. That was Art Adams's first published work by the way.

VALENTINO: Rand Holmes did a beautiful tribute to Wallace Wood in that book, as I recall.

ZONE: Yes.

VALENTINO: I remember at Petuniacon Steve Schanes coming into the convention a little late and he had a coverless copy of the Three-Dimensional Alien Worlds hot off the presses and he was so excited about it that he went around the convention showing it to everyone. There was this murmur of excitement throughout the convention about it. In fact, it was there that Aardvark-Vanaheim essentially made the decision to do the sampler book, AV in 3-D, which, I believe, was the second of the new wave 3-D books.

ZONE: Well, it was the third after Battle. Battle was the first, then Alien Worlds, then AV in 3-D. It was the second to receive full distribution in the direct sales market.

VALENTINO: We've been talking, so far, about the books that more-or-less started the second wave of 3-D comics. Let's go back a little bit in time and talk about the first wave of 3-D that happened in the early 1950's, 1953 I think it was.

ZONE: Yes.

VALENTINO: In those days when they made 3-D conversions they inked the actual drawings on acetate overlays. Acetate is a clear plastic that allows you to see one image over the next. How does your process differ from that? You don't use that process, do you?

ZONE: Sometimes I do, for different elements, it all depends on the artwork itself. If there's very detailed imagery that's floating over a detailed background then I'll use the acetate method. There are beauties and limitations to that technique, which, by the way, was actually invented in 1936 by a man named Freeman Owens for use in animated cartoons, unbeknownst to Joe Kubert, who reinvented the same process for comics in 1953. He was taking the four or five layers of cel acetate and shifting them on top of a Craft-Tint board. Now, the Craft-Tint board was used to give a tone to the background imagery because the creators of 3-D comics were fearful that it was a real minus, a drawback to 3-D to not be in color because all the comics at the time were in color. So they tried to give this tonal texture to all the 3-D comics by using the Craft-Tint board, shifting the acetate levels which had been opaqued on the back, to produce the left and right-eye views. Now, what I do is simply take the line art and create two pieces of art out of it that conform to the left-eye and right-eye views.

VALENTINO: By making a photostat of the line art?

ZONE: I make photostats, I do all kinds of graphic manipulations using a stat camera. I use photostats, film positives. and negatives. The technique basically depends on the image that I'm working with. The basic thing that I have to do, however, is create a left-and right-eye view. I create two pieces of art--that's called a binocular stereogram--from the single monocular piece. This technique has also been called the cut-and-shift parallax-adjustment-method by Roger May. The number 11 exacto-blade is really my best friend--and it involves simply taking the image as it's provided to me and cutting it apart into a whole mess of tiny pieces and putting them back together again with parallax in the image with slight lateral shifts.

VALENTINO: Slightly askew from one-another, so they're not perfect duplicates . . .

ZONE: Yes, and I've found ways to do it without going crazy. The real breakthrough here is finding ways to do this that are not enormously time consuming, that work in terms of the finished graphic.

VALENtiNO: How can you tell if it 's working or not before you see it in print? That would seem, to me, to be the most difficult thing.

ZONE: Once I have created the left and right pairs, the two pieces of art, I can set them down in front of me on the table or on the floor and see them in 3-D without glasses or a viewing device of any kind. This is a technique called freevision and you use your eyes to form the 3-D vision in your brain . I published an issue of Zomoid Illustories called 3-D Jonestown (laughs) by Tony Alderson which instructs the reader in how to use the two different techniques that exist for binocular free vision. That book, by the way, was also a behind-the-scenes look at the company that produced The Battle for a Three-Dimensional World comic book.

VALENTINO: An expose?

ZONE: Yes. (General laughter).

VALENTINO: You said they did three or four levels in the old days--is that all they were capable of?

ZONE: The limitation of the cel acetate technique is that once you have more than five layers the lines start to drop out. The camera can't see through more than five layers, so you're limited to that many levels. Another limitation that it has is that those levels appear to be cardboard cut-outs and not connected to each other in terms of a continuous depth of field.

VALENTINO: So that accounts for floating heads and things like that?

ZONE: Yes. So what I have done in working to maximize 3-D is to attempt to go beyond that technology and make a continuous depth of field that is almost magically real and, of course, having a potentially infinite number of levels.

VALENTINO: I've noticed that's been a progression in your work over a period of time. I remember there were still floating heads in the AV in 3-D book (1984). And yet, now when I look at the new work, it 's very smooth from background to foreground.

ZONE: I hope so. I've probably converted, at this point, 500 pages of comics into 3-D, so I have had a good bit of practice.

VALENTlNO: You stated that, without knowing it, Kubert essentially reinvented the wheel. DC Comics did the same thing too, didn't they?

ZONE: Yes, a man at DC, Jack Adler, looked at the first 3-D comic book and said, hey! I can do this, and he created a technique using the photostat camera and a limited depth which basically used four levels of depth in the DC 3-D books--Superman and Batman.

VALENTINO: So in the 1950s there were limited levels of depth. What about today? What is the deepest a book can go before the image is too diffused to actually be 3-D?

ZONE: Well, what happens is when the image shifts so drastically that the left and right eye are seeing different images it becomes retinally rivalrous and it becomes harder to fuse together into the single 3-D image. So that is a point at which the artistry comes in with 3-D conversion. Some of the deepest books to this point have been the normalman annual and The 3-D Zone number 2...

VALENTINO: How deep do those go?

ZONE: They are real deep. There is an apparent depth in the image of about a foot. There is a page in the normalman annual, the cornucopia page, that you want to hold at arm's length. You could actually tack it on the wall and step back and it becomes easier to fuse the left and right images because it is separated so far and is so deep. It's that lateral separation that produces depth.

VALENTINO: Are there a certain number of levels--like 17, 20, something like that?

ZONE: Well, what I hope to do is create so many levels that are connected so subtly together that the reader just despairs of being able to count them.

VALENTINO: (laughter) I know I did. (more laughter) What are the gimmicks in 3-D? Let's talk a little bit about that. I think Joe Kubert was the first one to use a blinker. I'm not sure about that but I do remember the evolution blinker in the Tor books which are absolutely wonderful. What is a blinker?

ZONE: A blinker is when the left eye and the right eye are seeing entirely different images.

VALENTINO: So you get two drawings on one page, essentially.

ZONE: Yes, and they're just simply printed on top of each other, one in red, the other in blue, and to separate them you've got to look through one or the other of the lenses.

VALENTINO: There was a clever gimmick, I think it was in the Adventures in 3-D book, the old Harvey book, where they had two different stories going on the same page. They started out the same, but they had two different endings.

ZONE: Yes, that was a wonderful device. They actually had one story that I remember which had aliens coming from outer space that, depending on which lens you looked through, were either hostile or benevolent. (laughs) This is not a new device, it was used in a silent movie that was a 3-D anaglyphic film that came out in 1922 called The Power of Love by Harry K. Fairall. It had an optional ending in that if you wanted to see the sad ending you looked through the blue lens and if you wanted to see the happy ending you looked through the red. It's a great marketing device because to see the film all the way through you've got to go twice! (laughs)

VALENTINO: There are still other special effects that 3-D can take advantage of, aren't there?

ZONE: Yes, all of the devices, the special effects are a result of the left and right eyes seeing two different things. Some of the effects I have used include showing only the speed lines in one eye and the effect of that is that there's a kind of neon-kinetic flickering element appearing on the page because you're fooling the brain. The brain is trying to see the image in both eyes and only one eye is seeing it.

VALENTINO: Right. Okay, what is retinal rivalry?

Retinal Rivalry

ZONE: Retinal rivalry is a generic term for using a different image in the right and left eye. This was used, for instance, on page 32 of the Bizarre 3-D Zone, where the whole page is one retinal conflict. It really is a page designed to throw the brain into conflict.

VALENTINO: Was that a John Pound page?

ZONE: I think Bill Stout drew those abstracts. They were odd shapes, kind of psychedelic, a tree and stuff. Pound and Stout were, I believe, the two artists who drew those Zone pages throughout that book. This is one of the odd effects that can only be created through the use of a bicameral (two-eyed) imaging system. This is one of the particular applications of 3-D art that you can only have with 3-D and you don't have with flat printing.

VALENTINO: We're going to get to 3-D as an art form in a little bit. There was also another gimmick that I'm very proud to have been a part of creating with you, two-step animation. I remember when I came up with the idea I was studying the application of blinkers and noticing the inherent movement with them so I asked you if it was at all possible to create two-step animation and your response was that it was.

ZONE: Immediately, yes. It's one of those things that needed to be done and you created a real interesting and appropriate application for it with that page that showed Dark Fluffy demolishing all those characters.

VALENTINO: Right, the Crisis On Infinite Earths page.

ZONE: (laughs) Right. Dark Fluffy was in straight 3-D but the characters in the surrounding panels were animated through the blinker effect.

VALENTINO: Yeah. Do you see any other special effects that no one else has thought of or have we pretty much exhausted the possibilities at this point?

ZONE: No, there are more effects on the horizon. These will include hidden imagery, the use of different colors in conjunction with the 3-D and combinations of both 3-D photography and line art. With hidden imagery, the glasses are used as a decoding device and the technique is appropriate for certain kinds of stories.

VALENTINO: Let's talk a little bit about the possibilities of 3-D; we were starting to get into that a little bit. You did some Colorforms in 3-D that the color was really great in. You could really see the color and you could also see the 3-D. It seemed, to me that when we did the color 3-D centerspread for the normalman annual that the colors shifted a great deal. What's it going to take to curb that color shift?

ZONE: Well, the issue of color 3-D in anaglyphic form is a problematic one. That's because anaglyphic 3-D is inherently monochromatic, or black and white. That means that the red lens sees the blue ink, the blue lens sees the red ink and they cancel out their own color, so the lenses see a dark grey, near black. When you introduce color into this dynamic, the colors need to be very carefully selected. They need to be much softer so the red and blue outlines still show through. Color anaglyph is a very challenging thing to create. What you have to do is make a more conservative use of the 3-D process. The thinking behind the use of color anaglyph 3-D is that you want something compatible, that looks relatively normal to the naked eye, yet has 3-D with the glasses on.

VALENTlNO: You did a little bit of that in the Electric Fear issue of the 3-D Zone (issue #4), where you introduced vellow into the 3-D dynamic. Also, there was an experiment done in a Mr. Monster book called "6-D." Would you explain what that is?

ZONE: 6-D wasn't color 3-D, it was taking 3-D outline imagery and placing it on a conventional four-color page.

VALENTINO: Sort of like a color hold ?

ZONE: What's a color hold?

VALENTINO: Well . . .for instance, the DC Who's Who books. You know how they had the main image in full color and the background image was in purple or red ? That's a color hold, a sur-print.

ZONE: They're printing line artwork in process color.

VALENTINO: Exactly Instead of printing it in black they're printing it on the cyan (blue) plate or on the magenta (red) plate. Can you do 3-D in a comic in a non-anaglyph? Would that solve the color problem?

ZONE: Not really. It can be done, of course, in holographic form, which is terribly expensive, or there is a process called Vectographic printing which uses polaroid technology and is also terribly expensive. For the most part the state of the art for 3-D in printed media is the red/blue anaglyph. What I've tried to do is take that form of 3-D and attempt to maximize it. To do as much as possibie within its parameters and to create new areas of artistic expression for it.

VALENTINO: Beyond comic books which are, essentially, a two-dimensional art form, what do you see as a total 3-D experience in the future? What would you like to do?

ZONE: I want to make 3-D films that use some of the gimmicks and special effects that I've already used in comics. It's kind of funny, but the 3-D comic books are in many ways artistically superior to things that have been done in cinema. One of the dreams of the future of 3-D is theatre-in-the-round or life-sized 3-D imagery walking around us. We'd have a model reality. It's not real, but it's all around us.

VALENTINO: Wouldn't that be more holographic?

ZONE: Yes, these are called projected image holograms. But there are still limitations to holography. The dream is such as Arch Oboler, who, with Bwana Devil, really got 3-D movies going in the '50s. He said that one day we'll have a little dial on the side of our couch and we can adjust it and have figures on the table in front of us much like chess pieces, but they'll interact. They'll tell a story. Or we can blow them up to life-size or up to the size of a city building and so forth. . .

VALENTINO: All Ihe perverts in the audience have sweaty palms thinking about this (uproarious laughter).

ZONE: Sure. But it's the idea that we have something as real as life walking around in front of us.

VALENTINO: Thinking about what you said about 3-D comics sort of eclipsing 3-D movies in terms of the art form . . . Being no fan of Michael Jackson's at all I must say that Captain EO was a fairly mind-blowing experience in that not only did it have full-color 3-D, not only was the 3-D absolutely excellent, but there were also laser beams shooting out over the audience and the effect was incredible. For me it was really very complete. Can that be the future of 3-D movies? Can we ever get beyond the B movie stage and actually do something that 's entertaining in and of itself and also in 3-D?

ZONE: Sure, that's the deal, to create a film that's a great story, with great acting, a great script and production but also happens to be in 3-D. And that's why certain art in comic books stands out, because of the subject matter and the art itself. But, yes, the Captain EO film which is about 15 minutes long is the state-of-the-art film in 3-D movies today (1989) and it's playing in a theatre that was specifically built to show the film that incorporates laser beams and smoke in the audience.

VALENTINO: Yeah. Do you have any idea how much that film cost?



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