PowerPoint Slides in 3D

This past week, we had an offsite brainstorming session at the new Novelty Hill • Januik winery in Woodinville to discuss our upcoming MIX08 event in Las Vegas. Jennifer Ritzinger (who still doesn't have a blog for some reason) challenged each speaker to come up with a creative way to present their topic using a single slide. Never ones to take a creative challenge lightly, my co-presenter, Thomas Lewis, and I asked ourselves: "what have we never seen in a PowerPoint presentation?" A few minutes of brainstorming later, we decided to make our slides in 3D. Not your average everyday 3D, mind you, but the kind of 3D that would require everyone to wear cheesy red and cyan anaglyphic cardboard glasses!

Like so many of the ideas that Thomas and I come up with, we never let trifles like feasibility get in the way. What fun would that be!? So, we split up our tasks, and I volunteered to figure out how to actually make the 3D idea work.

Okay, I thought...first thing's first: search the internet and find a PowerPoint plug-in that creates stereographic images. Ummm...none exist. And believe me, I looked! Alright, alright...I get it. Nobody has made one for PowerPoint, but surely someone has made a simple application that lets me type in text and create the final composite image. Nope. Nada. After probably 30 minutes looking for a simple solution, I decided that I was going to have to dig-in and learn a bit about stereographic image creation. Enter Wikipedia's entry on Anaglyph image.

I followed a lot of links from the Wikipedia entry and learned quite a bit in the process. Although I probably could have hacked away at Photoshop and tried to get the sizing and colors to work just right, I decided to take the "easy" route and create a real 3D scene in 3ds Max. Then, I'd only have to create two cameras about 6cm away from each other (to match the average distance between human eyes). I'd render scenes from both cameras, then merge the two images. I thank Eumel3d for the nice tutorial that worked very well.

As you might imagine, because of the red and cyan glasses, color choice can make a big difference in the final result. Choose colors with too much contrast, and you'll introduce a "ghosting" effect. I spent a lot of time rendering and combining images...more time than I'd care to admit. But, the end product was worth it.

At the presentation, we handed out cardboard glasses that I had ordered from American Paper Optics, Inc. Someone took a photo of everyone wearing the glasses, but I haven't seen it yet. Because of our creativity, we were included in the final random drawing, and Thomas took home the prize for a job well done.

Since our presentation, I've discovered an excellent (and free) 3ds Max script/plug-in called Stereographer Max by Ron Lussier and Larry Minton. This makes the job much easier, and I wish I had found it earlier. I used it to create the sample slide accompanying this post. Click the image to see a larger version.

Here are some other thoughts and resources if you want to dig-in more:

  • After you have your 3D glasses, search for anaglyph images, and spend a lot of time enjoying photos, renderings, and movies in 3D.
  • I don't have a Mac, but if I did, I'd surely try the demo version of Nanosaur II, a 3D game that supports anaglyphic glasses.
  • If you're running Windows XP/2000 and have an appropriate NVIDIA graphics card, you can download their 3D Stereo Driver and enjoy many of your 3D games using anaglyphic glasses. Bram Stikkel has a nice article about 3D with Flight Simulator.
  • Download the free Anaglyph Maker software, and turn two standard digital photos (taken from a couple of inches apart) into a 3D image. For example, I just ran outside, took two quick photos, and merged them into an anaglyph version of our back yard.
  • If you're a Photoshop user, read Dan Payne and Angel Guzman's How To Create 3D Anaglyphs in Photoshop.
  • If you already have "left" and "right" photos, and you don't want to install any software, upload them to the online Stereo3d tool and get a composite image in return.
  • For those who don't want to bother with glasses but still want to play with 3D images, learn how to create "wiggle" or "wobble" stereo GIF images. Cool stuff.

Trust me...you can spend hours geeking out with this stuff. It's a lot of fun. I've thought about writing a stereographic slide creation tool or game using Silverlight. Maybe something simple like 3D Pong or Breakout. At first glance, I think I'd need to use a blending mode that Silverlight doesn't support. And frankly, I doubt I'll be able to find the time. If someone out there does create some cool stuff, I'D LOVE TO SEE IT!

Party on!