ZONE: I've heard the film cost anywhere from 40 to 50 million dollars to make.
VALENTINO: That's with salaries or without them?
ZONE: Well, that's probably with salaries. Nobody really wants to say. They did a lot of things in the making of that film where they reinvented the wheel and ended up with a triangle. So they had to do a lot of reshooting. What's wonderful about that film is the way that it's being shown. They are showing it in twin strip 70mm, which means that they have two projectors back behind the audience that are showing two separate strips of film and the projectors are enclosed in a big glass case that's dust proof. The films are on a giant loop that's run through a baffle and human hands will not touch those film strips for the next decade.
VALENTINO: We should make perfectly clear that a loop is self winding for any reader that may not already know.
ZONE: Yes, it's just a giant circle and when the film gets to the end it comes back around to the beginning again.
VALENTINO: Right. Okay, we've talked a bit about the future of 3-D and about how you got involved with it. Let's talk a little about the downside of 3-D, the problems with it. At one point in this new day and age 3-D was a guaranteed boost in sales. You could almost guarantee sales in excess of 40,000 copies of any book, so long as it was in 3-D. It no longer guarantees that kind of sales. Why is that? Is it just the general down-trend in the marketplace that is affecting all books right now straight across the board? Is it that there's a glut of 3-D material and the novelty has worn off? What do you see as the reasons why 3-D no longer guarantees increased sales?
ZONE: The reason it no longer guarantees increased sales is that 3-D has come of age, it is no longer just a novelty. It has come of age in the same way that black-and-white comic books have. Another thing that's an element here is, of course, the market condition. It's a very hard time for independent publishers and so forth. . .
VALENTINO: Everybody's feeling the pinch.
ZONE: Yes, and I'm not bothered by the fact that the novelty of 3-D has worn off. I think it's great because now there's an opportunity to show that 3-D is a medium of expression equal to black-and-white, equal to four-color. It is just another format that is a possibility for a comic book to go in, and a permanent part of publishing. My whole goal in 3-D has been to make it a permanent part of comic book publishing. And I think this is simply what one deals with in being a part of that. You suffer the vagaries of the marketplace, along with other media.
VALENTINO: Your contention, generally, is that 3-D is an artform unto itself, much as acrylic painting is an art form, separate, but equal to oil painting. By what criteria is it an art form?
ZONE: It's an art form of rendering. An inker renders over a pencilled page and a colorist puts color on a finished black-and-white page. The 3-D artist renders dimension. Additionally, he can render the special effects we've already talked about. There are certain things that you can do for two eyes that you cannot do with any other medium.
VALENTINO: Does its longevity add to its artistic validity? I don't think many people are aware of just how old 3-D is. It's just about a hundred years old, isn't it?
ZONE: Yes, in terms of practical application people have actually made 3-D images for well over a century. A man named Charles Wheatstone drew 3-D images in the 1850s. He created 3-D images that were designed to be seen in a viewing device called a reflecting mirror stereoscope.
VALENTINO: That, in and of itself, poses a certain validity to it in that it has stood the test of time.
ZONE: Yes. 3-D pre-dates comic books as an art form and a medium of expression.
VALENTINO: There are people who want to dismiss 3-D out of hand as a fad, as something that is unnecessary to the enjoyment of art. Personally, I see it as a further enjoyment of art. There is art that can be enjoyed in black-and-white, art that can be enjoyed in color, and so on. Would you say that this is one of the reasons that 3-D cannot be just dismissed?
ZONE: Absolutely. 3-D can be no more dismissed as an art form than comic books can. As you know, to this day comics still suffer the stereotype of being for subliterates, something that no self respecting intellectual or adult would readily embrace as an art form.
VALENTINO: Sure, the image of the moronic comic book reader plagues us to this date, even, unfortunately, within our own industry.
ZONE: Yes, and it's that same stereotype that persists in regard to 3-D: it is that of a gimmick, a novelty, a fad.
VALENTINO: Are we perpetuating that stereotype?
ZONE: I don't think so. I think you embrace an art form and you work in it, you take it on as a life's work and you work at becoming more proficient, more artistic and excelling in that art field. Somebody like Will Eisner, who is still creating works of massive power and artistry, has done that because he knew when he started, and he still knows, that graphic story telling has unique artistic parameters that are inherent in the medium. In the same way I am addressing those unique artistic parameters to use 3-D as an art form with specific things that you can do.
VALENTINO: Let 's get back to some of the problems with 3-D. Stereo blindness--what is it?
ZONE: Stereo blindness is a generic term for a number of visual deficiencies. Basically, it's people who can't see 3-D for any one of a number of reasons. There are different forms of it. One is that people have bad vision, where one eye is much poorer than the other. The two eyes have to be working on something of the same level of efficiency. Another thing that happens is that there's stereo deficiency where people can't see 3-D but have otherwise normal vision. It's something that happens in the brain, where the brain can't fuse the left and right eye images into a single 3-D image.
This stereocard from 1910 is a test for stereo blindness.
VALENTINO: Do these people have a problem with depth perception?
ZONE: They might, there are alot of different visual anomalies. There are visual deficiencies that alot of people share. About 5 % of the population suffers from some form of stereo blindness.
VALENTINO: I've heard some people who are obviously stereo blind put 3-D down. Do you care to make a comment about that?
ZONE: Well, 3-D is an experience that is peculiar to having two functioning eyes. You can't describe the experience of flying if you haven't been up in an airplane. . .
VALENTINO: By the same token you can't see 3-D if you don't have two functioning eyes, therefore how can you decry it?
ZONE: Right. If you haven't had the experience of it, you may not be able to describe it. Because it really is a right hemisphere experience. It's something that's visual as opposed to verbal.
VALENTINO: A lot of people claim that 3-D gives them a headache, that it's difficult to look at for any Iength of time without taking massive doses of Tylenol. Is there any way around that?
ZONE: Sure, there are things that you can do when you look at 3-D that will insure that you're looking at it under the best conditions. Have a really good, strong light coming over your shoulder directly on to the page. Check your 3-D glasses and make sure they're clean, that they don't have a lot of dust all over them and give yourself an instant to focus on the book. When you start looking through the glasses let your brain and eyes adjust to the visual experience of depth.
VALENTINO: It helps to read the captions, doesn 't it? Because the captions help you focus on the panels.
ZONE: Right, but what you see a lot of and what you hear is since 3-D is a right brain or primarily visual experience, there is a tendency to merely look at the pictures. This is something you find with regular flat comics as well. With flat comics a lot of times people just thumb through them and look at the pictures. It's a much more efficient form of information processing, because it's a visual medium.
VALENTINO: All the writers in the audience are gonna love hearing that! (laughs)
ZONE: When you sit down and read a comic book and you look at the pictures at the same time you are using your whole brain. You're using your left brain to read the words and your right brain to look at the images and in doing both you're using both hemispheres for a wonderfully complete experience.
VALENTINO: And that's why all you comic book readers are smarter than everyone else in the whole world (laughs). Let 's ralk about 3-D in other media if we can--photography! I know that in the 1950s 3-D photography was a very big fad; the President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, was a big 3-D photography fan, as were many other celebrities of the era. Is it possible to still get a 3-D camera?
ZONE: Sure. There are a lot of them out there.
VALENTINO: Where can you get them?
ZONE: You can get them through photography clubs or camera swap meets. There are camera swap meets held all over the country and 3-D cameras are available at most of them.
VALENTINO: Do you need a special fiIm for them?
ZONE: No, you just use regular 35mm film for them and you shoot and process the film itself in the conventional manner.
VALENTINO: So it's no more expensive than a regular roll of 35mm film?
ZONE: Well, it's a little more expensive because once you've shot the film and developed it you need to either have it mounted or mount it yourself into what's called a 3-D slide, which is just like a regular slide except there are two pieces of film in it. Then you need a hand viewer or a projector to project it on the screen and look at it with glasses to enjoy it in its 3-D form.
VALENTINO: So it doesn't come out like a print?
ZONE: Well, you can make prints for them. You can print one of the images or you can hire me to composite those two prints in an anaglyph.
VALENTINO: (announcer's voice) . . .And he can be contacted at. . . (laughs).
ZONE: You generally look at them in slide form and it's a double slide with a hand viewer in its most common form.
VALENTINO: Okay, we've already talked about movies and about their finally moving away from the 'B' movie syndrome. I remember a couple of years ago there were rumors of a Star Trek 3-D film.
ZONE: Yes, I made a coloring pin-up poster for a toy company that wanted to tie into that.
VALENTINO: (surprised) They were actually going to do it?
ZONE: They were. At the time they were talking about it. That's why this toy company got interested in doing a 3-D tie-in.
VALENTlNO: Is there any reason why they didn't?
ZONE: They probably just didn't want to spend the additional money. The studio, I think it was Paramount, probably didn't feel confident enough. I'm sorry they didn't do it.
VALENTINO: What about TV? There's been some small success with 3-D TV out here in Southern California. Channel 11, an independent channel, has run a couple of those magazine shows in 3-D.
ZONE: Right, Eye On L.A.
VALENTINO: Yeah, there was a bathing suit episode and there was a Halloween show in 3-D; any thoughts on that?
ZONE: There are limitations with that form of 3-D television because the television tube is not friendly to the anaglyphic process. It doesn't work as well as a 3-D comic book, for example. What we're going to see with 3-D TV are some new forms. There are two new forms of 3-D that are on the immediate horizon. One is the over-under form which is available right now in a videotape of a movie called The Bubble or Fantastic Invasion of Planel Earth. You have to sit at a specific distance from it and it works quite nicely. You get a clean, full-color 3-D image right on your TV screen.
VALENTINO: I hadn 't heard of that.
ZONE: Yes, it has some limited application now. The other, much more viable process, is something that Toshiba has made a breakthrough in called Field Sequential TV and it's derived from the fact that the TV image is made from fields and frames. There are 30 frames per second and each frame is made up of two fields. Since the TV image is made up of horizontal lines, those lines are interlaced. One field is the odd-numbered lines, the other is the even-numbered ones, and the special glasses electronically shutter those images so that each eye sees the appropriate field.
VALENTINO: Sounds like major headache time to me.
ZONE: No, actually it works really nice. It's a very clean form of separating the left and right-eye images and getting a full color picture. Toshiba has got a prototype and they have a video camera with which you can shoot your own videotape at home. In 1988 we're going to see this on themarket. (Note: the Toshiba 3-D camcorder has been here and gone as of 1997 but new computer hardware is available from Stereographics Corporation and others that works in the same way for computers.)
VALENTINO: So you see TV as a viable growing ground for 3-D?
ZONE: Oh, yes, absolutely. I want to do some You Are There type thrill videos for this technology.
VALENTINO: (laughs) I'm not going to even touch that one.
ZONE: . ..narrative stories that place the viewer in the action, exploiting point-of-view.
VALENTINO: There have been quite a few books and magazines about 3-D. For example, National Lampoon had a 3-D issue with Stevie Wonder on the cover.
ZONE: Neal Adams did the 3-D separations on that one.
VALENTINO: (surprised) Did he?
ZONE: Yes. And he did a number of ads and different images in conjunction with some artwork in the book. He called me recently to talk about it. He had inquiries from another client regarding a potential 3-D project and he didn't want to do it because he found it so time-consuming to do the 3-D conversions on that and he wasn't really up to doing it again. Of course he's busy with Continuity Graphics, his own publishing company.
VALENTINO: Right. He's always been a lot busier with commercial projects than most comic fans know.
ZONE: Oh, he's a total genius.
VALENTINO: Yes, he is, unquestionably. There's also been Amazing 3-D.
ZONE: Yes, an excellent book providing the history of 3-D in all its popular forms.
VALENTINO: And it also has many fine examples of excellent 3-D in it.
ZONE: Yes, images from Sir Charles Wheatstone to movies, View Masters, and comics.
VALENTINO: Yeah, it's an excellent information source. Are there any others?
ZONE: Fantastic 3-D, put out by Starlog Press, is a very good book that provides an overview of different 3-D systems and a lot of great 3-D images in the book.
VALENTINO: Are you considering authoring your own book?
ZONE: Oh, yes, I want to do the definitive history of 3-D comic books and 3-D drawing as a visual art form.
VALENTlNO: Up to this point we've talked mostly about comics and things that are going on in the comic book world. A lot of our readers won 't know that you are also a champion of popular culture in general and that you 're actively involved in the L.A. art scene. Can you give us some idea of what is going on out there?
ZONE: Yes. Los Angeles is very important to world culture right now because what we think of as fine art is changing. Fine art is now appropriating popular culture. We are seeing cartoon imagery, the imagery of television and the world of lowbrow being integrated into fine art until they become virtually indistinguishable from one another. This is great because in the past fine art in America was something that was virtually imported from Europe. Or it was something that was elitist by nature, where you had to have an education in art school to even understand it. And one of the characteristics of popular culture, of popular art is that it's accessible. Anybody can work in the medium. So, Los Angeles is the cutting edge for this marriage of the arts. I have mounted art shows at Zomo Art Space, founded in 1982 as an art gallery to show works by artists like Robert Williams, Carol Lay, and Byron Werner.
VALENTINO: Well, I know that Byron does some sculptural work and Robert is, of course, a premier painter, but what other forms is the art taking? Do we see sculpture, do we see video or multi-media art?
ZONE: Yes, the form of the art and the future of these arts is that they're becoming multi-media arts: they are combined. Where you have a sculpture and it has a television in it. You have the marriage of different art forms that's really the future of art: mutation. In this whole area I have enjoyed mounting art shows and writing articles in local publications about these artists.
VALENTINO: I assume you would say that it would be beneficial as an educational device for comic book readers to become aggressively involved In the other art forms that are available to them.
VALENTINO: Well, that is easy for us to say, of course, we're sitting here in the middle of one of the largest cities in the world, L.A., but what about the guy reading this who is in a small town or the mountains where no museums or art galleries are readily available to them.
ZONE: Well, I think people who have read The Watchmen series, for example, might be more inclined to read Treasure Island by Robert Lewis Stevenson, if they haven't already.
VALENTINO: One would hope.
ZONE: That's an example of culture being of a single character, the fact that comic books themselves are an inter-media form. They are a combination of literature and art and that's why they're as artistically powerful and expressive today as ever and why they will continue to grow because they do combine a lot of existing forms. We've seen computers go into the comic book area.....
VALENTINO: We haven't seen an end to the experimentation.
ZONE: No, their nature, their character, is experimental.
VALENTINO: You 've talked a little bit about your writing articles in several places. In what other ways does your creativity express itself?
ZONE: I think my creativity is expressed in creating a context for other artists to work. I think it's like a computer interface. My creativity is expressed in interfacing the art world with other forms of creative expression.
VALENTINO: Putting together disparate parts?
ZONE: Right. It's kind of like presiding at the marriage of different things, whether it's 3-D in comics or a given artist and the public, becoming, basically, a medium myself for one thing to go into another.
VALENTINO: The Right Reverend Ray Zone! Hallelujah!
ZONE: That's right. The writing and the video show here on public access TV, The Zone Show are forms of that.
VALENTINO: Unfortunately a lot of our readers will be unfamiliar with The Zone Show. Tell us a little bit about how that came about.
ZONE: I found out in 1983 that it was possible for anyone to have their own TV show. When cable systems were granted a license to operate part of the provision was that they had to have an open channel for the public to access and use in a non-profit manner. So, I decided to do a half-hour show that would provide exposure to avant-garde artists that were working in popular culture or forms of art that incorporated popular culture. I did the first show in January, 1983 with Stanislav Szukalski.
VALENTINO: And the show was basically an interview format?
ZONE: Two formats have been used--the interview format and a news magazine format, which combines a number of different clips of different events, performance art or art shows, music performances, poetry readings and so forth.
VALENTINO: Now, you weren't like Merv Griffin. You didn't sit in a mock living room and effuse all over your guests' shoes (laughs). As a matter of fact, you had a gimmick, for lack of a better word, whereby you didn't show yourself on camera, but would, instead, do clever things to obscure your face. Do you want to talk about some of the things you did?
ZONE: Yes, the thinking behind this was that public access TV has a stereotype of being video vanity. Public access producers are people who like to narcissistically gaze into the TV mirror and see their own image. I wanted to counter that by not having my face on there. If my face does appear it's either in an extreme close up, or weeded out with special effects.
VALENTINO: To play down yourself in favor of your guests.
ZONE: Right, in favor of the subject. I tried to make TV shows that were actually about something and not about myself. I tried to focus on a given subject or artist. Then, the other idea is that TV is an illusion, that the forms we see on television are electronic constructs that we assemble in our brain, much like 3-D.
VALENTINO: Speaking of 3-D again, let's go back to comics and kind of wrap this up. I won't ask you what your favorite 3-D book is, but knowing full well that you 'd like to see every artist in the entire world converted into 3-D, are there any artists you would particularly like to see in 3-D?
ZONE: Sure, I'm going to do Alex Raymond in Flash Gordon in 3-D for the 3-D Zone. That's a particular thrill, a high point for me to be taking the realism of his rendered image into three-dimensions. I would still like to do Winsor McCay, and I may. I want to take some of the cubist paintings, some of Picasso and Braque. I want to convert a dollar bill, Da Vinci's Mona Lisa, I really want to take any existing image, however unlikely, and do it in 3-D. There is a classic painting of Gcorge Washington, it's an unfinished piece....
VALENTINO: Yes, I know the piece.
ZONE: I'm going to convert that image into 3-D for the first page of the 3-D Presidents issue of The 3-D Zone (number 12).
VALENTINO: How about Escher, for instance?
ZONE: M.C. Escher would be a great challenge. It would be great fun to do him in 3-D. There are a lot of people that I would like to work with in creating specific new 3-D projects. But I'm already amazed and thrilled that I've been fortunate enough to work with people like Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, Milton Caniff, and everyone else I've worked with. I think the projects that I have converted have been of people working at the top of their form.
VALENTINO: Okay, I think that just about does it. Care to make any final comments?
ZONE: That's about it. I'm just very happy to be here. To be doing what I'm doing is a dream come true for me. To work with people like yourself and those who I've had the privilege and pleasure to work with thus far.
VALENTINO: Well, your work has been recognized by your peers for its artistic excellence--and I must say that for myself and, I hope, for the other creators who have worked with you that it 's really been a pleasure on this end too.
ZONE: Thank you.
First published in the February 1, 1989 issue of Amazing Heroes (AH in 3-D)