The toys of the past may have been cheesy, but you can’t deny the creativity needed to build something engaging without any electronics. One stalwart toy from this category is View-Master, the little stereoscopic slide viewer that brought the world to life in seven vibrant scenes. And digitizing these miniature works of art is the purpose of this neat View-Master reel scanner project.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of using a View-Master, the gist is that a flat disc cardboard disc ringed with 14 color transparencies was inserted into a plastic viewer. Binocular eyepieces showed scenes from opposing pairs of slides, which were illuminated by a frosted screen and room lighting. The scenes were photographed from slightly different angles, leading to a stereoscopic image that was actually pretty good quality.
In the video below, project creator [W. Jason Altice] describes View-Master as “the YouTube of the 1950s.” We partially agree; with only seven frames to tell a story, we’d say it’s more like TikTok than YouTube. Regardless, capturing these mini-movies requires quite a bit of complexity. All the parts for the reel carousel are 3D-printed, with a small stepper to advance the reel and an optical sensor to register its position. A ring of RGB LEDs beneath the reel illuminates the slides; being able to control the color of the light helps with color balancing for slides with faded colors. An 8-megapixel camera captures each slide, and some pretty slick software helps with organizing the image pairs, tweaking their alignment, capturing the captions from the disc, and stitching everything into a video.
There’s a whole YouTube channel devoted to View-Master captures, which are best viewed with a Google Cardboard or something similar. Even without the 3D effect, it’s still pretty cool to watch [Popeye] beat up a nuke again.
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