An Interview with JEAN POULOT

Originally published in Stereo World www.stereoview.org March/April 2006 pp. 16-21.

Republished here by kind permissions from the editor John Dennis and from Jean Poulot..

(3DD photos and drawings copyright Vladimir Tamari 2006)

Vladimir Tamari is a Palestinian artist inventor and physicist. Born in Jerusalem in 1942, he studied in his hometown of Ramallah (north of Jerusalem) followed by studying at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, the Saint Martin's School of Art in London and Pendle Hill School in Pennsylvania.
He worked with a United Nations agency and moved to Japan in 1971, where he has lived and worked ever since, painting, inventing and doing research in optics. In January 1964, he designed his first 3DD, a 3 Dimensional Drawing machine.
He lives in Tokyo, painting regularly in watercolors, and continuing work on his physics theory Beautiful Universe, recently published on his website, and working on Arabic computer font design. He is president of Tamari 3DD Co. Ltd.

Jean Poulot was born in Burgundy, France. His introduction to stereoscopic pictures was through a Lestrade and later a Bruguière. He applied stereo photography at Will Vinton Studios where he worked as an animator and director. Twenty years ago, he read about the 3DD machine, and contacted Vladimir Tamari in the summer of 2004. A “neighbor” of Mr. Tamari, he lives in Seoul, South Korea, where he teaches animation at Kookmin University. His latest book in Korean Language “3-D Photography”, is part of a series of books on Art and Photography called “Everything you need to know about” published by Da Vinci Books, Seoul in September 2005.


Jean Poulot: How did you get interested in stereo drawings in the first place?

Vladimir Tamari: When I was a kid in the 1950’s I used to spend hours watching View-Master stereo photographic slides with the old-style round viewer. I tried to make drawings on paper of the scenes I saw and somehow that must have made me conscious of the flatness of drawings on paper.  Later I learned drawing from a marvelous book called The Natural Way to Draw. The author, Kimon Nicolaides urged the student to dig into the paper with the pencil when the object is far and lift the pencil when the object is near. That physical impulse made me think it would be great to be able to ‘draw in space’ steering the pencil like you would an airplane. I saw things sculpturally but my drawings on paper were flat. One night the idea for a 3DD just popped in my mind while I was taking a walk along a field and observing the motion parallax of objects in it.

JP: How does the 3DD work?

VT: It is a mechanical device fitted with two pencils that create left and right-eye flat views of the drawing automatically and simultaneously. The drawing handle can move in x, y and z directions and the mechanism automatically makes one or both the pencils shift slightly to left or right to create the parallax effect.  The user of the device looking in the lenses sees a single 3D drawing and the two pencils are also visually fused and appear like one- so in fact one can steer the pen in space without thinking of the mechanisms involved. 3D drawing is to traditional drawing what hang-gliding is to running.

JP: I like the comparison. What is the largest drawing area?

VT: 4-mirror stereoscopes can be used to merge very large drawings for example several feet wide each, but moving the mechanism of such a large instrument would be cumbersome.  Most of the 3DDs I made had fairly small drawing areas, typically four or five inches, but because of the magnification in the stereoscope lenses, this is not a real problem.

JP: Besides pencils and felt-tip pens, what else can you use?

VT: Pencils need an additional mechanism to adjust the pressure for different shades of gray. At first, I mostly used drafting ink pens and also ball pens and special nibs I filled with colored inks. Today there is a wide variety of very precise ink pens in many colors, and line widths, which are ideal for the 3DD.

JP: How many 3DDs did you make, models, revisions, and redesigns?

VT: I still have to make an exact list, but I think there were about 16 or 17 machines in all.

JP: How did you built them and what happen to them?

VT: Thanks to years of playing with a construction toy called Meccano as a child, I had the ability to imagine how various mechanisms would operate.  For the first 3DD I asked a mechanical engineer to translate my designs into an aluminum and brass mechanism. It was so heavy and inefficient I could hardly drag it around to make one drawing. Except for one other aluminum device, I built all the rest out of wood, one out of steel parts, and then mostly using plastic. I did that by myself, using hand-tools or a tabletop lathe and milling machine.  My favorites are the ones I built in Japan using wood. For the ball-bearing sliding action, I used steel balls from Japanese pachinko gambling machines, which I found in the street. I still have most of the 3DD’s I made, except for the very first one, which was lost when my room was partially damaged by an Israeli rocket during the 1967 war. Regretfully the three wooden ones I built in Japan in the early 1970’s are also lost.

JP: That’s too bad!
Were you aware of a stereoscopic drawing machine before yours?

VT: No, I read about Richard Gregory’s proposal in his book The Intelligent Eye later on. I saw John T. Rule’s patent only when I applied for my own patent. I now know that the Disney Studios used an arrangement with sliding animation frames to produce 3D slides for View-Master but that is not exactly a 3D drawing instrument. Incidentally, the stereoscope invented by Wheatstone was first used to display his simple hand-drawn geometric drawings. Photography was invented a few years later and then the stereoscope became associated mainly with photography after that!  According to a 19th century catalog at the Science Museum in London, another person who made hand-drawn stereoscopic drawings was J.C. Maxwell, the great physicist, but the actual drawings could not be found.

JP: Actually, View-Master produced the 3-D conversions from Disney drawings. Paul Barnett was the last artist to do them. Years ago, he showed me conversions of M.C. Escher drawings using his sliding transparent frame. He did not invent it, someone else who’s name I forgot, who worked at View-Master at the time, producing some of the bible stories as well as the History of Flight and the Bicentennial packet.

Are you in contact with other stereoscopic artists who have designed drawing machines, like Sylvain Arnoux?

VT: Unfortunately, no. I learned about Arnoux’s impressive work only in the last few years- many years after I built my last 3DD. I think he may have used a wheel mechanism that I once considered as a design possibility. This allows him to make large drawings. In the sixties, I corresponded with the late John T. Rule who is probably the first inventor of a 3DD in the 1930’s.  He was an MIT mathematician and saw the great potential of 3D drawing for technical illustration and teaching.

JP: You mentioned once you had a patent on the 3DD, and that a Japanese company wanted to commercialize it, where did this lead to?

VT: Yes I held a Japanese patent for a certain type of simple 3DD.  Unfortunately, I soon realized that inventing things and marketing them need completely different skills.  At one time, I had lengthy negotiations with the largest toy company in Japan to market the 3DD as an educational toy.  Unfortunately, they would not guarantee that they would use glass lenses for the stereoscopes, and we failed to agree.  Sure enough, a few years later, this company came out with a stereo viewer with the worst possible lenses, guaranteed to give any poor kids who look in it a headache. In short, I could not commercialize the 3DD.

JP: Can you make a 3DD if somebody wants to buy one?

VT: I am certainly considering it, but none are available off the shelf. It will have to be by special arrangement and will take me a long time to design, order and assemble the parts.

JP: What do you mean, “design?” Does it mean you are not satisfied with your latest model?

VT: I was never fully satisfied by any of the 3DD’s simply because I wanted a ‘perfect’ instrument- smooth, light, portable, accurate, sturdy,  and one which looked good. Since I built them all by myself at home using any available parts or tools, there was always room for improvement.  The same thing happened when I made the prototype for the Perspector, a perspective-drawing instrument which I invented. But when I ordered the precision parts from professional machinist shops the Perspector worked better and looked great. I will have to design scores of parts for any new professionally built 3DD.

JP: Using the same principle, do you think the 3DD could be re-designed into software or plug-in to work with Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw or Painter? It seems that the hand-held stylus with the help of a plunger could draw in two windows on the screen. Additionally, a greater variety of pens, brushes, even airbrushes can be used in the computer drawings. Have you ever thought about it?

VT: You are right about two windows on the screen, but as you know other display possibilities exist, such as alternate display of left and right images. Also, auto-stereoscopic parallax screens for laptops where no viewer is necessary. There are many 3D modeling programs such as AutoCad, SketchUp and Dimension, but I never tried to learn them. None of them comes with a true stereoscopic drawing capability using a 3D mouse that can move in space- the only natural way to guide a 3D line or shape. 

The crucial things are the input and viewing methods. A computerized 3DD must use a 3D mouse- some kind of handle that can move in actual space, also a viewer to see the image in stereo at the same time it is being created.
I know that sophisticated but cumbersome and expensive systems like that do exist, but very simple computerized 3D drawing should one day be available as an attachment, to every computer user.  As to brush shape and other bells and whistles, yes all that is possible with a Photoshop-style 3D toolbox.

When the personal computer started becoming popular in the early eighties I thought that the 3DD would be computerized in no time, and in fact I stopped working on it for that reason!  Computers are full of 3D applications: 3D graphic accelerator hardware, and 3D modeling software. This is not real stereo- just flat projections of animated 3D scenes seen on a flat screen. It is a pity because the stereoscopic data can be easily extracted and displayed.  The stereoscopic community should keep educating the public that 3D does not necessarily mean stereo!

JP: Yes, the terminology is confusing. 3-D SHOULD mean stereoscopic, not computer generated images.

VT: But then what would you call the x-y-z data of a shape that a computer manipulates and displays on a flat screen? One can call that a 3D-Projection, or even 3D-2D, while ‘our’ sort of 3D can be called Stereoscopic-3D!

JP: How about CGI? Let’s go back to the 3DD. When was your article published in Stereoscopy, the journal of the ISU?

VT: October 1984. This is not to be confused with another article, published in August of the same year, in a special Stereoscopic and 3D Imaging edition of the Japanese magazine Camera Review. In that article, I also described my invention of a stereoscopic focusing mechanism for cameras. There were other short articles in Popular Mechanics (English and French editions) but I forgot the dates, and many other articles earlier on, in English, Arabic and Japanese.

JP: Did you get any response or questions from readers?

Articles in Japanese newspapers or magazines elicited quite a response from companies and individuals curious about this instrument. A famous cartoonist wanted me to make him a 3DD.  A group of medical doctors researching 3D display methods asked me to lecture about it.

JP: Who was the cartoonist?

VT: He is Kazuhiko Kato, a.k.a. Monkey Punch, creator of the Rupin III character whose exploits Miyazaki made into animated films.

JP: You told me once you designed some attachments for the 3DD, can you be more specific?

VT:  Yes indeed- I spent a lot of effort designing and using two categories of attachments: 1- 3D tracing tools. If a pointed rod is attached to the drawing handle, it can trace lines, circles, templates and even real objects like seashells, all in 3D.  Those are really fun, but add to the complexity of the device; for example a spherical compass attachment can get quite complex. Real-object tracing however is very simple, as it only needs the tracing rod. 2- A superscope, which is what I called a device I invented, is basically a 3D camera lucida. A piece of glass and a mirror are fitted between the eyes and the stereoscope. It allows you to see the 3DD’s space pen superimposed over real space. You can then actually make a 3D trace of buildings, faces, etc. in a 1:1 visual size relationship.  At one time, I actually used it to trace the rotund shape of my wife’s belly when she was very pregnant! When I described the superscope idea to Edmund Bacon, the author of Design of Cities, he was thrilled by the idea of being able to sketch one’s designs in 3D in the actual space of the city. The idea is a low-tech precursor of the computerized 3D virtual reality (VR) methods in use today.

JP: I would love to see and try the superscope! What a great idea.

VT:  It’s not such a difficult thing! You can see the effect when you view any stereoscopic image. Place a piece of flat glass or plastic about 1”x4” very close to the eyes at such an angle that the reflected stereo image is superimposed on the image of the room, seen straight-on through the glass.  For example if you are using an anaglyph viewer, the glass is placed between the eyes and the viewer. If the lighting on the page containing the stereo images and the lighting of the room are equally balanced, the glass reflects the 3D image and superimposes it visually on the room. Then you can actually touch the 3D image with your hand or a pointer, measure it with a ruler or compare it with real objects. If the distance between the left and right stereo images is increased or decreased slightly, the stereo image floats in or out in the space of the room and beyond. 

You do not even need all that to demonstrate the effect. Simply hold two toothpicks vertically, one in front of each eye. Slowly change the distance between the toothpicks and a third ‘3D toothpick’ image will appear floating in and out of space in front of you!

JP: Anything else you would like to add?

VT: I am very happy that, through Stereo World, and through your wonderful forthcoming book, yet another generation of photographers and artists are discovering the joys of stereoscopic images. Stereoscopic vision is a deeply engrained ability, like color vision, to understand and enjoy the environment, which has helped animals and humans survive for millions of years.  Modern architects and designers need to think and sketch in 3D to make successful designs.  The 3DD, whether as a simple mechanical device or in a computerized version with 3D mouse and stereoscope attached, may yet be a tool as commonly used as pencils are today.

JP: Let’s hope so. Thank you very much Vladimir for taking the time to answer these questions, and I am looking forward to seeing your new improved 3DD version.

VT:  Thank you Jean, you are very welcome, it’s been a pleasure to recall this work done decades ago!


Three dimensional drawing instrument built around 1982, with spherical compass and drafting attachment (right). The stereoscope (not shown) is attached to the arms to the left. The instrument without the attachment is about a foot wide.

(Photo by Vladimir Tamari using the stereo camera rig designed by Jean Poulot, with 2 Sony digital cameras and synchronizer)

Vladimir Tamari making the 3D drawing of Jean Poulot shown here. Tokyo, Oct. 7, 2005

(Photo by Kyoko Tamari)

Jean Poulot. Pen and ink on paper Oct. 7, 2005. 14.2 cm.x 22.3cm. The drawing was made in a hurry and made him look a bit like Henry Fonda. Photoshop was later used to add a line to the upper eyelids. Likewise the face in the drawings was too long, so Photoshop was used to compress the vertical proportion slightly. Jean's drawing was thereby de-Fondized and de-Peter-O'Tooled.

Daughter of Jerusalem. Ink on film with acrylic colors, June 1,1982. 15.5cmx26.5 cm approximately, the size of all the drawings shown here, except that of Jean Poulot.

Love. Chinese Character in ink and red sealing ink on paper. Around 1979 (?)

Spherical Compass April 5, 1979 showing the artist's daughters. The drawing was made using an earlier and larger version of the 3DD and spherical compass attachment shown in the photograph above.

Cyclamens Grow Freely in the Hills of Palestine. Pencil on paper. Nov. 6, 1979.

Palestinian Still Life. April 29, 1977. Pen and ink on paper with color film overlay. The drawing was made as a tribute to the artist's friend Hani Jawhariyyeh, who was killed during the Lebanese civil war while filming a battle scene there. The drawing depicts Palestinian handicrafts, the PLO magazine announcing his death, and a plastic 3DD.



Principle of the 3 dimensional drawing instrument (3DD)

1- Lenses of stereoscope. The right eye looks through the right lens and sees only the right pen and paper. The same is true for the left eye, lens, pen and paper. The left and right views are fused to give one "space pen" and one "space paper". 2- The pens. In this design, only the right pen makes the parallax shift (D). 3- Drawing handle. When it is lifted up the vertical z-axis, the right pen moves slightly to the left. This makes the "space pen" appear to move nearer to the observer. If the handle is moved horizontally in the x-y plane, the "pen" draws a flat diagram. A combination of x-y, and z movements produces space lines. 4- Cam for converting (Z) movement into (D) parallax shift. 5- Tracing point for space drafting. 6- Virtual "Drawing Space" or model space. 3D drafting accessories as a spherical compass (not shown) are placed in this space to be traced. If a small object such as a sea-shell is placed within this "drawing space", then the 3DD can trace its contour in space. Although the tracing space is small, the actual space-image perceived by the eyes through the stereoscope is much larger. 7- Parallel mechanism for moving the pens in the x-y plane.