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How to Build and use a 3D Camera Rig for Stereoscopic 3D Videos and Photos.

A few years ago, when 3D Television Sets were being promoted as the next great technology advance, we thought it would be fun to have a camera for taking video of our Water Rocket launches and experiments in Stereoscopic 3D. In the past, we had seen a few amateur rocketry hobbyists who had some basic 3D photos available, but we wanted to improve on what others had done by making 3D versions of the kind of enhanced Water Rocket videos (High Definition, Slow Motion, etc.) we specialize in.

At that time, basic ordinary video cameras capable of shooting 3D were quite costly (and they never came down in price since 3D never caught on in a big way). Therefore, we decided the only way to accomplish what we wanted was to build a 3D Camera Rig that would allow us to use our specialized cameras to achieve the goal. The way to accomplished this is to somehow use two similar cameras in tandem to capture photos and videos for each eye, and then merge them in software to create 3D output.

The result of this effort is our 3D Camera Rig, which we have created this tutorial about. With this rig, anyone can inexpensively capture 3D video and photos. All you need is a pair of 3D Glasses, and you can see the results of our design down below. Note: The cheap looking flat paper 3D Glasses actually work better than the fancy molded plastic ones. We found that the molded color filters were poor compared to the flat film filters in the paper glasses.

Table of Contents:
Part 1: How to make the 3D Camera Rig
Part 2: How to use the 3D Camera Rig for Still Photographs
Sample 3D Photos
Part 3: How to make a 3D Movie using YouTube
Sample 3D Video (With 3D Slow Motion)
Part 1: How to make the 3D Camera Rig:
Step 1: Picking the Cameras.

To make your own 3D camera rig, you will need to find a pair of identical cameras, and they should both have a standard threaded tripod mount on the bottom. Make sure the cameras are small enough that you can place the cameras side-by-side and the lenses will be between 2.5" and 3" apart, to simulate the distance between human eyes. If the cameras are much closer together or further apart, then the 3D effect may be too little or extreme and hard for people to view. If the cameras are different models, the differences in resolution or lenses can make it impossible to merge the output later. If you are highly skilled you may be able to match the output of different cameras by using post processing software, but that is beyond the scope of this tutorial.

You must find two identical cameras that can be placed 2.5in to 3.0in apart.  Both cameras must include a 1/4in x20in female threaded Tripod Mount.  Larger cameras a difficult to use because the space between the lenses can become too wide.

Step 2: Picking Materials for the Camera Platform:

Find a piece of 1/2" thick board about a foot in length, and another piece 3/4" thick. Note: The other dimensions are not very critical. The two pieces will be glued together to form an "L" shaped platform that will hold the two cameras in parallel. Place the two cameras side by side on the bottom board and space the lenses 2.5in to 3in apart. You can now mark the board there the tripod mounts on the bottom of the cameras line up, and also the outer edges can be marked so the board can be trimmed to length.

We used a few scraps of PVC decorative trim to make our camera rig, but wood or metal are fine substitutes.  Place the cameras at the proper distance and mark where the tripod mounts are positioned, and the length of the board.  The board is now marked with the proper dimensions for your two cameras.

Step 3: Making the Platform:

Cut the two boards to length and then use glue to bond them together into the "L" shape for the Camera Platform. Use clamps or heavy weights to hold the pieces tightly together until the glue has cured.

Cut both boards to the length determined earlier.  The boards will form a corner that will keep the cameras parallel.  Glue and clamp or weight the two boards together.

Step 4: Mark the Camera Mounts:

Hold one of the cameras in place against the corner of the "L" and mark the end of the board where the center of the tripod mount lines up. Extend the line with a straight edge along the length of the Camera Platform, then mark the places where this line intersects the markings you made in Step 2 locating the tripod mount holes.

Place a camera against the back corner of the rig, and mark the center line of the tripod mounting hole.  Use a straight edge to extend the reipod mount hole center line down the length of the camera platform.  Mark the intersections of the tripod mount location marks and the center line.

Step 5: Mount the Cameras:

Drill out the two tripod mount holes with a 1/4" Drill bit, and insert a 1/4"x20x3/4" Winged Screw through each hole. Winged Screws are recommended because you can tighten and loosen them without needing tools, but you can use hex head or other screws if you prefer. Just remember to always carry the right tool to tighten and loosen the screws with you when you use the 3D camera rig.

Congratulations! You’re done! You can mount both cameras and go ahead and use the rig as it stands, or you can continue on and add some additional features and enhancements in the next steps of this tutorial, or scroll to the end and read about how to use the 3D Camera Rig.

Drill 1/4in diameter holes at the intersections where the tripd mounts will be located.  We will be using 1/4in x20x3/4in winged screws to mount the cameras to the platform.  You can use regular screws or bolts in place of the winged screws, but we prefer the winged screws because they do not need any tools.

Step 6: (Optional) Adding a Tripod Mount:

If you want to use the 3D Camera Rig on top of a tripod, you will need to add a female threaded tripod mount on the bottom of the Camera Platform. We made one by taking a scrap of the same material the platform was cut from, drilling a 1/4” hole through it where the tripod mounted, and pressing a 1/4"x20 T-Nut into the hole from the reverse side. This piece was then glued to the bottom of the platform. Before gluing it into place, we discovered we needed to add a counter-sink hole to recess the T-Nut flange, and also a second hole partially drilled into the bottom to accept the guide pin found on some of our tripods.

The base of the camera platform can be attached to a tripod by making an adapterthat matches your tripod head.  A 1/4in x20 T-Nut is pressed into the rear of the adapter where we counter sunk a hole.  The adapter is glued into place on the bottom of the camera platform. If your tripod mount has a front/rear that cannot be reversed, make sure to check that you have it oriented properly before gluing.

Step 7: (Optional) Adding a hand Grip:

You can also add a hand grip to the bottom of the 3D Camera Rig. To make ours, we cut a piece of 3/4" PVC pipe about 6 inches long and found a cap for the open end. A small piece of the same material used for the platform was cut and a 1" hole was drilled through to make a bracket for the handle. The handle was then assembled together, and glued to the bottom of the platform. If you want, you can add a scrap of foam pipe insulation to the handle to make a soft grip.

A hand grip can be bade from PVC pipe or similar materials.  A scrap of the platform material is drilled to form a receptacle that will support the hand grip. This is then glued to the bottom of the camera platform.  We added a scrap of foam pipe insultation to the hand grip to make it more comfortable.

Step 8: (Optional) Capturing the Winged Screws:

One nice enhancement you can add to the 3D Camera Rig is to make the Winged Screws "Captive", which is a term that means that they don't fall out when the cameras are not installed. They will stay in place, or “captive”. A very easy way we came up with to make captive screws for this (and other projects) is to drill a 3/8" counter-sink hole about 1/8" deep in the side of the screw hole opposite the winged screw head. We then slip a 3/8" diameter O-ring into the counter-sink hole and push the Winged Screw through the other side. The rubber O-ring puts friction on the Winged Screw so that it will not fall back out of the hole, but they are still free to move and operate as normal.

We used small 3/8in diameter o-rings to prevent the winged screws from falling out when the cameras were removed.  3/8in counter sink holes were drilled into the top of each tripod mount hole and the o-rings fit down in the recessed area and gold the winged screws captive.  We made a version of the 3D Camera Rig which has both a hand grip and tripod mount and has 3 camera positions so that several different cameras we have can be used together.
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Part 2: How to use the 3D Camera Rig for Still Photographs

To make a 3D Anaglyph Still Image, you will mount the two cameras on the 3D Camera Rig, point at your subject, and press both shutter buttons on the cameras at the same time. Each time you do this, the right and left cameras will take an image from slightly different perspective. The left and Right images must be combined to produce a single 3D image, called an "Anaglyph", which you can view on your computer.

We found a free and easy way to make Anaglyphs. You will use an Open-Source Image Editor called "GIMP", which is essentially a free clone of Adobe Photoshop. You can download GIMP at You will also need a plug-in script called "make-anaglyph", which can be downloaded at You will then need to install the plug-in by moving it to the GIMP scripts folder which you can locate by checking the GIMP menu item Edit>Preferences>Folders>Scripts. Once copied there, click on Filters>Script-Fu>Refresh Scripts.

In order to make use of this script you will first need to load a pair of images taken with the 3D Camera Rig as different layers in the same image window in GIMP with the right image as the Bottom layer and the left image as the next layer above it and no other layers in the image. The File menu option called “Open as Layers” will do this easily.

The “Make-Anaglyph” script adds a new menu item to GIMP called "Stereo". Click on Stereo>Make-Anaglyph and accept the default settings to make an Anaglyph of your image suitable for Red/Blue 3D glasses. If you experiment with 3D glasses with different color filters in them, you can make adjustments to the color settings and then click "OK" to make the Anaglyph.

In the GIMP program, use the ":Open As Layers" option to read in a left and right image into two layers.  The "Make-Anaglyph" script is used to generate a 3D Stereo Image from the layers. make sure you have the left layer on the top before running the script.  One the Anaglyph is made, you can view it with filter glasses or save it to your disk for later viewing.
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Sample 3D Photos

Check out the 3D Still Photos we were able to create using the 3D Camera Rig and the method described in this tutorial. We're pleased with the results, and will definitely be using this more in future projects. If you click on the photos, you can expand them to much larger versions and really enjoy the effect!

A Simple Water Rocket caught the instant it leaves the launcher in amazing 3D using Red/Blue Anaglyph technique.  Water Rocket with Launcher in 3D using Red/Blue Anaglyph technique  Water Rocket launcher and various soft drink bottles in 3D using Red/Blue Anaglyph technique
Water Rocket launches while towing our innovative Chase Camera in stereoscopic 3D using Red/Blue Anaglyph technique  Water Rocket preparing to be launchined. Photographed in stereoscopic 3D using Red/Blue Anaglyph technique  Water Rocket Launches while testing our innovative Radial Parachute Deploy System. Photographed in stereoscopic 3D using Red/Blue Anaglyph technique
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Part 3: How to make a 3D Movie using YouTube

For a 3D movie, you will need to work a little bit harder. You will set up your 3D Camera Rig as usual, and press the "Record Video" buttons on both cameras simultaneously. It is a good idea to wait a few seconds and step in view of the cameras and make a sudden motion, such as clapping your hands once. This works like a Hollywood "Clapboard" used when making movies and the idea is to create a reference point in your video you can use later to make sure they are synchronized.

When done recording, you will take the left and right videos and load them into your video editing software. You must then use the software to take both videos and scale them to 50% width (keeping them 100% in height). You will end up with a tall and skinny video for each view. Open a new/blank video file (in full resolution) and place the left video on the left-hand side of the screen and the right video on the right-hand side of the screen. Check to see that the “Clapboard” move you made in both videos is simultaneous in both clips, and adjust the timeline of one or the other video until both clips are synchronized. You will now save/render the output video which is the two videos side-by-side on a single video. This file is then uploaded to YouTube. When it has uploaded go into the "Advanced" tab and pick "Please Make this Video 3D" under the 3D settings. After a few minutes of processing, the video will convert to a 3D video, and 3D options will appear in the video player settings.

When uploading a video to YouTube, go to the "Advanced" tab and change the 3D options to "Please make this video 3D"  When you are viewing the 3D video on YouTube, you need to go into the viewer settings to configure your 3D viewing settings.  In the settings you can enable the 3D vieing mode and change the viewer to the type that matches your 3D glasses.

That's all there is making a 3D movie. We have created a sampling of 3D videos which we have uploaded to YouTube. Check out the video below, and leave your comments and suggestions in the video comments section or on the Water Rocket Forum.

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Sample 3D Video (With 3D Slow Motion)
3D HD Video:

Creative Commons License U.S. Water Rockets How to Build and use a 3D Camera Rig for Stereoscopic 3D Videos and Photos by U.S. Water Rockets is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.
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