The Stereoptical Process

Max Fleischer has always been recognized as one of the greatest (if not THE greatest) technological innovators in the field of animation.


Little Swea'Pea(1936)

I Never Changes My Altitude (1937)

Let's Get Movin' (1936)


Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba's 40 Thieves (1937)
In 1933, much before the invention of Disney's famous Multiplane camera, Max Fleischer, who was well-known for his technological innovations in the field of animation, created the so-called Stereoptical Process with studio technician John Burks. It was a device that successfully combined three-dimensional backgrounds (usually made of cardboard cutouts mounted on a giant turntable) with two-dimensional characters. The cartoon images, painted on animation cells, would be placed on transparent glass frames in front of the model backgrounds, so that the film camera, shooting past the cells, would capture the illusion of "flat" characters operating in a "realistic" space. Many "Popeye" cartoons made use of this splendidly engaging technological effect. However, since creating 3-D sets was very time-consuming and expensive, a regular "Popeye" picture would ordinarily use the device in only a scene or two. For example, I Never Changes My Altitude (1937) used the Stereoptical Process in the opening scene, For Better or Worser (1935) used it halfway through the picture, while Let's Get Movin' (1936) makes use of the innovative device in the closing scene only.

The Stereoptical Process. Picture provided by Ray Pointer of Inkwell Images