Disney View-Master Memories and Experiments

View-Master Viewer

View-Master reels and viewers have been commercially available since 1939. They take advantage of human’s stereoscopic vision by presenting a slightly different image to each eye. The brain combines both together to create a three-dimensional image with a sense of depth.

I developed this series of posts to relive some memories from childhood (much later than 1939!), to improve my imaging skills, and to explore using animated GIFs for 3D stereographic photos. Each link below represents a different View-Master reel from a Disney park collection.

Reel 1 Adventureland
Reel 2 Fantasyland
Reel 3 Frontierland
Reel 4 Haunted Mansion
Reel 5 Liberty Square
Reel 6 Main Street USA
Reel 7 Walt Disney Characters
Bonus Reel – Disneyland
Discussion & How-To

Reel 1 Adventureland

1) Entrance to Adventureland! Civilization is left behind.


2) Swiss Family Tree House, the high point of Adventureland.


3) Great Ceremonial House – an Adventureland landmark.


4) Colorful Cockatoos in Tropical Serenade.


5) Jungle Cruise boat embarks on dangerous voyage.


6) Angry hippos block path of Jungle Cruise.


7) Bathing elephants ignore passing voyagers.



Reel 2 Fantasyland

1) Cinderella Castle is the focal point of the Magic Kingdom.


2) Carrousel and Skyway in courtyard of castle.


3) Mickey and friends in concert in the Mickey Mouse Revue.


4) The beauty of India unfolds in “It’s a Small World.”


5) Captian Nemo’s “Nautilus” in 20,000 Leagues attraction.


6) Skyway to Tomorrowland provides excellent view.


7) Midnight magic surrounds Cinderella Castle.



Reel 3 Frontierland

1) Chip ‘n Dale greet young visitor to Frontierland.


2) Sternwheeler riverboat navigates bend in river.


3) River travelers paddle war canoe past Smuggler’s Cove.


4) Diamond Horseshoe cast performs Revue Finale.


5) Talking trophies introduce Country Bear Jamboree.


6) The Country Bear Band performs for young and old.


7) Big Al, the mournful bass, sings a song of woe.



Reel 4 Haunted Mansion

1) Chilling thrills await visitors to the Haunted Mansion.


2) Crystal ball seance summons the spirit.


3) A ghostly birthday party in the Grand Hall.


4) Chandelier above table is a perch for spooks.


5) A ghostly organist plays while spirits waltz.


6) In the graveyard, mummy’s eyes glow with weird light.


7) Passengers of the hearse enjoy a “spot of tea.”



Reel 5 Liberty Square

1) Liberty Bridge provides entrance to Liberty Square.


2) Plaza of Flags and Cinderella Castle, symbols of pride.


3) Fife and Drum Corps performing on Liberty Bridge.


4) Hall of Presidents is the focal attraction.


5) Popcorn wagon is framed by famous live Oak tree.


6) Fife and Drum Corps parades through Liberty Square.


7) Riverboat “Admiral Joe Fowler” embarks on cruise.



Reel 6 Main Street U.S.A.

1) Sleek monorail waits at Magic Kingdom Station.


2) Guest view of Main St. Station from Monorail Station.


3) Town Square, entrance to Main Street, U.S.A.


4) Fire engine in Town Square, with City Hall in background.


5) Horseless carriage chugs past the Emporium.


6) Clydesdale pulls trolley past Main Street Cinema.


7) After dark, Main Street is aglow with lights.



Reel 7 Walt Disney Characters

1) Mickey greets young visitors by his floral portrait.


2) Walt Disney World visitors enjoy the characters.


3) Walt Disney characters parade on Main Street.


4) Snow White and Dwarfs at Cinderella Castle.


5) Bambi characters enliven Fantasyland.


6) Panchito relaxes at Mile-Long Bar entrance in Frontierland.


7) Pinocchio figures strike jaunty poses.



Bonus Reel Disneyland

1) Mickey Mouse leads the band along Main Street.


2) At night, fireworks burst over Sleeping Beauty Castle.


3) The Mine Train in Frontierland rolls through the desert.


4) In New Orleans Square, pirates loot the town.


5) Prepare for thrills and chills in the Haunted Mansion.


6) Adventureland boat meets elephants in Sacred Pool.


7) Tomorrowland’s Monorail passes over Submarine Lagoon.




While this particular series of posts does not have a traditional user experience focus, I do believe it validates one of Don Norman’s theories. In recent years, he has promoted his theories of emotional design with a focus on three layers of interaction: behavioral, visceral, and reflective. To illustrate the last level, reflective, he describes a souvenir he purchased while on vacation and how it reminded him of his experience (even if it wasn’t exactly high-art). In another presentation, he explains that visitors at Disney often forget waiting in line because their happy memories overwhelm the bad.

Disney trips were certainly part of my childhood, but not every year. In-between trips, I remember vividly looking at my own souvenir, these set of View-Master slides. Flipping through them made me want to return all the more. Disney, certainly a master at brand-building and creating loyalty, had me hooked. Looking at these reels again many years later filled me with nostalgia and the urge to see how the experience could be expressed digitally.

Initial Trial and Error

My first effort to scan a View-Master reel used my all-in-one printer/scanner at home. Because it did not have a film/transparency unit, I tried creating a makeshift light reflector using instructions on several web sites. However, I quickly determined this did not produce enough light and my scanner’s resolution was insufficient.

For a second attempt, I actually tried to photograph images on the reel using a macro-lens and my DSLR. I was inspired by people with good luck doing this with 35mm slides. I even created a narrow lightbox to funnel light from a wireless flash unit. This experiment produced much better results than the first, but I quickly realized that consistent focusing was nearly impossible. Eventually, I decided that I really needed to find a better scanner.

During my early scanning trials, I also discovered that old View-Master reels are not necessarily flat. Mine had warped over the years. Because this warping was not consistent between paired stereo images, and because it was magnified by the scanner, it created great distortions in the 3D effect. I was able to resolve some of this (see tip #2 below), but you will notice that roughly one-third of my images still suffer from distortion.

Finally, my Photoshop efforts were mostly through trial-and-error. I understand that there is software, ReelTool, which will automate some of my steps below. I wanted direct control over the process and to see the impact of my alignment decisions.

Final Process Steps

1) The capture device was an Epson Expression 10000XL scanner with the attached film/transparency unit.

2) View-Master reels were placed on the glass face-down. To keep the reel flat against the glass, I used a few different strategies. In the middle, I placed a few large coins to hold it steady. Along the edges and center, I used a few clean foam ear plugs. When the lid was closed, the foam compressed and pushed the reel down flat. For a latter attempt, I also used Post-It notes along the edge to ‘tape’ down the sides and not damage either the glass or reel.

3) Scan settings were at the maximum optical resolution (2400 dpi) along with 24bit color, dust removal, and sharpening. I also set the manual focus at 0.4 to accommodate for the fact that the actual film is away from the glass and sandwiched inside the reel. Naturally, it was also set at ‘positive film’ to ensure the transparency unit engaged.

4) After the scan was complete, I opened each reel image in Photoshop. I manually rotated the image around until two adjoining stereo image pairs were relatively straight (using my eye to compare it with a grid overlay).

5) After rotation, I separately cropped both image pairs out and pasted them in a second Photoshop file. In this file, I had already created an over-sized white border as the top-most layer to help mask the rough edges and to account for the purposeful misalignment done next.

6) I would align the two image pairs by setting one at 50% opacity. Naturally, the images will not perfectly align as they each represent the view from a different eye. I selected either an object in the very foreground or very far background as the alignment target to match. The 3D effect varies depending on which you select. I typically selected to align on a background object because it produced the most pleasing effect and it also corresponds to human vision (there is less stereoscopic effect on distant objects).

7) After adjusting the opacity back to 100%, I would toggle the images on and off and look for possible edits. Sometimes it was simply removing dust that was visible in one image but not the other. Sometimes it meant adjusting the brightness of one image to match the other.

8) With both images complete, I created the animated GIF using the built-in tool inside of Photoshop. I simply set each image layer to show for 1 second and looped.

Thanks for Visiting

The images on the following pages are provided for education purposes. I hope it allows you to learn about one technique to scan your personal View-Master reels. I hope that seeing the early park helps provide context to many of the other postings on this site. And finally, I hope that you enjoy the trip down memory lane.

Comments (2) Add yours ↓
  1. Sal

    Love the images. It looks like a lot of work. I was wondering if you have any images like these for the other Disney viewmaster reels. I am nostalgic and, as a kid, loved the disney reels that looked like puppets.

    Thanks for the memories.


    October 14, 2013 Reply
  2. Paula

    I loved you work as well. I have a few other view master disks from the wonderful world of Disney. I would love to see them in this way!

    March 18, 2016 Reply

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