How do they make these "3D photos" for documentaries?

I was watching a documentary yesterday and noticed them using a technique I’ve never seen before. In addition to the standard pan & zoom over the old photos (Ken Burns style), they had some landscape shots where the perspective changed properly as they zoomed out. Things in the foreground moved relative to the background in a pretty smooth effect.

Does anyone know how they do this? Are they processing old stereographic pairs with computers?

I can’t say for the show in particular that you’re watching, but i’ve used a technique where i take a still photograph (doesn’t matter from what era) and outlined the subject from its surroundings (all in the computer of course, mainly using PhotoShop). Once I have the subject outlined, I place a copy of itself on top (in the exact same position) using Adobe After Effects. Now that I have the subject isolated from the background layer, I can “fake” camera movements, to make it appear that the background is moving slower than the foreground.

You could make this technique as complicated as you want, using multiple subjects as different “distances” from the camera to achieve some very interesting/cool looking effects. It can appear quite convincing if you take your time, and do it right.

In fact, if you go to this site, click on ENTER, then click on MOTION… click on the 2nd selector box, and you can witness the effect i’m talking about (sorry, no direct link possible). It’s very subtle, but on this project, I used still photographs of the various BMWs, and made it appear as if the car was closer to the viewer as I slowly moved the “camera” in. All done in the computer using only photoshop and after effects.

Sometimes it’s necessary to partially remove the subject from the background by “cloning” the background INTO the subect. Once this is done, you have far greater freedom as to how you can move the “camera”.

I hope this makes sense.

The TV folks haven’t been so meticulous – they just scale up the “foreground” object a bit to get a little wiggle room.

Are you perchance talking about ‘Riding Giants’? That one has some great 3-D photo effects. The director Stacy Peralta said in the DVD commentary that they render regular still photographs in Adobe by separating the objects in the photo into different layers and then change the light source for each layer to manipulate shadows and give the appearance of depth to each layer. It was apparently a rather time-consuming process but the end result is well worth it.