Queen’s Brian May on why 1860s is the new rock ‘n’ roll


31 October 2014

The rock god reveals how he’s bringing 3D from the 19th century to the 21st, with an animation premiering on Sky tonight.

If you think of stereoscopic 3D as a recent phenomenon, you couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, stereo photographs (known as ‘stereoviews’) were the in-thing as early as the 1860s.

One popular series was Les Diableries, which portrayed sculpted clay vignettes of daily life in Hell. Shocking for their time, they may remind contemporary audiences of the devilish art typical of hard rock album covers. So it’s perhaps not surprising that rock god Brian May is the man behind their 2014 revival, in the form of CG animation One Night in Hell, to be screened in cinemas and on Sky 3D & Sky Arts tonight at 7:40pm.

We caught up with him to find out what lies behind his passion for bringing 19th century 3D into the 21st…

Lifelong obsession

Brian May has teamed up with Unanico Group to bring his obsession to CG life. Stereoscopy is not a recent interest for May; in fact, it’s been a lifelong passion, he reveals. His fascination began during his 1950s childhood, around the age of seven.

“In those days, you got a little stereo card in your Weetabix box. Two little pictures that looked flat and not particularly interesting,” he recalls. “But then you’d send away one-and-sixpence and a packet top for your stereoscope. And suddenly those two little flat pictures turn into a magic window which you feel you could walk through and touch. I was blown away.”

With a bright and inquiring mind, the youngster figured how it all worked, and started taking sequential photos to create his own stereo cards. “I also used to spend my time in school drawing 3D pictures,” he adds. “I’d start off with two pictures which were almost identical and then move things in the right image and not the left one.

“I figured out how to free-view as well, so every wallpaper I was looking at I was letting my eyes relax and fusing it in 3D. It became an obsession.”

Brian May has been enthralled by the art and science of stereoscopy his whole life

Later in life, as a physics student at Imperial College London, May started collecting vintage stereo cards from Christies. A hobby quickly became a lifetime’s work: he now has over 100,000 cards in his collection, and is considered a worldwide authority on the subject.

Back to life

But the beauty and art of vintage stereoscopy has never just been a private matter for Brian May, who’s keen to share his obsession with the world. So he recently became owner of The London Stereoscopic Company – which at its height produced stereoscopic cards in their millions – and relaunched it as a publishing company.

May also invented a new kind of viewer that could be packaged with the books, enabling readers to experience the stereoscopic scenes in both print and on the iPad. And now the 3D obsessive has realised another ambition, with the satanic scenes portrayed in the Diableries series being brought to life as a modern animation, entitled ‘One Night in Hell’.

CG animation One Night in Hell

Bringing May’s stereoscopic cards to life in a CG animation has “always been the dream”

“It’s always been the dream, really,” he smiles. But it was only when he met film producer Paul Laikin of Unanico Group that it started to become a reality.

“Paul he got really inspired by our book on the Diableries, and it started from there,” May explains. “Instead of doing stop motion like Ray Harryhausen, he’s recreated these clay models in CGI and animated them using 3DS Max.”

May has been blown away by how quickly Laikin’s team has put the film together. “Once they’ve got their 3D space mapped out they can do anything,” he enthuses.