Photoshop Retro 3D Movie Effect Tutorial

Photoshop Retro 3D Movie Effect Tutorial

Return to the Golden Age of 3D by learning how to easily recreate a fun retro-style 3D movie effect from the 1950's with Photoshop! Once you've learned the steps, this 3D effect can be added to any image in under 30 seconds. For Photoshop CC, CS6 and earlier.

Written by Steve Patterson.

Long before James Cameron's Avatar transported us to the breathtaking and beautiful world of Pandora with its state of the art 3D, movie audiences in the 1950's were wearing cheap cardboard glasses and screaming in horror as monsters and aliens leaped out at them from the screen in terrifying red and blue. Photoshop may not be able to replace today's modern 3D technology, but as we'll see in this tutorial, we can easily recreate a retro-style red and blue 3D movie effect!

Of course, since the images we work with in Photoshop are flat and two dimensional, we're a bit limited in what we can do with them. Be we can still pull off something that at least looks like it was taken straight out of a old 3D movie. And in fact, you'll be amazed at just how easy this effect really is. If you can duplicate a layer, click a couple of checkboxes and nudge an image to the left, you have all the skills you need!

I'll be using Photoshop CC but this tutorial is fully compatible with Photoshop CS6 and with earlier versions of Photoshop. Here's what the final effect will look like when we're done:

The original image
The final "retro 3D" effect.

How To Create A Retro 3D Movie Effect

Step 1: Open Your Image

Start by opening your image into Photoshop. Here's the photo I'll be using (3d glasses photo from Adobe Stock):

The original image. Used by permission from Adobe Stock.
The original image. Photo credit: Adobe Stock.

Step 2: Duplicate The Background Layer

If we look in the Layers panel, we see our image sitting on the Background layer, which is currently the only layer in the document:

The Layers panel in Photoshop showing the original image
The Layers panel showing the original image on the Background layer.

The first thing we need to do is make a copy of our Background layer. To do that, click on the Background layer and drag it down onto the New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel. But don't release your mouse button just yet:

Duplicating the Background layer in Photoshop
Dragging the Background layer onto the New Layer icon.

With your mouse button still held down, press and hold the Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key on your keyboard. Then, release your mouse button. The Alt / Option key tells Photoshop to pop open the Duplicate Layer dialog box where we can name the new layer before it's added. Name the layer "3D", and then click OK:

Naming the layer 3D
Naming the layer "3D" in the Duplicate Layer dialog box.

Photoshop adds a copy of the image on a new layer named "3D" above the original:

The Layers panel showing the new 3D layer
The new "3D" layer appears above the Background layer.

Step 3: Open The Layer Style Dialog Box

Click on the Layer Styles icon at the bottom of the Layers panel:

The Layer Styles icon in the Layers panel
Clicking the Layer Styles icon.

Then choose Blending Options from the top of the list:

Choosing Blending Options from the Layer Styles menu
Choosing "Blending Options" from the Layer Styles menu.

Step 4: Turn Off The Green And Blue Channels

This opens Photoshop's Layer Style dialog box with the blending options in the middle column. In the Advanced Blending section, look for the Channels option, with checkboxes for R, G and B:

The Channels option in the Layer Style dialog box
The Channels option in the Layer Style dialog box.

The "R", "G" and "B" stand for Red, Green and Blue, which are the three primary colors that mix together to make up every other color we see in the image. Photoshop mixes these primary colors using channels. There's a channel for red, a channel for green, and a channel for blue. To create our retro 3D effect, we need to turn off the green and blue channels on our "3D" layer. To do that, uncheck the G and B boxes, leaving only the red channel selected. Then, click OK to close the Layer Style dialog box:

Turning off the red and blue channels
Turning off the green and blue channels.

To see what's happened, hide the Background layer for a moment by clicking its visibility icon in the Layers panel:

Clicking the visibility icon for the Background layer
Clicking the visibility icon for the Background layer.

With the Background layer hidden and only our "3D" layer visible, we see that with the green and blue channels turned off, the image on the layer appears only in red:

Clicking the visibility icon for the Background layer
Clicking the visibility icon for the Background layer.

Click the same visibility icon again to turn the Background layer back on:

Clicking the empty box to turn on the Background layer
Clicking the empty box to turn on the Background layer.

And now we're back to seeing the full color image:

The image has returned to full color
The full color image returns.

Step 5: Select The Move Tool

At this point, to create our retro 3D effect, all we need to do is offset the image on the "3D" layer so that it's out of alignment with the image below it. To do that, select the Move Tool from the Toolbar:

Selecting the Move Tool in Photoshop
Selecting the Move Tool.

Step 6: Nudge The Image To The Left

Then, with the "3D" layer selected in the Layers panel, use the left arrow key on your keyboard to nudge the image on the layer towards the left. As you do, you'll see a red outline appearing along one side of each object in the image. And because cyan, the other color used in those retro 3D glasses (even though everyone calls it blue) is the opposite of red, a cyan outline appears along the other side, creating our 3D effect! The further you move the image, the thicker the red and cyan outlines will appear, so adjust the effect until you're happy with the result:

The final retro 3d movie effect in Photoshop
Nudge the image on the "3D" layer to the left to create the "retro 3D movie" effect.