Creating depth in moving images
In the world of graphics (or visual arts, if you prefer), there has long been a problem: how do you create the illusion of depth where there can be no depth? No matter if it is a website, a video game, or even a Baroque painting, creating the illusion of depth is highly important, leading to a more interesting and immersive experience. Though there are a number of ways to achieve it, we will be concerning ourselves with a way of creating depth in moving images, parallax scrolling.
Initially growing out of the multiplane camera technique first used in traditional animation of the 1930’s, parallax scrolling involves the speed of movement of images in the foreground vs. the background in order to create the illusion of depth and space. Putting this into real terms, imagine taking a drive in the country: as you drive down the road and look out of your window, fence posts in the foreground will move past you much faster than, say, a silo or large barn in the background. This visual phenomenon shows depth in actual reality, but it can be easily recreated to give the effect of 3D in the 2D world.
The term parallax scrolling
As a stand-alone term, parallax scrolling first appears in the April, 1990 issue of CU Amiga magazine, where it’s used in reference to a video game, stating: “Violent, frenzied, with parallax scrolling and big, big graphics, AMC should be liberating a sector near you soon”; however, it should come as no surprise that the component terms are substantially older. Initially used in the 1574 to understand the spatial analysis of astronomy, parallax, coming to us by the Middle French parallaxe from the Greek parallassein, meaning ‘to make things alternat’, first appears – specifically in the sense of visual arts (photography) – in the journal Discovery in July of 1935, which explains that: “Iceland spar..beam splitter..entirely free from parallax. This system may be employed..to obtain three-colour negatives.” Much like the terms that precedes it, scrolling, which originates – from the noun scroll – as the Proto-Germanic skrauth and comes to us from the Old French escroe, meaning ‘roll of parchment’, and was the actual action of reading the passing lines on an unfurling scroll, has been applied to computing in the sense of text moving across a screen (in the manner of a scroll), as was first noted in Auerbach on Alphanumeric Displays in 1971: “The data on the screen can be scrolled up or down to bring in new data, line by line, at the bottom or at the top of the screen.”
Adding multiple layers to your website
Despite its near-century of use in traditional animation and ever-increasing usage in video games (beginning with the now-painfully-dated 1981 arcade game Jump Bug), the concept is currently most closely identified with website design. Debuting in 2011 (thanks to advances from HTML5 and CSS 3), parallax scrolling has proven itself as a way of adding depth, dimensionality, and sorely needed movement to what had traditionally been a flat, static surface. Thanks to these multiple layers and movement, web designers can now create more “in-depth” and engaging web content in multiple languages, ultimately – and much like with its application in gaming and animation – giving the global audience a richer visual experience.