Lenny Lipton

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Lenny Lipton
Born (1940-05-18) May 18, 1940 (age 80)
  • Inventor
  • author
  • experimental filmmaker
  • lyricist
Years active1959-present
Known for"Puff, the Magic Dragon", 3D display technology

Leonard "Lenny" Lipton (born May 18, 1940 in Brooklyn, New York) is an American author, filmmaker, lyricist and inventor. At age 19, Lipton wrote the poem that became the basis for the lyrics to the song "Puff the Magic Dragon". He went on to write books on independent filmmaking and become a pioneer in the field of projected three-dimensional imagery. His technology is used to show 3D films on more than 25,000 theater screens worldwide.


Lipton majored in physics at Cornell University after starting out in electrical engineering. A self-described "mediocre student", he only excelled once he found a field he loved. Lipton now urges schools to be more "accepting of eccentric people with a different point of view because we are the people who make the difference."[1]


Puff the Magic Dragon[edit]

Lipton was 19 when he wrote the poem that was adapted into the lyrics for the 1963 song "Puff the Magic Dragon", performed by Peter Paul and Mary. His inspiration was a 1936 Ogden Nash poem, "The Tale of Custard the Dragon". "Pirates and dragons, back then, were common interests in stories for boys," Lipton said. "The Puff story is really just a lot like Peter Pan.” Lipton has spent years denying that the song was about marijuana and believes that the myth was created by New York columnist Dorothy Kilgallen.[2]

Independent films[edit]

In the 1960s, Lipton shot several experimental films on 16 mm stock, most with running times of less than 10 minutes. The best known, Let a Thousand Parks Bloom, a 27-minute film about Berkeley's People's Park, played at the Tate Liverpool Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art.[3][4] The following decade, he wrote two books on technologies and methods for independent filmmakers: The Super 8 Book (1975) and Independent Film Making (1979). Lipton on Filmmaking, a compendium of his magazine writings, was also published in 1979.[5]


Lipton is a pioneer in the field of projected three-dimensional imagery and is one of the creators of the electronic stereoscopic display industry.[6][1] His interest dates back to his childhood in New York where he attended movie palaces, with some films shown in 3D. He drew his own 3D comics using red and green crayons on tracing paper, which were viewed using primitive glasses constructed of cardboard tubes and magnifying lenses.[7]

Royalties from "Puff the Magic Dragon" and Independent Filmmaking, which remained in print for 20 years, gave Lipton an independent income that allowed him to follow his interests. His career in stereoscopic display began to gel around 1972. In one early stint, he served as the "convergence setter" for the 1983 3D film Rottweiler: Dogs from Hell, determining for each shot the optimal distance separating the two camera lenses. Previewing a scene from the film, technical staff from Universal were impressed by the stereoscopic imagery.[5]

He built a prototype of a flicker-free, field-sequential 3D display system and founded StereoGraphics Corporation in 1980 to fund development. The system worked by doubling the display rate of images, thereby overcoming a problem inherent in 3D motion picture projection, where each eye views only half the available images.[8] In 1989, he patented the active ZScreen polarization filter that uses a circularly polarized liquid crystal filter placed in front of a projector, which can then display both the left and right halves of a stereo pair. After Real D Cinema acquired StereoGraphics in 2005, the technology became the basis for the RealD cinema system.[9] As of 2017, the system was in use in more than 26,500 screens worldwide.[10] Lipton was the chief technology officer at RealD until 2009, when he left to do independent consulting.[11]

Lipton published his definitive treatment of the subject, Foundations of the Stereoscopic Cinema: A Study in Depth, in 1982.[12] In 2011, the International 3D Society gave him its Century Award for Lifetime Achievement.[13] As of 2015, he held 68 stereography-related patents.[2]


  • Independent Filmmaking (1972)
  • The Super 8 Book (1975)
  • Lipton on Filmmaking (1979)
  • Foundations of the Stereoscopic Cinema: A Study in Depth (1982)
  • The CrystalEyes Handbook (1991)
  • Puff, the Magic Dragon (Peter Yarrow, Lenny Lipton, 2007)


  1. ^ a b "Once a physicist: Lenny Lipton". IOP: Institute of Physics. July 2007. Retrieved 2017-11-11.
  2. ^ a b Chelin, Pamela (2015-02-03). "The Man Who Wrote "Puff, the Magic Dragon" Swears It's Not About Drugs". L.A. Weekly. Retrieved 2017-11-10.
  3. ^ "Lenny Lipton - NY Filmmaker's Coop". film-makerscoop.com. Retrieved 2017-11-12.
  4. ^ Lipton, Lenny. "Lenny Lipton: Inventor, Author, Songwriter and Filmmaker". www.lennylipton.com. Retrieved 2017-11-12.
  5. ^ a b Zone, Ray (2005). 3-D Filmmakers: Conversations with Creators of Stereoscopic Motion Pictures. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 9780810854376.
  6. ^ Cohen, David S. (2016-04-14). "RealD at 10: 3D Giant Reinvents Itself to Serve All Screens". Variety. Retrieved 2017-11-10.
  7. ^ Kung, Michelle (2011-07-14). "A 3-D Maven Weighs In". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2017-11-10.
  8. ^ Zone 2005 p. 25
  9. ^ Richardson, Martin (2013). Techniques and Principles in Three-Dimensional Imaging: An Introductory Approach. IGI Global. p. 94. ISBN 9781466649330.
  10. ^ "RealD - Visual Technology". www.reald.com. Retrieved 2017-11-12.
  11. ^ "At the Crossroads | Computer Graphics World". www.cgw.com. Retrieved 2017-11-04.
  12. ^ Zone 2005 p 17
  13. ^ "International 3D Society Names Lenny Lipton Century Award Winner for Lifetime Achievement | Computer Graphics World". www.cgw.com. February 3, 2011. Retrieved 2017-12-28.

External links[edit]