Disney Research, a partnership between the mouse-eared entertainment juggernaut and universities around the globe, is on a virtual reality roll. Its latest development, an algorithm that turns 2D photographs into 3D landscapes, can transform a regular photo into a video game-style environment, using consumer-grade computer hardware.

The program senses the depth of objects in a photograph by analyzing patterns of light and darkness. With multiple photos from different viewpoints, the program can fill in background details obstructed by objects in the foreground. The result is a crisp, detailed 3D rendering that definitely messes around with your perception when you see it move.

Perhaps most surprisingly, Disney researchers say the system was built to run on a "standard graphics processing unit" rather than the heavy-duty machinery required for most graphics work. This could make the rendering program useful beyond gaming—the research team suggests uses in art and archaeology, just to name two fields that could benefit. Imagine how much cooler your family photo album would be if those old, flat pictures were 3D renderings. Between this and Disney Research's tactile feedback rig, it won't be long before you're not just telling kids how you walked to school uphill both ways in the snow—you're making them experience it in three dimensions. [Disney Research via Polygon]