Introduction to Film Gauges
Copyright Ó 2000 Regents of the University of California, UCLA Film and Television Archive
The principles of motion picture projection have pretty much remained the same since the invention of cinema in the 1890s (leaving aside late twentieth century developments in digital cinema). Individual, transparent photographic still images are placed sequentially on a strip of celluloid. The celluloid strip is wound onto reels, which are then placed in a projector. The filmstrip is thread through the film gate from the original reel to the take-up reel, and then run from its head to its tail through the projector. During film projection, the film is not moving continuously, but in fact comes to a complete stop for a split second in the film gate (actually 24 times a second in standard sound film projection), while a light source sends a beam through every frame, with the dark portions of the image blocking out the light. That image is projected through an optical lens onto the opaque, highly reflective screen. The actual quality of film projection depends on several variables, including the actual physical width of the filmstrip (format or gauge), the size and proportion of the frame on the film strip (aspect ratio), the lens used for projection (normal, anamorphic), the characteristics of the light source, and the material used for the screen. In general, the larger the film's width, the more photographic information is available, allowing for greater resolution of the image. However, width is not everything, since the aspect ratio governs the actual area of the filmstrip available for the photographic image, and modern wide screen systems have devised ways of squeezing a lot of information into a smaller space. Differences in projection lenses on the one hand can regulate the amount of light actually projected onto the screen, influencing its quality or, in the case of anamorphic lenses, can create a normal screen image from a highly distorted (squeezed) image on the film frame. The type of projection lamp and its color temperature, on the other hand, can drastically improve or reduce the quality of the image projected onto the screen. Finally, the "screen" can be a painted white wall or an especially made reflective surface, again influencing the quality of the image, as perceived by the audience, just as the screen size has evolved from small theatres to today's giant wide screens. With the introduction of wide screen formats and concomitant loss of light, cinemas were forced to invest in larger screens with increased reflectivity.
While the last thirty years have seen an explosion of videotape formats, given the ever more rapidly developing technology of electronically produced moving images, film formats have, in contrast, been a model of stability. Indeed, the 35mm format became for all practical purposes the norm in 1897 and has remained so for over one hundred years, although other larger formats have tried to compete with 35mm for professional film projection in commercial theaters, and a larger variety of small gauge formats have proliferated in the amateur film market. According to motion picture film lore, the establishment of 35mm film was the result of the fact that the first manufacturer of motion picture celluloid film, the Eastman Kodak Company, found 70mm a convenient width for production, since it was also used for the production of its photographic still film, which was split into two strips of equal width; hence 35mm. This led the Edison Manufacturing Company, which had ordered the material, to likewise adopt 35mm film for its first motion picture camera and Kinetoscope peep-hole machine. However, when Eastman Kodak failed to deliver the 35mm film, Edison ordered 35mm raw film stock from the Blair Camera Company. Kodak did not become Edison's chief supplier of raw film stock for 35mm motion pictures until the Fall of 1896, and both Lumiére and the Blair (later bought by Pathé) continued to compete with Kodak in Europe.
According to another source, Edison's motion picture specialist, William Dickson, had conducted experiments in late 1891, which found that 35mm was the ideal film format. Dickson found that smaller formats were less satisfactory, due to the smaller frame's negative impact on sharpness and grain, while larger formats were less flexible and more fragile when being transported through the film gate. Edison's first motion picture demonstration in May of that year had used film stock that was only ¾" wide with images running horizontally and perforations only on the bottom side of the film strip.
35mm Film Format
The first motion picture films were not projected at all, rather they were presented as short film strips viewed by a single individual in Edison's Kinetoscope (introduced in May 1893). The customer looked down into a lens, in front of which the film gate was placed; hence the term "peep show". The celluloid used for the Kinetoscope was frosted, since viewer looked directly into the light source. The enormous success of the Kinetoscope encouraged August and Louis Lumière to build their own camera and projector for public screenings of films. The Lumiére's first public film projection to a paying audience on December 26, 1895 used the 35mm format, leading other inventors of film cameras and projectors and competitors of the Lumière Brothers to use 35mm film. Both the Edison "Vitascope" projector of 1896 (actually invented by C. Frances Jenkins and Thomas Amet), and the cameras and projectors being designed by inventors such as Woodville Latham, William Paul, Birt Acres, and others in Europe and America adopted 35mm, quickly establishing 35mm as a norm by late 1897. By that time, Kodak had begun supplying a clear-based film stock, which as more suitable for projection. Only the American Mutoscope Company's 70mm film projection system offered serious competition for a number of years. In 1909, all motion picture companies had officially adopted 35mm as the standard. At an international level, the 35mm standard has been regulated by the International Organization of Standardization (ISO), which has also established norms for aspect ratios.
While the 35mm format remained the standard throughout the silent period, the transition to sound film should have afforded a switch to another format, since the silent film frame filled the 35mm's available space. The introduction of sound-on-film film formats (as opposed to sound-on-disc formats) in 1930, meant that room had to be found on the film strip for the sound track. However, rather than enlarging the width of the filmstrip to accommodate the soundtrack, the film industry decided to change the aspect ratio of the image, putting a smaller film frame on 35mm, and running an optical track next to the image frame. The introduction of digital sound film might have again resulted in another change in the film's width, but again other solutions were sought, since a change in the width of film would have meant rebuilding every commercial film projector in the world. The prohibitive cost of such a move has been the biggest barrier to any changes in film widths, or the best guarantee to the continuing dominance of the 35mm standard.
The holes or perforations on the side of the film, which are used to pull the filmstrip through the projector have also been subject to standardization. While the Lumière Brothers and later the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company (negatives only) used one circular hole on either side of the frame, Kodak and other film manufacturers quickly adopted the Edison Kinetoscope system, which punched four rectangular perforations on either side of the image. The size of the perforations remained unchanged until 1905, after which they became slightly larger with the sides of the perforation holes slightly rounded. In 1924, Kodak introduced different perforations for negative and print film, since it was decided that perforations on projection prints had to withstand much more stress, due to repeated projections, than negative film, which only occasionally was sent through the printer at a much slower speed.
The 35mm film stocks remain even today the format of choice for most professional and commercial film production. Most American films produced within the commercial film industry in Hollywood are still shot on 35mm film, while only a few big budget films originate on 70mm film. Television movies also use mostly 35mm film formats. 35mm film has held its predominate place, even though most films today are edited electronically with AVID machines, then transferred back to 35mm negative. However, with the invention and commercial proliferation of digital video formats, and the eventual perfection of digital video projection, we can assume that the life expectancy of 35mm film is numbered as a commercially viable format.
While the gauge determines the width of a film, the actual size of the image can vary considerably, as can the proportions of the frame, even if the width stays the same. As noted above, the 35mm film frame's size and proportions were changed when sound film was introduced. All 35mm wide-screen formats can be differentiated by the proportions of their film frames. While all film frames are rectangular, the image area's rectangularity is measured by its aspect ratio or the ratio of the frames horizontal dimension to its vertical dimension with a perfect square having a 1:1 aspect ratio.
Throughout the silent period the norm was 1.33:1, which according to legend corresponded to the golden section 4:3 as propagated by classical art and architecture. Once sound film was introduced, space had to be found for the optical sound track. In 1931 the major Hollywood studios reached a consensus as to the exact camera and projector aperture dimensions for 35mm sound films, namely to agree on an aspect ratio of 1.37 width to 1.0 height. This ratio was called the Academy standard, because the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences had been instrumental in getting all the studios to agree on the standard. The 1.37:1 aspect ratio remained unchanged until 1953, following the huge success of the Cinerama process a year earlier and the encroaching popularity of television. The problem was how to achieve a larger and wider image, differentiating the cinema screen from television, without major investments in new cameras, projectors, and theater screens.
Paramount was the first to break with the Academy aspect ratio with the release of Shane in 1953. The film, which was photographed conventionally in the Academy aspect ratio, but was projected with the top and bottom cropped to achieve a 1.66:1 aspect ratio. Theatres used new larger screens to sell the "new" wide screen concept to the public. Meanwhile, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Disney adopted a cropped aspect ratio of 1.75:1 for wide-screen films that did not utilize anamorphic lenses. Universal-International and Columbia Pictures also cropped their conventionally shot films, however to an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. This often caused problems, especially with close-ups, because foreheads and chins started to disappear. The film industry eventually evolved towards a 1.85:1 standard, and cinematographers began composing for the wider aspect ratios. Even though 1.85:1 was rapidly adopted in North America in the 1950s, European theatres settled on 1.66:1. However, over the past 20 years, European standards have evolved to accept the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, which has now become for all practical purposes the world standard.
A film's aspect ratio can not only be manipulated in the camera, producing a wide-screen image on the film itself, it can also be changed in the projection process. In point of fact, a wide screen image is often created on the screen by reducing the vertical dimension of the projector aperture. Especially in the 1950s, but also later, film negatives were still shot in the Academy aspect ratio of 1.37:1, but composed by the cameraman and director with 1.66:1 or 1.85:1 in mind. The projector in the cinema is equipped with various aperture plates, which allows the projectionist to change the projected aspect ratio. When the wrong aperture is used, for example, when 1.66:1 is used rather than 1.85:1, the image may reveal the boom microphone above the heads of the actors, which would not have been visible to the audience had the narrower and wider aperture plate been used. However, the wider the aspect ratio, the less light can travel through the lens to the screen. Furthermore, blowing up the image to fill a huge screen, significantly increases grain, leading manufacturers to either larger formats or better film stocks.
28mm Film Format
The most successful non-standard film format after the acceptance of 35mm was 28mm. Introduced by the Pathé Film Company in 1912 under the Pathé-Kok brand, its complete name was Pathéscope Home Cinematograph. Although the image was only slightly smaller than 35mm film and had a slightly different aspect ratio (1.36:1), it was distributed on the first di-acetate film stock, making it a viable alternative for amateurs. In Europe 28mm films had three perforations on one side of the frame and one perforation on the other, while the American Pathescope 28mm films used three perforations on both sides of the frame. Even though Pathé also marketed a 28mm Pathéscope film camera, the primary purpose of the 28mm film format was as a distribution medium for 35mm commercial films to amateurs. For the most part, the 28mm versions of commercial American feature films were slightly abridged for the amateur market. Films were either sold outright or available through lending libraries. In 1917, when World War I made delivery of French products impossible, the Victor Animatograph Co. (Davenport, Iowa) introduced their own 28mm projector. Both Pathé and other companies distributed commercial films in 28mm and by 1918 over 10,000 28mm projectors had been sold. Given the wide distribution of the format and the deterioration rate of nitrate film, it is not surprising that many American features from the 1910s have only survived, because they were distributed in 28mm.
One of the first films to be preserved from a 28mm original print was Vitagraph's The Yellow Girl (1915). An experimental feature, the film displayed a highly imaginative set and costume design, which presaged German Expressionism. At the time of its discovery in the mid 1970s at George Eastman House, no labs were equipped to preserve 28mm film. Don Malkames, a New York cameraman and preservationist, was given the task of converting a 28mm projector into an optical printer, in order to generate a new 35mm safety sound aperture negative (since 28mm's aspect ratio is closer to that of 35mm sound film than to that of silent film). By the late 1980s, several film archives and laboratories had begun preservation of 28mm.
Since 28mm was a safety film format, it also became popular as a production medium for government sponsored films in Canada. As a result, The National Archives of Canada, as well as a number of Canadian provincial film archives, have large collections of 28mm film.
Obsolete Small Gauge Film (9.5mm, 17.5mm, 22mm)
Almost from the moment cinema was born, inventors were searching for ways to tap into the amateur film market by producing film cameras and projectors which could be produced at a low enough cost for the non-professional. The first amateur apparatus to be marketed was a 17.5mm camera, which Birt Acres, an English inventor, began manufacturing serially in May 1899. Using 35mm film stock, split down the middle with two perforations per frame, the Birtac camera was a small wood box that could also double as a projector and cost under 30 dollars. Indeed, most amateur film cameras introduced in the next twenty years were produced for 17.5mm, which of course still relied on a nitrate base, making it somewhat dangerous to use.
Almost simultaneously, T.C. Hepworth, another Englishman, demonstrated his Biokam Cinematograph and Snapshot camera, which also used 17.5mm film and doubled as a printer and a projector. That system, which could be purchased from the Warwick Film Company, utilized a single perforation between the film's frames, much as the 70mm Mutoscope film had. In 1900, Leon Gaumont's Parisian film company introduced the "Chrono de Poche" camera, which used 15mm film. Like the Biokam, it had one perforation between the frames. In 1903, the well-known German still camera company, Ernemann (Dresden) introduced a 17.5mm amateur camera that used one centered perforation between frames (1.6:1 aspect ratio). The Duoscope camera/projector, introduced in 1912 by A.F. Victor, also used 17.5mm film with two centered perforations between frames.
The first 17.5mm system to make things easier and safer for the amateur filmmakers was the Movette, introduced in 1917 by Movette, Inc. of Rochester, N.Y. The camera featured a 17.5mm nitrate negative with two perforations on each side of the frame, which was encapsulated in 50 foot reels in a metal box (the first self-enclosed film magazine). The exposed negative was sent then to Kodak where a print on safety base stock was generated and put into another magazine, which was simply loaded into the projector. The whole outfit with camera and projector cost about $150, and the film negative, developing, and print cost $5.25 per 50 feet reel.
With the introduction of di-acetate safety film in 1911, the Edison Company introduced a "Home Kinetoscope" in 1912, which utilized a 22mm film. Each film, however, had three rows of frames (1.33:1 aspect ratio) with two sets of perforations between the three frames, so that the film could be run through the projector three times.
However, the first really successful amateur, small gauge format for safety film was not marketed until ten years later, when the Pathé Company introduced a 9.5mm film (cinq-neuf) with one centered perforation: the Baby-Pathé or Pathex. The 9.5mm format featured one centered perforation between the frames with the image covering the complete width of the film and an aspect ratio of 1.5:1. The frame size was thus virtually the same size as 16mm, only cheaper. Many commercial features were available from Pathé's library for viewing on the 9.5mm projector, and a safety reversal film was available to the amateur movie maker. The Baby Pathe was extremely popular in Europe throughout the 1920s, '30s, and '40s, but never caught on it the United States, where 16mm and later 8mm predominated in the amateur film market. The existence of 9.5mm abridged versions of many silent films has lead preservationists to sometime use 9.5mm (blown up to 35mm) as original source material, when scenes were missing in the original nitrate prints. For example, both Kevin Brownlow for his restoration of Napoleon (1927), and Enno Patalas for his restoration of Die Nibelungen (1923), had to rely on 9.5mm footage.
Obsolete Disc Formats
Although they are today considered an absolute anomaly, several attempts were made in the nitrate era to produce film images for the amateur market on something other than that dangerous film stock. In 1889-90 Thomas Edison experimented with cylinders (following the paradigm of his recorded sound system) which were coated with photographic emulsion, but the system failed to achieve any satisfactory results. Georges Demenÿ, a French inventor and competitor of the Lumière Brothers, followed in 1892 with an apparatus named the Phonoscope, which projected 24 photographs of a speaking man from a glass plate, resulting in "talking photographs". Basing his design on the gramophone model, Leonard Ulrich Kamm introduced the Kammatograph in 1900, in which up to 600 frames were placed in a spiral around a 12 inch glass disk. As the disc slowly rotated in front of a lens, the individual frames were projected into a screen. The Charles Urban Trading Company, Ltd. introduced the Spirograph in 1913, which worked on a similar principle, placing images in circular fashion on a glass disc, but which did not take off commercially. Ten years later, Urban reintroduced the Spirograph, now featuring a 10.5 inch disc carrying 1,200 frames (5.6mm x 4mm, 1.4:1 aspect ratio) in twelve spiraling rows. The Spirograph system was only intended as a home cinema system, so discs reproduced commercial short subjects, and no camera was available.
16mm Film Format
The search for a safe amateur format continued. In 1923 Kodak introduced 16mm film, cameras, and projectors. As early as 1916, John Capstaff of Eastman Kodak had been experimenting with various amateur sizes and had come to the conclusion that 10mm x 7.5mm was the minimum frame size for acceptable image quality. The frame had an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. Adding perforations on both sides would add another 6mm, making a total of 16mm. Kodak eschewed the middle perforations used with 9.5mm because they could cause stripes to appear over the image. Moreover, if the projector claw failed to hit the perforation accurately the images could easily be damaged. 16mm had the additional advantage over 17.5 mm that flammable 35mm stock could not be slit in half to create it. In the 1930s a sound track was added on one side of the film, sacrificing one row of perforations. It was accepted as an SMPTE standard in 1932. From that point on, 16mm negative was available in single perf or double perf, depending on whether the filmmaker wanted to add a sound track or not. 16mm film is also available with either an optical or a magnetic sound track.
At the same time, as development proceeded on the 16mm gauge, Capstaff was experimenting with a reversal developing process, which eliminated the need to have negative film copied onto positive stock, thus significantly reducing costs to the amateur. By 1916, Kodak had a reversal process, but World War I briefly stopped research. By May 1920, Kodak had a prototype 16mm camera, and in early 1923 the company premiered its 16mm Ciné-Kodak camera. The 16mm format became the gauge of choice, not only for amateur filmmakers, but also for low budget independents, avant-garde filmmakers, industrial and documentary filmmakers. For many years these filmmakers had to make do with non-synchronized sound, since sound equipment was too bulky to take on location. With the introduction of the Nagra ¼ inch, portable tape recorder (battery operated), which put an inaudible pulse on the tape which could be synchronized with the image, synchronous sound 16mm production became a reality. This lead to an explosion of cinema verite and documentary film production, as well as the use of 16mm for television news film.
In 1971 Kodak introduced Super 16mm as a negative film format. The single perforation negative featured an enlarged image by using the space normally taken up by the sound track. The larger frame made it possible to shoot film which could be blown up to a 35mm wide screen format (1.66:1 or 1.85:1). Unfortunately, with the introduction of high quality beta video formats in the early 1980s, television news stations, as well as many industrial and documentary filmmakers, switched to video. By the year 2000 16mm had become for all practical purposes an obsolete medium.
As support for their 16mm cameras and Kodascope projectors, Kodak introduced the Kodascope Library of commercial shorts and features for home projection on 16mm. Bell & Howell, as well as Universal Pictures (Universal "Show at Homes") and others followed suit with their own libraries. As a result, many Hollywood features from the silent era have survived in 16mm and are now treated as original masters, from which 35mm dupe negatives and prints are generated. For example, at the UCLA Film & Television Archive the Hampton Collection of 16mm prints has been subject to concerted preservation efforts.
8mm, Super-8 Format
In August 1932, Kodak introduced 8mm filmmaking by taking 16mm film stock and adding twice as many perforations. In its Ciné-Kodak Eight-20 camera, first one half of the film was exposed; the negative reel was then turned around and the other half was shot. After reversal processing the 16mm film was slit in the middle and the two 8mm halves spliced together. As a result, twice as many frames (1.33:1 aspect ratio) were available on the 25ft reel as on 100 ft 16mm film, thus significantly cutting costs to the amateur filmmaker. A new high resolution emulsion also yielded very acceptable image quality, despite the reduced frame size.
In 1965, Kodak introduced Super 8mm. The frame was enlarged by 50% by using smaller vertical perforations, while keeping the 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Of greater advantage to amateurs was the fact that the 8mm reel was placed in a 50' cassette that could be loaded and unloaded by the amateur with ease. At the same time, Kodak introduced a line of Super 8 Instamatic cameras. After 1973, Super 8 was also available with a magnetic sound stripe to allow for direct sound recording on the film during shooting. For semi-professional use double super 8 was supplied, in the manner of standard 8mm, on 16mm 100 ft. reels. The system worked like the old 8mm gauge, but it yielded a far sharper image, because the film passed through the camera's film gate rather than the plastic gate of the Super 8 cassette.
Large Formats (65mm, 70mm)
In the earliest days of the cinema, there were several successful competitors to the 35mm format. By 1896, American Mutoscope produced 70mm films for their Biograph projectors, which were in competition with Edison's Vitascope and the Lumiére Cinematograph. While the 70mm negative had perforations, in order to keep the frame in registration, the 70mm print was without lateral perforations; instead it used a continuously moving friction feed device (mutilated rubber rollers), that had to be watched constantly in projection, lest the frame line creep south. However, the Biograph produced a projected image of superior quality, without the flicker and jumpiness of its competitors. Like 35mm full aperture, the 70mm format had a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The 70mm Mutoscope negatives were also used to produce paper-based images for the company's Mutoscope peep-hole machines, which had begun competing with Edison's Kinetoscope in 1897. The American Mustoscope and Biograph Company actually enjoyed a degree of success for a number of years with both projection and parlor machines, and only discontinued production of films in 70mm in 1903.
Less successful, and therefore only worthy of a footnote in the history books, were several other large format experiments. The German inventor and film exhibitor Max Skladanowsky utilized a 65mm format with two alternating projectors, which he first presented in April 1895. J.A. Prestwich, a British inventor, introduced a 60mm film in 1896, which had an aspect ratio similar to the Edison 35mm film format, but four perforations on either side of the frame. Georges Demenÿ also introduced a 60mm film, which had 15 perforations every four frames. In Spring 1897, the American Versicope Company produced and distributed The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight on a 63mm film format with five perforations on either side of the frame and an aspect ration of 1.75:1. It is the only known example of the gauge. And in 1899 August Lumière experimented with a 75mm film format, which also maintained a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. In 1914, Filoteo Alberini, introduced a 70mm format (2 perfs. per frame), called Panoramica, which had an incredible aspect ratio of 3:1. All of these experiments, however, remained isolated experiments.
The same fate awaited the Fox Film Corporation's wide-screen efforts, baptized Fox Grandeur. In 1929, the company released Happy Days in 70mm, followed in 1930 by The Big Trail, starring John Wayne. The 70mm format with four perforations per frame had a frame size of 48mm x 22.5mm (2.13:1 aspect ratio), allowing 10mm for the soundtrack. While in 1929-30 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (Realife, 70mm, four perfs. per frame), Paramount (Magnafilm, 56mm), R.K.O (Naturalvision, 63mm, six perfs. per frame), and Warner Brothers (Vitascope, 65mm, five perfs per frame) also produced and released one or more films in a large format, the trend did not continue. The problem was partially that the film industry could not agree on a standard. Secondly, the Great Depression and the concomitant extremely high costs associated with the conversion to sound film production and projection made any switch to wide-screen formats economically unfeasible.
Not until the commercial introduction of television in the late 1940s and the pressure the new medium placed on the cinema, did the film industry seriously begin experimenting with other larger formats. The first single film format to be introduced was Todd-AO, which used a 65mm film negative and 70mm print film. Michael Todd, who had been one of the participants in the invention of Cinerama, decided to develop a wide-screen system "through one hole," and engaged the American Optical Company to help him develop a lens, capable of the feat. Once perfected, the lens was attached to a 25-year-old 65mm Mitchell camera that had been developed for Fox's Grandeur experiments. First used in 1955 for Oklahoma!, the 70mm print film had an frame size that was 250% larger than standard 35mm with an aspect ratio of 2.21:1. That was followed in 1956 by Around the World in 80 Days, which Mike Todd produced himself. Projection in Todd-AO required very large and deeply curved screens. The 65mm image had five perforations on either side of the frame, and another 2.5mm of film width on each side beyond the perforations, which allowed for four magnetic tracks, while two more magnetic tracks ran between the frame and the perforations. The Todd-AO version of Oklahoma! was produced at thirty frames per second (further increasing image quality), and could only be shown in especially equipped theatres. For distribution in 35mm to all other cinemas, it was necessary to shoot a second negative at 24 fps, using an anamorphic system with an aspect ratio 2.35:1 (2x anamorphic squeeze). The additional costs of shooting two negatives at different speeds, as well as installing a special screen, lead to the abandonment of the original system. When 20th Century-Fox released South Pacific in 1958 in Todd-AO, the film had been shot at 24fps and could be projected on a flat screen. It should also be noted that one of the primary reasons for developing Todd-AO and other large formats negative systems was to produce much higher quality 35mm reduction prints that could produce wide-screen effects with anamorphic optics.
While Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer participated with 20th Century-Fox in Cinemascope, the studio continued to research and develop its own wide-screen format in conjunction wit Robert Gottshalk of Panavision. The new system, introduced in 1957 was called Ultra-Panavision or MGM Camera 65. Like Todd-AO, the system used a 65mm negative (5 perforations per frame) with an identical frame size, but with a 1.25x anamorphic lens. With an aspect ratio of 2.76:1, this system produced the largest and widest image to date, requiring a huge 60 foot screen. Unlike Todd-AO, the negative was shot at 24fps, and could generate either 70mm roadshow prints with six track stereo or 35mm reduction prints with four track sound. The first film shot in the process was The Raintree Country (1957), however, the film was released in 35mm reduction prints, since MGM claimed that there were not enough 70mm projectors in the theatres. The Mitchell cameras used for the production had been built for MGM's Realife system in 1929 and were now converted for use with 65mm Eastman Color negative. The first film released in 70mm in the process was MGM's Ben Hur, which arrived in the cinema in November 1959 after three years of production in Rome and Culver City. After opening Mutiny on the Bounty in 1962, MGM stopped using the process with anamorphic lenses, opting instead to use spherical lenses, and the process name was changed to Super Panavision 70.
Super Panavision 70 was introduced in 1959 by Panavision and first utilized on The Big Fisherman (1959), which had a brief 70mm roadshow before going into general release in 35mm. The system used a 65mm negative with spherical lenses and yielded an image with a 2.21:1 aspect ratio and five perforations per frame. Prints in 70mm (six track magnetic) also required spherical lenses to reproduce the 2.21:1 aspect ratio, but 35mm reduction prints utilized an anamorphic lens to produce a 2.35:1 aspect ratio (four track stereo magnetic sound). In point of fact, Super Panavision 70 was nothing more than a complete rip-off of the Todd-AO system, except at the normal 24fps speed. Other films shot in the process included Exodus (1960), West Side Story (1961), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and Far and Away(1992).
The first anamorphic film process was invented in 1928 by Prof. Henri Chrétien, a French optics specialist, who called his process Anamorphoscope or Hypergonar Anamorphic. Chrétien's hypergonar lenses depended on an optical trick, in which a distorted image is reconfigured and normalized with the help of a special lens. Chrétien's optical attachment to the camera allowed for a 100% horizontal squeeze of the image on film, resulting in a view that was twice as wide as a normal lens. An anamorphic lens on the projector then expanded the squeezed image on the screen, producing a normal, wide view. Thus, with an anamorphic lens system, 35mm film could be used to create a wide-screen image, without the additional expense of large format films or projectors.
For twenty-five years, though, Chrétien was not able to interest anyone in his process, either in Europe or America. By the time the Cinerama craze hit in 1952, Chétrien's patents had expired. Nevertheless, both Fox and Warner Brothers immediately began negotiating with the inventor for the use of his lenses. 20th Century Fox won out and acquired world rights to Anamorphoscope (with the exception of France and its possessions), as well as the inventor's lenses.
They renamed the process CinemaScope. The 35 negative with a 2 x anamorphic squeeze had an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Prints also featured a 2.35:1 aspect ratio and an identical anamorphic squeeze, while the four track magnetic stereo sound placed two magnetic stripes on either side of the picture and two outside the newly reduced width sprocket holes, which were popularly called "Fox Holes," but technically named CS-Perfs. Fox's first anamorphic film was The Robe (1953), which they shot with anamorphic lenses, as well as in the Academy format for release in theatres not equipped for anamorphic projection. Because many theatres balked an investing in new stereo sound equipment, Fox eventually created "Magoptical tracks," which added a mono optical track to the mix, further reducing the image frame width. The image on the screen, however had an aspect ratio of 2.66:1, and was taller as well as wider than the Academy's 1.37:1 screen.
Fox followed The Robe with How to Marry a Millionaire with Marilyn Monroe (seen fondling a giant cinemascope lens in publicity shots) and assured itself a huge success. In fact, the CinemaScope process was the most successful wide screen format of all time, with hundreds and hundreds of films being shot in the process before the CinemaScope trademark's demise in 1967 (by that time Panavision had created vastly improved anamorphic lenses which came into general use in the industry). Meanwhile, other studios bought anamorphic lenses and created their own names for the process. Poverty Row studio Republic produced "Naturama" films; Warner Bros. released films in "Warnerscope," while 20th Century Fox, who had stated that all CinemaScope pictures would be photographed in color, made several in black and white and called them "RegalScope".
A much cheaper, but relatively short-lived rival to Fox's CinemaScope was Superscope. First introduced by R.K.O. in 1954 for their feature Vera Cruz, Superscope pictures were actually shot "flat" with normal spherical lenses on 35mm negative, however with a full aperture frame. Anamorphic prints were then generated from the flat negatives with a 2:1 aspect ratio (later 2.35:1, called Superscope 235) and, of course, had to be projected with anamorphic lenses (2x anamorphic squeeze). Since the process also eschewed stereo magnetic tracks, in favor of standard optical mono tracks, this poor man's CinemaScope was preferred by independent producers who released through Allied Artists or United Artists.
Other Wide-Screen 35mm Formats
While 20th Century-Fox was pushing for the adoption of CinemaScope as the industry standard, Paramount continued to develop their wide-screen system. That system was not based on anamorphic or large format technology, but rather on increasing the image size within the 35mm format, in order to produce a higher quality image that could be cropped to a 1.66:1 aspect ratio. Their solution was dubbed Vista-Vision. That process used a camera that exposed an area as great as two frames of film, while the film negative was pulled horizontally in 8 perforations per frame across the aperture. The total negative area was therefore 2.66 times greater than the conventional 35mm, vertical pull-down camera with a 1.66:1 aspect ratio. Paramount technicians, working with Eastman Kodak, determined that the horizontal format negative, when printed down to standard 35mm provided a vastly improved image on screens up to 50 feet wide. In fact, while Paramount road showed their Vista-Vision for 35mm horizontal 8 perf. projectors with 1.85:1 or 2:1 aspect ratios, the vast majority of Visa-Vision film prints were released in 35mm reduction with the standard vertical pull-down. Such prints could be shown with standard spherical projection optics at an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 or 1.85:1, but with a superior image quality on large screens. Paramount's first film in the process was White Christmas, released in 1954. Between 1954 and 1963, Paramount released over eighty features in the Vista-Vision process, including such classics as Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and Vertigo (1958), Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1956), and John Ford's The Searchers (1956).
While 20th Century-Fox experimented with anamorphics and Paramount with Vista-Vision, the Technicolor Corporation sought to marry the image quality of the latter with the increased screen width of the former. In the early 1950's Technicolor Corp. joined forces with the Old Delft Company of the Netherlands. Delft's "Delrama" anamorphic systems used two curved mirrors or prisms rather than cylindrical lenses. This work led to the development of the Technirama Delrama 1.5x anamorphic camera adapter. The resulting Technirama system was much like VistaVision except that Technirama lowered the top of the aperture to create an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, leaving space for an optical soundtrack when printed directly to 35mm 8-perf film. One unique feature of the 8 perf system was the anamorphic projection lens which did not expand the film frame 1.5x times, but rather squeezed it down vertically by a factor of 1.5:1. The 8-perf frame allowed for adequate image width without expansion, so the height was reduced to restore the correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The Technirama frame on the negative was approximately 30% greater than Vista-Vision's, yielding a far sharper image than any other 35mm-based system.
The first film shot in Technirama was a European production, The Monte Carlo Story (1957), which was also projected in the 8 perforation horizontal system. However, most Technirama films were projected in 35mm with a vertical pull-down, 2x anamorphics, and a 2.35:1 aspect ration. The first American film shot in the process was Universal-International's Night Passage (1957). Over sixty films were shot in Technirama, including Spartacus (1960), King of Kings (1960), The Pink Panther (1964), and The Black Cauldron (1985), although the process all but died in the late 1960s.
The first use of a multi-screen format occurred at the 1900 Paris Exposition, where Raoul Grimoin-Sanson presented a ten projector, 360 degree film experience: The audience sat in a fake gondola and saw panoramic views from a balloon. In 1927 Abel Gance put three images side by side in Napoleon (1927), but the film was not presented with the tryptych until 1956.
Cinerama was invented by motion picture engineer Fred Waller. Working at Paramount in the 1930s he realized that more depth and realism could be achieved by a curved screen that covered the viewer's peripheral vision. His first experiments were with a battery of eleven 16mm cameras and projectors that photographed a hemispherical image which were presented at the 1939 New York World's Fair as Vitarama. The system was refined to five cameras and projectors as the "Waller Gunnery Trainer" and used to give Army Air Force gunners a visual taste of what real air combat would be like. After World War II, Waller refined the system to three 35mm projectors and a curved screen and, working with Hazard Reeves, created a seven channel stereo system. The first film released in Cinerama was This is Cinerama (1952), a documentary geared to showing off the system's visual possibilities.
Cinerama involved three 35mm negatives, which were exposed simultaneously in a specially built camera. Using 27mm wide-angle lenses and a camera speed of 26 fps, each negative frame had an aspect ratio of .89:1 and covered six perforations instead of the usual four. When the three separate prints were projected with normal spherical lenses side by side, they yielded an image on the 146-degree screen with an aspect ratio of 2.65:1. The seven-track magnetic sound was placed on a fourth 35mm reel and run in synch with the picture through an interlock system. In order to hide the frame lines between the three images, a special apparatus in the gate with tiny teeth, called giglos, vibrated at high speed to blur the image's edges. The screen was not only huge in height and width (90 feet), it was composed of hundreds of ¾ inch vertical strips which reflected light toward the back of the theater so that the image would not be washed out by cross reflections from the curved sides of the screen.
Although Cinerama announced the production of fifteen fiction features for 1953, and the original This is Cinerama had made money, only two narrative films were ever produced: The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1961) and How the West Was Won (1962). All other Cinerama features were basically documentaries (Cinerama Holiday, 1955), so that the system remained a novelty item. No only was it too expensive, the super wide screen format did not allow for classical storytelling, because close-ups were almost impossible to produce. Later so-called Cinerama films, like 2001: A Space Odyssey actually used single film Ultra Panavision 70 optics and film.
Similar to Cinerama was Cinemiracle, although only one film was ever produced in the system: Windjammer (1957), a documentary about a navy sailing ship. The system was invented by Smith-Dieterich Corporation and initially used two 35mm cameras. One camera photographed its image in the conventional way but the second camera, placed beside the first, photographed an adjoining picture reflected in a mirror. Using standard 35mm film with an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, the two images were then projected side by side (one through a mirror) to produce a "seamless" 2.66:1 wide screen picture. National Theatres acquired exclusive rights to the Smith-Dieterich patents and constructed a three camera system that produced an image virtually identical to Cinerama, except that the right and left cameras photographed into especially constructed mirrors. The 27mm lenses shifted their optical centers with changes in focus, eliminating double images that would sometimes appear in Cinerama films. Like Cinerama, the films were projected at 26 fps and each 35mm frame was six perforations, although the left and right projectors projected into a mirror, crossing beams onto the right and left third of the screen, respectively, again eliminating any seam. The two mirrors had a beveled leading edge that produced a vignette on the film's frame, eliminating the need for the projector "giglos" used in Cinerama projection equipment.
In the 19th century stereo photographic viewers were already extremely popular, so it is not surprising that a 3-D film would follow. The first commercial 3-D system, Natural Vision, employed two 35mm films (comparable to stereo viewers) and projectors, which were run simultaneously for the green and red portions of the color spectrum. Special glasses with a red and green filter had to be worn to experience the 3-D effect, and have been necessary for all subsequent 3-D systems. The first feature in Natural Vision was United Artist's Bwana Devil (1952), shot in Academy aperture, while the next release, Warner Brother's House of Wax (1953), was released in 1.66:1.
Hot on the heels of Nature Vision came Naturama (1953), a single film system for cinemascope (2.33:1), which copied both images (from two negatives, shot side by side in a special camera) over each other. A year earlier in 1952, the French company Bolex had introduced a 3-D system for 16mm, which was premiered in New York. That system put two anamorphically squeezed (2x) images side by side (four perfs.), which when projected with a special anamorphic lens created a standard 1.33:1 stereo image. The 3-D phenomenon was however short-lived, because the system was too inflexible, as indicated by the fact that the best film shot in two camera 3-D, Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M For Murder (1954), was never actually released in that format. Still, periodic attempts were made to revive 3-D.
Bolex's 3-D system in 35mm was called StereoVision and employed for The Stewardesses (1969). StereoVision 70 was another single film system which used Todd-AO cameras and put two three perforation high images within the same frame (one above the other), giving the image an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Likewise, Triarama 3D was a single film 70mm system, introduced by Constantin Film (Germany) in 1973. Finally, IMAX developed a 3-D system, which required two 70mm negatives, printed onto single film, and has so far had the longest life-span.
Special Venues (IMAX)
Seeds for IMAX were sown at the Expo '67 in Montreal, where a 360 degree projection on multiple screens was presented. Three Canadian filmmakers, Graeme Ferguson, Roman Kroitor, and Robert Kerr, who had created one of the demonstration films, decided to improve the system and formed IMAX Ltd. in Toronto. Creating one huge screen, they also switched to a 70mm, 15 perforation, horizontal system, similar to Vistavision, with six track stereo sound. With a frame size of 2.74" x 1.91", IMAX's aspect ratio (1.38:1) on the screen conformed almost exactly to the Academy standard, but the resulting image was ten times larger than conventional 35mm, projected onto a screen eight stories high (21.5 meters x 15.6 m). OMNIMAX Domes, on the other hand, utilize round screens with diameters of up to 88 feet, using again a 70mm, 15 perf. system with a slightly smaller frame (2.74" x 1.98") and an ovoid lens. In the 1980s, IMAX introduced 3-D systems for both IMAX and OMNIMAX.
IMAX was first shown at the Fuji Pavillion at EXPO '70 in Osaka, Japan. The first permanent IMAX projection system was installed at Ontario Place's Cinesphere in Toronto in 1971. IMAX Dome (OMNIMAX) debuted at the Reuben H. Fleet Space Theatre in San Diego, CA in 1973. OMNIMAX 3D premiered at the Fujitsu Pavilion, EXPO '85 Tsukuba, Japan; IMAX 3D premiered at the Canada Pavilion, EXPO '86 Vancouver, Canada. In keeping with the scientific and educational nature of its origins, IMAX has focused on licensing its system to science and technology museums, while producing IMAX films that are documentaries. As of the year 2000 there were 211 IMAX theaters operating in 26 countries worldwide, of which 105 are in the United States. Two of the most successful IMAX films were Everest (1998) and Fantasia 2000 (1999), which grossed over $64 million.