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How the West Was Won


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I'm such a widescreen nut that I was looking at my DVD of "How the West Was Won", which was the last movie shot in 3-camera Cinerama (along with "Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm"), released in 1962. The first was a decade earlier, "This is Cinerama".

 

I played around with some DVD screen grabs in Paint Shop Pro to replicate the look of the 3-projector presentation on a big curved screen.

 

This all started because I was watching the DVD of "Battle of the Bulge" (Ultra Panavision 70) which has a few Cinerama-type shots in it (i.e. wide-angle POV shots as the camera barrels down a road or something.)

 

In the last frame, you see one of the problems of using 3-cameras to create a single wide frame -- when you tilt up or down, the horizon line gets split and canted.

 

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Cinerama used three 6-perf 35mm frames shot side-by-side (with the side cameras criss-crossed to shoot the opposite sides), using a small 27mm Kodak Ektar lens on each camera (actually it was one camera with three movements and three lenses.) Total aspect ratio was about 2.66 : 1. Ultra Panavision 70 (a 5-perf 65mm negative with a 1.25X anamorphic squeeze) had a 2.75 : 1 aspect ratio.

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Wow!

 

I never got to see one.

 

So only one focal lenght? I guess it makes sense.

 

I'm going to search in the internet to see if I can find a picture or drawing of a cinerama camera and projector as well.

 

Do you now if the film strips were projected edge by edge of eachother or was there some overlapping involved in the projection? I guess the 2.66 suggests there was a huge overlapping and maybe the residual parts were masked out. Also the frames should've met at an equivalent point to eachother to be able to share the same perspective distortion at a given point.

 

Just found the camera.

 

http://www.widescreenmuseum.com/widescreen/cineramacam.htm

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The projectors used a toothed edge in the gate that vibrated to create a blurry edge for overlapping the panels.

 

Each camera lens had its own vanishing point, which is why the format seemed oddly 3D on the big screen even though it wasn't.

 

I've seen two 3-projector presentations in my life, one of an original dye transfer print of "This is Cinerama" at the New Neon in Dayton, Ohio... and then a new print of "How the West Was Won" at the Cinerama Dome.

 

There's nothing quite like it. The image is incredibly sharp too, almost like IMAX more than normal 70mm.

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Why aren't movies shot like that anymore?

 

Too cumbersome and limiting (only one focal length except for the Russian version Kinopanorama). The blimped camera for sound shooting was HUGE. Remember that besides a lot of travelogues like "This is Cinerama", "Cinerama Holiday", etc. the only narrative features that used the process were "How the West Was Won" and "Brothers Grimm". Everyone else used single-film formats for a pseudo-Cinerama effect.

 

http://www.widescreenmuseum.com/widescreen/wingcr1.htm

 

"The unquestionable success* of both Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm and How The West Was Won breathed new life into the system and stirred significant interest with the major studios. Unfortunately, developmental work on a single film version of Cinerama was killed when the company was sold to Pacific Theatres. Since Ultra Panavision 70 had been able to fool people in segments of How The West Was Won it was decided to adopt that process as the photographic basis for the single film system and specially prepared "rectified" prints were made to show the 70mm film on the deeply curved Cinerama screen. "

 

For more on Kinopanorama:

http://www.in70mm.com/news/2003/kinopanorama/history.htm

 

Only several films were ever shot in 70mm anamorphic (MGM Camera 65 / Ultra Panavision): Raintree County, Ben-Hur, Fall of the Roman Empire, Greatest Story Ever Told, It's a Mad, Mad.... World, Battle of the Bulge, Mutiny on the Bounty.

 

Truth is that most cinematographers and directors found Ultra Panavision's 2.75 : 1 to be too unwieldly to compose in. It was best for travelogues and in-your-face immersive, subjective shots in action scenes.

 

Occasionally in modern anamorphic movies (even 1.85 movies) you see the "Cinerama effect" (Doug Trumball was forever trying to recreate it in his movies) -- widescreen, wide-angle moving POV shots like from the front end of a car racing down a road ("Road Warrior" for example) or the scout ships flying over the glaciers in "Empire Strikes Back" or much of the chase in "Bullet." It all started with that roller coaster opening to "This is Cinerama", which is STILL highly effective.

 

Ultimately the most versatile big-screen process was spherical 5-perf 65mm (Todd-AO / Super Panavision) used on films such as "Lawrence of Arabia" and "2001". It had a 2.20 : 1 aspect ratio.

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Michael Todd left the Cinerama company and tried to develop a similar process but with a single camera, so he ressurected an old 5-perf 65mm Mitchell built in 1931 for a large format process that never caught on, and then had American Optical try and make some wide-angle lenses for it.

 

3-camera Cinerama, with three 27mm lenses in a row, had an effective field of view of 146 degrees. In 35mm anamorphic, you'd need something like a 12mm anamorphic lens to achieve that, or a 6mm lens in Super-35. The attempts to create a lens like that for 5-perf 65mm spherical (named Todd-AO) produced a "bug-eye" lens with incredible barrel distortion problems. Something less wide than that was eventually used but it still had barrel distortion problems as can be seen in these frames from the second Todd-AO movie made, "Around the World in Eighty Days" (the first was "Oklahoma!" but director Zimmerman and DP Surtees were too classy to try and create too many fake Cinerama effect shots, other than the opening track through the cornfield.)

 

"Around the World in Eighty Days" is full of these long "Cinerama effect" shots trying to show off the motion or the locations, like the Cinerama travelogues being made.

 

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Kubrick used some of these wide-angle lenses in "2001" but the curved set designs masked a lot of barrel distortion.

 

In the 1960's, Dr. Richard Vetter (designer of the Todd-AO anamorphic lenses) created some less distorted wide-angle lenses for Todd-AO cameras that he called the "Dimension 150" process, because one lens had a 150 degree field of view. It was used for a few shots in "Patton". He also made some single piece curved screens that were less curved than Cinerama, and didn't use strips, called D150 screens -- this is actually what the Cinerama Dome has. With three-projector Cinerama, you could have a very curved screen and hold focus across it because each projector was spherical-lensed and only had to focus on one-third of the screen. With single-projector set-ups, it is much harder to hold focus across a very curved screen so they started flattening them out a little after Cinerama died.

 

Todd-AO / Super Panavision / Dimension-150 had a 2.20 : 1 aspect ratio, so less widescreen than Cinerama and even slightly less than 35mm anamorphic.

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MGM Camera 65 / Ultra Panavision was tapped to replace Cinerama since it was easier to shoot. It didn't have any super wide-angle lenses though. At 2.75 : 1, it was probably the widest aspect ratio ever used for movies except for Abel Gance's Polyvision sequence in "Napoleon" (three Silent Era frames side-by-side should give you a 3.99 : 1 aspect ratio...)

 

Ultra Panavision had a 1.25X anamorphic squeeze (mild) on a 5-perf 65mm negative (which is 2.20 : 1 when using spherical lenses.) Instead of using anamorphic cylindrical elements, it used some prisms (like the Technirama Delrama lenses did) and the squeeze was created because one of the inner surfaces of a prism was curved, so basically you squeezed the image by reflecting if off of a curved surface, not by shining it through a partial cylinder.

 

You still got a mild anamorphic horizontal flare and background highlights looked barely stretched, as can be seen in these frames from "The Battle of the Bulge."

 

The POV shot from the moving train was another attempt at a Cinerama-like immersive effect. It's a series of long cuts of a camera barrelling down railroad tracks taking turns at high speeds.

 

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Where are the Cinerama cameras nowadays?  I've always wanted to shoot on ultra-wide formats, like 65mm anamorphic or Cinerama.

 

They are collector's items, spread out around the world in various private collections and museums. I saw a Cinerama camera on display in the lobby of the Cinerama Dome when they showed the new print of "How the West Was Won."

 

Panavision might have a few of their Ultra Panavision lenses in the vaults (I noticed they've given some away as retirement gifts!) They would fit on their 65mm cameras.

 

Trouble with these two formats is that it is very difficult to project them anymore.

 

You're better off shooting in regular 65mm Super Panavision, but even normal 70mm projection is becoming rare and only big-budget films can afford the IMAX DMR blow-up process for IMAX projection.

 

So that leaves ordinary 35mm anamorphic.

 

I mean, if all you want is a really wide image, just put an anamorphic lens on a 3-perf 35mm camera... you get a 3.56 : 1 aspect ratio when unsqueezed.

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3-camera Cinerama, with three 27mm lenses in a row, had an effective field of view of 146 degrees. In 35mm anamorphic, you'd need something like a 12mm anamorphic lens to achieve that, or a 6mm lens in Super-35. The attempts to create a lens like that for 5-perf 65mm spherical (named Todd-AO) produced a "bug-eye" lens with incredible barrel distortion problems. Something less wide than that was eventually used but it still had barrel distortion problems as can be seen in these frames from the second Todd-AO movie made, "Around the World in Eighty Days" (the first was "Oklahoma!" but director Zimmerman and DP Surtees were too classy to try and create too many fake Cinerama effect shots, other than the opening track through the cornfield.)

 

 

---When one considers that anamorphics have a horizontal fish-eye effect in wide angles, a 35mm anamorphic lens in the 16mm-18mm focal length range would cover about the same field.

 

Of course it would have to be projected on a curved screen to stretch the edges.

An 8-perf 65mm system using a 35mm focal length anamorphic would be swell.

 

A 9mm fish-eye on Super35 would give the same view as the Todd-AO bug eye.

A direct blow up to a 70mm print might look as good as the original Todd-AO prints.

 

---LV

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Guest Charlie Seper

I grew-up in a small town that had a theatre which would quite often run movies that were several years old. I don't know if it was because they got them cheap or because they were great movies that would still draw an audience, but I remember seeing "How the West Was Won" at that movie house around 1970. I also saw "Mad, Mad World", "Sounder", all kinds of stuff. At the age of 10 or so, I had no idea these would become classics. It doesn't seem as great now but, I never laughed so hard at a movie in my life as I did watching "Mad, Mad, World" as a kid.

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  • 7 months later...

sweet "perspective" stills, I just started watching How the West was Won on DVD again, and like the last time I saw it, the three-camera setup baffled me so I decided to look it up here.

 

Now I really want to see it projected. Say, where is that Cinerama Dome, and does it still screen films? It sounds like there's kind of a meager selection to keep it constantly running...

 

I'm gonna look up Battle of the Bulge as well, Fonda looks hardcore.

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The Cinerama Dome is at the ArcLight Theater in Los Angeles. They still show How "The West Was Won" occasionally. I think they might run it once a year for a month or so. I had a chance to see it back in October. Really amazing. Does anyone know if there is any way to see any of the other 7 Cinerama films?

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The Cinerama Dome is at the ArcLight Theater in Los Angeles. They still show How "The West Was Won" occasionally. I think they might run it once a year for a month or so. I had a chance to see it back in October. Really amazing. Does anyone know if there is any way to see any of the other 7 Cinerama films?

 

If you fancy a trip across the pond their is a Cinerama installation in the Photography Museum in Bradford UK. Every march they have a Widescreen weekend as part of their annual film festival and show a wide range of rare 70mm and some cinerama titles.

 

I went a few years ago and saw "How the West Was Won" in three strip and also a new 70mm print of "2001" projected on the curved cinerama screen - that was pritty immersive. They have also screened "This is Cinerama", "Cinerama Holiday" and "Windjammer" in 3 strip as part of the widescreen weekend.

 

This site:

www.in70mm.com

has more info on the Bradford cinerama set up and lots of other information about large format screenings.

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John Harvey has collected various Cinerama prints, the best being "This is Cinerama" because it was the only one printed in Technicolor dye transfer, so the prints haven't faded to pink.

 

Otherwise, there have only been new prints struck of "How the West Was Won" and "This is Cinerama" I believe, by Crest National Labs. These have occasionally been shown at the Cinerama Dome since they restored the other two projection booths (the theater was designed for Cinerama but actually never showed it until recently, because by the time it opened, three-projector Cinerama had been replaced by 70mm.)

 

All the other Cinerama titles are owned by the Pacific Theater Corporation (who bought out the Cinerama Corporation in the early 1960's) -- films like "Cinerama Holiday" or "Seven Wonders of the World" -- the only exceptions being the two Cinerama non-travelogue narrative features made by the studios, "How the West Was Won" and "Wonderful World of Brothers Grimm".

 

Seattle's old Cinerama theater showed a 3-panel Cinerama film a few years ago too. Otherwise, ever since the New Neon Cinema & John Harvey stopped doing their Cinerama screenings, you have to go to Bradford's Photography Museum at the right time of the month.

 

What's ironic is that the actual Cinerama theater in Los Angeles was the old Warner Pacific theater on Hollywood boulevard, where Jazz Singer also opened, converted in 1952 to show "This is Cinerama". It's now the ETC Lab where you can see digital projection tested out.

 

It's pretty expensive to restore and reprint a 3-panel Cinerama movie.

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I'm such a widescreen nut

I for one am extremely glad you are - what a nice Sunday morning treat to wake up and find this thread with all the

 

< < < p-r-e-t-t-y . p-i-c-t-u-r-e-s > > >.

 

Thanks for eyeful David.

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I grew up in Los Angeles and saw every Cinerama film at the dome. I remember seeing "Krakatoa East of Java" shot in "Super Cinerama". What is that format?

 

"Super Cinerama" was just a release format which involved projecting 70mm prints from single-lens shooting formats (usually from Ultra Panavision 70 or Super Panavision 70, but also Technirama and Todd-AO) over a Cinerama curved screen in a Cinerama theater using one projector lens. The 70mm prints from Ultra Panavision were often optically rectified to correct the distortion at the edges of the frame.

 

"2001", "Grand Prix", "Ice Station Zebra" and "The Greatest Story Ever Told" were among the Super Cinerama releases.

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And sometimes "Super Cinerama" just referred to theaters built specifically to show Cinerama versus converted theaters.

 

There has been much debate as to whether rectified 70mm prints were ever made of "2001" for projection on curved Cinerama screens, especially since standard Super Panavision was 2.20 : 1. No rectified prints of that movie ever show up in collections. Anyway, it would make more sense to rectify a 2.7 : 1 image from Ultra Panavision photography.

 

"Rectified" prints were squeezed-looking only on the sides of the image, flat in the center, so that they looked normal on the edges of a curved screen. Some theaters instead had special lenses to rectify the 70mm image to look less distorted on a curved screen.

 

Eventually most Cinerama screens, which were made up of vertical ribbons to get rid of cross-reflection problems which tend to wash-out the image (see an IMAX movie on a domed screen and you'll see what I mean) were replaced with a solid single-piece screen with a less extreme curve, called D-150 screens since they were part of the redesigned Todd-AO process called "Dimension 150". The Cinerama Dome has a D-150 screen in it.

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This is bringing back so many memories. I'm old enough that I saw almost all these movies in original release - and of course, the original format. My Dad was a movie buff, so he made sure we saw all the blockbusters. When we went to "How the West was won", they handed out maps of the old West to the kids showing the locations of the various events depicted. I still have it!

 

I also remember going to something called "Circlorama" [i think that's correct], an "in-the-round" movie theatre. The screen was 360 degrees, and the projectors (I think there were 12) were mounted in the middle of the ceiling. The audience stood up, and you could even move around. This was NOT a multi-screen A/V presentation, it was like Cinerama, you could see the "joins" if you looked for them, and it was definately motion picture. I recall the content being travelogish and special effects. This was in London, England, and it would have been the late 1950's or very early 60's.

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The 'Circlorama' I think was invented by Disney. If they didn't invent it, they sure ripped it off. last time I was in Disneyland they had 'Circle Vision' which is exactly as you discribed (except I think the projectors were just above the screen on the oposite wall.) They showed a couple of films, but no real narrative (man would that be a trip to try and make a film like that.)

 

It was unique, but after 5 minutes it got kinda old, just because it was imersive type fair, which in disneyland is dime a dozen, and for a 12 year old ADD kid, it just didnt hold enough interest. Beauty shots showing in sequence shouldnt be able to hold interest for too long.

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