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How the West Was Won

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Well, they couldn't fix the problem completely -- people did "jump" a bit when they crossed through the splits, and if the camera was tilted up or down, the horizon lines were broken and bent, as can be seen here:


But in terms of lining up the edges of the three frames, Fred Waller spent a lot of time testing the camera design to get that right.


I just watched the film tonight-- well, I scrolled through the TiVo recording, actually-- and noticed that a lot of shots made use of trees and other Vertical Objects to disguise the seams. They tended to be shots with something fairly close to the foreground.


Still, there were shots where the seam may have been _visible_, but it was pretty smooth for objects both close and far away. That dolly shot into the entrance of the Erie Canal is a prime example. And this really throws me, because... well, lemme see if I can describe this solely with words. Imagine that we're looking down on the three camera lenses, and we can imagine three letter-V fan-shapes emanating from those lenses, marking the edges of their respective fields of view. For the seams in the image to be "seamless," for all objects, nearer to the camera and out to the horizon, the edges of the f.o.v.s of adjacent cameras would have to be very nearly parallel.


But I can't figure out how this could be accomplished-- even if I _don't_ take into account the actual presence of camera guts and physical lenses. Those V-edges could never be parallel: they'd intersect at some distance from the camera, and everything beyond that intersection point would grow more out-of-seam the farther away it was. (And objects _before_ that point would appear twice in adjacent panels.)


Someone once told me about Cinemiracle, which used a mirror arrangement (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cinemiracle_cameras.png) that would solve this particular problem. It might be fun to try with camcorders sometime, if I had three camcorders. But I keep wondering how Cinerama solved this problem.


But it doesn't seem possible that they _could_ be.

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TV, the VCR, the DVD and Malls have contributed to the demise or detriment of cinema. Back when TV was in its' infancy, films were the rage and Hollywood churned out one film after the other. There were no malls and the only thing to do for fun was go to the movies. Then as TV got better and the VCR came into existence, you could watch a film at home and the smaller screen became acceptable. Then the malls started making smaller screens. 40' was no longer the norm and the film going audience accepted it. Sadly, widescreen has become a thing of the past the movie going experience that once is disappearing. I remember hearing stories from other cinematographers like Bob who grew up in LA. I can't remember Dick's last name but him, Bill Fraker, Jordan Cronenweth. Those guys use to tell stories of riding their bikes to Hollywood Blvd and there was a Theater near or on Highland or LaBrea and Hollywood that had a hitching post where they would park their bikes and go in to watch westerns on Saturdays. The theaters were wild with all the kid wearing their cowboy hats and boots and they all had guns and the theater was just electric. That was when they didn't need bike locks on Hollywood Blvd. Great post David, thanks for sharing.

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  • 11 years later...

I am a bit late to this conversation!

I just watched How The West Was Won and loved the look of it. A beautifully shot film. I am a huge fan of westerns but always shied away from this one because the description of the storyline "following a family over several generations" seemed a bit long a drawn out. I was pleasantly surprised. They jumped along through the timeline and kept things moving.

I watched it on HBO MAX and am unsure if it is projected correctly. For example, a fence running left to right near the bottom of the screen would warp up at the left and right edges, making a sort of v shape.

I am new to trying to film anything cinematic. I have been watching old color films, primarily westerns, because I love their look. I have a bmpcc 4k and have been researching how I might get a look "in the style of" those old films. They use a lot of light to light the actors in the daytime exterior shots. And, I am sure using film also plays a huge role. IMDB list the negative as Eastman 50T 5250. I have looked into software like Dehancer with film emulations, but I have yet to find any software that specifically lists Eastman 50T 5250. Is another film a good replacement choice?

Mr. Mullen, thanks for starting this thread. I enjoyed reading it. When I looked you up on IMDB, I was happy to see you shot Ms. Maisel and The Love Witch. They both look great, and I am a fan of the look.

- Brett


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I don't think there are simulations for obsolete film stocks, especially one that disappeared 60 years ago from the market -- you'd have to start with any current color negative simulation software.

Yes, that V-shape was a common problem with Cinerama since it used three lenses with three vanishing points -- if the camera wasn't pointed straight out but instead tilted up or down, the two side panels had a different angle to them than the center one.

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15 hours ago, David Mullen ASC said:


Yes, that V-shape was a common problem with Cinerama since it used three lenses with three vanishing points -- if the camera wasn't pointed straight out but instead tilted up or down, the two side panels had a different angle to them than the center one.

I don't recall these effects on those exciting boyhood outings.  Perhaps those shots were few and far between.  I especially remember the medium-closeups in HTWWW where a tree was placed along the dividing line between the panels.  So it made the image look continuous and gave an impressive 3D look.

When the 70mm Cinerama took over,  I think I was disappointed at the slightly smaller screen.

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16 hours ago, David Mullen ASC said:

You see the effect here on the horizon:


Although the horizon is bad, the rest of the image is acceptable,  aided by this fence layout.  Aerial shots I recall also had the horizon curvature broken,  more obvious from up in the gods of a theatre.  I wonder whether they ever experimented with perhaps tilting the camera's lenses in relation to the film. I don't know if this could have improved the result or not.  

I never saw Cinemiracle which was similar in many ways to Cinerama.  I think it used 3 separate cameras with mirrors, and was arguably better at the joins.  Presumably they also encountered this horizon problem, but you'd think they could have had adapted it to  fit longer focal length lenses for some footage.?

Have just seen Brian Siano's comment from 2011:  he thinks Cinemiracle overcame the horizon problem ?

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The effect is similar to using a nearly fish-eye lens with barrel distortion -- as you tilt up or down, the horizon bends. It's just in the case of Cinerama, it has zero barrel distortion... but on the flip side, the bending has no curvature, it just bends at the panel joins. It's almost like an analog barrel distortion that has been digitized into three discreet positions.

You see in this shot below that the camera is slightly looking down at Debbie Reynolds but because there is no straight horizon, the tilting of the side panels is not objectionable.

In motion, like with aerials, tilting up or down was like a smile switching to a frown or the reverse if you know what I mean.

Screen Shot 2022-11-14 at 8.20.12 AM.png

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Did anyone here experience Cinemiracle ?  Apparently 'Windjammer'  was shown at the Chinese Theatre in Holywood way back in 1958.   I'd be interested to know how it compared technically with Cinerama.   At the Cinemiracle site it says:  The three Eastman Kodak 27 millimeter lenses were electronically controlled—and shifted their optical centers depending on the focus.   

Not sure what this meant in practice.    I'm wondering if they produced a less distorted effect.  Yet they were wide lenses similar to Cinerama's 27mm.   It's interesting though they confined angle curve of screen to 120 degrees, not 146. 

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1 hour ago, Doug Palmer said:

shifted their optical centers depending on the focus.   

Looking at the rigs, it's possible that the lenses could shift laterally- what's called "cross front" in stills photography, presumably to avoid overlapping fields of view- the "double images" referred to. I suspect there wasn't room in 35mm. for the tilt you suggested.

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I think the problem from not being level was uncorrectable -- like I said, it's like a barrel distortion effect but each third is rectilinear so there has to be a visual bend/break to accommodate the natural curvature from a very wide angle lens image tilting.  And while one could rotate the side camera/movements to correct the horizon line, then the details that cross through the panel lines would no longer line up below or above the horizon.

Look at these Widelux photos shot by Jeff Bridges and how the horizon bends when the camera isn't level:



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