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CinemaScope

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A Fox Logo used to promote the film process of CinemaScope
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A Fox Logo used to promote the film process of CinemaScope

CinemaScope was a widescreen movie format used from 1953 to 1967. Anamorphic lenses allowed the process to project film up to a 2.66:1 aspect ratio, twice as wide as the conventional format of 1.33:1. Although the lens system that CinemaScope employed was quickly made obsolete by technological developments, the anamorphic presentation of films that CinemaScope initiated in the 1950s has continued to this day.

Contents

History

Origins

Henri Chrétien demonstrates his Anarmorphoscope lenses.
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Henri Chrétien demonstrates his Anarmorphoscope lenses.

A French professor named Henri Chrétien developed and patented a new film process that he called Anamorphoscope in the late 1920's, and it was this process that would later form the basis for CinemaScope. Chrétien's process was based on lenses that employed an optical "trick" which produced an image twice as wide as that produced with conventional lenses. A premiere of Chrétien's new process in New York greatly impressed the major Hollywood film studio's of the time, eager to win back lost audiences from television's lure. It was 20th Century Fox who won the rights of Anamorphoscope, but the format needed much development before it would be ready to use. The first batch of lenses that Chrétien had built were quickly transported back to Hollywood where they were further analysed and the basis of CinemaScope formed. Pre-Production of major Fox production The Robe was halted so that the project could be appropriately changed to cater for what Fox President Spyros Skouras saw as the future of film making. 20th Century Fox's famous advertising slogan, Movies are Better than Ever, gained credibility with the ground breaking 1953 film The Robe and with the introduction of CinemaScope, the movie industry was able to re-assert itself as particularly distinct from its newly invented competitor -- television. [1] [2]

Early implementations

A somewhat exaggerated promotional picture advertising The Robe and CinemaScope
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A somewhat exaggerated promotional picture advertising The Robe and CinemaScope

The lavish star-driven comedy How To Marry A Millionaire was the first film to be shot in CinemaScope, although The Robe was released to audiences earlier. Fox used its most powerful people to promote CinemaScope and with the success of The Robe and How To Marry A Millionaire, the process became hot property in Hollywood. Fox sold the process to many of the major film studios including Columbia, Universal, MGM and Walt Disney Pictures who created one of the best examples of early Cinemascope productions with the live action epic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. However, initial uncertainty meant that a number of films were shot simultaneously with anamorphic and regular lenses. Despite being successful, early take-up of Cinemascope was slow — only the major films were made in the format, 10 to 30% of total output during typical years in the 1950s and 1960s.

Rival processes

Paramount Pictures created its own visually superior VistaVision technique as a rival to CinemaScope
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Paramount Pictures created its own visually superior VistaVision technique as a rival to CinemaScope
The basic anamorphic process, the fundamental technique that Cinemascope was built on, was not patentable since the anamorphoscope had been known for centuries. And anamorphism had been used in visual media such as Hans Holbein's painting, The Ambassadors (1533), as early as the sixteenth century. Some studios sought to develop their own systems rather than pay Fox. Paramount created the visually superior process of shooting horizontally on the 35 mm film reel, called VistaVision which failed because of the difficulty of presenting it in normal theatres. RKO used the Superscope process in which the standard 35 mm image was cropped in post-production to create a widescreen image. Another process called Techniscope was developed by Technicolor Inc. in the early 1960s, using normal 35 mm cameras modified for two perforations per frame instead of the regular four and later converted into an anamorphic print. It was mostly used in Europe, especially with lower budget films, where it was a quite popular. Many European countries and/or studios used standard anamorphic process for their widescreen films, simply a clone of Cinemascope, renamed to avoid the copyrights of Fox. Some of these are Euroscope, Franscope, Naturama (used by Republic Pictures). In 1952-53 Warner Brothers also planned to develop an identical anamorphic process called Warnerscope, but after the premiere of Cinemascope they decided to simply buy it from Fox instead.

Technical issues

A CinemaScope 35 mm camera film frame showing a circle. It has been squeezed by a ratio of 2:1 by an anamorphic lens.
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A CinemaScope 35 mm camera film frame showing a circle. It has been squeezed by a ratio of 2:1 by an anamorphic lens.
Although CinemaScope was capable of producing a 2.66:1 image, the addition of stereo information could reduce this to 2.55:1. A change in the base 35 mm film aperture eventually reduced CinemaScope to 2.35:1. Often cinemas with smaller screens would further crop the format to make it fit. A general problem with expanding the image meant that there could be visible graininess and brightness problems. To combat this, larger formats were developed: initially an unsuccessful 55 mm, and later the 65/70 mm format. The initial problems with grain and brightness were eventually reduced thanks to improvements in film stock and lenses. CinemaScope lenses had a problem known as "the mumps": the anamorphic power was decreased when objects approached close to the camera, which meant that closeups would slightly over-stretch an actor's face. This problem was avoided at first by composing wider shots, but as anamorphic technology lost its novelty, directors and cinematographers sought more compositional freedom from the limitations of the system. Such lens issues made it is difficult to use CinemaScope lenses to photograph animation. Nonetheless, many animated short films and a few features were filmed in CinemaScope during the 1950s, including Disney's Lady and the Tramp and Anastasia

Decline

Panavision, who had initially made their fortune manufacturing anamorphic adapters for CinemaScope theaters, innovated on the technology of CinemaScope by including a dual rotating element which was controlled by the focus ring in order to keep the plane of focus at a constant anamorphic power of 2x. After screening a demo reel comparing the two systems, many US studios adopted the Panavision anamorphic lenses instead. The Panavision technique was considered more attractive to the industry at large since it was both more affordable than CinemaScope and were not licensed by a rival studio. By the mid-1960s even Fox had begun to abandon CinemaScope for Panavision (famously at the demand of Frank Sinatra for Von Ryan's Express). Fox eventually capitulated completely to third-party lenses by 1967.

Modern references

While the lens system has been retired for decades, 20th Century Fox has used the trademark in recent years on at least three films - Down with Love, which was shot with Panavision optics but used the credit as a throwback to the films it references, and the Don Bluth films Anastasia and Titan A.E. at Bluth's insistence. Nonetheless, these films are not true CinemaScope as they use modern lenses. CinemaScope's association with anamorphic projection is still so embedded in mass consciousness that anamorphic prints are often referred to, erroneously, as "'Scope" prints.

See also

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