motion picture photography: Wide-Screen and Other Processes

The studios responded to television, and its rapid siphoning of the movie audience, with a battery of technical advances, many of them modernized versions of processes developed two to three decades earlier. Three techniques were introduced that employed panoramic framing, which met with varying degrees of success. The standard film aspect ratio had been 1.33:1, nearly square. In 1953, Twentieth Century-Fox studio initiated CinemaScope, with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. CinemaScope is an anamorphic process, using a lens while filming which squeezes a wide image onto a standard-sized frame of film; the image is unsqueezed via a complementary lens on the projector. A competing system, VistaVision, has a ratio of 1.85:1, accomplished by turning the film strip 45 degrees and photographing and projecting the film horizontally. These aspect ratios became the industry standard.

A third process, Cinerama, used three cameras to photograph a scene and three projectors that showed the image on a curved screen. The intention was to duplicate peripheral vision and thus trick the mind into generating a realistic three-dimensional image. Artistically, Cinerama reached its apex with 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), in which director Stanley Kubrick used the format to convey the enormousness of outer space. Expensive and cumbersome, the format was retired in 1973.

Also during the 1950s, 3-D, which reproduced depth perception through the use of glasses that merged split images, proved unworkable and headache inducing. In the early 1990s a much more sophisticated 3-D technique, IMAX, was introduced. Requiring a headset equipped with infrared sensors, liquid crystal lenses, and stereo speakers, its effects are remarkably lifelike. It uses images produced by two spools of synchronized film whose frames are more than ten times the size of conventional 35-mm images. It was uncertain whether or not the process would prove viable for large-scale production and acceptable to large audiences. IMAX in a non-3-D version, which does not require a headset, in a high definition (HD) format, also came into wide usage in the early 1990s. Shot with a bulky and complex camera, it produces images about 10 times larger and with 10 times greater resolution than that produced by a standard 35-mm print. The depth and sharpness of these images are thought to be the highest quality ever produced for the motion picture. At first, IMAX was primarily used to shoot short science documentaries dealing with outer space, undersea life, and other such subjects. These continue to be popular features and are usually shown in special IMAX theaters with huge screens, many of them located in theme parks. In the 2000s, Hollywood directors began using sections of IMAX images in their feature films.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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