Report - "Filmed in Panavision:
The Ultimate Wide Screen Experience - January, 1995
By James Roudebush
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CinemaScope, Actionscope, Cinepanoramic, Dynavision, Todd-AO 35, Warnerscope, Cinetotalscope, Fujivision: these are just a few of the more than forty wide screen processes of the past. The most prominent figure in wide screen cinematography today is Panavision. The name is now synonymous with wide screen motion picture photography and got its early beginnings as a manufacturer of projection lenses for the theater industry in 1954. Many years before Panavision became the world's largest motion picture camera rental facility, the Company's founder, Robert Gottschalk saw a need for a variable-width projection lens for CinemaScope films. This new lens could be used in any theater in the world without costly screen or projector modifications. The Panavision Super Panatar or "Gottschalk Lens" as it was known, utilized a variable-width prism that allowed theater owners to adjust the throw of the projected image to fit the size of their existing screen. Previous wide screen projection lenses utilized CinemaScope's cylindrical design that matched the same optical design of their "taking" lenses on the camera. As a result, only CinemaScope movies could be shown at a theater that had this type of lens mounted on the projector. In using the new design of Panavision's variable prismatic system (the Super Panatar), any format from 2.66:1 to 1.33:1 could be projected by simply turning a knob on the projection lens.
Panavision's next development was a printer lens that would be used for making release prints of CinemaScope films. In December of 1954, MGM announced that it would no longer use 2 camera units when filming CinemaScope projects. Before that time, films shot in the wide screen format were also shot with a second camera, using a flat lens ("spherical" or normal - compared to the "anamorphic" CinemaScope lens) for theaters which were not equipped to show CinemaScope films. The printer lens, called the Micro-Panatar took the squeezed image of the camera negative and unsqueezed it onto a release print to any aspect ratio that was required. This process was also used in reverse which took a flat image on the negative and squeezed it to anamorphic on the release print.
By March of 1955, the Panatar projection lenses had been distributed to theaters on every continent. The market was saturated, and it was time for Panavision to move forward. In April of that same year, MGM announced that it would be producing all of its big budget films in 65mm, and Panavision was called upon to provide the anamorphic camera lenses for the new system. The new lenses were called the APO Panatars. MGM called the system Camera 65, and Panavision called it Panavision 65, then later Ultra-Panavision, but it was one and the same. The first project undertaken by the studio for this process went on location in August, 1956 and was titled "Raintree County." It was followed in 1957 with the announcement that "Ben Hur" would also be filmed in this format.
In July of 1958, Panavision unveiled its latest development - the Auto-Panatar anamorphic lens. This series of lenses was developed for 35mm motion picture photography to compete with the 20th Century Fox owned CinemaScope process. Panavision knew that in order to be successful in this venture, it was imperative to eliminate the most obvious flaw in the CinemaScope process: the "anamorphic mumps". During a close-up shot, the actor's face stretched out horizontally. This unflattering look was completely unacceptable, and led to the virtual elimination of close-up shots in wide screen photography. Panavision utilized its variable prism technology from the projection lens project and was able to eliminate the mumps completely, as well as adding greater sharpness and increased definition. This development caused some of Fox's own players to demand the use of the new Panavision lenses over the CinemaScope process. Also, by providing the lenses to any studio, producers were released from the grip Fox held by charging a licensing fee for the use of the CinemaScope process. The Auto Panatar was very successful and led to the first of 15 Academy Awards for Panavision.
In 1962, MGM's "Mutiny on the Bounty" went over budget, causing severe financial losses, and the studio was forced to make several dramatic cutbacks. One of those reductions was the elimination of their camera department. This provided Panavision the opportunity to move in and purchase the camera inventory. The plan was to make high quality motion picture cameras to compliment the superior optics. The Mitchell BNC cameras from MGM were older parallax type cameras (the operator was required to compose the shot through a "gun sight" mounted to the side of the camera). Also, all cameras of the time were inherently noisy and required a bulky "blimp" to encase the camera, motor, magazine and lens in a soundproof container. Panavision made some major improvements to these cameras, such as using a lightweight composite material to enclose the camera, designing an electronic crystal motor, and most importantly for that time, incorporating a reflex viewing system which allowed the operator to see exactly what the lens was seeing via a spinning mirror. When the camera was not running, a mirror in the shape of a bow tie rested so that the image coming through the lens was reflected into the camera viewfinder. When the camera was running, the mirror spun, allowing the image to alternately fall on the film or viewing system. The camera became known as the PSR (the Panavision Silent Reflex) and is still being used to this day on several filmed multiple camera sitcoms.
Panavision's success in the camera rental industry prompted a top secret project in the late sixties that gave birth to the PANAFLEX camera in 1972. (Panaflex stands for PANAvision reFLEX camera.) Nothing like it had ever been seen in the industry. This silent running light weight camera trimmed about 100 pounds off of Panavision's previous model and could be converted from its studio configuration to a 25 pound hand held camera in less than a minute. For the first time, this allowed a flexibility in cinematography that had never been known, and the Panaflex soon became the standard of the industry.
Panavision's tradition of returning profits into research continues today. There are currently 13 standard and high speed Panaflex camera models in 35mm and 65mm, as well as a 16mm Panaflex studio camera system. Panavision also designed a new series of spherical and anamorphic prime lenses, as well as matching zoom lenses called Primos. This family of optics was the first to be specifically developed for motion picture cinematography.
In order to maintain quality control and Panavision's high standards over the entire system, no piece of Panavision equipment is for sale. The cameras are rented to production companies by the day, week, or several months, depending on the particular project. Upon its return from a production, every piece of equipment must go through a rigorous service check. A camera or lens may be completely stripped apart and rebuilt to make sure it is in the finest working order. Equipment updates and modifications are also done at this time to ensure that every piece of equipment is to Panavision's specifications.
Panavision maintains its corporate offices, rental, service facility, and manufacturing plant in Tarzana, California, where the camera system is still built one at a time. (Tarzana is the home of Edgar Rice Burroughs.) Panavision also provides a worldwide network of 31 offices and affiliates to service the production community.
Films photographed with Panavision equipment require a statement in the credits. If it is filmed anamorphically, the credit will read "Filmed in Panavision", or, if filmed spherically, "Filmed with Panavision Cameras and Lenses".
A project that is filmed in Panavision uses the anamorphic design and compresses the image horizontally by a factor of 2 onto the film. If the subject were a circle, the image on the film would be a vertical oval, with the height twice that of the width. This compressed ("squeezed") image has to be uncompressed ("unsqueezed") when projected onto the movie screen at the theater, through another anamorphic lens.
Wide screen Panavision films shot on 35mm stock or 70mm stock are shown with an aspect ratio (ratio of width to height) of 2.40:1 and 2.20:1, respectively. Currently, most of the films that are presented for general theatrical release in 70mm originated on either 35mm anamorphic, or 35mm spherical. The film is enlarged onto 70mm film for brighter projection and magnetic sound, although digital sound systems for 35mm make this advantage negligible. With the exception of special venue films, such as IMAX or SHOWSCAN, there may be only one film every couple of years that shoots the entire project on 65/70mm film. For 35m spherical cinematography, films are usually shot and/or shown in one or a combination of the following aspect ratios: 1.85:1 (USA movie theaters), 1.66:1 (European movie theaters), and 1.33:1 (for showing on television). The 1.85:1 and 1.66:1 ratios were conceived as an economical alternative to anamorphic cinematography, and are achieved by cropping part of the top and bottom of the picture either during filming (hard matting) or at the theater (soft matting). Compared to the anamorphic 2.40:1 image, which occupies the entire frame of film, the 1.85:1 cropped spherical image has a decreased image area on the film (0.581 square inches for 2.40:1 anamorphic, compared to 0.386 square inches for cropped 1.85:1). This allows for a sharper projected image for the anamorphic process.
Due to the special elements in the Panavision anamorphic lens, the focal length horizontally is approximately half that of the vertical. This results in twice the amount of image being recorded on the film horizontally as a spherical lens of the same vertical focal length of the anamorphic lens. For example, a 50mm spherical lens has a 23.7 degree angle of view horizontally, while a 50mm anamorphic lens has a 46.2 degree angle of view horizontally, because the anamorphic optics convert the horizontal portion of the lens to about 25mm focal length, while maintaining 50mm focal length in the vertical plane.
One could obtain a similar field of view to the 50mm anamorphic lens, by using a 25mm spherical lens and cropping the top 25% of the image on the film as well as the bottom 25%. However, this would result in wasting half the film space! The anamorphic lens allows the entire film space to be filled without having to physically crop the image to obtain a wide screen format.
Those of you who are familiar with optical physics will recognize that having a lens with a different focal length vertically than horizontally results in astigmatism. This is recognizable in the image with small lights out of the plane of focus (look for them in night scenes), where the lights appear as vertical ovals even when the image has been unsqueezed. However, at the crossover point (where the vertical plane and horizontal plane of the two focal lengths are both in focus), the image is sharp. A 50mm anamorphic lens is labeled as such, rather than 25mm, because the 50mm vertical plane focal length is the limiting factor.
There has been a lot of discussion in recent years regarding the home video market and problems of getting a wide screen movie to fit on a television screen. At the beginning of the television era, it was easy to fit movies filmed at the academy ratio of 1.37:1, since TVs have a ratio of 1.33:1. However, with anamorphic Panavision films, the ratio is 2.40:1 which poses a problem. In the past, it was solved by the technique of Pan and Scan, where the most important part of the 2.40:1 image was enlarged to fill the TV screen. This resulted in only about half of pa film being seen on the TV. With a 1.85:1 hard matted film, only 72% of the original image was seen when panned and scanned. Sometimes, when the film was soft matted, the matting was removed when shown on TV, and microphones or dolly tracks could be seen. Today, it is common practice for cinematographers to compose a 1.85:1 image and protect the image for 1.33:1 TV viewing (keeping microphones and other unwanted items completely out of the field of view).
The best process for viewing a wide screen movie on TV is "letter boxing", where the movie appears as a rectangle in the center of the TV, with the top and bottom of the TV screen left blank. When this technique was first used, some viewers felt that they were being cheated, when in fact, they were seeing almost twice the image than when the movies were panned and scanned. Indeed, the anamorphic process is extremely unique, and the phrase "Filmed in Panavision" means something very special.
© Copyright 1995, 1996, 1997 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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