This is the descriptive booklet which was distributed to those lucky enough to attend the world premiere of Cinerama on September 30, 1952; it was reprinted in 1993, to coincide with the revival of Cinerama in Bradford.
"Cinerama is one of the most important inventions in the history of films. It gives the complete illusion of three-dimensional effects in color and sound without use of glasses." -- Sir Alexander Korda, The Scotsman, Edinburgh, Scotland
Cinerama is an adventure with a new medium which I believe will revolutionize the technique of motion picture story telling. From the beginning, pictures have been restricted in space. A painting is hemmed in by its frame, so to speak. Conventional motion pictures are confined to a narrow screen. You see only what is straight ahead, while normal vision includes what you see out of the corners of the eyes. Someone has said that movies are like looking through a keyhole. Cinerama breaks out of the sides of the ordinary screen, and presents very nearly the scope of normal vision and hearing.
Similarly with sound. In motion pictures, television, radio and phonograph, the sound comes from one direction, while in life it comes from all directions. In Cinerama, sound has burst from restrictions and has been given the dimension of reality.
With Cinerama you actually perceive more than you would if you were on the scene, strange as that may seem. More sensations pour in, with greater vividness, from both sides of your field of vision. This is the new technique for seeing the world of reality as well as the world of make-believe through new eyes.
In the days of silent films, soon after World War I, three documentary pictures appeared which were seen far and wide. One was "Nanook of the North," produced by Robert J. Flaherty, another was "Grass," made by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, and the third was Lowell Thomas' film account of "With Lawrence in Arabia and Allenby in Palestine." Lowell Thomas accompanied this last picture on its travels and, standing in front of the audience, accompanied by music and sound effects, he personally added his comments and description of what was happening on the screen. It was the first attempt to combine narration, music, and motion pictures.
When Lowell Thomas first saw Cinerama, he couldn't help but think back to that early attempt to give the vitality of living speech to his pictorial story of adventure. He couldn't help but think, "What if I could have turned the Cinerama camera on the tremendous pageant in India, on the elephants and brilliantly attired maharajas and the more than a million people whose faces appeared in my second feature-length film? What if I could have opened the three lenses of the miraculous Cinerama camera on Allenby and his men as they swept the Turks from the Holy City of Jerusalem, and the Bedouin Camel Corps under Lawrence in Arabia?"
Lowell Thomas could not help but think also of his two friends, Robert J. Flaherty, who had made "Nanook," "Man of Aran," "Moana" and "Elephant Boy," and Merian C. Cooper who with Ernest B. Schoedsack was responsible for "Grass" and "Chang" and "King Kong," and then scores of films in Hollywood. How many times the scope, the strength, and the impact of the work of these men could have been multiplied if they had had the Cinerama camera.
That's why it was that as soon as Lowell Thomas saw Cinerama he asked Flaherty to come and look at it with him. Flaherty agreed that it was the greatest thing since sound. Their enthusiasm was boundless, and Flaherty was chosen to direct the first Cinerama production. But within a few weeks, Flaherty died.
Then Lowell Thomas got in touch with his friend Merian C. Cooper who was busy in Hollywood. Even before he had a chance to tell him about Cinerama, Cooper said "You know, Lowell, I can't help but think that it's high time for a new and revolutionary development in motion pictures." After that it wasn't difficult for Lowell Thomas to persuade Merian Cooper that he'd better take the next plane East to see Cinerama. Cooper flew East, saw Cinerama, and agreed with Lowell Thomas and Bob Flaherty. This was it--and he, at Lowell Thomas's invitation, took over the production of the first Cinerama picture.
"We talked and planned for days," Lowell Thomas said, "and finally agreed that in our first presentation nothing should be done to take the spotlight away from Cinerama. If, to take an extreme example, in our first picture we had some tremendous attraction, let's say Charlie Chaplin doing Hamlet, the focus of attention would be either on the great clown or on the new approach to Shakespere. If we had concentrated solely on Aida and all of Aida, our work would have been closely linked with what people thought of our Aida.
"We didn't want to be judged on subject matter. This advent of something as new and important as Cinerama was in itself a major event in the history of entertainment. The logical thing to do was to make Cinerama the hero. And that is what we have tried to do. This, our first, is a demonstration. A portion of our show takes place inside Milan's celebrated La Scala Theater and our cast here includes more than 600 players. A portion of it takes place in the famous Cypress Gardens of Florida where boats and water skis defy the laws of gravity. Cinerama's stereophonic sound is demonstarted with a thousand Scotch bagpipes and, in another part of the show, with one of the finest symphony orchestras ever brought together. In introducing our new kind of hero, the Cinerama camera, we have brought to the theater a new kind of emotional experience.
Cinerama is the result of a brilliant idea, 15 years of untiring research and the expenditure of millions of dollars. Its inventor, Fred Waller, a tall, bespectacled mechanical and photographic wizard, is a full-time inventor with an extremely practical, well-timed sense of the sort of products the world needs. He's the father of such widely different devices as water skis (aquaplanes were too unstable to suit him), and a remote recording wind direction and velocity indicator. He created a still camera to take a 360o picture. When he had trouble with an ordinary sail on his boat, he sat down and invented a now widely used adjustable sail batten. The Photo-Metric camera that measures a man for a suit of clothes in a fiftieth of a second is his brain-child.
"Fred," says a friend, "is the kind of fellow, who goes out to the barn to build a kitchen shelf and winds up inventing a better nail, a hammer that does the job better, and a new kind of screwdriver."
Most famous of Wallers inventions is his ariel gunnery trainer used by the armed forces in World War II. It saved an estimated 350,000 casualties. In it, four trainees sat in a large room in front of a huge spherical screen on which five synchronized projectors threw movies of enemy planes that dove on the noivce gunner every which way. In a realistic three-dimensional atmosphere, the gunner fired an electronic machine gun at his adversaries. When he fired, his kicking gun only roared. When he hit, he got a "beep." By the time he climbed into a real plane, he'd had not only realistic target practice but the emotional experience of attacking and being attacked.
The trainer was the final step along the road to Cinerama. The theory behind it dates back to Waller's early days when as head of Paramount's trick film department, he produced everything from realistic model shipwrecks to convertible carriage pumpkins for Cinderella. Waller began to use wide-angle lenses for special effects. "I noticed that they produced a faint three-dimensional effect," he says "and figured it was a clue." He began to study sight in people, to find out why they saw the things they did. He hung flaps over the peak of a cap, and experimented to see how much he could discern form the sides of his eyes. It was quite a lot. He walked around with one eye patched to see if he still got dimensional vision in depth. He did.
"I learned," he revealed, "that sight is largely an experential phenomenon. The eye lens paints a crude picture on the retina, really. It's the brain that fills in details that it knows from experience should be there."
Once Paramount needed a scene of a young couple clutching each other on the bown of a sinking ship. Fred built a model ship, put two tiny objects in the bow and shot the sequence. "Later," he says, "everyone asked me how I got those minature people to move, wave their arms and gesture so desperately. They hadn't moved at all. They were two shapeless lumps of clay that didn't evne resemble people. The brains--not the eyes--of the audience gave them shape and motion."
According to Waller, stereovision is an actuality only for real close work. It exists only in a small area directly in front of th eyes, and for a distance of about 20 feet. One-eyed people, of course, have none. And yet they get usalbe three-dimensional sight. They drive cars and gauge distances as well as anyone. How? It takes two eyes to get a real stereo effect. "By scores of visual clues that tell their brains where objects are," Waller explains. "One ojbect overlays another and tells them it's nearer; moving objects increase and decrease in size; angular parallax and a host of other things tip them off to the relations of objects to each other."
Waller figured that if he could devise cameraas and projectors that would duplicate most of the normal vision as seen by a pair of human eyes, the human brain would do the rest. Anyone looking at such a picture would beel he was standing in the middle of a real scene. He would be the camera. But how to do this on a a regular screen? It would have to be hundreds of feet wide for such a big angle.
"Then," says Waller, "a famous architect asked me to make him a projected picture display inside a sphere for the New York World's Fair. He had brely mentioned it when I knew I had the answer to my environmental movies. I'd been using flat screens only because I was so accustomed to them. Obviously, a person sees a curved view in real life. The laugh was on me."
Once Waller felt that he had the right idea, it didn't take him long to start work on Cinerama. The first camera was an eleven-eyed monster which produced film for eleven matching projectors to throw on a curved screen. "It was crude," says Fred, "but it gave the audience an experience and I knew I was on my way."
CAPTION: These four films are the heart of Cinerama. The first three produce the left-hand, center and right-hand sections of the picture when projected side by side on the theater screen. The film at the far right carries the six sound tracks which operate the theater's speakers. Picture frames are half again standard height and are advanced six perforations at a time instead of the usual four.
The illusion of reality created by Cinerama is closely linked to the function of the retina of the human eye and the drum of the human ear. While a person's attention may be directed primarily at one particular object, his field of vision also encompasses everything on either side of it as far as the corners of the eyes can see. Likewise, a man walking down a city street, for example, hears not only the sounds directly in front of him, but also those on tiether side, and behind him as well.
The Cinerama film process attains these effects of real life by surrounding the viewer completely with action and sound in an environment.
The picture Cinerama reproduces is almost a complete half-circle, 146 degrees wide and 55 degrees high--pretty lose to two human eyes which cover about 180 degrees and 90 degrees. Naturally, no lens known can cover such a field without horrible distortion. Hence, the Cinerama camera has three 27mm lenses--no bigger than the lens of your own eye--set at 48 degree angles. Each takes a third of the picture's total width, exposing its own reel of 35mm film housed in one of the three 1,000-foot magazines that jut from the back of the 150-pound camera.
The lenses are arranged on a mount like a minature three-section picture frame. The one in the center points straight ahead. Those on each side point in, so that the left lens takes the right side of the picture, and the one on the right takes the left side. A single rotating shutter, that whirls in front of the lenses at the point where their lines of view cross, makes foolproof simultaneous exposures on each of the films. Single focus and diaphram controls adjust settings on all three lenses simultaneously.
CAPTION: The Cinerama screen looks like an unbroken flat survace to the audience but it's actually made up of hundreds of overlapping vertical strips.
To merge the three films into a single picture on the big screen, measuring 51 feet from tip to tip, and 25 feet high, the process is reversed. Three standard projectors in booths throw the images from each film out onto the screen. The projector on the right fills in the left third of the screen. The one on the left fills the right third, and the one in the center shoots dead head.
Since the screen is curved, there should be distortion and fuzziness, but there isn't. Great depth of focus of the projector lenses keep the picture sharp. Distortion, caused by reflected light bouncing off the screen, has been licked by a Waller trick. The screen is not one great sheet, but is made up of 1100 vertical strips of perforated tape set at angles like louvres of a sideways Venetial blind. Relfected light bounces off a louvre and escapes behind the louvre directly in front of it. You can sit right at the edge of the Cinerama screen, look up at a tight angle and figures still look round and full--just as they would if you saw them head on.
CAPTION: The monitoring operator who controls the performance of the Cinerama picture and sound.
CAPTION: Three lenses look out through an hourglass-shaped opening in the front of the Cinerama camera. Each lens covers about a third of the camera's 146-degree angle of "vision." A single shutter rotates in front of the lenses at the point where their lines of view cross. A sound-absorbing box which encases the camera muffles the noise of the mechanism.
CAPTION: The "mixing" console from which the sound from the six individual "pick up" microphones is controlled on its way to the six magnetic-type tracks.
Running three movie reels side by side simultaneously to make one big picture poses some pretty problems. If one projector is a thousand of a frame off kilter the picture is going to look wiggly. And how do you dovetail the films together? The problem is solved by what the technicians call "gigolos." These are tiny comblike bits of steel that fit in each projector at the side of the film track and jiggle up and down along the edges of the film at high speed. This little saw-toothed "dodger" fuzzes the edges of the three Cinerama films where they join and blends them together so as to minimize the line between them.
The stereophonic sound that heightens the realistic illusion of Cinerama is as new and unusual as the visual effect. When the shooting crew is out in the field, five microphones are placed to cover all the action that the camera's eyes will see. One to three others are placed well off to one side or behind the camera, to pick up the sound of people's voices, roaring engines, or whatever may be approaching or leaving the scene. Each mike makes an individual magnetic recording on a special six-track sound film. In the theater, five speakers--one for each of the mikes on the set--are arranged behind the screen. When the sound film is run off with the picture, each speaker reproduces the sounds picked up by the mike that was in a similar position on the set. Three other speakers, one on each side wall, and another in the rear of the theater reproduce the offstage noises that the extra mikes picked up. Hence, as a motor boat, for instance, roars across the set, the noise of its engine will be picked up by each of the mikes successively. And that's the way sound comes out in the theater--moving sound that travels across the screen and roars away in the actual direction it's traveling.