Cinerama is the trademarked name for a widescreen process which works by simultaneously projecting images from three synchronized 35 mm projectors onto a huge, deeply-curved screen, subtending 146° of arc. It is also the trademarked name for the corporation which was formed to market it. It was the first of a number of such processes introduced during the 1950s, when the movie industry was reacting to competition from television. Cinerama was presented to the public as a theatrical event, with reserved seating and printed programs, and audience members often dressed in best attire for the evening.
The Cinerama projection screen, rather than being a continuous surface like most screens, is made of hundreds of individual vertical strips of standard perforated screen material, each about 7/8 inch (22 mm) wide, with each strip angled to face the audience, so as to prevent light scattered from one end of the deeply-curved screen from reflecting across the screen and washing out the image on the opposite end. The display is accompanied by a high-quality, seven-track discrete directional surround sound system.
The original system involved shooting with three synchronized cameras sharing a single shutter. This was later abandoned in favour of a system using a single camera and 70mm prints. This latter system lost the 146° field of view of the original three-strip system and the resolution was markedly lower. Three-strip Cinerama did not use anamorphic lenses, although two of the systems used to produce the 70mm prints (Ultra Panavision 70 and Super Technirama 70) did employ anamorphics. Later, 35mm anamorphic reduction prints were produced for exhibition in theatres with anamorphic Cinemascope-compatible projection lenses.
Cinerama was invented by Fred Waller and commercially developed by Waller and Merian C. Cooper. It was the result of many years of development. A forerunner was the triple-screen final sequence in the silent Napoleon made in 1927 by Abel Gance. Gance’s classic was considered lost in the 1950s however, known of only by hearsay, and Waller could not have actually seen it. Waller had earlier developed an 11-projector system called “Vitarama” at the Petroleum Industry exhibit in the 1939 New York World’s Fair. A five-camera version, the Waller Gunnery Trainer, was used during the Second World War.
The photographic system used three interlocked 35mm cameras equipped with 27 mm lenses, approximately the focal length of the human eye. Each camera photographed one third of the picture shooting in a crisscross pattern, the right camera shooting the left part of the image, the left camera shooting the right part of the image and the centre camera shooting straight ahead. The three cameras were mounted as one unit, set at 48 degrees to each other. A single rotating shutter in front of the three lenses assured simultaneous exposure on each of the films. The three angled cameras photographed an image that was not only three times as wide as a standard film but covered 146 degrees of arc, close to the human field of vision, including peripheral vision. The image was photographed six sprocket holes high, rather than the usual four used in other 35mm processes. The picture was photographed and projected at 26 frames per second rather than the usual 24 frames per second.
Members can download a Rewind special giving much fuller information on Cinerama, together with details of the installation at the London Casino and the mobile Itinerama. Available in the Rewind special section in the Members' zone.