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CinemaScope was an anamorphic lens series used from 1953 to 1967 for shooting widescreen movies created by the president of 20th Century Fox from 1953, and marked the beginning of the modern anamorphic format in both principal photography and movie projection. The anamorphic lenses theoretically allowed the process to create an image of up to a 2.66:1 aspect ratio, almost twice as wide as the previously ubiquitous Academy format's 1.37:1 ratio. Although the CinemaScope lens system was quickly made obsolete by new technological developments primarily advanced by Panavision, the anamorphic format initiated by CinemaScope for both the shooting and presentation of films has continued to this day. In film-industry jargon, the shortened form, Scope, is still widely used by both filmmakers and projectionists, although today this generally refers to any 2.35:1 and 2.39:1 presentation, or sometimes the use of anamorphic lensing or projection in particular.



A French professor named Henri Chrétien developed and patented a new film process that he called Anamorphoscope in the late 1920s. 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. Later, in New Yorkmarker, a premiere of Chrétien's new process impressed the major Hollywoodmarker film studios of the time, who were eager to win back lost audiences from television’s allure.

Twentieth Century Fox bought the rights of the Anamorphoscope. However, the format needed more development before it would be ready to use. The first of Chrétien's lenses were quickly transported to Hollywoodmarker where they were further analyzed. From this analysis the basis of CinemaScope was formed. Twentieth Century Fox's pre-production of The Robe was halted so that the film could be changed to a CinemaScope production, what Fox president Spyros Skouras called the future of filmmaking. With the introduction of CinemaScope, Fox and other companies would be able to re-assert its distinction from its new competitor — television.

Early implementations

The Robe was the first film to start production in CinemaScope, a project that was selected by Fox because of its epic nature. During production, two other films, How to Marry a Millionaire and Beneath the 12-Mile Reef went into production. Millionaire finished production first, before The Robe, but because of its importance, The Robe was released first.

Fox utilized its influential people to promote CinemaScope. With the success of The Robe and How to Marry a Millionaire, the process enjoyed success in Hollywoodmarker. Fox licensed the process to many of the major film studios including Columbia, Warner Bros., Universal, MGM and Walt Disney Productions.

The original aspect ratio of CinemaScope was to be 2.66:1, shooting the full aperture ratio of a 35mm film. The three-track stereophonic soundtrack, a major selling point of the system, would be interlocked on a 35mm strip of magnetic film, as was the case with a number of 3-D Films of the time.

When it was considered too costly and beset with synchronization problems, Hazard E. Reeves' sound company designed a method of coating 35mm stock with magnetic stripes. Four tracks would replace the original three, with the extra enabling a surround channel. In order to fit these tracks in otherwise unavailable areas of the film, the normal KS perforations were reduced to nearly a square, thus, the CinemaScope, or CS perf was born. With the addition of the tracks, the ratio of the image was reduced to 2.55:1.

In March of 1954, with the demand of drive-ins and hard-top theaters unable to play stereophonic sound, Fox re-designed the CinemaScope print to fit a standard optical track in. With the center point of the imaged shifted due to the optical soundtrack, the aspect ratio of the image was now reduced to 2.35:1.

The Walt Disney Company was one of the first companies to license the CinemaScope process from Fox, and among the features and shorts they filmed with it, created one of the best-regarded examples of early CinemaScope productions with the live-action epic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Due to initial uncertainty a number of films were shot simultaneously with anamorphic and regular lenses. Despite early success with the process, Fox did not stick to their claim of shooting every production with the process. CinemaScope as a trade name was reserved for "A" productions, while "B" productions in black and white commenced in 1956 at Fox under the trade name, "RegalScope."

Rival processes

CinemaScope itself was a response to early "realism" processes Cinerama and 3-D. Cinerama was relatively unaffected by CinemaScope, as it was a quality-controlled process that played in select venues, similar to the IMAX films of recent years. 3-D was hurt, however, by studio advertising surrounding CinemaScope's promise that it was the "miracle you see without glasses." Technical difficulties in presentation spelled the true end for 3-D, but studio hype was quick to hail it a "victory" for CinemaScope.

In April 1953, a technique simply now known as "wide-screen" appeared and was soon adopted as a standard by all "flat" film productions in the US. In this process, a fully exposed 1.37:1 Academy ratio-area is cropped in the projector to a wide-screen aspect ratio by the use of an aperture plate, also known as a soft matte.

Aware of Fox's upcoming CinemaScope productions, Paramount introduced this technique in March's release of Shane with the 1.66:1 aspect ratio, although the film was not shot with this ratio originally in mind. Universal-International followed suit in May with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio for Thunder Bay. By summer of 1953, Paramount, Universal, MGM, Columbia, and even Fox's B-unit contractors, under the banner of "Panoramic Productions" had switched from filming flat shows in a 1.37:1 format, and used variable flat wide-screen aspect ratios in their filming.

The fundamental technique that CinemaScope was built on was not patentable because the anamorphoscope had been known for centuries. Anamorphosis 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.

In response to the demands for a higher fidelity spherical widescreen process, Paramount created an optical process, VistaVision, which shot horizontally on the 35 mm film roll, and then printed down to standard 4-perf vertical 35 mm. Thus, a negative with a finer grain was created and the consequent prints had less grain. The first Paramount release in VistaVision was White Christmas. VistaVision died out in the late 1950s, with the introduction of faster film stocks.

RKO used the Superscope process in which the standard 35 mm image was cropped and then optically squeezed in post-production to create an anamorphic image on film.

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. Techniscope was mostly used in Europe, especially with low budget films.

Many European countries and studios used the standard anamorphic process for their wide-screen films, identical in technical specifications to CinemaScope, and renamed to avoid the copyrights of Fox. Some of these include Euroscope, Franscope, and Naturama (the latter used by Republic Pictures). In 1953, Warner Brothers also planned to develop an identical anamorphic process called Warnerscope, but after the premiere of CinemaScope, Warners decided to license it from Fox instead.

Technical difficulties

CinemaScope was capable of producing a 2.66:1 image, the addition of magnetic sound tracks for multi-channel sound reduced this to 2.55:1. Theater owners, however, were dissatisfied with contractually having to install three- or four-track magnetic stereo, and because of the technical nature of sound installations, drive-in theaters had trouble presenting stereophonic sound at all. Due to these conflicts, Fox revoked their policy of stereo-only presentations and added an optical soundtrack, while keeping the magnetic tracks for those theaters that chose to present their films with stereophonic sound. The addition of the optical soundtrack reduced the width of the presented aspect ratio further to 2.35:1.

The fact that the image was expanded horizontally when projected meant that there could be visible graininess and brightness problems. To combat this, larger film formats were developed (initially a too-costly 55 mm for Carousel and The King and I) and then abandoned (both films were eventually reduction printed at 35 mm, although the aspect ratio was kept at 2.55:1). Later Fox re-released The King and I in the 65/70 mm format. The initial problems with grain and brightness were eventually reduced thanks to improvements in film stock and lenses.

The CinemaScope lenses were optically flawed, however, by the fixed anamorphic element, which caused the anamorphic effect to gradually drop off as objects approached closer to the lens. The effect was that close-ups would slightly overstretch an actor's face, a problem that soon became referred to as "the mumps". This problem was avoided at first by composing wider shots, but as anamorphic technology lost its novelty, directors and cinematographers sought compositional freedom from these limitations. Issues with the lenses also made it difficult to photograph animation using the CinemaScope process. Nevertheless, many animated short films and a few features were filmed in CinemaScope during the 1950s, including Walt Disney's Lady and the Tramp (1955).


Lens manufacturer Panavision was initially founded in late 1953 as a manufacturer of anamorphic lens adapters for movie projectors screening CinemaScope films, capitalizing on the success of the new anamorphic format and filling in the gap created by Bausch and Lomb's inability to mass produce the needed adapters for movie theaters fast enough. Looking to expand beyond projector lenses, Panavision founder Robert Gottschalk soon improved upon the anamorphic camera lenses by creating a new lens set that included dual rotating anamorphic elements which were interlocked with the lens focus gearing. This innovation allowed the Panavision lenses to keep the plane of focus at a constant anamorphic ratio of 2x, thus avoiding the over-stretched "mumps" effect found in CinemaScope. After screening a demo reel comparing the two systems, many US studios adopted the Panavision anamorphic lenses. The Panavision technique was also considered more attractive to the industry because it was more affordable than CinemaScope and was not owned or licensed-out 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. In Like Flint, a spy spoof with James Coburn, was Fox's final film in CinemaScope.

Modern references

While the lens system has been retired for decades, 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 all anamorphic prints are now referred to generically as "'Scope" prints.

In the 1963 Jean-Luc Godard film Contempt, filmmaker Fritz Lang makes a disparaging comment about CinemaScope: "Oh, it wasn't meant for human beings. Just for snakes - and funerals." Ironically, Contempt was shot in CinemaScope.

The 1988 John Waters film Hairspray uses the trademark as a crack on the weight of an overweight teenage girl who wants to star on a TV dance show: "please; this show's not being filmed in CinemaScope!". A 2002 Broadway musical version of Hairspray and a 2007 film adaptation of the Broadway show retain this joke as part of the lyrics of one of the show's songs, "(The Legend of)" Miss Baltimore Crabs".

See also


  1. CinemaScope: A Concise History
  2. Bijl, Adriaan (2002) The Importance of Panavision: In the Beginning. The 70 mm Newsletter, 67, March 2002.
  3. CinemaScope at the Widescreen Museum

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