20 Apr 2011


VistaVision is a higher resolution, widescreen variant of the 35mm motion picture film format which was created by engineers at Paramount Pictures in 1954.

VistaVision was Paramount´s response to 20th Century Fox´s Cinemascope, which in turn was devised with the intention of stealing some of the crowds that were drawn to the few Cinerama theatres available in the world. It seemed that widescreen features were the answer to Hollywood´s prayers to try and lure audiences back into the theatres and away from the new technological threat: the TV set.

The soul of the VistaVision process was 35mm film, but travelling horizontally in the gate (instead of vertically) at eight sprocket holes per frame (instead of 4), giving a negative image area nearly three times bigger than the standard negative aperture.

The process included new wider angle lenses to give greater scope on the big screens and PERSPECT-A STEREOPHONIC SOUND. This type of sound was comprised of a single photographic sound track located in the standard position so that they will reproduce on any standard optical sound head in any projector the world over. What made it PERSPECT-A, was the use of frequencies below 30Hz as modulated control signals that assigned a certain sound source -one of the speakers located throughout the audiorium- to different parts of the soundtrack.

One of the design breathroughs of the PERSPECT-A system was that the sound control units had an automatic return to monaural sound in case of trouble. Today that is mainstream with all digital 35mm sound formats.

"All release prints will have a single photographic sound track that will play on every standard sound reproducer the world over. Paramount does not contemplate the release of any pictures with either a separate or four-track magnetic film. Further, Paramount does not contemplate releasing any prints having the Fox-Eastman narrow sprocket holes."
"PESPECT-A SOUND will expand music to multiple loudspeakers and control the direction of the sound source when and as it is required for dramatic effectiveness. Paramount suggests this type of sound for those exhibitors who desire multi-horn reproduction and who wish to fill the theater with sound. The present experience indicates that stereophonic sound is of questionable value in the smaller theaters. It may add to the effectiveness in large theaters with very large screens. The decision as to its use rests with the exhibitor. In selecting Perspect-a-Sound for VistaVision pictures, Paramount is moving toward standardization. It is our hope that we can gain complete compatibility with M.G.M., Warners and others."
The VistaVision process did not introduce any modifications to the everyday 35mm exhibition print. It was merely a capture process to preserve the optical sharpness and contrast of the original negatives to produce better quality prints. It was processed by Technicolor and optically reduced directly from the negative to the Technicolor matrix which in turn was used to stamp out the release print by the imbibition process.

This gave a wider aspect ratio of 1.5:1 versus the conventional 1.37:1 Academy ratio, and a much larger image area. In order to satisfy all theaters with all screen sizes, VistaVision films were shot in such a way that they could be shown in one of three recommended aspect ratios: 1.66:1, 1.85:1 and 2.00:1.

Loren L. Ryder, chief engineer at Paramount, expressed four general reasons why he thought Paramount's VistaVision would be the forerunner of widescreen projection in most theaters:

  1. VistaVision could be shown at widescreen aspect ratios between 1.66 to 2.00:1.
  2. VistaVision could be (and most often was) further printed down to standard vertical 35mm reels keeping its 1.66:1 widescreen aspect ratio, which meant exhibitors did not need to purchase additional projection equipment, unlike CinemaScope.
  3. VistaVision did not cut down the number of seats in any theater (such as Cinerama and CinemaScope).
  4. VistaVision allowed patrons to see more and therefore gain more enjoyment out of a feature.
After months of trade screenings, Paramount introduced VistaVision to the public at Radio City Music Hall on October 14, 1954, with their first film shot in the process, "White Christmas".

"White Christmas", "Strategic Air Command", "To Catch a Thief" and "The Battle of the River Plate" had very limited (two or three) prints struck in the 8-perf VistaVision format in which they were shot. Although the clarity of these 8-perf prints was striking, they were used only for premiere or preview engagements between 1954 and 1956 and required special projection equipment. This exhibition process was impractical because for the footage to travel through a projector at the normal 24 frames per second, the film had to roll at 3 feet per second, double the speed of 35 mm film and causing many technical and mechanical problems. Aside from these prints all other VistaVision films were shown in the conventional 4-perf format, as planned.

Alfred Hitchcock used VistaVision for many of his films in the 1950s. However, by the late 1950s with the introduction of finer-grained color stocks and the disadvantage of shooting twice as much negative stock, VistaVision became obsolete. Paramount dropped the format after only seven years, although for another forty years the format was used for high resolution special effects sequences. Less expensive anamorphic systems such as Panavision and the more expensive 70 mm format became standard during the later 1950s and 1960s.

List of all Films Shot in VistaVision


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