Ultra Panavision 70

Ultra Panavision 70 and MGM Camera 65 were, from 1957 to 1966 (and since 2015), the marketing brands that identified motion pictures photographed with Panavision's anamorphic movie camera lenses. The 70 mm film gauge actually used 65 mm wide film in the camera to capture images in these processes. The projection print, however, was 70 mm film stock. The extra 5 mm on the positive projection print was used to accommodate six-track stereo sound. Ultra Panavision 70 and MGM Camera 65 were shot at 24 frames per second (fps) using anamorphic camera lenses. Ultra Panavision 70 and MGM Camera 65's anamorphic lenses compressed the image 1.25 times, yielding an extremely wide aspect ratio of 2.76:1 (when a 70 mm projection print was used).


Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), like other American motion picture studios, briefly experimented with a variety of widescreen formats in the late 1920s. In 1929, the Fox Film Corporation introduced the Fox Grandeur widescreen photographic system which used a film 70 mm wide and had an aspect ratio of 2.13:1. MGM licensed the Grandeur lens and camera system which they called "Realife" but abandoned the format after just two films, 1930's Billy the Kid and 1931's The Great Meadow. Grandeur used non-standard perforations, but another format developed at around this time by Paramount used 65 mm film with standard perforations, the frame being 5 perforations high. Although these formats failed commercially at the time, the 65 mm film size and cameras built to use it were to form the basis, some two decades later, of the camera format for the new 70 mm formats introduced in the 1950s.[1]

In 1948, a U.S. Supreme Court decision forced movie studios to divest themselves of their profitable theater chains.[2] The loss of these theaters and the competitive pressure of television caused significant financial distress for many American motion picture studios. In 1952 the launch of Cinerama was a public sensation and suggested a way to bring studios back from the financial brink, but the cameras were heavy, bulky, and difficult to use. Installing Cinerama in a theater was no simple matter either, as the system required three projectors, each in its own projection booth, as well as an elaborate 7-channel sound system and a special large, deeply curved, screen.[3]

MGM, in common with other studios, regarded Cinerama as being too difficult and expensive for regular movie theaters and therefore began working on a widescreen format that would work with existing theater equipment. In 1953, the studio developed a process that captured images sideways on standard 35 mm film. It called the process Arnoldscope, after John Arnold, the head of MGM's photography department.[4] Arnoldscope was similar to Paramount's VistaVision except that it used an image ten perforations wide rather than the eight of VistaVision. Unlike VistaVision, which had some limited use both as a camera format and as a print format, Arnoldscope was never used commercially.

Also in 1953 CinemaScope was introduced by 20th Century Fox. Due to its compatibility with standard 35 mm projectors CinemaScope was commercially successful quickly and was the most prevalent widescreen format at the time. But CinemaScope had problems with image distortions and excessive grain. So in 1954 Douglas Shearer, Director of Recording at MGM, approached Robert Gottschalk, president of Panavision, with a proposal for the development of a new widescreen photographic system. Shearer asked Panavision to develop a system that would retain the widescreen format (either in a 65mm or 70mm negative), eliminate the distortion effects, allow for a high-quality transfer to 35 mm, and permit a non-anamorphic transfer to 16 mm and 35 mm projection prints.[5] The success of Paramount Pictures' 1956 widescreen VistaVision Biblical epic The Ten Commandments convinced MGM that it should not develop its own widescreen system but rather should license the CinemaScope process from Fox and build on it.[6]

The first cameras used for MGM's new widescreen process were not new, rather they were Mitchell 65mm cameras built for the failed 65 mm system a quarter century earlier. Panavision and the Mitchell Camera Company retooled these cameras to meet the specifications submitted by MGM.[7] New anamorphic optics were built by Panavision which were very different from CinemaScope lenses which used optical ground glass elements set in a frame to create the anamorphic image. The problem with these lenses, however, was that whatever was in the center of the image tended to be stretched wider than whatever was at the edges. In close-up shots, this distortion was particularly noticeable. (Actors' faces became so noticeably distorted that the problem was known as the "anamorphic mumps".) Placement of a dioptre lens in front of the anamorphic lens could correct this problem, but itself created problems with focal length, required increased light on the set, and had other issues.[8] To avoid the "anamorphic mumps", Panavision did not use an anamorphic lens. Its new system used two prisms set at angles to an anamorphic 70 mm camera lens to reduce the "anamorphic mumps" effect.[9] This not only solved the problem of the "anamorphic mumps" but led to a less clumsy, more easily focused camera that required less light.[10] Panavision named the lenses "Panatar".[11]

MGM named this new anamorphic format "MGM Camera 65". The image filmed was captured on special 65 mm Eastmancolor film stock.[12] As with the Todd-AO format Roadshow theatrical releases in the Camera 65 format were printed on 70 mm film stock.[13] The extra 5 mm of space on the 70 mm film stock permitted the use of the six-track stereo sound, as used on the Todd-AO 70 mm system, which audiences rarely heard at the time.[14] For non-roadshow screenings, 35 mm prints (the type of film stock most smaller theaters could project) were made. The 35 mm print had to be "hard masked", that is, black borders ran along the top and bottom of each frame.[12][15] The image's 2.76:1 aspect ratio was cropped slightly to 2.55:1 for the 35mm projection prints.[16] Because the 65 mm film could be printed down onto 35 mm film, theaters did not need to install special, expensive 70 mm projection equipment.[17]

Financial problems at MGM led the studio to rush Camera 65 lenses into production in 1957.[18] MGM's Raintree County (1957) and Ben-Hur (1959) were the first MGM films to use the Camera 65 process.[6] MGM and Panavision shared a special technical Oscar in March 1960 for developing the Camera 65 photographic process.[19]

Panavision changed the name of the process to Ultra Panavision in 1960.[12]

Panavision developed a non-anamorphic 70 mm photographic system from Ultra Panavision in 1959. This was named Super Panavision 70.[20]

Differences from Todd-AO

The Ultra Panavision 70 and MGM Camera 65 lenses and cameras were similar to the 1955 version of the Todd-AO 65 mm photographic process. But the Todd-AO system was shot at 30 frames per second (fps), while Ultra Panavision 70 and MGM Camera 65 used the industry standard of 24 fps, and whilst the original Todd-AO process included the use of a deeply curved screen similar to that used for Cinerama,[21] Ultra Panavision 70/Camera 65 was intended for projection onto a flat screen. Finally Ultra Panavision 70/Camera 65 compressed the image anamorphically 1.25 times, yielding an aspect ratio of 2.76:1 (when a 70 mm projection print was used) whilst Todd-AO used spherical lenses giving an aspect ratio of 2.20:1.


The following films were lensed in either Camera 65 or Ultra Panavision 70:[22]

Many sources often claim the 1959 film The Big Fisherman was filmed in Ultra Panavision, but Panavision itself says that the film was shot in Super Panavision 70.[32]

See also


  1. Preserving Wide Film History, Grant Lobban Journal of the BKSTS Vol 67 No.4 April 1985
  2. United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc., 334 US 131 (1948)
  3. Reid, p. 5.
  4. Starr, Jimmy. "M-G-M’s Arnoldscope Amazing New Process". Los Angeles Herald. April 27, 1953; Alsobrook, Russ T. "Machines That Made the Movies: Part 3 – Chronicling the History of the Motion Picture Camera". ICG Magazine. September 2000.
  5. Lightman, p. 163.
  6. 1 2 Eldridge, p. 57.
  7. Eyman, p. 351; Casper, p. 112.
  8. Burum, p. 48, 159-160.
  9. Ward, p. 96.
  10. Samuelson, p. xiv-xv; IMAGO, p. 424.
  11. Casper, p. 105.
  12. 1 2 3 Haines, p. 114.
  13. Belton, p. 332.
  14. Altman, p. 158.
  15. These black borders meant that the projectionist did not need to place barriers (known as "soft masks") in front of the projector. The use of masks was important, for otherwise bars of light would appear above and below the image.
  16. Carr and Hayes, p. 173.
  17. Hall and Neale, p. 153.
  18. Block and Wilson, p. 411.
  19. Clark, p. 151.
  20. Samuelson, p. xiv.
  21. "In the Splendour of 70mm", Grant Lobban, Journal of the BKSTS Vol. 68 No. 12 Dec 1986
  22. Haines, p. 116.
  23. The most difficult scenes to shoot were captured in Ultra Panavision, while the rest of the film was shot in three-camera Cinerama. The Ultra Panavision scenes were then optically separated into three images, and projected using the three-project Cinerama projection system. See: Hutchison, p. 100.
  24. Hall and Neale, p. 154; Lev, p. 115.
  25. McGhee, p. 356.
  26. Balio, p. 185.
  27. Hughes, p. 239.
  28. Finler, p. 371.
  29. Kastrenakes, p. 2
  30. Kastrenakes. "Quentin Tarantino defends the decision to shoot — and screen — The Hateful Eight on 70mm film". The Verge. Retrieved 6 August 2015.
  31. "Interview with Kathleen Kennedy". American Cinematographer.
  32. "About Panavision. The 1950s." Panavision.com. No date. Accessed 2012-01-29.


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