Movie Formats That Changed Filmmaking

movie format

Movies have been a vital part of the entertainment industry. For quite some decades now they have been a prime attraction to the audience and the makers. With its origin dating back to the later part of the 19th century, movie systems have been invented and evolved with the course of time. The journey of evolution has been long yet worthwhile. With every step in the direction of making, even the smallest of the changes took a huge turn in refining the history of making of the cinema.

The first move in the history of moving picture was witnessed in 1882. A chronophotographic gun was invented by Étienne-Jules Marey. This gun was capable of filming 12 frames per second. The moving picture concept was developed initially for Étienne-Jules Marey’s personal usage for studying natural history. After this many others joined the league of producing their own machines so as to produce moving pictures when Thomas Edison produced the first machine called Kinetoscope in his labs. The machine was made to create an illusion where the sequential pictures were spooled on a perforated film strip when exposed to a light source at a high shutter speed. This machine was able to film as many as 48frames per second. The camera counterpart of Kinetoscope was called Kinetograph. Since Kinetoscope was a single view device it faced a major competition from Mutoscope. Some of the remarkable movies of this era were Dickson Greeting and Newark Athlete. The first movie that was publically shown on a Kinetoscope was Dickson’s Blacksmith Scene (1893) and had time duration of as little as 34 seconds.

After the success of Kinetoscope and the moving pictures coming to life, Cinematograph was the next big leap. With much clearer and sharper images, Cinematograph was also portable in terms of its size. Though it borrowed a lot of techniques from the Kinetoscope yet it was a much refined version by the Lumière brothers in France. This was the time when the world’s first official cinema came into existence. With the first documentary in 1895, it showed Workers Leaving The Lumière Factory in Lyon. The documentary was 46 seconds long and was showed to the public in South-East France.

With the passage of time Fox Movietone was introduced in 1927. After 15 years of silent movies and a dozen of formats that were refined than the earlier ones, Movietone came up with the big bang. This was an important invention as it also came with sound, a major milestone in the history of cinema. While the Warner Bros were working with Vitaphone that used 33rpm record synchronizing the audio and the video, Movietone used a much more sophisticated approach of optical sound-on-film. This technology added the sound track to the film strip and was first showcased in the movie Sunrise in 1927.

After 1927 for the next two decades the movies were made in square-frame movie format until the wide-screen revolution showed up in 1952. The blend of cinema and panorama came into existence with this. Here the movies were shot with three different cameras and combined together so as to fit in the wide screens of the theaters. The period was called Cinerama and was only used for two films but it gave a new dimension to the enhancing movie formats in process.

Cinemascope was now officially introduced by 20th Century Fox  and it was a quick replacement of Cinerama and came into existence in 1953. The technique that used by the Cinemascope was it recorded the movie on the anamorphic lenses which when subjected to the right lens would fit in the wide screen and was also with-holding the Academy standards ratio. In 1955 the revived experiments on the 70 mm film were carried by Todd-AO. While the initial idea was to make the Todd-AO a lens compatible for huge and curved screens, with the experiments carried out it turned into a spherical lens. Also Todd-AO was one of the best formats that produced a far better sound quality than any of the earlier ones. Movies like Can-Can (1960), South Pacific (1958), Doctor Dolittle (1967) and Hello, Dolly! (1969) and also some non-musicals like The Alamo (1960), Patton (1970) and Airport (1970) were filmed during this period.

Techniscope was the next big thing in the movie industry. With the standards set high and also the ongoing labor to enhance the movie quality to the next level, Techniscope was a sigh of relief. While being introduced in 1963, Techniscope was used until 1980. The majors like Paramount and Universal Studios used it for its amalgamation of both spherical and anamorphic lens. While the spherical lens was to stretch the picture vertically anamorphic lens stretched the picture horizontally. Also another reason for its popularity was its cost that was comparatively very low as compared to the prior formats and also it only used 2 perforations of film strips rather than 4 that were used in other existing devices.

The next thing in the market was Ultra Panavision that had a lot of similarities with Todd-AO on the superficial level. On the actual surface Ultra Panavision was based to be projected on a flat screen rather than the curved screen and the picture was wider than Todd-AO. Some movies that were shot during this era were The Fall Of The Roman Empire and It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. The reason it couldn’t succeed much was when the picture was transferred from the wide screen to square televisions it resulted in distorted and cropped images.

Debuting in the markets with the 17-minute Tiger Child, IMAX (Image Maximum) blew all other existing formats of the movie world. IMAX wanted to recreate the legendary Cinemascope but wanted to have a single source of movie spectacle. In the initial decades IMAX faced problems for being too wide on screen and hence was used for documentary purposes and was mainly used in science centers and planetariums. IMAX used 65mm perforation film strips for the video while it uses an entirely different strip for the audio and syncs them together later. The most recent and advanced version of IMAX was seen in The Dark Knight Rises.

The on-going ones are the digital formats that set their footsteps in the movie making markets in 1970s. The standard among these are the 16 mm and 35 mm film stocks recording at 24 frames per second. Digital movie cameras come under two categories of interlaced and de-interlaced or the progressive scan. While the interlaced cameras record the images on alternative lines, the de-interlaced or the progressive scan records each frame as a distinct frame in consecution. Today, digital videos can also be copied without degrading their picture quality and have become handy even for personal uses. Because of this 8mm film transfer to dvd and other transfers like 16mm film transfer to dvd have become quite handy and easy.

While the movie industry is still booming with a constant effort to enhance and refine the picture quality and viewing experience of the audience, the on-going formats have ensured to be the best in time in each era they have survived. Imparting movie industry a new dimension these formats though long lived or short lived have each contributed to the movie world that is experienced in today’s time.



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