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The CAYOM Format and Camera Guide

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I'm putting together a guide to some of the basic technical aspects of film production and exhibition for CAYOM players who decide they want to use it. No one is required to decide on any of this info for their films, but it can be a fun extra element for those who choose to do so. It'll span multiple posts covering different topics by the time it's done.

 

Exhibition - Aspect Ratios and Screen Shapes/Sizes

An aspect ratio is defined as the ratio of an image's width compared to its height. A square has a 1:1 aspect ratio as its width and height are identical. A rectangle twice as wide as it is high has an aspect ratio of 2:1. In cinema, aspect ratios are typically rounded to the nearest two decimal places.

 

Flat - 1.85:1

1-85-1-Flat.png

The shape of a 1.85:1 Flat image or movie screen.

 

This aspect ratio, in common use, dates back to the early 1950s when it was achieved by simply cropping the top and bottom off of a filmed image. It has endured as one of the two standardized ratios in the Digital Cinema Initiatives guidelines and is a very common shape for theater screens. However, it has become the less-common of the two standard ratios. This is partly due to it being only very slightly wider than the 16:9 (1.78:1) aspect ratio used by modern televisions. The pixel resolution of a Flat image in the DCI standards is 1998x1080 for 2K and 3996x2160 for 4K. The name has nothing to do with whether or not the movie is in 3D.

 

 

Scope - 2.39:1

2-39-1-Scope.png

The shape of a 2.39:1 Scope image or movie screen.

 

This aspect ratio is often stated as either 2.35:1 (an archaic ratio from the 1950s no longer in common use) or 2.40:1 (a simple rounded-up number), however, 2.39:1 is the correct actual measurement. It is, today, the most common ratio used for feature films intended for theatrical distribution. Like the "Flat" 1.85:1 ratio, it is standardized in the DCI format guidelines for digital cinema projection and is one of the common standard shapes for movie theater screens. The pixel resolution of a Scope image in the DCI standards is 2048x858 for 2K and 4096x1716 in 4K.

 

 

70mm - 2.20:1

2-20-1-Flat.png

A 2.20:1 image letterboxed on a Flat ratio screen.

 

First used in the 1950s for 70mm film prints made from the 65mm Todd-AO system camera negatives, this became the standard aspect ratio for most movies shot on a 65mm film format and exhibited via 70mm prints. It is not a part of the DCI standards, and for digital projection it must be letterboxed or pillarboxed inside of a Flat or Scope formatted image; usually letterboxing in a Flat image is chosen.

 

 

5:3 Flat - 1.67:1

1-67-1-Flat.png

A 1.67:1 image pillarboxed on a Flat ratio screen.

 

Usually this is stated as 1.66:1 simply because it's a nicer-looking number, but the correct measurement rounds up to 1.67:1. Introduced slightly before the now-standard Flat 1.85:1 ratio, this less-wide version of widescreen cinema required less cropping of the original filmed image and was briefly popular in the first couple years of widescreen. It quickly faded from popularity but stuck around for certain films over the ensuing decades. It has fallen largely into disuse in modern times and is generally picked as an artistic choice to evoke an "old school" look. The Witch is framed at this ratio, for example. It is not part of the DCI standards, and for digital projection it must be pillarboxed inside a Flat formatted image.

 

 

Academy Standard - 1.37:1

1-37-1-Flat.png

A 1.37:1 image pillarboxed on a Flat ratio screen.

 

This was the industry-standard aspect ratio for feature films settled upon in the early days of sound films, before widescreen formats became popular in the 50s. It is very close to the traditional television aspect ratio of 4:3 (1.33:1). Like the 1.67:1 ratio, it is now rarely used and chosen only for artistic purposes. It is not part of the DCI standards, and for digital projection it must be pillarboxed inside a Flat formatted image.

 

 

CinemaScope - 2.55:1

2-55-1-Scope.png

A 2.55:1 image letterboxed on a Scope ratio screen.

 

This aspect ratio originally had a relatively short lifespan. It was the original exhibition ratio for films shot in CinemaScope, but after just a few years, the format was revised down to a narrower 2.35:1 aspect ratio to allow more space for soundtracks on the film prints. It is still rarely used as a stylistic choice (La La Land, for example, is framed at this ratio). It is not part of the DCI standards, and for digital projection it must be letterboxed inside a Scope formatted image.

 

 

Ultra Panavision - 2.76:1

2-76-1-Scope.png

A 2.76:1 image letterboxed on a Scope ratio screen.

 

This is the maximum intended width for exhibition of films shot in the Ultra Panavision 65mm system. In practice, during the format's original lifespan, Ultra Panavision movies were almost never projected this wide. They were meant and expected to be cropped at the sides to fit the more common 2.55:1 or 2.35:1 CinemaScope ratios, or to fit onto a curved Cinerama screen. However, the movies are now usually shown at full 2.76:1 width on modern DVD and Blu-ray releases, and when Quentin Tarantino shot The Hateful Eight in Ultra Panavision he chose to have it exhibited at 2.76:1 as well. It is not part of the DCI standards, and for digital projection it must be letterboxed inside a Scope formatted image.

 

 

Cinerama - Roughly 2.59:1, But It's Complicated

Cinerama-Flat.png

A Cinerama image smileboxed on a Flat ratio screen that is, unlike a Cinerama screen, literally flat.

 

The original aspect ratio as filmed is 2.59:1, encompassing all the recorded image, but theatres often featured screens with wider ratios for architectural reasons and to hide splice marks and other imperfections at the edge of the film frames. Cinerama's defining trait is its panoramic 146 degree horizontal field of view, matched by a big, 146 degree curved screen to create an immersive experience. In the early 2000s, a system called "Smilebox" was developed for presenting Cinerama footage on flat screens. By emulating the way a Cinerama screen looks viewed head-on, it provides a more accurate, less-distorted presentation of the image and has become the standard. Cinerama is obviously not part of the DCI standards, and for flat-screen digital projection it must be smileboxed inside a Flat formatted image.

 

 

For information on IMAX screens and ratios, check the IMAX Megapost on the next page.

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Exhibition - Special Premium Formats

In the never-ending effort to part consumers from their money and goad them out of their living rooms, a lot of different premium theater formats have been tried. Here are some of the more common ones currently in use.

 

For IMAX information, check the megaposts at the end of this page and the start of the next!

 

3D

Everyone knows what this is, right? 3D movies have actually been around for almost as long as movies themselves, though the first hit 3D feature film was 1952's Bwana Devil. Nowadays 3D projection is more or less always done digitally, and the leader in the field is RealD, which manufactures projection equipment, 3D glasses, and even theater screens. The concept is simple enough - humans perceive depth largely by judging the differences between the images each of our eyes sees, and so a 3D movie replicates these two slightly offset views to create an illusion of depth. 3D glasses ensure the correct image gets to each eye. Making a 3D movie used to require a special camera setup to shoot "native" 3D images, but now the majority of 3D movies are shot in 2D and professionally converted in post-production. Virtually every major commercial movie theater in North America now has 3D projection capabilities.

 

HFR (High Frame Rate)

The standard frame rate for feature films ever since the beginning of the sound era has been 24 frames per second. Those of you who are into gaming probably realize that's a pretty low number. The problem is that, while not especially realistic, the "look" of a 24 fps movie is what we associate with cinema, while higher frame rates like those often used for games or TV programs can subconsciously make a movie feel "cheap."

 

Regardless, there have been attempts to push HFR formats theatrically to enhance the moviegoing experience. By far the highest-profile case was Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy, which was released at 48 fps in select theaters. The reaction was... mixed, to put it mildly. Since then HFR has mostly fallen by the wayside - save for a couple of Ang Lee films - but most modern digital cinema projectors technically still have the capability. Other proposed HFR frame rates include 60, 96, and even 120 fps, though the capabilities of different projection systems vary greatly.

 

Dolby Cinema

Dolby Cinema is a competitor to IMAX, but instead of big or big-looking screens, their focus is on the audiovisual quality of the presentation. While most Dolby Cinema installations do feature larger-than-average screens, the defining features of the format are the use of a Dolby Vision projection system and Dolby Atmos sound system (which will be detailed in a later post). Dolby's licensing requirements are less strict than IMAX's, and so it is common for theaters to play non-Dolby Vision movies in their Dolby Cinema auditoriums. For the purposes of CAYOM it is assumed that a Dolby Cinema release features Dolby Vision and Atmos.

 

Dolby Cinema uses a proprietary Dolby Vision projection system with two side-by-side 4K (4096x2160) laser projectors. Like IMAX with Laser, this projection system allows for HDR images with very high contrast and deep color. To take advantage of this, a movie must be specially mastered for Dolby Vision. Dolby's system also supports HFR - up to 120 fps in 2K and 48 fps for 4K - and includes 3D capability. Like IMAX 3D, Dolby's 3D format is proprietary and requires their own non-disposable glasses. It is exceedingly unpopular with exhibitors and virtually all Dolby Cinema releases are 2D-only, even if there is a 3D version of the same movie in IMAX or standard formats.

 

You can find the listing of Dolby Cinema locations on Dolby's website here: https://www.dolby.com/us/en/dolby-cinema/locations.html

 

Cinerama

Introduced to the public in 1952, Cinerama was the first widescreen movie format to achieve significant commercial success. Its key feature is its large, deeply-curved 146 degree panoramic screen, which is matched to the 146 degree horizontal field of view provided by Cinerama cameras. Traditionally projection was done with three separate synchronized projectors, each handling a third of the screen's width; eventually single-projector 70mm prints were used instead and now digital cinema packages with smilebox format video can be used to fit the image to the screen's curve with one projector.

 

In real life, following the recent permanent closure of the iconic Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles, there is only one Cinerama screen left in North America - the Seattle Cinerama in Seattle, Washington. A distribution scheme has been established within CAYOM where movies can receive limited Cinerama releases by utilizing these two theatres and supplementing them with temporary installations of the curved screens in select theatres nationwide. While it is possible to project films not shot in Cinerama onto one of the curved screens - and indeed, this was common practice in the 1960s - this does not reasonably emulate the real Cinerama effect and essentially just distorts a much narrower image onto the panoramic curve.

 

Chain-Specific Premium Large Formats

To compete with IMAX without paying licensing fees, a lot of theater chains have created their own Premium Large Format (PLF) auditorium brands. Some of these include Cinemark XD, AMC BigD, and Regal RPX. They can play anything they like in these theaters and use whatever sort of technology they please, as they're not beholden to an outside set of standards. As such, it's basically a crapshoot how good they actually are. While I suppose it's theoretically possible that a studio could work out a deal to, for example, book all Cinemark XD screens nationwide for their release on a given weekend, in practice this has never happened as the exhibitors prefer the flexibility to make these decisions independently and at a more localized level.

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Exhibition - Audio Formats

Here's a fun fact - did you know the first feature film released in surround sound was Fantasia, all the way back in 1940? It played just eleven shows in a special, complex audio format called "Fantasound." Since then the idea of enveloping audio in films has become quite a bit more common.

 

5.1

This is the current baseline standard for surround sound. It consists of five main audio channels positioned around the audience - three in front, ideally behind the screen, to the left, right, and center, and two surround channels, left and right, either on the side walls or at the rear of the auditorium. The ".1" refers to a separately-encoded audio channel specifically for deep bass, or "low-frequency effects" (LFE). This surround layout was first used in analog form for some 70mm showings of Superman way back in 1978, and came into common use in the 90s when Dolby and DTS introduced digital versions. Most IMAX theaters use a nearly-identical layout, except that instead of a separate LFE channel there is an extra height channel behind the screen near the ceiling.

 

7.1

This format takes the existing 5.1 surround layout and adds two additional surround channels, so that there are the three front channels, left and right side surrounds, and left and right rear surrounds. It creates a more realistic sense of sounds moving all around the audience. Not all theaters are equipped with the required speaker setups, however.

 

Auro 11.1

The first commercially-available "3D audio" or "immersive audio" format for cinemas, which premiered in early 2012 with the movie Red Tails. It is based on a 5.1 layout but adds five additional height channels. Four of these channels are placed higher on the walls and behind the screen, directly above existing 5.1 channels - left and right front height and left and right surround height. The last channel is a single overhead channel pointing directly down at the audience from the ceiling.

 

Auro 11.1 is a pretty unpopular system and relatively outdated compared to the competing formats from Dolby and DTS. Its main supporter is the Cinemark theater chain, which uses Auro sound systems in its Cinemark XD branded PLF auditoriums. Unfortunately, very, very few movies are actually released with Auro sound mixes. In fact, as of this writing (April 2019), there are absolutely zero upcoming films scheduled for theatrical release in Auro.

 

Dolby Atmos

Dolby's take on immersive audio premiered in the summer of 2012 with Brave. It's much more sophisticated than Auro, as it is "object-based" rather than "channel-based." Instead of a single mix with every sound assigned to a specific channel - and each channel played back by multiple speakers in the auditorium - Atmos lets sound mixers tell the system specifically where in the auditorium each sound should be coming from, and the system then generates a mix on the fly to match the specific theater's speaker setup. It lets each speaker be used individually instead of as part of a larger group playing a single channel, allowing for more precise placement of sounds. It also usually features overhead speakers, and, unlike Auro, sounds can actually move around over the heads of the audience.

 

Atmos has essentially become the standard for theatrical immersive audio, and while it is standard in all Dolby Cinema locations, it is also used in many other theaters not part of that premium chain. It has by far the most support from both filmmakers and exhibitors out of the competing 3D audio formats.

 

DTS:X
I'm going to put this as simply as possible - DTS:X is DTS' ripoff of Dolby Atmos. It is, allegedly, a strikingly similar object-based immersive audio format. However, it took them over three years to get around to premiering it after Atmos debuted, and I've heard scuttlebutt from people in the industry that they still never really worked out all the kinks, and that most DTS:X mixes are effectively more similar to channel-based Auro than Atmos. It has a lot less support than Atmos, both from exhibitors and filmmakers, but it's at least somewhat more common than Auro.

 

IMAX 12-Channel

And this, effectively, is IMAX's weird compromise between Atmos and Auro. Introduced with the first IMAX with Laser auditoriums, but now being installed in some IMAX Digital locations as well, it can't use each speaker individually the way that Dolby Atmos and (theoretically) DTS:X can. However, the layout is different than Auro's - it's got the same three front and four surround channels as a 7.1 system, plus the weird behind-the-screen height channel from standard IMAX audio, and four additional overhead channels aimed down at the audience from different spots on the ceiling, allowing sounds to move around above viewers, albeit with less nuance and precision than Atmos.

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Production - Film-Based Formats

 

First Off - What's an Anamorphic Lens and Why Should I Bother Trying to Pronounce It?

Long story short, an anamorphic lens is a specially-designed lens for a camera and/or projector which has a wider field of view on one axis than on the other. Standard lenses are "spherical" and take in the same field of view vertically and horizontally, while anamorphic lenses use more complicated internal optics to "squeeze" a wider view onto a frame of film or sensor. The "squeeze factor" is measured in terms of anamorphic power - a 2x anamorphic lens, for example, takes in a field of view twice as wide as it is high.

 

Aside from the wider field of view, anamorphic lenses are noted for distinct visual characteristics like softer details, pronounced lens flares, a shallower depth of field, and oval-shaped "bokeh," or out-of-focus pinpoints of light in the background or extreme foreground. For this reason they are sometimes chosen even when they are not necessary to achieve the desired aspect ratio. The first widely successful anamorphic system was CinemaScope, which was introduced as a direct response to Cinerama in 1953. Modern 35mm anamorphic systems are a slight variation on the original CinemaScope specifications.

 

Second - What's the Resolution of Film?

This is a deep rabbit hole full of screaming angry people, but suffice to say that film is an analog format where the image detail is actually made up of individual metallic "grains" on the film emulsion. As such, there is no consistent, standard resolution like you'd find in a digital or analog video system. Different numbers are thrown around all the time, but the fact of the matter is that the actual amount of detail you can get from a film frame of the same size will vary greatly depending on the shooting conditions, the age and quality of the film stock, the lenses used on the cameras, and various other factors.

 

As a general rule, a larger frame area will get you a sharper, less-grainy-looking image than a smaller one, with all else being equal. Current modern practice suggests most 35mm films need to be scanned at at least 4K resolution to extract as much detail as possible, with 16mm having less detail and large formats having more. These are just very loose estimations based on observations from digital film restorations.

 

IMAX has gone on record claiming their film format has a resolution equivalent to 12K or 18K digital resolution, which are numbers they made up with some big assumptions and simple multiplication. It's been quite handily disproven in controlled tests. That seems to demonstrate a certain law of diminishing returns, where the visible increase in detail becomes less and less pronounced the larger you go with you film formats.


35mm Film Formats

Frame area illustrations, when viewed at full size, are to scale.

Spoiler

 

Standard 35mm

Native Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1

Typical Exhibition Ratios: 1.37:1, 1.67:1, 1.85:1

Anamorphic: No

Total Film Frame Area: ~351mm2

35mm-Standard.png

Standard 35mm film frame, with area used for Flat 1.85:1 image outlined in red

 

The now-standard 35mm format is based on the Academy Standard specifications developed in the early sound film era. 35mm refers to the width of the entire film strip, not the width of the actual image area. It was engineered for the agreed-upon full-frame aspect ratio of 1.37:1. During the widescreen movie boom in the 1950s, it became standard practice for films shot in this format to be cropped on the top and bottom to be exhibited in "widescreen," and this is where the Flat 1.67:1 and 1.85:1 ratios originated. The format is still in use today, still requiring cropping for a widescreen image. Though it is uncommon, sometimes the frame is cropped all the way down to a 2.39:1 Scope ratio.

 

Super 35

Native Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Typical Exhibition Ratios: 1.85:1, 2.39:1

Anamorphic: No

Total Film Frame Area: ~465mm2

Super-35.png

Super 35 film frame, with area used for Flat 1.85:1 image outlined in red and Scope 2.39:1 outlined in blue

 

Super 35 has its roots in a 1950s system called Superscope designed to be a cheaper, non-anamorphic alternative to CinemaScope. It is simply the practice of using the full 35mm motion picture area that was available before sound-on-film standards, and then cropping down from this larger frame to a widescreen ratio. The ratio for Superscope was originally 2.00:1, but this was quickly replaced by 2.35:1 and now most commonly the final ratio is 2.39:1 Scope. Occasionally it will be cropped less to provide a Flat 1.85:1 image of theoretically slightly higher resolution than standard 35mm. In The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, portions of the IMAX sequence were actually shot on Super 35 and cropped to 1.44:1 to match the real IMAX footage; this isn't common practice since the difference in sharpness and grain size is quite significant.

 

There is also a modern variation called "Super 35 3-perf," which refers to the height of the frame by measuring via the number of perforations (sprocket holes) along the film strip. A standard 35mm frame and Super 35 frame are both four perforations high; Super 35 3-perf, obviously, is only three perforations high. That gives it a native aspect ratio of 1.79:1, reducing the amount of wasted film when shooting for widescreen.

 

Techniscope / 2-perf

Native Aspect Ratio: 2.33:1

Typical Exhibition Ratio: 2.39:1

Anamorphic: No

Total Film Frame Area: ~209mm2

Techniscope.png

Techniscope film frame, which is close enough to 2.39:1 that no outlines are really needed

 

An economical, cost saving measure, this format was originally developed by Technicolor and is simply standard 35mm, but with each frame being only two perforations high instead of four. That means you don't have to crop much in post-production to get a Scope ratio, and that you're essentially only using half as much film. It was very popular for shooting Spaghetti Westerns especially. Technically "Techniscope" is a trade name referring specifically to Technicolor's implementation of the format, and the generic term is "2-perf 35mm," but most people just say Techniscope regardless, because that sounds a lot cooler, doesn't it?

 

35mm anamorphic

Native Aspect Ratio: 2.37:1

Typical Exhibition Ratio: 2.39:1

Anamorphic: 2x squeeze

Total Film Frame Area: ~409mm2

Anamorphic-35mm.png

Anamorphic 35mm frame, normalized to show unsqueezed aspect ratio with accurate total frame area

 

The format that evolved directly from CinemaScope, involving a 35mm film strip and a 2x anamorphic lens. It can be referred to by various different trade names - Panavision, Master Scope, Hawkscope, Technovision, etc. - depending on the manufacturer of the lenses used, but all use identical film specifications. Although it's now less common than Super 35 for production of Scope movies on film, it offers a distinct visual look and is in a sense the "gold standard" of film-based widescreen cinematography.

 

VistaVision

Native Aspect Ratio: 1.51:1

Typical Exhibition Ratios: 1.44:1, 1.85:1

Anamorphic: No

Total Film Frame Area: ~956mm2

Vista-Vision.png

VistaVision film frame, with area used for Flat 1.85:1 outlined in blue and IMAX 1.44:1 in red

 

This was Paramount's answer to the widescreen craze of the 50s - instead of competing directly with CinemaScope, they devised a system to produce a Flat 1.85:1 image of superior visual quality. By running the 35mm film strip horizontally through the camera, instead of vertically as traditionally done, they could shoot a widescreen image with a much larger overall frame size allowing for sharper, less-grainy images. It had a short lifespan originally but stuck around as a specialty format used to photograph special effects footage. In modern times it's most commonly used to shoot footage for parts of IMAX sequences requiring a smaller, lighter camera thanks to its similar aspect ratio and high resolution compared to standard 35mm.

 

Technirama

Native Aspect Ratio: 2.26:1

Typical Exhibition Ratios: 2.20:1, 2.39:1

Anamorphic: 1.5x squeeze

Total Film Frame Area: ~956mm2

Technirama.png

Technirama frame, normalized to show unsqueezed aspect ratio with accurate total frame area, with 2.20:1 in red and 2.39:1 in blue

 

Technirama is literally just the result of taking a VistaVision camera and slapping a 1.5x anamorphic lens adapter on it. It was originally meant as a competitor to CinemaScope (kind of ironically, given the point of VistaVision was to avoid that) which would produce sharper Scope images. When that didn't catch on it was quickly repurposed into "Super Technirama 70," which was the exact same thing, except that the release prints were blown up to 70mm at a 2.20:1 ratio to compete directly with the 65mm systems of the period, Todd-AO and Super Panavision. By using the anamorphic adapter and targeting a wider ratio, Technirama was actually a much more efficient system than VistaVision, using almost all of the frame area for the final image. Its frame area was only slightly smaller than standard 65mm and its footage holds up quite well blown up to large format.

 

 

16mm Film Formats

Frame area illustrations, when viewed at full size, are to scale.

Spoiler

 

Standard 16mm

Native Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1

Typical Exhibition Ratios: 1.37:1, 1.85:1

Anamorphic: No

Total Film Frame Area: ~77mm2

16mm.png

16mm film frame with 1.85:1 outlined in red

 

Originally intended as a low-cost format for amateur cinematographers, documentaries and the like, 16mm is also sometimes used for feature films. Its small frame size and low resolution provides a very grainy, "rough" look that can be used as a creative choice.

 

Super 16

Native Aspect Ratio: 1.69:1

Typical Exhibition Ratios: 1.85:1, 2.39:1

Anamorphic: No

Total Film Frame Area: ~93mm2

Super-16.png

Super 16 film frame with 1.85:1 outlined in red and 2.39:1 in blue

 

By removing the perforations on one side of the film strip and re-arranging the way the frames fit onto it, Super 16 provides a wider, slightly larger frame than standard 16mm and is optimized for widescreen photography.

 

 

 

65mm Film Formats

Frame area illustrations, when viewed at full size, are to scale - but the forum is downscaling them, so you'll need to click them to open the full-size versions.

Spoiler

 

Standard 65mm

Native Aspect Ratio: 2.29:1

Typical Exhibition Ratios: 2.20:1, 2.39:1

Anamorphic: No

Total Film Frame Area: ~1,211mm2

65mm.png

Standard 65mm film frame, with 2.39:1 in red and 2.20:1 in blue

 

Though the idea of shooting large format movies on 65mm wide film strips had been put into practice before, the current standard was introduced to the public in 1955 as Todd-AO, named for movie producer Mike Todd and the lens manufacturer, American Optical. Todd had asked AO to develop "Cinerama outta one hole," i.e., a single camera lens. He didn't get that, because it's physically impossible, but he did get a very high-quality large format widescreen film system that popularized 70mm film exhibition. Todd-AO was popular for a few years until Panavision came along and made an exact copy of the format using their own lenses, dubbed Super Panavision. Panavision made their system available with much more generous purchase and licensing terms and essentially took over Todd-AO's market. In any case, the same standard is still in use today. 2.20:1 was the ratio used for 70mm film prints, with 35mm reduction prints being made in Scope compatible form.

 

Ultra Panavision

Native Aspect Ratio: 2.86:1

Typical Exhibition Ratios: 2.55:1, 2.76:1

Anamorphic: 1.25x squeeze

Total Film Frame Area: ~1,211mm2

Ultra-Panavision.png

Ultra Panavision frame, normalized to show unsqueezed aspect ratio with accurate total frame area, with 2.76:1 in red and 2.55:1 in blue
 

Before making their direct copy of Todd-AO, Panavision entered an agreement with MGM to develop a system originally known as MGM Camera 65. It was also a direct copy of Todd-AO, but with the addition of 1.25x anamorphic lenses to create a ludicrously wide image. Like Technirama, it was originally envisioned as a higher-quality CinemaScope competitor, and the first movie in the format, Civil War epic Raintree County, was only released on 35mm reduction prints cropped all the way down to 2.35:1! Eventually MGM and Panavision came to their senses and started releasing 70mm prints as well, and the format was meant to be "flexible" - it was wide enough to fill the widest possible screens, up to 2.76:1 (which was still cropped down from the full frame area), but was usually meant to be shown at the original 2.55:1 CinemaScope ratio. Later on it also became popular to show movies shot in Ultra Panavision on Cinerama screens, which was a financially successful if technically misguided gambit that amounted to warping and distorting the films to fit the curved screen.

 

8-perf 65mm

Native Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Typical Exhibition Ratios: 1.44:1, 1.90:1
Anamorphic: No
Total Film Frame Area: ~1,944mm2

8-70-Dynavision.png

8-perf 65mm frame, with 1.44:1 in red and 1.90:1 in blue

 

This format goes by various different names, from the generic 8-perf 65mm (sometimes written in shorthand as 8/65, or 8/70 for the exhibition prints) to trade names like Dynavision and Iwerks depending on the equipment manufacturer. The frames are nearly the same width as in standard 65mm, but much taller, taking up eight perforations of height on the film strip. In feature films, it's used more or less exclusively in the same way VistaVision is now - to shoot additional footage for IMAX sequences when the actual IMAX cameras would not be practical. It's a trade-off, as 8/65 is closer in visual quality to real IMAX than VistaVision, but the cameras are larger and heavier.

IMAX 15-perf 65mm

Native Aspect Ratio: 1.44:1

Typical Exhibition Ratios: 1.44:1, 1.90:1

Anamorphic: No

Total Film Frame Area: ~3,376mm2

IMAX-15-65.png

IMAX film frame, with 1.90:1 in red

 

IMAX film is to 65mm as VistaVision is to 35mm - it captures a larger image by running the film strip horizontally through the camera instead of vertically. In this case, the image is 15 perforations wide. The format is sometimes generically referred to as 15/65 for shorthand, and 15/70 for the theatrical film prints. IMAX is the largest motion picture film format ever put into common use and, theoretically, the highest-resolution. Unfortunately, the cameras are big, loud, and heavy, and the sheer size of the frames means film is used up very quickly, so an IMAX camera can not shoot for very long before it needs to be reloaded. These practical reasons mean that no feature-length film has ever been shot entirely in IMAX.

 

 

Cinerama

Frame area illustrations, when viewed at full size, are to scale - but the forum is downscaling them, so you'll need to click them to open the full-size versions.

Spoiler

 

Cinerama

Native Aspect Ratio: 0.89:1 x 3 strips, with overlap between frames

Typical Exhibition Ratios: Something like 2.59:1 when flattened out

Anamorphic: No

Total Film Frame Area: ~2,152mm2

Cinerama.png

Three combined Cinerama frames forming the full image; the spaces between the double lines are where frames overlap

 

Cinerama is a highly unique panoramic film system, debuted in 1952. It is shot with a special camera that shoots onto three separate 35mm film strips with three lenses arranged in an arc. This allows it to capture a 146 degree curved field of view which cannot be replicated by any single-lens system. Each individual Cinerama frame is slightly wider and much taller than a standard 35mm film frame, and so the resulting "stitched-together" image is of very high resolution. Shooting with a Cinerama camera imposes major limitations. There is only one length of lens, so every shot is a wide shot and tight close-ups are impossible. The camera is large and heavy and goes through a tremendous amount of film very quickly. And you cannot tilt the camera up or down very much without causing severe image distortion.

 

 

Edited by Xillix
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Production - Digital Cinema Cameras

 

What Is a "K" and How Many Do I Need?

Specs like 2K, 4K, 8K and the like get thrown around a lot in digital video. It's just shorthand for the width of the image in pixels - 2K meaning, for example, "somewhere around 2,000 pixels wide." There is no specific standard for this measurement, though, so manufacturers tend to fudge it. In the DCI standards for projection, 1K actually works out to 1,024 pixels, so I'll be using that as my guideline, but it's not anything official.

 

How many do you need? Well, this might come as a shock, but the majority of movies - yes, even big superhero blockbusters and the like - are still mastered and projected at 2K resolution. It's a matter of cost - higher pixel resolution means more data storage needed for the cameras and post production facilities, more powerful computer hardware for editing, more time and effort spent on visual effects and the like. And, frankly, 2K still looks pretty good on all but the biggest screens.

 

While it may seem weird that I'm being so lenient toward a resolution barely above 1080p, it's actually still a pretty massive improvement in terms of sharpness and fine detail over the old 35mm print projection that was the norm until about a decade ago. Yes, 35mm film is capable of higher resolution than 2K... but you weren't getting it when you went to a movie theater, because you were watching an analog copy several generations removed from the original source elements, and in an analog medium you lose fidelity with every copy. Which is not to say that digital is automatically better - objective sharpness is far from the most important element of perceived image quality.

 

So then - most movies are finished in 2K, but the number of true 4K films is increasing. And even if you're finishing in 2K, shooting at a higher resolution can have other benefits, from a minor uptick in sharpness when the footage is downscaled to the ability to zoom in or change the framing in post-production. So, all other things being equal, more Ks is better.

 

...but all other things are very much not equal. I could go on for pages about all the different nuances and technical specs of digital camera sensors, but suffice to say, other factors like the physical size of the sensor, the recording format, the camera's on-board image processing, and many more are frankly more important than the pixel count. Many filmmakers claim sensors in different camera models produce distinct "looks" and visual characteristics, somewhat analogous to shooting on different film stocks, though it's worth noting that this applies to the cameras' raw output and that significant differences in the "look" of most cameras can be eliminated in post-production with color grading. One general rule that tends to hold true is that a bigger sensor will give you more potential detail (in the right circumstances, a camera with a lower pixel count can actually be sharper than one with more pixels but a smaller sensor). A bigger sensor also gets you better low-light performance, less visible image noise/"graininess," and a shallower depth of field.

 

What About Anamorphic Lenses? Are Those Still a Thing?
Yup! But, whereas film formats were named based on the combination of frame area and lens type - hence Ultra Panavision being distinct from Super Panavision even though the lenses were the only difference - the same does not apply to digital cinematography. You can theoretically slap an anamorphic lens on any of these cameras, and there's no special name for the combination. That said, some cameras are better suited for using anamorphic lenses than others. Anamorphic lenses for digital cinema cameras come in a variety of squeeze factors, but the most common are 1.3x, 1.5x, and the good old-fashioned 2x. For large format digital cameras, different, larger lenses need to be used, and those are readily available in 1.25x (including literal decades-old Ultra Panavision lenses), 1.3x, and 1.5x.

 

Current Popular Digital Cinema Cameras - The Big Three

Sensor size charts are to scale when viewed at full size.

Spoiler

 

The pro digital cinema camera market for feature film production is essentially dominated by three major companies - German company Arri, US company Red, and a little Japanese company you might have heard of called Sony. In the industry, each company's cameras are generally acknowledged to have a certain distinctive "look." Arri's cameras, which are far and away the most popular, are believed to have the most film-like handling of colors, highlights, and shadows, with an image sometimes, amusingly, described as "creamy." They also have abnormally low pixel counts, though Arri claims this is part of the reason their cameras excel in other areas. Sony has a reputation for smaller sensors and a more obviously digital look, but with very deep, rich colors and razor-sharp details on their higher-end cameras. Red's cameras are significantly cheaper and smaller by comparison, and feature large sensors with high pixel counts, known for providing high-contrast images with slightly greenish-skewed colors out of the camera, which some describe as "harsh." Again - these differences in raw footage can largely be ironed out in post-production, so the choice of camera does not necessarily dictate the look of the final movie.

 

Arri Alexa SXT (and Alexa Mini)
Maximum Resolution: 3424x2198 (3.3K by DCI standards)
Native Aspect Ratio: 1.56:1

Anamorphic Lens Ratios: 2.03:1 (1.2x), 2.34:1 (1.5x), 3.12:1 (2x)
Total Sensor Image Area: ~511mm2

Arri-Alexa-SXT.png

Arri Alexa SXT sensor with 1.85:1 area outlined in red and 2.39:1 in blue

 

The single most popular digital cinema camera for studio films - and it isn't even full 4K. It's prized for its handling of color and contrast, and the atypically tall sensor means you can use wider anamorphic lenses without throwing away as much of the image. The Alexa SXT is the "main" model, but the Alexa Mini is a smaller camera with a nearly-identical sensor and most of the same features for a lower price, so predictably it's gaining a major following as well. Arri didn't really mean for it to happen that way, but increasingly the Alexa Mini is actually replacing its more expensive cousin as the main camera on movie productions. Oops?

 

Red DSMC2 Dragon-X

Maximum Resolution: 5120x2700 (5K by DCI standards)
Native Aspect Ratio: 1.90:1

Anamorphic Lens Ratios: 2.47:1 (1.3x), 2.84:1 (1.5x), 3.79:1 (2x)

Total Sensor Image Area: ~346mm2

Red-Dragon-X.png

Red DSMC2 Dragon-X sensor with 1.85:1 area outlined in red and 2.39:1 in blue

 

Red's cheapest current cinema camera, with their lowest pixel resolution and smallest sensor. The sensor is actually a repurposed one from a discontinued model, with newer hardware and software supporting it. It's the cheapest camera in this post and a decent choice for relatively low-budget flicks.

 

Red DSMC2 Gemini

Maximum Resolution: 5120x3000 (5K by DCI standards)
Native Aspect Ratio: 1.71:1

Anamorphic Lens Ratios: 2.22:1 (1.3x), 2.56:1 (1.5x), 3.41:1 (2x)

Total Sensor Image Area: ~553mm2

Red-Gemini.png

Red DSMC2 Gemini sensor with 1.85:1 area outlined in red and 2.39:1 in blue

 

This camera features Red's newest sensor, which has a relatively low pixel resolution, but is specifically designed for low-light shooting with as little image noise as possible. It achieves this thanks to its unusually large sensor (actually larger than the more expensive Helium) and the feature that gives it its name, a Dual Native ISO. To avoid all the technical details, this essentially means that it has a separate dedicated mode specifically for very low-light shooting to greatly reduce noise and graininess.

 

Red DSMC2 Helium

Maximum Resolution: 8192x4320 (8K by DCI standards)

Native Aspect Ratio: 1.90:1

Anamorphic Lens Ratios: 2.47:1 (1.3x), 2.84:1 (1.5x), 3.79:1 (2x)

Total Sensor Image Area: ~472mm2

Red-Helium.png

Red DSMC2 Helium sensor with 1.85:1 area outlined in red and 2.39:1 in blue

 

The Helium is basically here for anyone who demands 8K resolution in a relatively small and cheap camera. It's got one of their smaller sensors and thus relatively poor low-light performance and a lot of image noise in dark settings, but if you think you need all those extra pixels - and their marketing team really, really wants you to believe you do - then they've got you covered.

 

Sony CineAlta PMW-F55

Maximum Resolution: 4096x2160 (4K by DCI standards)
Native Aspect Ratio: 1.90:1

Anamorphic Lens Ratios: 2.47:1 (1.3x), 2.84:1 (1.5x), 3.79:1 (2x)
Total Sensor Image Area: ~305mm2

Sony-F55.png

Sony CineAlta PMW-F55 sensor with 1.85:1 area outlined in red and 2.39:1 in blue

 

The oldest of Sony's non-discontinued cinema cameras, often referred to simply as the F55. A fairly basic 4K cinema camera as far as pro models go. There's not really a whole lot to say about this camera that's terribly interesting.

 

Sony F65

Maximum Resolution: 4096x2160 (4K by DCI standards)
Native Aspect Ratio: 1.90:1

Anamorphic Lens Ratios: 2.47:1 (1.3x), 2.84:1 (1.5x), 3.79:1 (2x)

Total Sensor Image Area: ~324mm2

Sony-F65.png

Sony F65 sensor with 1.85:1 area outlined in red and 2.39:1 in blue

 

In what is absolutely an intentional attempt to confuse people, Sony advertises the F65 both as a "premium 4K camera" - which is accurate - and as having an "8K sensor" - which is marketing bullshit. What they really mean is that the individual elements that make up each pixel are arranged differently than on a typical sensor in a way that does, in fact, provide a very noticeable increase in detail even though the sensor is only very slightly larger than the one in the F55. The camera has a built-in "de-mosaic" function that essentially does some advanced upscaling to artificially create an 8K image if you want it to, but it's a far cry from an actual 8K sensor. Still, the image at 4K is strikingly sharp.

 

 

Large Format Digital Cinema Cameras

Sensor size charts are to scale when viewed at full size, but the forum may be resizing some of the largest ones.

Spoiler

 

Arri Alexa LF (and Mini LF)

Maximum Resolution: 4448x3096 (4.3K by DCI standards)
Native Aspect Ratio: 1.44:1

Anamorphic Lens Ratios: 1.80:1 (1.25x), 1.87:1 (1.3x), 2.16:1 (1.5x)
Total Sensor Image Area: ~937mm2

Arri-Alexa-LF.png

Arri Alexa LF sensor with 1.90:1 area outlined in red and 2.39:1 in blue

 

Essentially a stopgap between the Alexa SXT and Alexa 65 models, this uses what is more or less just a narrower version of the sensor in the Alexa 65. Its aspect ratio is basically identical to full-frame IMAX film, but there was initially no official IMAX endorsement, so it's not clear if that was on purpose or just a happy accident. Either way, the narrow ratio makes it ideal for large format anamorphic shooting. Like the Arri Alexa Mini, the Alexa Mini LF uses the same sensor in a smaller, lighter body with some software differences. The Alexa LF and Mini LF are two of the cameras that IMAX has "certified" for their "Filmed in IMAX program."

 

Arri Alexa 65
Maximum Resolution: 6560x3100 (6.4K by DCI standards)
Native Aspect Ratio: 2.12:1
Anamorphic Lens Ratios: 2.65:1 (1.25x), 2.75:1 (1.3x), 3.17:1 (1.5x)
Total Sensor Image Area: ~1,384mm2

Arri-Alexa-65.png

Arri Alexa 65 sensor with 1.90:1 area outlined in red and 2.39:1 in blue

 

This is as big as digital cinematography currently gets. It's such a big deal, evidently, that Arri literally refuses to let anyone actually buy an Alexa 65 - they're rental-only. Arri calls it "the only true 65mm digital cinema camera," and indeed, it's the only one with a total sensor area that not only matches but exceeds standard 65mm film.

 

IMAX has even endorsed it as an official "digital IMAX camera," which is pretty dubious since they had no hand in actually making it. Allegedly, the IMAX version of the camera has some sort of special software tweaks and possibly different lenses, but there are no public details available and judging by IMAX's track record it's probably bullshit anyway. This endorsement was ultimately superseded by IMAX's "Filmed in IMAX program," which certified several additional large-format digital cinema cameras in addition to the Alexa 65.

 

For whatever it's worth, although its sensor is much smaller than a frame of real IMAX film, the Alexa 65 actually captured slightly more fine detail in a controlled test by Steve Yedlin (cinematographer of Star Wars: The Last Jedi). The wide aspect ratio, though, makes it questionable as a replacement for the original IMAX film cameras.

 

Red DSMC2/Ranger Monstro (and the Panavision Millennium DXL / DXL2 cameras)
Maximum Resolution: 8192x4320 (8K by DCI standards)
Native Aspect Ratio: 1.90:1
Anamorphic Lens Ratios: 2.37:1 (1.25x), 2.47:1 (1.3x), 2.84:1 (1.5x)

Total Sensor Image Area: ~885mm2

Red-Monstro.png

Red DSMC2 Monstro sensor with 2.39:1 area outlined in red
 

Three separate cameras - the DSMC2 Monstro from Red and Panavision's Millennium DXL and Millennium DXL2 - all use these exact sensor measurements and resolution. The DXL came first, followed by the Monstro, and then the DXL2, which is literally just Red's Monstro sensor inside a Panavision camera body. All of them produce very sharp, detailed large format images; Red's model is well-liked for being quite small and lightweight in comparison to other large format cameras. The Red Ranger Monstro and Panavision Millennium DXL2 are two of the cameras that IMAX has "certified" for their "Filmed in IMAX program."

 

Sony CineAlta Venice

Maximum Resolution: 6048x4032 (5.9K by DCI standards)
Native Aspect Ratio: 1.50:1

Anamorphic Lens Ratios: 1.88:1 (1.25x), 1.95:1 (1.3x), 2.25:1 (1.5x)
Total Sensor Image Area: ~872mm2

Sony-Venice.png

Sony CineAlta Venice sensor with the 1.44:1 area outlined in red, 1.90:1 in blue, and 2.39:1 in green

 

The Venice has a slightly smaller sensor than the Monstro, DXLs or Alexa LF. However, it also has some unique features like a Dual Native ISO low-light mode (like the Red Gemini has) and a special extension system that allows the image sensor and lens to be separated from the rest of the camera body, attached by a 9 or 18 foot long cable. That allows the photographic elements to fit into tight spaces or native 3D camera rigs. The Venice is the camera chosen by James Cameron to shoot the Avatar sequels and, allegedly, he had a hand in finalizing its development - the extension system was apparently his idea. The Venice is one of the cameras that IMAX has "certified" for their "Filmed in IMAX program."

 

 

Digital Cinema Cameras from Smaller Competitors

Companies like Panasonic, Canon, and Blackmagic Design manufacture relatively cheap, compact "cinema cameras," but they're rarely used as the primary cameras on major motion pictures and are targeted more at independent filmmakers and hobbyists - the so-called "prosumer" market. They're perfectly fine for what they are, but there are some key pro-level technical features they generally don't include or have limited support for. As such, I've decided not to waste my time and yours going into detail on them all. That said, some of the specific models you might see if you start looking into technical information on IMDb are the Canon EOS C300 Mark II, EOS C500, EOS C700, and EOS C700 FF (a prosumer large format digital cinema camera, of all things), the Panasonic AU-EVA1 and VariCam, and the Blackmagic URSA Mini, Pocket Cinema Camera, and Micro Cinema Camera. Feel free to Google those if you're curious.

 

Also deserving of a special note is the company Vision Research, which primarily makes super-slow-motion cameras for scientific use but also manufactures a popular cinema camera called the Phantom Flex4K. It's generally not used as a primary camera either, but is a very common choice for shooting super-slo-mo sequences on major motion pictures. Vision Research's large-format Phantom 65 Gold camera was the basis for the first official "IMAX 3D Digital Camera," but both the IMAX and standard versions have been discontinued.

Edited by Xillix
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The camera guides are up and finished!

 

If y'all have any questions about any of this stuff or specifics I didn't cover then please feel free to post here or PM me :)

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2 hours ago, Xillix said:

Just a small update; the Minnesota Zoo IMAX is closing in a week, so the total IMAX theatre count is down from 406 in North America to 405.

That’s a shame. I have a funny story about the Minnesota Zoo IMAX theater, too. :P

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My first IMAX movie was Cars 2, the last film I saw in IMAX was Spider-Man: Into The Spider Verse.

 

I also have seen Gravity, The Jungle Book, Star Wars 7 and 8 in that format.

Edited by YourMother the Edgelord
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Only movie I ever saw in what some people would consider "real" IMAX - not even film projection but at least the full-height, 1.44:1 IMAX with laser on a giant screen - was Dunkirk. That said my college dorm was literally a couple blocks from an IMAX Digital place, a lot smaller. While I was in school though, I saw 27 movies there. Some of the more memorable being re-releases; the IMAX 3D versions of Titanic, Top Gun, Jurassic Park, and The Wizard of Oz. Also the IMAX 2D re-release of Raiders of the Lost Ark which was the first time I noticed for sure that their projection practices were weird. They'd cropped off the sides of the movie to fill their screen, which I found out later was a 2.07:1 ratio!

 

Long story short they had the really bizarre policy of cropping ALL "scope" movies to fill the screen, actually cutting off 13% of the picture. And for movies that were "expanded" in IMAX they'd show the whole image by pillarboxing it and actually using LESS of the screen. Pretty good example of how IMAX as an exhibition format is basically a crapshoot.

 

I have two Cinemark XD locations near me now and while they don't get the specially-formatted IMAX goodies the quality of exhibition in general is actually better. The full-size IMAX with Laser experience was on a whole other level, though.

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6 hours ago, Alpha said:

That’s a shame. I have a funny story about the Minnesota Zoo IMAX theater, too. :P

Should probably follow up on this.

 

 

My friend took his girlfriend to see Interstellar in IMAX at that theater. IIRC, it was technically a "true IMAX" theater that used a 70 mm film projector, so it was the real deal. Now, he'd already seen it before and knew that in the scene where Dr. Mann tries to dock with the Endurance, that after Dr. Mann failed to attempt docking, the ship would explode. He had a fart coming, so he wanted to time it so that no one else, including his girlfriend, would hear it. Unfortunately, he pushed it out a little too late, and his fart broke the silence in this giant theater after the ship exploded, and everyone around him heard it.

 

Kinda immature, but he was 15 at the time. ;)

Edited by Alpha
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FAKING CINERAMA - OR TRYING TO
 

Since the Cinerama release thing is catching back on and some other players are planning to release movies in the format, I thought I'd use some handy dandy visual aids to demonstrate what I meant when I pointed out that using any other system to shoot a Cinerama film won't have the same effect.

 

Long story short, as discussed above, Cinerama is a pain in the ass to shoot in, expensive, and has several limitations, but creates a uniquely immersive effect with a true panoramic image from a three-lensed camera. The mainstream introduction of widescreen movies was a direct reaction to Cinerama as the movie studios tried to find a way to make a cheap but marketable knockoff. If you want to be cynical about it, that's what every other widescreen system was intended to be. Hollywood actually gave up on shooting real Cinerama pretty damn quick, and instead started showing movies filmed in single-lens processes on Cinerama screens.

 

Here's a simulated Cinerama shot, in curved-screen Smilebox, rendered with the original lens and film specifications:

UVG-Cinerama-Smilebox.png

 

 

Now here's the same shot, from the exact same position, but as shot by a simulated Technirama camera:

UVG-Technirama-Smilebox.png

 

The fact is, there's no way to get a true panoramic image with a single cinema lens of any current or past design. The results of this are obvious when projected on the Cinerama screen. The field of view given by Technirama's widest lens is quite similar to Cinerama vertically, but as you can see, it's a lot less wide horizontally - even though the image aspect ratio is the same. There's also much more obvious distortion, which has two primary causes.

 

Firstly, to come close to Cinerama's field of view, a single lens needs to be of a very short focal length, which causes the round outward "bulging" distortion - the technical term is barrel distortion and you've probably noticed an extreme version of it in GoPro footage. This is a completely different kind of distortion than you get with real Cinerama footage, so the curved screen can not correct it. Secondly, because the horizontal field of view is still less than Cinerama's - and does not match the curve of the screen - Cinerama projection actually adds distortion by bending the image more than it "should" be, essentially stretching out the sides.

 

Seeing a wide single-lens image projected onto a deeply curved Cinerama screen is still pretty impressive in person, which is why Hollywood was able to get away with it for most of the 1960s, but the sense of realistic immersion is lost. And there's absolutely no point to showing anything filmed this way in Smilebox on a flat screen - you're just adding distortion to the picture for no reason.

 

That Technirama example is the best-case scenario, as that particular system had relatively wide anamorphic lenses. For a last comparison, here's the same shot from the same location as photographed by a simulated Arri Alexa 65 with the widest Ultra Panavision lens:

 

 

UVG-Alexa-65-Ultra-Panatar-Smilebox.png

 

Ultra Panavision was the format used for most single-lens films that were promoted as Cinerama in the 60s, but it wasn't really the ideal choice. Despite its very wide aspect ratio measurement, Ultra Panavision lenses actually don't come in short enough focal lengths to capture anything near the field of view of either Cinerama or Technirama.

 

Hopefully the pictures help you get a sense of what the practical effect of all this techno-mumbo-jumbo is!

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11 hours ago, Reddroast said:

Can you go in to what DBox and ScreenX are?

DBox is actually a relatively old but still in use tech. It's a "motion code" embedded into the DCP of a movie. In theatres with special DBox seats, this code activates vibrations and slight movements in the chairs timed to match onscreen action. Virtually every major movie nowadays has a DBox code, so it's really not something you'd need to specify in a CAYOM post.

 

ScreenX is a projection technology that shows images on the side walls of the auditorium in addition to the actual screen. For Hollywood productions, at least, all that's usually shown on the side walls is computer-generated imagery without any important visual content - a simple expansion of an onscreen color or location to give the vague sense of an environment. Theoretically it's possible to shoot for the format and try to project a 270-degree panorama in ScreenX, but it's not a curved screen, it's one screen and two perpendicular walls, so there are sharp breaks in the image at the corners of the auditorium and obvious perspective issues since all the projection surfaces are flat. I try not to make these sorts of judgment calls without seeing it but boy does this smell like a dumb gimmick to me. Currently there are 13 ScreenX theatres in the US and Canada.

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IMAX MEGAPOST 2021! PART ONE - THE HISTORY THAT MIGHT SECRETLY BE A RANT!

Since it's the biggest part of the CAYOM game, format-wise, I've decided to give IMAX its own posts. I needed to update and expand the information anyway. If it comes across a bit cynical, I do not apologize.

 

What is IMAX?

Good question! IMAX is whatever the IMAX Corporation says it is, and they keep changing their definitions so they can make more money.

 

A history of IMAX as a theatrical exhibition format:
Originally, IMAX was a large-format 65mm film system for production and the associated cameras, theatres, and 70mm projection equipment. However, the IMAX corporation has continually pursued wider mainstream success to the extent they have largely abandoned their original standards. Now, IMAX is essentially a premium brand that consists of a chain of theatres - mostly inside larger multiplexes - four different projection systems, a pair of proprietary sound formats, their rarely-used original film cameras, and "certification programs" for digital cameras and displays by other manufacturers.

 

In 1973 IMAX introduced OMNIMAX, a projection system designed to show specially-made short films (and, if they wanted, ones not actually shot for the format) on giant dome-shaped screens above the audience. In 1985, an OMNIMAX short, We Are Born of Stars - was shot and released in 3D, though it screened in anaglyph 3D (with the colored lenses) from normal OMNIMAX projectors. 1986 was the debut of proper IMAX 3D with the short film Transitions, which was shown in full-color 3D via dual projectors and 3D glasses with clear polarized lenses.

 

In 1998, IMAX introduced a new model of film projector - the SR. This was smaller and quieter than the prior GT projector systems, and was designed with the intent of being more practical for smaller venues. The slippery slope argument may be a logical fallacy, but trust me when I say this is foreshadowing.


IMAX was initially used only for short films, mostly documentaries and specialty programs, that were shown in purpose-built theatres. In 2000, Fantasia 2000 was screened in select IMAX theatres. The first "conventional" narrative Hollywood film released in IMAX was a special re-release of Apollo 13 in 2002, which also served to introduce IMAX's DMR process (more on that in a later post). Because IMAX projectors' film platters weren't designed to hold enough film for long feature films, this version of the movie was cut by 24 minutes. The subsequent IMAX re-release of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones later in 2002 was also heavily cut for the same reason, but IMAX did ultimately work out how to get around this issue and all subsequent releases have been uncut.

 

The first Hollywood feature released in IMAX the same day as its general release was The Matrix Revolutions in late 2003. The market for IMAX releases of traditional films expanded rapidly, going from two releases in 2003 to seven in 2006. It was during this period that IMAX saw dollar signs and realized they'd be much more profitable if they started abandoning their roots and doing whatever was necessary to capitalize on their brand name by expanding into multiplexes and transitioning to showing mostly mainstream feature films. So that's what they did, and they have continued going further and further down that path ever since.

In 2004, IMAX introduced the MPX projector model, designed specifically to be installed in multiplexes, often in existing standard auditoriums that were "converted" into IMAX theatres. This generally involved replacing the original screen with a slightly larger one - within the confines of the building's existing architecture - and placing it a bit closer to the audience so that it fills more of their field of view. It also included the installation of their proprietary surround sound system (again, more on that later). The result was still projection of "real" IMAX 70mm film prints, albeit mostly blow-ups of movies shot on smaller film formats and run through IMAX's questionable DMR process, and without support for 3D projection. For those used to the truly giant purpose-built auditoriums, though, the experience was drastically different. This was the beginning of what some dissatisfied customers came to call "LIEMAX."

 

In 2008, IMAX began making "LIEMAX" their primary business model with the introduction of the IMAX Digital projection system, again designed specifically for multiplex use and conversions of existing auditoriums. While it has the usual advantages of digital projection - lower operating costs, easier maintenance, no worries about film prints fading or becoming damaged - it also has two major disadvantages. It operates at 2K resolution, resulting in much less potential sharpness and detail than an IMAX film print, and it cannot fill a traditional full-size IMAX screen because it is only designed for widescreen projection.

 

Ironically, 2008 is the same year that The Dark Knight - the first Hollywood feature partially shot on IMAX film - was released. The movie brought a lot more attention to and criticism of "LIEMAX," because IMAX did not publicly differentiate between their different projection systems. If you went to see The Dark Knight in IMAX, you could wind up in a huge, traditional, purpose-built auditorium where the IMAX footage expanded to become 67% larger, filling a towering, squarish-shaped screen with a crisp, clear, 70mm image... or you could wind up in an ordinary multiplex auditorium with a marginally bigger-than-usual widescreen where the image only expanded by 26% maximum, and it was all shown in what is essentially 1080p resolution so that you could spot the individual pixels if you were sitting far enough up. The lack of transparency meant a lot of people who thought they'd paid for the former experience were incensed to discover they'd wound up with the latter, lesser format.

 

The backlash was not strong enough to stop the gravy train, though, and IMAX Digital ultimately proved tremendously successful despite the naysayers. Installations of the digital projection systems and releases of Hollywood features exploded over the ensuing years. Conversely, installation of new film projectors died off, and eventually, so did the practice of actually releasing movies on IMAX film prints. Only a handful of high-powered filmmakers are still able to demand extremely limited IMAX 70mm releases of their productions. With virtually no product to show, IMAX theatres that had been built specifically for the format were forced to install the digital projectors that were incapable of filling their tall screens or providing images of sufficient clarity for such giant projection. Most of them threw out their film projectors eventually.

 

IMAX didn't introduce their solution to this problem until almost seven years later, at the very tail end of 2014. That's when IMAX with Laser first rolled out - a new digital projection system using two laser-light-based projectors with 4K resolution, dramatically improved image quality, and the capability to fill a full-height IMAX screen. Which would be great if anyone actually installed them. Unfortunately, the system is extremely expensive and most venues, which had just had to spring for the basic digital projectors in order to keep sowing movies, didn't bite. Installations of this system remain exceedingly rare - but I've been fortunate enough to see Dunkirk at one and can confirm it is quite impressive.

 

In 2018, IMAX introduced a solution to THAT problem with the rollout of a smaller, cheaper IMAX with Laser system using only a single 4K projector. Installations of this version are becoming more common, but unfortunately, it doesn't support the full-height IMAX images - only widescreen.

 

So, at present, the VAST majority of IMAX theatres are still using horribly outdated 2K projection systems. To counter this, IMAX has started leaning more heavily on other stuff - such as the increased prevalence of movies, even ones shot conventionally, which offer an expanded image for select scenes or the entire film exclusively in IMAX. That exclusivity isn't for any technical reason, it's just a marketing gimmick. It helps IMAX compete with the proliferation of theatre chains' own in-house "Premium Large Format" auditoriums like Cinemark XD, Regal RPX and the like. Those auditoriums often use vastly superior technology to most IMAX installations, but they don't have the marketing muscle and brand recognition of IMAX and usually don't get the special expanded-image versions of films. One notable exception was Transformers: The Last Knight, which offered its shifting aspect ratios to all theatres.

 

What does "Shot in IMAX" or "Shot for IMAX" mean?

Second verse, same as the first! It means whatever IMAX Corporation says it means on this particular day of the week.

 

Originally, it meant it was shot with actual IMAX cameras on actual IMAX 15-perf, 65mm film. Those cameras, though, are extremely large, heavy, and loud, and only capable of recording for a rather short time. This makes them extremely difficult to work with. So in order to be able to promote more movies as "shot in IMAX," the corporation eventually started making exceptions.

 

Even for IMAX's former business model focusing on documentaries, the cameras were often impractical for filming in remote locations and/or tight confines. One early "exception" was James Cameron's Ghosts of the Abyss, the feature-length documentary about the undersea wreck of the Titanic that was made for IMAX 3D exhibition and released in 2003. It was shot on early Sony CineAlta digital cameras in 1080p resolution and blown up for the 70mm prints. Several of IMAX's space documentaries were shot partially or entirely with more compact conventional cameras, including, in some cases, handheld DSLRs. To be fair, IMAX did not go so far as to actually call these "IMAX cameras" or use the specific marketing phrase "shot in IMAX."

 

That didn't happen until 2014, when IMAX announced what they called the "IMAX 3D Digital Camera." This is what was used to shoot portions of Transformers: Age of Extinction, which was explicitly advertised as having "select footage captured with IMAX cameras." In actual fact, the "IMAX 3D Digital Camera" was just a custom 3D camera body housing a pair of image sensors (one for each eye) from the pre-existing Phantom 65 Gold digital cinema camera made by Vision Research. That camera, while very good and featuring much larger sensors than typical digital cinema cameras, had already been around for years. It also didn't support the full-height IMAX ratio. This particular camera was never used on another Hollywood production, because IMAX moved on from it very quickly.

 

The very next year, in 2015, IMAX announced they were partnering with a bigger camera manufacturer, Arri, to create a new IMAX digital camera "based on" Arri's Alexa 65 large format digital cinema camera. Here's the thing - it wasn't based on the Alexa 65. It WAS the Alexa 65. With IMAX branding and, allegedly, a few software tweaks. This is essentially the first time IMAX just pointed at another manufacturer's camera, made a lucrative deal, and they both agreed to call it IMAX. What's especially ludicrous is that, again, the Alexa 65 had already existed and been in use before this deal, and plenty of movies continued to be shot on the Alexa 65 without IMAX's official endorsement. It doesn't mean anything.

 

That said, the Arri Alexa 65 is an excellent camera - one of the best out there - and in controlled tests conducted by The Last Jedi and Knives Out cinematographer Steve Yedlin, it actually captured a slightly sharper, more detailed image than IMAX film. The image sensor is much smaller than a frame of IMAX film, however, and it doesn't support full-height IMAX images either - in fact, its native aspect ratio is wider than even IMAX Digital's 1.90:1, requiring the sides of the image to be cropped off to provide an image that can use the full height of even the IMAX Digital 2K projection system.

That particular limitation was taken to an extreme for Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Those movies were marketed as being filmed entirely with IMAX cameras. Even if you accept IMAX's shifting definitions of what an IMAX camera is, that's not true anyway because some aerial shots and other minor elements were actually shot on cameras other than the Alexa 65. No actual IMAX film was used in the process.

 

The other big IMAX marketing gimmick for Infinity War and Endgame was that they would feature an exclusive expanded image for their entire runtimes. There was more image shown in IMAX theatres, but "expanded" is pushing it. It's actually just "less cropped." The directors insisted on using anamorphic lenses to shoot the movies, which - as detailed in prior posts in the thread - essentially squeeze a wider image onto a sensor or frame of film. But the Alexa 65's sensor is already wider than IMAX Digital's "expanded height" ratio, and using those lenses made this much worse. So to arrive at the "expanded" IMAX framing for the movie, they simply didn't use or threw away the image from 28% of the camera's sensor. Then to get the "standard" version, they cropped that even further on the top and bottom, leading to 43% of the camera's sensor (and potential resolution) going unusued for general release.

 

Here's a handy visual aid! Click for full size!

How-Infinity-War-Was-Shot.jpg

 

In the fall of 2020, IMAX just decided to stop pretending and officially announced the "Filmed in IMAX program," in which they agreed to "certify high-end, best-in-class digital cameras with leading brands... to work in the IMAX format when paired with its proprietary post-production process." This is exactly what they'd already done with the Alexa 65, only this time they're admitting it and expanding that "certification" to pretty much every major large format digital cinema camera on the market, including the Alexa 65 as well as the Arri Alexa LF and Mini LF, Red Ranger Monstro, Panavision Millennium DXL2, and Sony CineAlta Venice. Again, those are all good cameras. And again, this "certification" process means absolutely nothing.

 

I'll close this post out with some more quotes from the official press release, with translations from marketing-speak to English in the spoilers below each:

 

"This program will help IMAX work with a broader and more diverse group of top filmmakers, sparking new and exciting collaborations that can take advantage of our proprietary technology and global theatrical platform."

 

Spoiler

Translation: "Some filmmakers don't like shooting on the Alexa 65, but they and we think we might be able to make more money if we just agree to say whatever large format camera they do like is IMAX now."


"IMAX will also certify independent camera rental houses who can supply certified cameras worldwide."
 

Spoiler

Translation: "IMAX will also start taking licensing fees from camera rental businesses to use their brand name, because they hadn't tried extorting them yet."

 

"IMAX will select only a limited number of films to participate in the program each year."

 

Spoiler

Translation: "IMAX will introduce artificial scarcity in an attempt to trick consumers into thinking 'Filmed in IMAX' actually still means something."

 

"The company will implement best practice guidelines for each production to take advantage of each cameras' highest possible capture qualities and settings in order to maximize The IMAX Experience – including IMAX's exclusive expanded aspect ratio."

 

Spoiler

Translation: "The company will tell anyone who makes a film as part of this program that they need to leave some extra room at the top and bottom of their compositions so we can open them up for marketing purposes. Or they can just crop the general release version to hell. Whichever."

 

"In addition, IMAX will utilize its expertise to work with each partner across R&D, production testing and post-production to achieve the highest level of digital image capture for optimized playback on IMAX's proprietary projection systems."

 

Spoiler

Translation: "In addition, IMAX will offer 'advice' the filmmakers don't need before and during shooting, and then run the movie through the same DMR process they already put everything through before they release it anyway."

 

Edited by Xillix
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