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By Witmer, Jon D. | American Cinematographer, April 2013 | Go to article overview
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Witmer, Jon D., American Cinematographer


In the Picture, shot by John Hora, ASC and Douglas Knapp, SOC, marks the return of Cinerama after a 50-year absence.

On Sept. 30, 2012, 60 years to the day since This is Cinerama first wowed an audience in New York City, a packed house at the ArcLight Cinerama Dome in Hollywood witnessed the premiere of In the Picture, the first new Cinerama film made since 1962. Spearheaded by director/editor David Strohmaier (Cinerama Adventure, AC Sept. ?2), the 26-minute short film attracted a crew of passionate devotees of the three-panel format, including cinematographers John Hora, ASC and Douglas Knapp, SOC.

Cinerama was invented by Fred Waller, who also counted an early optical printer and the Waller Gunnery Trainer (which projected five synchronized 35mm filmstrips onto a hemispherical screen) among his creations. In his quest to create a theatrical-presentation format that would place the audience "in the picture" by approximating the scope of natural human vision and hearing, Waller landed upon using three 6-perf-tall 35mm film strips that, when projected onto a curved screen via three synced projectors, presented a single image with a field-of-view 146 degrees wide by 55 degrees high. Cinerama also introduced seven-channel surround sound to viewers who had previously only known monaural theatrical audio.

As designed by Waller, the Cinerama camera body houses three non-removable 27mm Kodak Ektar lenses set at 48-degree angles to one another. A single shutter with a 165degree opening rotates 1ViO1' in front of the three lenses, where their lines of view converge. Three 1,000' magazines each mount to its own movement (or "camera," in Cineramas vernacular), which in turn mounts to the main camera body. Fully loaded, the system weighs more than 200 pounds.

When one looks at the screen, the A panel is on the left, the B panel is in the center, and the C panel is on the right. Because the A and C lenses look diagonally across one another, when one looks at the back of the camera body, the C magazine is on the left, with B in the middle and A on the right. The cameras focus knob is located between the B and C magazines, and the aperture knob is positioned between the A and B magazines, at the top of the camera; both controls adjust all three lenses simultaneously.

Strohmaier describes making In the Picture as an act of "cinema forensics" that required Hora, Knapp and the rest of the crew to learn this long-dormant format anew. The opportunity to make the short arose when John H. Sittig of the ArcLight Cinema Co. and Pacific Theatres, which now owns Cinerama, began planning a retrospective in honor of the formats 60th anniversary. For his subject, Strohmaier decided to hark back to the Cinerama travelogues of old, particularly Cinerama Holiday AC June '54), which followed a young Swiss couple around the United States and a young American couple through Switzerland and France. "I said, 'It's got to be something we can shoot in LA. because we can't afford to travel, and it would be great if we don't need permits,"' Strohmaier recalls. "I knew Stanley Livingston, who was in How the West Was Won, and I thought he and his wife, Paula, could show a younger couple [Matthew Brewbaker and Elizabeth Domínguez] around Los Angeles, talking about Cinerama along the route."

Hora, who has notched credits with a number of specialty formats, including Imax and Imax 3-D, was quick to come aboard In the Picture, and he invited Knapp to sign on as the cocinematographer. "I immediately said yes," says Knapp, whose cinematography credits include episodes of the series Star Trek: Voyager and Star TrekEnterprise. "I never could have imagined that I would ever shoot Cinerama," he adds. "I jumped at the chance!"

The crew worked with Cinerama Camera #3, which served on every three-panel Cinerama feature from Cinerama Holiday (1955) to How the West Was Won (1962). Upon Horas recommendation, Strohmaier tasked Ken Stone of Stone Cinema Engineering with refurbishing the camera system.

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