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"I have given the name 'Fearless Super Pictures' to this new type of film, and predict that it will be one of the most revolutionary inventions of the decade."

This quote, by Captain Ralph G. Fear, in the following 1929 discussion of his recommended large format widescreen system, was a bit premature. The decade in which it became revolutionary actually began 25 years later with the introduction of a variation in the form of VistaVision. A nearly identical concept was used experimentally at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in the early 1950's under the name of "Arnoldscope" or "The Ten Holer". See the Ultra Panavision section for more information.

American Cinematographer August, 1929

Wide Image on Standard Film

Hollywood Inventor Claims Method Devised Whereby Image Twice Present Width Can be Made on Standard Film and Projected through Standard Projector

By Captain Ralph G. Fear
President, Cinema Equipment Co., Hollywood

Wide film is an important factor in the picture world today, and several companies are experimenting with various methods. To date, the methods call for special equipment in theatres and elsewhere. Captain Fear claims only the addition of an optical unit to standard projector and camera is only requirement for his method. Due to the unusual claims by the inventor, we have had Captain Fear write his own detailed description and account. -Editor's Note.

Fearless Superfilm - 1929 forerunner of VistaVision
Image as seen on film

WITHOUT doubt, the present size image in the motion picture industry is going to be changed. For years the standard dimensions of the motion picture film has been 3/4 by 1 inch. This is projected on the screen through a machine which decreases the picture size to about 45/64 by 15/16 of an inch. It is then enlarged during projection. Since the advent of talking pictures, the picture has been decreased in width until it is almost square. Due to this small image, enormous light intensity is required under great amplification and film grain shows.

A change is surely coming. The change will be for a larger image. An image that is much wider than the standard width of the present. There are many attempts being made, and wide pictures are going to be the rule of the future.

I have devised a method which I feel is to be the outstanding one of the future. By my method I can produce a picture twice as wide as the present standard image, and can produce it on standard size film. In addition to making a picture on standard film twice as wide as the present one, the sound track on my method will be twice as long as that of the standard picture, and a stereoscopic illusion will be given that approximates the natural vision so nearly that the effect of realism is startling.

But the outstanding feature of my method, in my opinion, is the fact that while it gives a picture twice as wide as the standard, and gives a sound track twice as long, it requires no new equipment either in the laboratory, theatre or studio. Only an optical unit and an alteration in gears and sprockets need be added to a standard camera to photograph the pictures, and only an optical unit and a change of gears need be added to a standard projecting machine to make it possible to project the wide image.

In this way an untold amount of money can be saved. Everyone connected with the making and showing of the pictures, for under the new methods advanced by others, every bit of equipment used from the making of the film to the showing of the finished picture would have to be changed and replaced, with a cost that conservatively would run into millions of dollars. With my system only a slight change is necessary in the camera and projector and the saving is apparent. By reason of this, producers can go into production almost immediately with my system, and will not have to wait months for new equipment. The chief points of my new method are as follows:

1. It gives larger picture on standard film.

2. Gives a more natural picture on the screen because it more nearly approaches the normal angles seen by the human eye.

3. Gives a wider sound track for recording sound photographically on film, which improves sound record.

4. Gives a sound track approximately twice as long as the present sound track, therefore giving greater sensitivity in recording, because with present light valves the sound record for each vibration is twice as long.

5. Broadens the sound recording scope by giving increased length for recording, thus allowing recording of twice the present frequencies now recorded.

6. Can be projected through standard projectors now in use.

7. Can be printed on standard printers.

8. Standard reels used, also standard developing machines, waxing machines, polishing machines, speed and footage indicators and standard camera magazines.

9. Can be projected in any theatre having present equipment when only a slight alteration is made to projector, and standard cameras can be used with slight alteration.

10. Does not require alteration of present sound equipment.

11. Eliminates so-called "grain" in film, and no trouble with curling, together with comparative freedom from scratches.

12. All of the equipment now in use in studios, laboratories and theatres can be used with only slight alterations to cameras and projectors.

I have given the name "Fearless Super Pictures" to this new type of film, and predict that it will be one of the most revolutionary inventions of the decade.

I get my wide image on standard size film simply by using an optical system in the camera which places the image lengthwise on the film instead of across as is the present system. In this way I can get the desired width without using a wider film as the optical system is arranged so that the picture is thrown on the film to the desired width. Another optical system on the projector projects the image on the screen normally and there is the wide image from the standard size film with no added expense of new equipment.

The pictures are taken upon a standard motion picture film and are approximately .800 of an inch high and 1.813 inches long. The film track is approximately .200 of an inch wide and is on the edge of the film. The picture is photographed, either in a vertical plane by use of an optical system that turns the image through an arc of 90 degrees and places it parallel to the edge of the film, or it may be photographed directly upon the film without the use of the optical system. In the latter case, the film runs horizontally past the aperture.

I have applied for patents on all phases of this new method; the method of photography, the film with the combination of a sound track and rectangular picture with the top of the picture parallel with the edge of the film: for a camera suitable for photographing these pictures; for the method of turning the picture optically from a vertical to a horizontal position for projection and on the combination of the optical system and projector necessary for turning the picture from the vertical to the horizontal plane. One of the worst objections to the present size picture is the fact that it has lost, in a large measure, the quality of naturalness. Normal vision subtends an angle that is approximately twice as wide as it is long. This horizontal angle is somewhere in the vicinity of 100 degrees with a vertical angle of about 50 degrees. The standard motion picture, as projected today, appears almost square and this is one of the reasons why present pictures do not appear natural on the screen. The horizontal dimension is not correctly proportioned to the vertical height of the picture.

In double-width film, with which some firms are experimenting, there are many disadvantages. With film of that width special equipment is needed from the start of manufacture of the film until it is shown on the screen. If this double width film comes into general use it will require the scrapping of all the motion picture equipment now in use, with a cost of millions of dollars. It seems to me, after many years of experience in the film industry, that the scrapping of so much equipment is impractical.

However, a change in size of the picture is necessary. Also in the size of the sound track. The present size of the picture is not wide enough to give absolute fidelity of reproduction. Due to its narrow width any weaving of the film while passing the aperture which permits light to pass through the film to the photoelectric cell will cause a change of tone in the reproduced sound. This is often objectionable. The recording of the higher frequencies of sound presents another problem. This has only been partly solved. Sound engineers have increased the speed of photography from 18 to 24 pictures per second. This was done to give a long sound track. At 24 pictures per second the film travels at the rate of 90 feet per minute, or 18 inches per second.

When a ribbon light-valve is used with aperture of .004 of an inch the highest frequency that can be recorded is 4/18.000 or 4,500. This is about the highest frequency successfully recorded by the variable density method. This comparatively low frequency cuts off many of the harmonics of speech and sounds. This gives rise to the complaints "tinny or canned" music.

The use of double width film only partly overcomes this difficulty, for although a wider sound track is used the film does not move at a much greater speed than the present film. To be exact, the increase in speed of the wide film is represented by the fraction .936/.750 which is not great enough to eliminate the present recording difficulty.

With my method this difficulty is overcome for my method provides a sound track twice as long as at present, and at the same time gives an image twice as wide as the standard-and remember it is on standard size film with standard machinery. For this reason I feel justified in believing that my method will be a boon to the industry, something that will advance the art of the motion picture.

Fearless Superfilm Image Rotating Prism

Provided by David Mullen
©1929 American Cinematographer.
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