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Logotype of the VistaVision format.
A VistaVision 35 mm horizontal camera film frame (the dotted area shows the area actually used).

VistaVision is a higher resolution, widescreen variant of the 35 mm motion picture film format that was created by engineers at Paramount Pictures in 1954.

Paramount did not use anamorphic processes such as CinemaScope but refined the quality of its flat widescreen system by orienting the 35 mm negative horizontally in the camera gate and shooting onto a larger area, which yielded a finer-grained projection print.

As finer-grained film stocks appeared on the market, VistaVision became obsolete. Paramount dropped the format after only seven years, although for another 40 years the format was used by some European and Japanese producers for feature films and by American films such as the first three Star Wars films for high-resolution special-effects sequences.

In many ways, VistaVision was a testing ground for cinematography ideas that evolved into 70 mm IMAX and OMNIMAX film formats in the 1970s. Both IMAX and OMNIMAX are oriented sideways, as is VistaVision.


As a response to an industry recession caused largely by the popularity of television, the Hollywood studios turned to large-format films in order to regain audience attendance. The first of these formats, Cinerama, debuted in September 1952, and consisted of three strips of 35 mm film projected side-by-side onto a giant, curved screen, augmented by seven channels of stereophonic sound.

In February 1953, Twentieth Century-Fox announced the introduction of a simpler version of Cinerama using anamorphic lenses instead of multiple film strips, a widescreen process that soon became known to the public as CinemaScope.

In response, Paramount Pictures devised its own system the following month to augment its 3-D process, known as Paravision. This process utilized a screen size that yielded an aspect ratio of five units wide by three units high for an aspect ratio of 1.66:1. By using a differently sized aperture plate and wider lens, a normal Academy ratio film could be soft-matted to this or any other aspect ratio. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that all of the studio's productions would be shot in the 1:66:1 ratio.

This "flat" widescreen process was adopted by other studios, and by the end of 1953, more than half of the theaters in the U.S. had installed wide screens. However, because a smaller portion of the image was used and magnification was increased, excessive grain and soft images plagued early widescreen presentations. Some studios sought to compensate for these effects by shooting color films with a full aperture gate (rather than the academy aperture) and then reducing the image in Technicolor's optical printer. This process is a predecessor of today's Super 35 format, which also uses a 1.85:1 ratio but one-third more frame area than does a standard 1.85:1 matted into a 4:3 ratio.

Paramount took this concept a step further, using old Stein cameras from the 1930s that employed a two-frame color format that was itself adopted from a 1902 three-frame color film process developed by Edward Raymond Turner. For the aborted early 1930s color process, instead of an image four perforations high, the camera exposed eight perforations (essentially two frames) consisting of one four-perforation image through a red filter and one four-perforation image through a green filter.

In shooting in the VistaVision process, film was run horizontally rather than vertically, and instead of exposing two simultaneous four-perforation frames, the entire eight perforations were used for one image.[1] This format is identical to the 135 film format used by 35 mm still cameras.

Paramount's technicians dubbed this process the "Lazy 8" system during development and while shooting "White Christmas"—"lazy" for the horizontal film path, and "8" for the eight-sprocket image width.[2] Paramount trade-named the process "VistaVision" early in 1954[3] The process afforded a wider aspect ratio of 1.5:1 versus the conventional 1.37:1 Academy ratio, and a much larger image area. In order to satisfy theaters with various screen sizes, VistaVision films were shot so that they could be shown in one of three recommended aspect ratios: 1.66:1, 1.85:1 and 2.00:1.[1]

The negative was "scribed" with a new form of cue mark made at the start of each 2000-foot (610 m) reel. Similar in shape to an F, the cue mark contained staffs that directed the projectionist to the top of the frame for the three recommended aspect ratios. The projectionists would rack their framing so that the staff touched the top of the screen (at the appropriate ratio), and the framing was set for the rest of the reel. For many home-video releases, these cue marks have been digitally erased.

While most competing widescreen film systems used magnetic audio and true stereophonic sound, early VistaVision carried only Perspecta Stereo, encoded in the optical track. The VistaVision fanfare, heard in most of the films produced in this ratio, was written by film, television and radio composer and orchestrator Nathan Van Cleave.[4]

Paramount chief engineer Loren L. Ryder believed that VistaVision would become the forerunner of widescreen projection for the following reasons:

After months of trade screenings, Paramount introduced VistaVision to the public at Radio City Music Hall on October 14, 1954, with its first film shot in the process, White Christmas.

White Christmas, Strategic Air Command, To Catch a Thief, Richard III and The Battle of the River Plate had very limited (two or three) prints struck in the eight-perforation VistaVision format in which they were filmed. Although the clarity of these eight-perforation prints was striking, they were used only for premiere or preview engagements between 1954 and 1956 and required special projection equipment. This exhibition process was impractical because for the footage to travel through a projector at the normal 24 frames per second, the film had to roll at three feet per second, double the speed of 35 mm film and causing many technical and mechanical problems. Aside from these prints, all other VistaVision films were shown in the conventional four-perforation (vertical) format as planned.

Alfred Hitchcock used VistaVision for many of his films in the 1950s. However, by the late 1950s with the introduction of finer-grained color stocks and the disadvantage of shooting twice as much negative stock, VistaVision became obsolete. Less expensive anamorphic systems such as CinemaScope and the more expensive 70 mm format became standard during the later 1950s and 1960s.

Since the last American VistaVision film, One-Eyed Jacks in 1961, the format has not been used as a primary imaging system for American feature films. However, VistaVision's high resolution made it attractive for some special-effects work within some later feature films. Many used American VistaVision cameras were sold to the international market beginning in the early 1960s, which led to a significant number of VistaVision format productions (which did not use the trade name) in countries such as Italy and Japan from the 1960s to 1980s. The format was used infrequently for lesser-known Japanese films until at least 2000.[citation needed]

Special-effects usage

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In 1975, a small group of artists and technicians (including Richard Edlund, who was to receive two Academy Awards for his work) revived the long-dormant format to create the special effects shots for George Lucas's space epic Star Wars. A retooled VistaVision camera dubbed the Dykstraflex (named for special effects master John Dykstra) was used by the group (later called Industrial Light & Magic) in complex process shots. For more than two decades after this, VistaVision was often used as an originating and intermediate format for shooting special effects because a larger negative area compensates against the increased grain created when shots are optically composited. By the early 21st century, computer-generated imagery, advanced film scanning, digital intermediate methods and film stocks with higher resolutions optimized for special effects work had together rendered VistaVision mostly obsolete even for special effects work. Nevertheless, in 2008, ILM was still using the format in some production steps, such as for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and a VistaVision camera was used in the semi-trailer flip scene in The Dark Knight because there were not enough IMAX cameras to cover all of the angles needed for the shot. More recently, certain key sequences of the film Inception were shot in VistaVision, and in the film Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, shots that needed to be optically enlarged were shot in VistaVision.

Technical specifications

VistaVision (8/35)

Films shot in VistaVision

Main article: List of VistaVision films

White Christmas was the first Paramount film to utilize the VistaVision method, but perhaps the most well-known film to be filmed completely in VistaVision format is Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. The End of Evangelion is to date the final film to be fully produced for VistaVision, released in 1997.


The camera numbered VistaVision #1 that was used on Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments and several Alfred Hitchcock films was offered at auction on September 30, 2015 by Profiles in History with an estimated value of US$30,000 to $50,000, with a winning bid of US$65,000.[6] Also offered at the same auction was VistaVision High Speed #1 (VVHS1), which was used to film the parting of the Red Sea in The Ten Commandments and special effects for Star Wars (winning bid: US$60,000.)[7]

The RED Monstro sensor is a modern incarnation of the VistaVision sensor. Cameras that utilize the sensor include the Red Ranger Monstro, DSMC2 Monstro[8] and Panavision Millennium DXL2.[citation needed]

See also


  • Hart, Martin (1996). "The Development of VistaVision: Paramount Marches to a Different Drummer". Retrieved 2004-12-28.


  1. ^ a b "The VistaVision Wing". Widescreen Museum. Retrieved 2016-09-01.
  2. ^ Bishop, John. R and Ryder, Loren L. ("As told to Arthur E. Gavin"). American Cinematographer 34:12 (December 1953), 588.
  3. ^ Gavin, Arthur E. "Technical Progress in 1954." American Cinematographer 35:4 (April 1954), 24-5.
  4. ^ "Widescreen Museum - The VistaVision Wing - 2". Retrieved 2019-12-03.
  5. ^ Independent Film Journal, 33:25, March 20, 1954.
  6. ^ Hollywood Auction 74. California: Profiles in History. 2015. p. 419. Lot 1217. Historic Ten Commandments VistaVision #1 (VV1) motion picture camera. . . . VistaVision #1 (VV1) was the very first Mitchell VistaVision camera ever built, having started its service project, Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 epic The Ten Commandments and ten additional years of very difficult production as Hollywood moved out of the safety of sound stages into the rugged extremes of spectacular distant location productions. According to very limited surviving camera reports VV1 was one of six cameras on Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. Included with the camera are: VV1 blimp in case (hand-built by studio craftsmen), lens shade kit for blimp with case, VV1 motor with case, a removable through-the-lens viewfinder system, VistaVision Mitchell geared head, Cooke Panchro lens and bellows, (2) vintage camera cases, (2) 1000-ft. magazine sets, lens shade kit with accessories, external viewfinder and Fearless camera dolly. Comes with a letter of provenance by Roy H. Wagner, ASC, who states, "The camera worked its way through every picture that Paramount ever did in VistaVision, and went on to do substantial visual effects work on films in the 1960s and 70s. . . . In the last 35 years I've never seen a VistaVision camera this complete." From the collection of Debbie Reynolds. EST US$30,000–$50,000 (winning bid US$65,000). (Auction took place September 30, 2015. Catalog 83MB PDF and Prices Realized List PDF available at Archived 2015-09-06 at the Wayback Machine.)
  7. ^ Hollywood Auction 74. California: Profiles in History. 2015. p. 505. Lot 1542. Mitchell VistaVision High Speed #1 (VVHS1) used on Star Wars. Quite possibly the most influential and important motion picture camera in history, VistaVision High Speed #1's first project started with one of Hollywood's grandest illusions: the parting of the Red Sea in Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1956) (only two Mitchell VistaVision High Speed cameras were ever made). When 20th Century Fox was faced with the visual effects challenges of Star Wars, the experts concurred that the VistaVision process was the best system available. Having not been properly maintained for over ten years, Paramount sent a large shipment of cameras for the visual effects team to sort through, of which VVHS1 played a very important part. George Lucas tasked Richard Edlund and his future-ILM effects wizards to use VVHS1 to photograph a great number of high-speed miniature effects shots, including the explosion of the Death Star, according to their own camera reports. Measures 31 in. long × 17 in. tall × 18 in. wide. Accompanied with original Mitchell geared head, original case (and spare VVHS2 case), lens shade kit with case, (2) 2,000-ft. magazines sets, external viewfinder with case, high speed motor in original case, backup high speed motor with original case, VistaVision studio power unit with original case and an additional original case with accessories. This camera started the VistaVision renaissance for using its unique capabilities for special effects that continued for two decades. . . . Comes with a letter of provenance from Roy H. Wagner, ASC. US$60,000–$80,000 (winning bid US$60,000). (Auction took place September 30, 2015. Catalog 83MB PDF and Prices Realized List PDF available at Archived 2015-09-06 at the Wayback Machine.)
  8. ^ Dent, Steve (Oct 9, 2017). "Red's new flagship camera is the $80,000 Monstro 8K VV".