Tangible Media: Removable Storage of Image, Sound, Motion and Data
Tangible Media: Removable Storage of Image, Sound, Motion and Data
Tangible Media: Removable Storage of Image, Sound, Motion and Data


This is Cinerama


Merian C. Cooper (director), Lowell Thomas (narrator)




Cellulose acetate


35 mm × 3


Cinerama Inc./Cinerama Productions Inc.


New York/Oyster Bay, New York, USA

Television after World War II posed a serious threat to the movie business. Studios sought to fight back with technology not yet available for TV: color, widescreen, 3D and stereophonic sound. Fred Waller, a film-industry technologist, had invented a gunnery trainer used by the U.S. military in World War II that projected images from five cameras on the inside of a small dome. After the war, he applied the same principle to Cinerama for movie theaters. Cinerama projected three synchronized strips of 35 mm film side-by-side on a curved screen, creating a 146-deg. field of view that encompassed most of the viewer's peripheral vision. An early version of surround sound was recorded on a separate strip of 35 mm full coat film (magnetic oxide coating the entire width of the film), with five tracks for the five front speakers and two tracks for off-screen sound and control.

Although a popular success, there were technical issues. The seams between the three images were always visible on the screen: unequal color balance, vignetting and movement of the film in the gate produced artifacts at the seam. Because the cameras were slightly offset from each other, the optical center for each film was different, leading to parallax error, which caused the images to mismatch at the seams, particularly in the foreground. (This is the same issue that occurs with panoramic photographs taken with a still camera if the camera isn't rotated around its optical center between shots). Tracking shots and close ups had to be avoided.

It was also difficult to turn a profit. Film, equipment, and the screen itself were expensive and the necessary arrangement of the three projection booths in the theater reduced seating significantly. Only seven movies were filmed in the three-strip format, the last in 1962. But although it failed as a business, Cinerama proved the value of widescreen to the industry and motivated studios to develop single-camera alternatives, notably Cinemascope and 70 mm formats like Panavision and Todd AO.

The narrator of the film, Lowell Thomas, stands on the left.
Performers getting ready for the famous water skiing segment. It turns out that Fred Waller also invented water skis.