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

Paramount did not use anamorphic processes such as CinemaScope but refined the quality of their 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 forty 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 movies 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, like VistaVision.

VistaVision Logo 001
Logotype of the VistaVision format.
VistaVision 8 perf 35 mm film
A VistaVision 35 mm horizontal camera film frame (The dotted area shows the area actually used.)


As a response to an industry recession brought about by the popularity of television, the Hollywood studios turned to large format movies in order to regain audience attendance. The first of these, 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.

Five months later, in February of the following year, Twentieth Century-Fox announced that they would soon be introducing 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.

As a response, Paramount Pictures devised their own system the following month to augment their 3-D process known as Paravision. This process utilized a screen size that yielded an aspect ratio of 5 units wide by 3 units high, or 1.66:1. By using a different 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 their productions would be shot in this ratio.

The Paramount Fanfare for VistaVision was written by film, television, and radio composer and orchestrator Nathan Van Cleave.[1]

This "flat" widescreen process was adopted by other studios and by the end of 1953, more than half of the theatres in America had installed wide screens. However, there were drawbacks: because a smaller portion of the image was being used and magnification was increased, excessive grain and soft images plagued early widescreen presentations. Some studios sought to compensate for this by shooting their color pictures 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 uses one-third more frame area than a standard 1.85:1 matted into a 4:3.

Paramount took this concept a step further, using old Stein cameras from the 1930s which used 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 4-perf image through a red filter and one 4-perf image through a green filter.

In shooting VistaVision, the film was run horizontally rather than vertically, and instead of exposing two simultaneous 4-perf frames, the entire eight perforations were used for one image.[2] This format is identical to the 135 Film Format used by 35 mm still cameras.

Because of its peculiar horizontal orientation on the negative, VistaVision was sometimes called Lazy 8 by film professionals. This gave 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 all theaters with all screen sizes, VistaVision films were shot in such a way that they could be shown in one of three recommended aspect ratios: 1.66:1, 1.85:1 and 2.00:1.[2]

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 projectionist racked his framing so that the staff touched the top of his screen (at the appropriate ratio) and the framing was set for the rest of the reel. On 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.

Loren L. Ryder, chief engineer at Paramount, expressed four general reasons he thought Paramount's VistaVision would be the forerunner of widescreen projection in most theaters:

  • VistaVision could be shown at widescreen aspect ratios between 1.66 and 2.00:1.
  • VistaVision could be (and most often was) further printed down to standard vertical 35 mm reels keeping its 1.66:1 widescreen aspect ratio, which meant exhibitors did not need to purchase additional projection equipment, unlike CinemaScope.
  • VistaVision did not cut down the number of seats in any theater (as did Cinerama, and CinemaScope at first).
  • VistaVision allowed patrons to see more and therefore gain more enjoyment out of a feature.[3]

After months of trade screenings, Paramount introduced VistaVision to the public at Radio City Music Hall on October 14, 1954, with their 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 8-perf VistaVision format in which they were shot. Although the clarity of these 8-perf 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 3 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 4-perf 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 picture, 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 VistaVision cameras were sold off internationally 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.

Special effects usage

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 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 since 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 when there were not enough IMAX cameras to cover all 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)
  • spherical lenses, usually adapted and re-mounted Leica full-frame rangefinder camera lenses; SOM Berthiot made a special zoom just for VistaVision applications, but it saw very little use.
  • 8 perforations per frame.
  • horizontal pulldown, from right to left (viewed from emulsion side).
  • slightly less depth of field than vertical pulldown 35 mm.
  • camera aperture: 1.485 inches (37.72 mm) by 0.981 inches (24.92 mm).

Films shot in VistaVision

White Christmas was the first Paramount film to utilize the VistaVision method.


The camera numbered VistaVision #1, used on Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments, films by Alfred Hitchcock, and others, 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.[4]

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 (1956) and special effects on Star Wars (winning bid US$60,000.)[5]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b "The VistaVision Wing". Widescreen Museum. Retrieved 2016-09-01.
  3. ^ Independent Film Journal, 33:25, March 20, 1954.
  4. ^ 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..)
  5. ^ 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..)

Further reading

  • "The Story of VistaVision" by Keith Wilson, Cinema Retro, Vol. 11, Issue 31, 2015 (on US newsstands Feb 2015), pages 40–41. Large format magazine article with nine photos, including technical.

External links

Artists and Models

Artists and Models is a 1955 American musical comedy film in VistaVision and marked Martin and Lewis's fourteenth feature together as a team. The film co-stars Shirley MacLaine and Dorothy Malone, also featuring Eva Gabor and Anita Ekberg in brief roles.

Hell's Island

Hell's Island is a 1955 American Technicolor film noir directed by Phil Karlson starring John Payne and Mary Murphy. The film was shot in the VistaVision wide-screen format. Hell's Island was re-released in 1962 under the title South Sea Fury.

The working titles of this film were Love Is a Weapon and The Ruby Virgin.The film is told as a flashback with Payne narrating the story.

House of Secrets (1956 film)

House of Secrets (1956) is a British crime film directed by Guy Green, filmed in Technicolor and VistaVision, and starring Michael Craig, Anton Diffring, and Gérard Oury.

Last Train from Gun Hill

Last Train from Gun Hill is a 1959 Western in VistaVision and Technicolor by action director John Sturges. It stars Kirk Douglas, Anthony Quinn, Carolyn Jones, and Earl Holliman. Douglas and Holliman had previously appeared together in Sturges' Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), which used much of the same crew.

List of VistaVision films

The following is a list of films filmed using the VistaVision process. Titles in bold are black-and-white films.

Mitchell Camera

The Mitchell Camera Corporation was founded in 1919 by Americans Henry Boeger and George Alfred Mitchell as the National Motion Picture Repair Co. Their first camera was designed and patented by John E. Leonard in 1917, from 1920 on known as the Mitchell Standard. Features included a planetary gear-driven variable shutter (US Patent No 1,297,703) and a unique rack-over design (US Pat No 1,297,704).

Mitchell supplied camera intermittent movements for Technicolor's Three-Strip camera (1932), and such movements for others' 65mm and VistaVision conversions before later making complete 65mm and VistaVision cameras (normal and high speed).

Mitchell also made a pin-registered background plate projector with a carbon arc lamphouse which was synchronized with the film camera. One of the first MPRPPs (Mitchell Pin Registered Process Projector) was used in Gone with the Wind. Two- and three-headed background projectors evolved for VistaVision effects.

George Mitchell received an Academy Honorary Award in 1952. The Mitchell Camera Company received an Academy Award for Technical Achievement in 1939, 1966 and 1968.

Negative pulldown

Negative pulldown is the manner in which an image is exposed on a film stock, described in the number of film perforations spanned by an individual frame. It can also describe the orientation of the image on the negative, whether it is captured horizontally or vertically. Changing the number of exposed perforations allows a cinematographer to change both the aspect ratio of the image and the size of the area on the film stock that the image occupies (which affects image clarity).

The most common negative pulldowns for 35 mm film are 4-perf and 3-perf, the latter of which is usually used in conjunction with Super 35. 2-perf, used in Techniscope in the 1960s, is enjoying a slight resurgence due to the birth of digital intermediate techniques eliminating the need for optical lab work. Vertical pulldown is overwhelmingly the dominant axis of motion in cinematography, although horizontal pulldown is used in IMAX, VistaVision (still in use for some visual effects work), and in 35 mm consumer and professional still cameras.

Robert Blalack

Robert Blalack is a mass-media visual artist and producer. One of the founders of Industrial Light & Magic, he received the Visual Effects Academy Award for his work on the original Star Wars. He also received the Visual Effects Emmy for his work on the television motion picture The Day After. He produces and directs USA and international mixed-media TV commercials, location-based theme park rides, and his independent, experimental feature films.

Robert Burks

Robert Burks, A.S.C. (July 4, 1909 – May 11, 1968) was an American cinematographer known for being proficient in virtually every genre, equally at home with black-and-white or color, and for his many collaborations with the celebrated film director Alfred Hitchcock.

Run for Cover (film)

Run for Cover is a 1955 Technicolor Western film directed by Nicholas Ray and starring James Cagney, Viveca Lindfors, John Derek, and in his final film, Jean Hersholt. Distributed by Paramount Pictures, this film was made in VistaVision.


Technirama is a screen process that has been used by some film production houses as an alternative to CinemaScope. It was first used in 1957 but fell into disuse in the mid-1960s. The process was invented by Technicolor and is an anamorphic process with a screen ratio the same as revised CinemaScope (2.35:1) (which became the standard), but it's actually 2.25:1 on the negative.

The Delicate Delinquent

The Delicate Delinquent is a 1957 American comedy film starring Jerry Lewis. Shot in black-and-white and VistaVision in 1956 and released on June 6, 1957 by Paramount Pictures, it is notable as the first film Lewis starred in without his longtime partner Dean Martin. This also marked Lewis's producing and screenwriting debut in film.

The Jayhawkers!

The Jayhawkers! is a 1959 American Technicolor VistaVision film directed by Melvin Frank, starring Jeff Chandler as Luke Darcy and Fess Parker as Cam Bleeker. The film is set in pre-Civil War Kansas. Darcy leads a gang which seeks to take advantage of Bleeding Kansas (loosely based on abolitionist John Brown; Bleeker joins the gang. The supporting cast features Henry Silva and Leo Gordon.

The Leather Saint

The Leather Saint is a 1956 film, directed by Alvin Ganzer in black-and-white VistaVision, about a priest who boxes. It stars John Derek, Paul Douglas and Jody Lawrance.

The Seven Little Foys

The Seven Little Foys is a Technicolor in VistaVision 1955 comedy film directed by Melville Shavelson starring Bob Hope as Eddie Foy. One highlight of the film is an energetic tabletop dance showdown sequence with Bob Hope as Eddie Foy and James Cagney, who reprises his role as George M. Cohan. The story of Eddie Foy Sr. and the Seven Little Foys inspired a TV version in 1964 and a stage musical version, which premiered in 2007, in addition to this film in 1955.

The Spanish Gardener (film)

The Spanish Gardener is a 1956 VistaVision and Technicolor film based on the novel of the same name by A. J. Cronin, first published in 1950. The film stars Dirk Bogarde and Jon Whiteley, and was directed by Philip Leacock. The adaptation was filmed both at Pinewood Studios, near London, and in Palamós, nearby Mas Juny estate, and in S'Agaro, on the Costa Brava, Catalonia. Nicholas (1958) and O Jardineiro Espanhol (1967), are adaptations of the story for Brazilian television.

The film was entered into the 7th Berlin International Film Festival.

The Tin Star

The Tin Star is a 1957 American western film based on a short story, directed in VistaVision by Anthony Mann and starring Henry Fonda and Anthony Perkins, in one of Perkins' first roles. The film became one of the few low-budget westerns to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Writing, Story or Screenplay. Since its release, the film has become one of the classics of the genre.

We're No Angels (1955 film)

We're No Angels is a 1955 Christmas comedy film starring an ensemble cast of Humphrey Bogart, Peter Ustinov, Aldo Ray, Joan Bennett, Basil Rathbone, and Leo G. Carroll. Shot in both VistaVision and Technicolor, the Paramount Studios production was directed by Michael Curtiz, who had directed Bogart in Casablanca when both were under contract to Warner Brothers. It is one of Bogart's rare comedies.

The screenplay was written by Ranald MacDougall, based on the play My Three Angels by Samuel and Bella Spewack, which itself was based upon the French play La Cuisine Des Anges by Albert Husson. Mary Grant designed the film's costumes.

White Christmas (film)

White Christmas is a 1954 American musical film directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen. Filmed in VistaVision and Technicolor, it features the songs of Irving Berlin, including a new version of the title song, "White Christmas", introduced by Crosby in the film Holiday Inn.Produced and distributed by Paramount Pictures, the film is notable for being the first to be released in VistaVision, a widescreen process developed by Paramount that entailed using twice the surface area of standard 35mm film; this large-area negative was used to yield finer-grained standard-sized 35mm prints.

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