So convinced of the inadequacy of 35mm film were all the major U.S. motion picture studios in 1929-1930 that they all took a shot at developing THE system that would replace the highly disliked Movietone frame with one that offered a wider aspect ratio and was capable of being projected onto the large screens of the major movie palaces without glaring granularity. Fox Film Corporation, as seen in this very descriptive article, led the way with the introduction of 70mm Grandeur. Since the rush to wide gauge film died by the beginning of 1931, one has to hope that statements that 100 Grandeur cameras and 1,000 Grandeur projectors were in production were merely hype.

American Cinematographer - February, 1930

The First of the New Wide Film Processes Reaches Production

FOR THE past few months the outstanding topic of discussion in cine-technical circles has been wide film. Sound and Color are accepted realities, but wide film is generally unknown and yet so inevitable a development that everyone is seeking to learn about it. At the same time, the various firms which have been experimenting with new film standards have been extremely reluctant to reveal the results of their researches.

However, within the last thirty days, announcement has been made by the Fox Company and its subsidiaries, that not only are there several pictures completed or in production on their new Grandeur film, but that Grandeur apparatus is immediately available on the open market. This announcement naturally focuses the spotlight on Grandeur, and gives rise to the question, "What is Grandeur; how is it made, and what are its advantages?"

Grandeur is the trade-name of the wide film standard adopted by the Fox Film Company. The width of the film itself is 70 millimetres, while the frame is 22 1/2 mm. x 48 mm, leaving a sound-track 7 mm wide in the customary position at the left of the picture.

Happy Days - Fox Grandeur 70mm

Grandeur film-stock is no different from the normal 35 mm stock save that it is cut in wider strips, and that the perforations are of a slightly different pitch. At present the Eastman Kodak Company is the only firm manufacturing Grandeur negative and positive stock. This is due largely to the fact that the only existing Grandeur perforators are located in their plant. These are actually the property of the Fox Corp., but have been located there for convenience: however, the Rochester organization has lately installed several additional perforators for their own use as the output of the original pair has become insufficient to supply the demand for Grandeur film. Aside from the matter of perforation, the manufacture of Grandeur stock differs not at all from that of ordinary film: the only difference being that the alternate knives are removed from a standard slitting machine to cut the large sheet of emulsion-coated celluloid into 70 mm strips instead of 35 mm ones. The price is exactly twice that of 35 mm.

The cameras used in Grandeur are also available on the open market today. They are made by the Mitchell Camera Corp., and are simply the standard Mitchell Sound Cameras enlarged laterally, to accommodate the wider film. Wherever possible, the parts are interchangeable with those of the standard 35 mm Mitchells, and the design has been such that this is possible in a surprisingly large number of cases. Probably the outstanding changes are in the shutter. Which, of course, had to be made practically double the size of the old one, and in the actual film-moving mechanism. The gears of the Grandeur Mitchell are cut somewhat differently. as the pitch of the Grandeur perforations is approximately .231" against a pitch of .187" for the standard 35 mm. In every other respect the 70 mm Mitchell is identical with the latest 35 mm designs, and is therefore no different to operate. Special Grandeur lenses, having a greater angular covering-power are of course used. According to Mr. George Mitchell, there are now more than fifteen Grandeur cameras completed and in active use, while a hundred more are in process of manufacture. The only laboratories as yet equipped to handle the processing of Grandeur film are those of the Fox Corporation itself. These are now crowded to capacity in handling the daily work of the company and the production of Grandeur release-prints. The general policy of the commercial laboratories of Hollywood, such as the Consolidated Film Industries' and Roy Davidge's, is one of waiting; they can now, by merely altering the spools on their developing machines, accommodate Grandeur for development, but since the matter of printing involves the acquisition of an entirely new battery of printing machines, prudence dictates delay until the industry reaches a definite standard. None the less, the former firm states that they could, on less than two weeks' notice, be prepared to handle such business if a definite demand arose.

Grandeur projectors are now being manufactured in quantity by the International Projector Corporation, who are reported to have more than 1,000 of their new 70 mm Super-Simplex Projectors in work, and who are making deliveries as speedily as possible. Many of the major theatres of the Fox Circuit are being equipped for Grandeur, and all of them will be in the near future.

In the mean time, Grandeur production is rapidly progressing at the Fox Hollywood studios. Parts of a number of recent Fox films have been experimentally filmed in Grandeur, and the first all-Grandeur picture, Happy Days, has been completed and release prints are now being made of it. In addition, several of the other pictures now in production, or soon scheduled, are being made in Grandeur as well as in 35 mm., and tests have been made in combining Grandeur with the lately-announced Fox Color.

Now what advantages does Grandeur offer to offset the tremendous disadvantages of a change in the established standard of the industry?

In the first place, the present standard film and proportions were arrived at, as Mr. Carl Gregory pointed out before the last S.M.P.E. convention, purely by chance, being largely due to the coincidence that the standards independently arrived at by the two most powerful producers of the early days, Edison and Lumière, coincide to within 1/1000". Now Edison's standard was arrived at in consideration solely of its use in his peep-show Kinetoscope, and with no thought of its ever being used for screen projection. When the Armat-Jenkins designed projecting Kinetoscope was introduced, the 35 mm. standard film was used in it for economic reasons, and was not found too unsuitable for the purpose by virtue of the comparatively small screens and short throws then used. Since then, however, motion picture patronage has grown to a point which demands such theatres as the 6500 seat Roxy, with its correspondingly large screen and colossal throw. This involves a tremendous enlargement of the tiny 18 mm x 23 mm pictures. Despite the great advances made with respect to the fineness of grain in modern photographic emulsions, such small films cannot be projected to large sizes without the grain becoming painfully apparent, for it must be borne in mind that projection is merely the enlargement of these tiny pictures to fill the screen, and the images of the silver particles forming the image are enlarged in the same measure that the image they collectively form is, so that sooner or later, the enlargement must reach a point where the images of these particles become apparent, to the injury of the picture. That point has now been reached, Attempts to increase the enlargement by means of supplementary projection lenses (notably the Magnascope, with which most large theatres are equipped) have proven it.

At the same time, the exigencies of the sound picture have increased the demand for larger screens. Firstly, the addition of the sound-track has reduced the width of the picture-area, which was already regarded as somewhat too narrow: secondly, the advent of the stage-revue type of picture has made the need for a roomier format more apparent.

Under the old system - before the addition of the soundtrack altered the proportions of the picture - many Directors, Cinematographers, and Art-Directors considered the standard four-to-three proportion of the frame too high in relation to its width to be perfect artistically. Now, with the sound-track reducing this already static proportion to nearly a square, even the public feels the need of a more dynamic proportion for the picture. This is plainly evidenced by the numerous expedients used by theatre-owners to restore even the old rectangular proportions by means of reduced projector apertures and shorter focus lenses.

Comparison of 35mm Movietone and 70mm Grandeur

It was to meet this condition that, several years ago, the engineers of the Fox Company decided to devise a more practical film standard. After long experimentation, with literally hundreds of different frame-sizes and proportions, they finally determined upon the present Grandeur standard as the most suitable artistically and economically. Viewed from the mechano-artistic viewpoint, the proportions of the Grandeur frame are midway between the static root four rectangle (2 x 4 units), and the dynamic root five proportion (2 x 4.5 units). The actual dimensions of the Grandeur frame are as stated, 22 1/2 mm x 48 mm.

Viewed from a practical viewpoint, the Grandeur proportions offer many advantages to all concerned. The director can film his spectacular scenes and stage or dancing numbers to their best advantage, with fewer cuts-and no need of closeups. The cameraman has greater scope in his composition, and considerable advantages in his lighting. For instance, the present disproportionately high sets necessitated by the more nearly square picture have made such things as backlighting increasingly difficult: in fact, in many cases, true backlighting is impossible, and what passes for it is really top-lighting, which must be very carefully counterbalanced by skillful arrangement of the floor lighting units -and is even then unsatisfactory. Similarly, Art-directors are confronted with grave problems in the design and artistic ornamentation of the higher sets.

Now, however, in Grandeur, all of these problems are reduced. Direction of expansive scenes is simplified, for the proportions of the 70 mm frame are such as to give ample scope for all movements with, at the same time, adequately large figures. The Cinematographer's task is lightened inasmuch as the sets do not have to be made nearly so high, allowing the back-lightings to strike at more effective and natural angles. Dance scenes need no longer be "followed" as there is ample room in a normal long-shot for all the lateral movement used in most dances. In practice, composition in the new format does not present nearly the difficulty that would be expected at first thought. Naturally the angular field of view of the various familiar lenses are different for the new standard. The following comparison of the angles included by representative lenses used on standard film, with a frame 19 mm x 25 mm (Silent standard), and Grandeur, with its 22 1/2 mm x 48 mm frame, is enlightening.

Focal length of lensStandard Film.Grandeur.
40mm42 52'65 28'
50mm34 52'54 26'
75mm23 38'37 50'
100mm17 50'28 50'

In actual practice, the various cinematographers who have photographed Grandeur pictures recommend the use of a lens of approximately 2/3 longer focal length in Grandeur to secure an angle corresponding with that of any given lens in normal film. Otherwise, the apparatus and manipulations for photographing Grandeur are identical with those for the accepted standard. Naturally, Grandeur cameras are perfectly adapted to use with the Multicolor process.

To the sound man, Grandeur offers the very considerable boon of a sound track 7 mm. wide as against 2 mm. now standard. This wider track permits a much greater volume range in recording and gives better quality, with a correspondingly greater volume and tone in reproduction. These benefits are evident in either the Variable Density or Variable Area processes, though they should be especially evident in the latter.

To the projectionist, Grandeur also offers much. In the first place, the new 70mm Super-Simplex projectors, which were designed for Grandeur, have, aside from greater stability and ruggedness, numerous features of importance, chief among which is the new location of the shutter between the light source and the film. This enables the film to be run far cooler, and with much stronger lights. At a recent showing of a Grandeur picture which this writer witnessed, before the last reel had been rewound, the aperture of the projector from which it had been taken was cool enough to touch with one's bare hand, and the operator was nonchalantly cleaning it. The lamp used in this particular machine was a 150-Ampere high-intensity arc. Considerably more powerful than would be considered necessary in normal theatre use. By virtue of this cool running, and other things, such as a curved projection-aperture, Grandeur projection is entirely free of buckling or weave.

From the audience standpoint, Grandeur offers a series of spectacular surprises. In the first place, the new size and proportions of the screen are astounding. The screen, for instance, in the Fox Studio projection-room - the only Grandeur installation so far made on the Coast - is eighteen feet high by forty feet long: in a close long-shot, human figures are about fifteen feet tall, but with no apparent distortion, nor any sense at all of being ill-proportioned. Then the wide proportion selected is almost exactly that of natural vision, and removes from the consciousness the dead black borderline which haunts the smaller screens. The absence of this borderline gives the large pictures a pseudo-stereoscopic effect which is very pleasing.

Another important feature is the fact that, due to the larger image upon the film, and its lesser proportionate enlargement, the grain is not apparent until one approaches very close to the screen. While with 35mm film the grain becomes apparent while the viewer is yet a considerable distance from the screen. With Grandeur one can approach to within six or eight feet of the screen before noticing an appreciable graininess. Furthermore, there is vastly less distortion when viewed from the side than is the case of 35mm pictures.

As has been remarked before, the sound is vastly improved, both as to volume and quality, although the standard four-horn Western Electric installation is used.

Many people, before having seen an example of Grandeur on the screen, are inclined to be prejudiced against the peculiar proportions of the new picture. Viewed off hand, they do seem decidedly too wide for the height. Viewed actually on the screen, this is not so. The proportion is so close to that of the normal angle of vision that Grandeur is, after the first few acclimating minutes, a most satisfying experience. There is a small area of the retina, called the fovea, wherein the image of what we see consciously falls: the remainder of the image formed on the retina we see only subconsciously; but we see it just the same. Now, in normal film, this larger image is bounded by the dead black border around the screen, and a certain amount of mental concentration is required to exclude this image from our consciousness. With the stage-filling picture of Grandeur on the other hand, we do not sense any boundaries, for we see the whole screen just as we see the wide, low field of our natural vision, but, in each case, focus our attention on the important action. Thus as long as the director and cinematographer exercise reasonable care in arranging their action and composition, we are not sensible of any waste space at the sides of the picture, but instead trick ourselves into seeing a false depth and roundness on the flat screen.

Combined with color, Grandeur will undoubtedly prove a revelation: the acme of perfection in present-day cine methods. As mentioned before, tests are now being made with the new Fox-color process on Grandeur film: similarly many of the existing color processes can easily be adapted to it. While the plants of the various color firms are now strained to the utmost to meet the demand for 35mm color-films, they are by no means inattentive to the possibilities of color in the wider sizes. Representatives of both of the outstanding color firms, Technicolor and Multicolor, while admitting that their full resources were being strained to handle today's 35mm business, are agreed in stating that, as soon as the industry adopts a definite standard, natural color by their processes will be forthcoming, for that standard size. Then, with the perfection of the modern color processes combined with the new naturalness of the wider film, what more can the industry wish for?

Provided by David Mullen
©1930 American Cinematographer.