The (most anticipated) restoration of the Todd-AO
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The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Paulo
Roberto P. Elias, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
of Thomas Hauerslev.
Come 2014 and we were finally granted the result of years of lab work
trying to recover the original elements of the Todd-AO feature
"Oklahoma!", directed by the renowned Fred Zinemann, and released for
theatrical exhibition in 1955.
"Oklahoma!" was the first one of the only two feature films shot in
30 frames per second, in an effort to suppress the so called “film judder”.
The other one was “Around the world in 80 days”, released in the next
In fact, because movie theatres were being refurbished for the new wide
screen presentation both films were shot twice: Oklahoma was produced in 70
Todd-AO @ 30 fps, 6 channel audio, and in CinemaSope 35 mm @ 24 fps
(standard), 4 channels audio. Around the world was shot in the Todd-AO
format, at both 30 and 24 fps cadence. The latter one would be used to print
the CinemaScope version.
The Todd-AO film shot at 24 fps for “Around the World” is still
usable while the 30 fps version is considered as lost forever. Actually the
24 fps version was the one used for the DVD collector’s edition released by
Warner Brothers years ago. On the other hand, "Oklahoma!"’s Todd-AO
30 fps negative was in poor state, much of it was credited to the use of the
Kodak 5428 Eastmancolor negative. The CinemaScope version seems to be in
pristine condition, at least was what we saw in its last DVD edition.
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Mr. Orion Jardim de Faria - A
visit to a Brazilian 70mm film Pioneer
Large Format in Brazil / 70mm
70mm Rundown in Rio Revised
You are in the Show with Todd-AO
the screen capture of the train sequence and ballet the sign of the station
with the word Claremore in it flickers in the 4:3 DVD edition and evidences
the loss of resolution in the latter anamorphic edition.
Be as it may, when the "Oklahoma!" DVDs from the Todd-AO version were
released the copies were disastrous. The first DVD edition had the movie
transferred from a source with visible flicker in the picture to a 4:3
letterbox video format. Even at the time it was already inconceivable to
telecine a 70 mm print to a 4:3 interlaced video. That kind of transfer
produces by itself a 30% loss in resolution, as compared to the same
procedure using the 16:9 anamorphic method. Given that the number of pixels
in the DVD format is insufficient to yield a high standard picture quality
the overall video result is sub-par, especially considering the nature of
the large gauge negative and the historical importance of the film. There
was a previous laserdisc edition of "Oklahoma!", from a 30 fps
source, but the analogue medium of that format would preclude a better
result as well.
In the DVD era Warner Brothers had devised a method to transfer 70 mm film
more adequately. They would dub the negative to a 35 mm print and afterwards
to a digital intermediate, and only then produce the DVD. In addition to
that they would increase the bitrate by lowering the MPEG2 video
compression, while concurrently trying to introduce as low artefacts as
possible. One can observe the results in the DVD edition of “2001: A
Space Odyssey”, for example, quite reasonable for a picture of that
Fox could very well do the same, but its 50th Anniversary edition of
"Oklahoma!" showed one of the worst 16:9 anamorphic transfers I have
ever seen. There is a considerable loss of resolution which results in rough
edges around all picture elements. It destroys all low level information
detail, turning the picture unbearable to watch, even in a small TV set.
Todd-AO camera fitted with "bug-eye" lens.
After the restoration was completed a copy in DCP @ 4K, 30 fps was
produced for theatrical release. A 4K archive LTO was struck, alongside a
HDCAM SR (Superior Resolution) tape copy, which was used to release the Blu-Ray
edition. Unfortunately, the Blu-Ray is currently included in an R&H
expensive set, with several other already released Fox Blu-Rays, and others
with objectionable film transfers, according to recent reviews. A separate
Blu-Ray edition is therefore a must for collectors, but promised to be
released later this year.
The Todd-AO format is a significant step in the evolutionary direction of
the 1952 Cinerama screen. Their visionary designers realized the difficulty
in the filming process experience that many movie directories had to operate
the Cinerama camera, and its time consuming clumsiness for film editing. On
the other hand, the CinemaScope format was a reasonable alternative but the
lenses used in those days had a notorious anamorphic distortion and double
focusing issues, decreasing picture quality significantly.
Thus, the Todd-AO approach is a departure from those problems. It used the
65 mm large negative combined with the accuracy of spherical lenses,
resulting in a large but non anamorphic picture. More importantly, the
format would issue several degrees of wide angle, “fish-eye” lenses,
including the one nicknamed “Bug-eye”.
Fearless 65 mm cameras were fitted with the Bug-eye lens, in order to
simulate the “rollercoaster effect” field of vision, as previously
demonstrated in the Cinerama features. It is possible to see those wide
angle effects in the presentation of "Oklahoma!", as soon as the
The standard Todd-AO screen had a considerable curvature, also similar to
Cinerama. The prints used to that effect were corrected from the original
negative. Details of this process can be read from an interview with Walter
Siegmund, made by Thomas Hauerslev for this site. Flat 70 mm prints could
also be projected, thus exhibiting the full resolution of the negative.
At the time Todd-AO was released to theaters, Philips had already built the
DP-70, as commissioned by Michael Todd and his associates at Magna Theater
Corporation. The DP-70 could project at either 30 or 24 fps rate.
The Todd-AO sound format, with 5 channels behind the screen and one channel
surround, became the “de facto” standard for 70 mm projection. It was only
in later years that the Dolby Labs took advantage of this format, to
introduce the 70 mm Dolby Stereo. Instead of using the redundant left-centre
and right-centre channels with the normal program’s audio, they replaced
them for the Low Frequency Effects (LFE) channel. Afterwards, those two
front channels were used for the mixing of split surrounds, giving birth to
the now ubiquitous 5.1 channel format. Dolby Digital uses 3 front speakers,
2 surround arrays and one (actually, “.1”) LFE channel for the theater
Home playback of Todd-AO movies can be realized, albeit with screen size and
curvature limitations, some of which may very well be completely eliminated
in the near future, due to the use of OLED curved screens in larger scale,
when they become available.
As for sound, current 5.1/6.1/7.1 home systems are perfectly capable of
reproducing the full fidelity of Todd-AO soundtracks. In fact, by adopting
high definition audio codecs, such as DTS HD MA or Dolby TrueHD, it is
possible to obtain the best, closer to the source audio quality. The movie
industry made a good use of recording sound material in 35 mm magnetic film,
either in 6 or 3 channels. Submitting these sources to software such as
NoNoise or CEDAR the recovered tapes can achieve an impressive signal to
noise ratio and dynamic range, which are fully realized in both theatre and
There is still a great deal of Todd-AO features which deserve preservation
and proper presentation in DCP or Blu-Ray. FotoKem technicians praise
themselves in preserving film grain, showing that archivists and
preservationists are well aware that restoration is not just cleaning up the
negatives via wet gate telecines. From a historical point of view,
"Oklahoma!" and many other films are worth the time and money spent for
recovering reference material from the studios vaults.
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