The Importance of Panavision
The Invention Phase
by: Adriaan Bijl, Holland
Reprinted by permission from the writer
Issue 67 - March 2002
As was stated previously, Panavision was founded when the motion picture
industry was in great turmoil. But this particular 'movement' was not the
cause of its foundation, it was formed by people. In order to make it clear
why Panavision was founded and by whom, one must inevitably look at the
issues which preceded the creation of the company.
Robert Gottschalk was born in 1918, in Chicago. His father was a contractor,
who specialized in motion picture theaters. This work provided his family
with a wealthy financial status. Robert's brother, Howard, moved to
California to become a medical doctor. Robert followed him, after graduation
in theater and arts at Carleton College in Minnesota. His intention was to
become a filmmaker. Being a voracious reader, he had many interests, and
photography was one of them. In 1949, he bought an interest in the Campus
Camera Shop in Westwood Village and went to work there. This position
allowed him to become acquainted with photographers. He made short subjects
on 16mm by himself, and was able to sell them to local tv-stations as news
Located in the neighborhood of the Campus Camera Shop was the distributor of
Jacques Cousteau's aqualung, a device for underwater-photography. Before
this invention, in the early 1950's, filming underwater had been difficult.
Cameras were great bulky machines but the aqualung made the equipment
mobile. Gottschalk was fascinated by it. By virtue of this neighbor, he and
John Richard Moore, a personal friend and one of his colleagues at the
camera shop, got a good taste of underwater photography. However, the
refraction of the water narrowed everything down, and there was no wide
angle lens available to undo this limitation. Gottschalk had read about the
anamorphic process developed by Henri Chretien in France in the late 1920's.
By snooping around, he discovered that C.P. Goerz, an optical company in New
York, had a few of these lenses in stock. He bought a couple and did some
experiments with them.
Gottschalk found out that by placing one in front of the other and counter
rotating them, the expansion factor could be varied. The original expansion
factor of these two lenses was 1.5 each. The two lenses combined together in
a certain position would give an expansion factor because CinemaScope had
the same expansion factor. It was the beginning of 1953, 20th century Fox
had purchased Chretien´s process and given the name "CinemaScope"
a lot of publicity. Gottschalk´s intention was to make a demonstration
reel, in which he could show that he also was able to make an anamorphic
film, since CinemaScope seemed poised to become a hot item (2)
By the time 20th Century Fox announced the production of "The
Robe", Gottschalk, Moore and Meredith Nicholson, a professional
cameraman and friend of Moore and Gottschalk, had filmed several anamorphic
scenes of interest. Harry Eller, president of Radiant Screen of Chicago,
contacted Gottschalk in the camera shop with the intention of selling
screens. When he heard about their anamorphic experiments, he mentioned his
business of selling wider screens to the theatres. He also mentioned the
expanding market of anamorphic projection lenses. Fox had a contract with
Bausch and Lomb, an international lens manufacturer, which would provide the
photographic, also known as taking, or camera lenses. However, Bausch and
Lomb was not able to fill the market for the required anamorphic theatre
projection attachment lenses.
The reason why seems unclear. According to Richard Moore, Bausch and Lomb
was not interested in it, because the market for projector attachments was
too small for its standards (3). According to George Kraemer,
mass-production of Bausch and Lomb's cylindrical type lenses was not
possible at that time (4). An advertisement from Bausch and Lomb for their
lenses in the SMPTE Journal in 1954 added to the confusion (5). The
advertisement stressed the specific qualities of the cylindrical lenses. It
is not likely that a company would issue an advertisement for a product in
which it is neither interested, nor capable of making in large quantities.
And soon the idea was born to manufacture anamorphic projection lenses. One
of the first elements required to make them is glass. William I. Mann was
the owner of an optical company in Monrovia, California, and Gottschalk
contacted him. Mann introduced Moore and Gottschalk to Walter Wallin, a
mathematician, who was interested in optics. He told them that the
anamorphic effect could also be achieved with prismatic rather than
cylindrical lens elements which was the way Chretien had originally
invented, patented, and sold the package to Fox (6). Panavision,
Incorporated was founded in the fall of 1953 by Gottschalk, Moore,
Nicholson, Wallin (who would design the prisms), and Mann (who would grind
the lenses). Gottschalk would be the president, owning 51% of the shares.
Moore would be executive vice-president with 12.25% of the shares, and the
others would have what was left of the titles and the shares. The starting
capital was a total of $5,000, each founder raised, according to his part in
the stock, his share of that total amount (7).
The company primarily manufactured prismatic anamorphic theater attachments.
The advantage of this projection lens over the cylindrical type lenses was
that it was less elaborate and less expensive to make. An additional feature
was the variation knob on top of the lens. The lens consisted of two prisms
(doublets) which were oriented in such a way that they could be swiveled
from zero expansion to two. In other words, the aspect ratio of the
projected image could be varied during projection from the traditional
1.33:1 to 2.66:1. This made it feasible to project the non-anamorphic
newsreels and trailers, as well as the anamorphic feature through this
attachment. The cylindrical lens did not have this ability. Instead, it was
fixed on an expansion factor of two, meaning that this attachment had to be
removed for non-anamorphic projection. Apart from that, in the early 1950's
there always was the possibility that a company would come up with an
anamorphic process which featured another expansion factor (8). This would
mean another anamorphic lens would be required, unless the expansion factor
could be varied.
The Panavision attachment, named the Super Panatar, was capable of covering
any possible anamorphic process between zero and two. Finally, the variation
knob also functioned as a gimmick. During particular scenes theater
projectionists could expand or contract the image on the screen (e.g. during
a cartoon) by turning the knob (9). However, there was one disadvantage to
this lens: Due to the construction of the prisms, the projection had to go
through eight glass surfaces. This meant a final loss of light of about 15%
But manufacturing is one thing, trying to sell the product was something
else. Gottschalk had a gift for that. He started at the end of 1953 by
giving a presentation to a group of Hollywood cameramen, technicians and
others interested in commercial and educational motion pictures, called the "Reel
Fellows". He presented Panavision as a new widescreen process,
identical to CinemaScope but with a higher quality in definition and
sharpness. During this demonstration, Gottschalk stated that Panavision
anamorphic lenses would soon be available for 35mm taking lenses, 16mm
taking and projection lenses, 8mm taking and projection lenses, and a
Panavision lens for still photography. One of the attendants wrote:
There was less bending of the horizon than was experienced with CinemaScope
and excellent depth of field. Straight edges were straight with no barreling
or distortion: lines remained square But it is only fair to say that the
Panavision demonstration was done in a relatively small room with a small
throw, while CinemaScope was on a regular theater screen (11).
Of course Gottschalk was not lying when he said that the Panavision lens was
available for anamorphic photography, but the patents on anamorphic
photography belonged to 20th Century-Fox. In Chapter 1 it was stated that
within a short period of time other anamorphic processes were presented in
order to avoid paying patent rights. This was not the case in Hollywood
where Fox dominated the making of anamorphic motion pictures for a number of
years, via its subsidiary, CinemaScope. Fox could have prohibited the actual
projection in the cinemas. The first thing to do, therefore, was to get
permission from Fox to sell Panavision projector attachments to the theaters.
According to Richard Moore, Spyros Skouras (president of 20th Century-Fox)
granted permission during a meeting in New York, to show Fox anamorphic
prints through the Super Panatar (12).
Thus, the road was now free for selling anamorphic projection attachments.
Gottschalk presided over product-demonstrations which he arranged for
exhibitors in Los Angeles and New York.
Panavision had now manufactured projection attachments, made up of less
expensive components. However, that does not imply establishment in an
economic market. The subject of establishment is even more important when
one realizes that the market would be limited since there were only a fixed
number of theaters. In other words: Following the invention of the
anamorphic prismatic projection attachments, new products had to be
developed, in order to prevent the company from going out of business once
the market of projection attachments had been saturated.
The Invention Phase
1 Richard Moore, interview by author, 4 September 1991, Hollywood, California, telephone interview.
George Kraemer, interview by author, 11 July 1991, Tarzana, California, video and audio recording.
2 Richard Moore, interview by author, 11 July 1991, Hollywood, California, video and audio recording.
Moore, 4 September 1991.
Richard Moore, interview by author, 10 August 1991, Hollywood, California, telephone interview.
4 Kraemer, 1991.
5 Bausch and Lomb advertisement, "Journal of the SMPTE" (November, 1954) p. 201.
6 Moore, 11 July 1991.
Moore, 10 August 1991.
8 That actually happened. VistaVision films were for a short period of time available as anamorphic prints with an expansion factor of 1.5, according to two Panavision advertisements in the "Film Daily" 15 October 1954, p. 9, and 12 November 1954, p. 13.
9 "Film Daily" 1 November 1954, p. 21.
10 Kraemer, 1991.
Takuo Miyagishima, interview by author, 11 July 1991, Tarzana, California, video and audio recording.
11 "Film World" December, 1953, p. 510.
12 Moore, 11 July 1991.
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