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Motion Picture Sound - part 2
Motion Picture Sound 1930-1989
1930 - After the invention of electrical recording that made sound pictures possible after 1926, the motion picture soundtrack was standardized as a single-track (monaural) sound-on-film (optical) track on the edge of a 35mm film strip.
frame with soundtrack from the
1935 WPA film We Work Again,
1934 - RCA introduced a 16mm sound motion picture camera for the amateur market that recorded an optical soundtrack on the edge of the film
1935 - Douglas Shearer at MGM developed a two-way speaker system that became standard in theaters for the next 20 years. This system used a multicellular high-frequency horn and a low-frequency section of 15-inch woofers. MGM first installed the speakers in the New York Loew's 5000-seat Capitol Theater on Broadway for the premier of Romeo and Juliet. To make components, MGM turned to the Lansing Manufacturing Co. in Los Angeles that grew into the Altec Lansing Co. by 1941 and JBL in 1955, the industry leader in motion picture loud speakers. The Shearer-Lansing system won an Academy award in 1936 for technical excellence. (see A Brief History of James B. Lansing by John Eargle)
|poster from IMDb|
1937 - The film One Hundred Men and a Girl starring Deanna Durbin was released by Universal in standard monophonic sound, but it was the first film soundtrack originally recorded by RCA in the "Multiple Channel Recording" process that had been developed by Bell Labs and RCA since 1932 at the Philadelphia Academy of Music. The songs of Durbin and the orchestra of Leopold Stokowski were recorded on 9 channels, each channel printed optically on separate 35mm motion picture film. The 9 channels were then edited into one channel for the optical soundtrack on edge of the release prints. The same recording process would be used in 1940 for Disney's Fantasia.
1940 - Nov. 13 premier of Walt Disney's Fantasia in New York's Broadway Theater with a multichannel soundtrack produced by Leopold Stokowski who recorded an optical track for each section of the orchestra, resulting in 9 separate soundtracks.
|1940 poster from Disneymania|
1952 - This is Cinerama premiered Sept. 30 at the Broadway Theater in New York and would play for 122 weeks. This 3-projector system designed by Fred Waller
|1953 ad from|
1953 - The Robe premiered Sept. 16 at the Roxy in New York in Cinemascope by Twentieth Century Fox with 4-track magnetic soundtrack on the edge of each 35mm cellulose tri-acetate film strip (allowing smaller sprocket holes than weaker nitrate film, and more room for the soundtrack). The Cinemascope technique used an anamorphic lens to film and project a wide image on a curved screen 64 1/2 ft. wide and 26 1/2 ft. high, with three speakers behind the screen (see Cinemascope at American WideScreen Museum)
1954 - White Christmas released April 27 in Paramount's VistaVision horizontal 35mm widescreen format with Perspecta sound. "Perspecta employed a
|poster from IMDb|
1955 - Oklahoma! premiered Oct. 10 at the Rivoli Theater in New York in 65mm Todd-AO with a separate 6-track magnetic soundtrack system designed by Westrex and Ampex, running at 90 ft. per minute (24 fps) in synch with the film projector running at 112.5 ft. per minute (30 fps).
Image at left from 1955 newspaper ad for the Cinemascope version of Oklahoma! that was filmed at the same time as the experimental Todd-AO version and was exhibited in theaters not equipped with Todd-AO equipment. The 1994 laserdisc restoration of Oklahoma! used the Todd-AO version with some scenes filmed differently than the Cinemascope version. From 1950s to 1970s, expensive 70mm films used 6-track magnetic soundtrack 5mm wide placed on the filmstrip between the image and the sprocketholes.
1967 - The Graduate became on of the first films to use old songs from records as a major part of its musical soundtrack. The songs were taken from earlier LPs by Simon and Garfunkel. The song "Mrs. Robinson" was the only original tune but sung in the film only in fragments. Later, the full version was composed and recorded for the soundtrack album, and became the first popular song that mentioned "Jesus" by name, and some radio stations would not play it. See Paul Simon - Now and Then by Spencer Leigh, 1973, from The Graduate Soundtrack. The technique of using popular records in film soundtracks would become standard practice in the 1970s after the success of nostalgic films such as American Graffitti in 1973.
1971 - A Clockwork Orange, the first film to be mastered with Dolby noise reduction, released in December with conventional optical soundtrack; 3 months later the Dolby Model 364 cinema unit was introduced to decode optical soundtracks that contained A--type noise reduction. Image at right of Alex from the Kubrick page by Patrick Larkin - also poster
1974 - Earthquake premiered Nov. 15 in the Chinese Theater in Hollywood with Universal Picture's Sensurround process developed by W. O. Watson and Richard Stumpf at Universal. Four large low-frequency horns were located behind the screen, two in each corner. The Model W horn in each corner was 8 ft. long, 4 ft. wide, 4 ft. high. The Model C horn in each corner was a modular unit 1 ft. wide and 5 ft. high. Two additional horns were located on a platform in the rear of the theater. Each horn was driven by a 1000-watt amplifier controlled by inaudible tones on a special optical control track along with the normal 4-track magnetic soundtrack of the 35mm Panavision filmstrip. These films could only be played with Sensurrond-equipped projectors. Normal 4-track magnetic projectors could play the soundtrack but not the Sensurround effects. A 35mm optical print was released with monophonic sound and included the control signals to activate the special speakers if they were installed in the theater. Some prints released in Europe and Japan were 70mm with 6-track magnetic soundtracks using tracks 2 and 4 for the control signals. The tones turned the horns on and off at preset volumes, creating low-frequency vibrations 5-40 cycles at sound pressures of 110-120 db, causing the audience, chairs, floor to "feel" the vibrations of the earthquke and dam destruction scenes. Image at left from the Nov. 1974 American Cinematographer diagram for Sensurround
1974 - November - Dolby Labs demonstrated the first 35 mm Dolby Stereo optical soundtrack on a section of the film, Stardust, at the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) convention in Toronto; the Dolby Stereo 4-channel optical stereo variable area (SVA) was encoded with left, middle, right, and surround channels that became the ISO 2969 standard for motion picture soundtracks, and was the origin of home consumer versions later known as Dolby Surround and Dolby Pro Logic.
1975 - Nuoptix developed an Anticipatory Noise Reduction system for its FR-1 Optical Sound Recording System that was adopted by Hollywood studios to produce optical soundtracks. The system was also sold by Westrex, the former sound and motion picture equipment distributor of Western Electric.The system evolved to use digital audio delay technology for the anticipatory noise reduction and became the worldwide standard system for recording Dolby stereo optical sound tracks.
1975 - March premier in London of the film Tommy, with a Dolby Stereo soundtrack played on the Dolby CP100 Cinema Processor designed to decode magnetic and optical soundtracks.
1975 - September - Lisztomania released as the first feature film with a Dolby Stereo optical soundtrack.
1976 - Spring - A Star Is Born released with surround sound effects encoded in the Dolby Stereo optical track.
1977 - May - Star Wars released in 46 U.S. theatres equipped for Dolby Stereo; Star Wars next spring won the Academy Award for Best Achievement in Sound.
1979 - November - Apocalypse Now released in 15 theaters equipped to play the first Dolby Stereo 70 mm film with surround sound.
1981 - August - Inauguration of Music Television (MTV) in stereo with B-type noise reduction; Dolby B was developed 1968 and used in FM broadcasting after 1971 and in consumer electronics, but did not replace the professional A-type used in motion pictures.
|Lucasfilm's THX Home Page|
1982 - Return of the Jedi was the first movie exhibited on the THX sound system designed by George Lucas and Tomlinson Holman; THX "is comprised of customized acoustical design work for each auditorium, a special screen speaker installation method, a proprietary electronic crossover network, and
rigorous audio equipment specifications and performance standards." (quote from Overview, Lucasfilm THX Theater Sounds Systems page)
1985 - January - VH-1, the 2nd music tv channel, distributed by satellite using the digital process kown as Dolby AC-1
1986 - Dolby SR (spectral recording) optical format demonstrated to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts
|Image from Voyager|
1987 - July - Innerspace and Robocop released in Dolby Stereo SR
1988 - The IMAX digital sound system was developed by Sonics Associates of Birmingham, Alabama. Sonics was founded in 1971 by Lynn McCroskey and Jim Cawhon who began in the early 1980s to develop a sound system for the IMAX theater at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville. By 1988, they developed a Digital Disc Playback system (DDP) that recorded 2 channels of uncompressed digital sound on an audio compact disc. This system with 3 discs and 6 channels began to replace the multitrack magnetic tape sound systems used in IMAX theaters since 1971. In 1993, Sonic introduced the IMAX 3D sound system with 10 channels for the Sony IMAX theater in New York. Theater speakers produce 8 channels from 4 CD disks synchronized with the15-perforation 70 mm filmstrip running through the projector horizontally past a 15,000-watt lamp at 48 frames per second. The 3D headset has 2 additional channels for the binaural Personal Sound Environment (PSE).
Next - Digital Motion Picture Sound
- Altman, Rick, "The sound of sound: a brief history of the reproduction of sound in movie theaters," Cineaste, Winter-Spring 1995, v21 n1-2, p. 68-72.
- American Cinematographer, "Sensurround." Nov. 1974, p. 1312.
- American WideScreen Museum
- Baldock, Mark R.VistaVison, June 1, 1997.
- Culhane,John. Walt Disney's Fantasia. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1983.
- Daniel, Oliver. Stokowski: a Counterpoint of View. New York: Dodd Mead, 1982.
- DelGrosso, David. DTS Technology. October 1996.
- Digital Sound Page, 3 May 1996.
- Dolby Laboratories, Chronology of Dolby Laboratories from 1965 to 1989 and from 1990-present. San Francisco, CA. 1 May 1997.
- Fielding, Raymond. A Technological History of Motion Pictures and Television; an Anthology from the Pages of the Journal of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1967.
- Hilton, Kevin. "The Phantom Menace," Studio Sound March 1999.
- Hochheiser, Sheldon, "What Makes the Picture Talk: AT&T and the Development of Sound Motion Picture Technology," IEEE Transactions on Education, vol. 35, no. 4, November 1992, pp. 278-285.
- Holman, Tomlinson. "Lucasfilm's approach to bringing the theater experience home." Stereo Review, April 1994, article reproduced at Lucasfilm THX page.
- Kattelle, Alan. Home Movies: A History of the American Industry, 1897-1979. Transition Publishing, 2000.
- Klapholz, Jesse. "Fantasia Innovations in Sound," Journal of Audio Engineering Society 39, Jan/Feb 1991, pp. 66-70.
- Lucasfilm, Ltd. THX Theatre Sound Systems, San Rafael, CA. 1 May 1997.
- Mead, William. Cinema Technology Page, including SDDS FAQ. 1 June 1997.
- MSP - Movie Sound Page
- Neighbors, Bill. Interview with Business Unusual, CNN televison broadcast May 31, 1997.
- One Hundred Years of Film Sizes
- Roudebush, James. "Filmed in Panavision: The Ultimate Wide Screen Experience" article in Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity. January 1995.
- Scientific American. "The 1997 National Medal of Technology: Ray Dolby" in Explorations. May 1997.
- Sharnhorst, Dan. "Digital Sound" in Moviegoers Guide to Movie Theatres. 24 May 1997.
- Sun, Perry. Movie Sound Page. 25 May 1997.
- DVD Resource Page from Steve Tannehill has links to DVD information and to Jim Taylor's DVD FAQ
- 1999-2000 by Steven E. Schoenherr. All rights reserved.
Motion Picture Sound Part 1 and Part 3 | Recording Technology History Notes | this page revised 3/12/01