Why So Serious? How Cinerama’s Smilebox Came to Be

This Is CineramaWith the upcoming release of THIS IS CINERAMA and WINDJAMMER we’ve been having some interest about the process that mimics Cinerama’s famous curved screen called Smilebox.  Here’s a brief description of the process from Dave Strohmaier, the director of Cinerama Adventure:


By Dave Strohmaier, director of Cinerama Adventure

This Is Cinerama - ItalyOne of the things we wanted to do in these Cinerama releases was to show people how different/special the Cinerama experience was, as one would have to be about 45+years old to have seen it. Many young people would simply laugh at a letterboxed image of the three panels on the screen saying “what’s so special about this, where is this curve you keep talking about” and I would not blame them.

So we had award winning 3D graphics experts, digital engineers, Oscar winning cinematographers, film historians you name it get involve with creating a “look” that we could use for the Cinerama shots in our Cinerama remasterings. We wanted this effect/treatment to be what people saw back then, although admittedly not from the first 10 rows, as most people didn’t see it from those rows anyway, those were the $3.00+ seats. After about two months of testing, and trying several things, including projecting the original 3 panel Cinerama focus charts on the Seattle Cinerama 146 degree screen checking for horizontal and vertical distortions, we came up with the SmileBox process. We needed to take full advantage of the standard HD 16 x 9 frame and fill it edge to edge and yet have a 146 degree effect that would approximate what people saw in Cinerama theaters. Yes it has its limitations, but within these limitations we do feel we have succeeded. I believe that Smilebox will approximate a Cinerama effect on flat 16 x 9 screens.

Lowell Thomas - This Is Cinerama

Sure Smilebox may not be for everyone but due to the response we have gotten for the Cinerama Adventure documentary most all people will enjoy it.  I consider myself a bit of a perfectionist and believe me I have seen Cinerama from every seat in the house (front, side and back row) at all 3 existing Cinerama  theaters, Seattle, Bradford Media Museum,UK, and the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood and Smilebox will approximate a Cinerama effect on flat 16 x 9 screens.

SmileBox - Simulated Curved ScreenDave StrohmaierProducer, Director, Editor, Cinerama Adventure


In preparing these editions for home video, we here at Flicker Alley worked with the Smilebox footage extensively and can tell you that, without such a process, the experience of watching a Cinerama film at home would be lost.  You can find your copies of THIS IS CINERAMA and WINDJAMMER at http://flickeralley.com

Cinerama 60th AnniversaryAlso, for those of you near Los Angeles don’t forget to check out Cinerama’s 60th Anniversary celebration where they’ll be screening THIS IS CINERAMA and WINDJAMMER, along with other Cinerama titles at the Arclight Cinerama Dome from Sept 28th through Oct 4th.  More details can be found at http://www.in70mm.com/news/2012/cinerama_dome/index.htm


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