Waller, Fred 1886 - 1954


Fred Waller was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1886.

Fred Waller was an American inventor and photographer who, amongst many other inventions, developed the widescreen film format Cinerama. During his career, Waller invented technological devices including water skis, a remote recording wind direction and velocity indicator, the Photo-Metric camera and the equipment and process for Cinerama film.

In the mid 1930s (1933-1937) Waller directed a series of short films for Paramount Studios, where he also oversaw the photographic research and special effects department. As head of Paramount's trick film department, he produced everything from realistic model shipwrecks to convertible carriage pumpkins for Cinderella. During this period, Waller began to used wide-angle lenses for special effects, which he noticed produced a slight three-dimensional effect. He began to study sight in people.

Waller was approached by an architect to make a projected picture display inside a sphere for New York World's Fair. Waller developed "Vitarama" for the 1939 Fair, which was the prototype for Cinerama and used an 11-projector system.

During World War II Waller invented the aerial gunnery trainer used by the armed forces. It saved an estimated 350,000 casualties during the way. In it, four trainees sat in a large room in front of a huge spherical screen on which five synchronised projectors threw movies of enemy planes that drove on the novice gunner every which way. In a realistic three-dimensional atmosphere, the gunner fired an electronic machine gun at his adversaries. When they fired, their kicking gun only roared. When they hit, they got a "beep". By the time the gunner climbed into a real plane, he'd had not only realistic target practice but the also the experience of attacking and being attacked.

Cinerama was invented by Waller and promoted by Hazard "Buzz " Reeves. The photographic system behind Cinerama used three interlocked 35 mm cameras equipped with 27 mm lenses, approximately the focal length of the human eye. Each camera photographed one third of the picture shooting in a crisscross pattern, the right camera shooting the left part of the image, the left camera shooting the right part of the image and the center camera shooting straight ahead. The three cameras were mounted as one unit, set at 48 degrees to each other. A single rotating shutter in front of the three lenses assured simultaneous exposure on each of the films. The three angled cameras photographed an image that was not only three times as wide as a standard film but covered 146 degrees of arc, close to the human field of vision, including peripheral vision. The image was photographed six sprocket holes high, rather than the usual four used in other 35 mm processes. The picture was photographed and projected at 26 frames per second rather than the usual 24.

In theaters, Cinerama film was projected from three projection booths arranged in the same crisscross pattern as the cameras. They projected onto a deeply curved screen, the outer thirds of which were made of over 1100 strips of material mounted on "louvers" like a vertical venetian blind, to prevent light projected to each end of the screen from reflecting to the opposite end and washing out the image. This was a big-ticket, reserved-seats spectacle, and the Cinerama projectors were adjusted carefully and operated skillfully. Great care was taken to match color and brightness when producing the prints. Nevertheless, the seams between panels were usually noticeable. Optical limitations with the design of the camera itself meant that if distant scenes joined perfectly, closer objects did not (parallax error). A nearby object might split into two as it crossed the seams.

Waller and Reeves brought the technology to the attention of Lowell Thomas who, first with Mike Todd and later Merian C. Cooper, produced a commercially viable demonstration of Cinerama which opened on Broadway on September 30, 1952. The film, titled This is Cinerama, was received with enthusiasm. Existing theatres were adapted to show Cinerama films and specialist theatres were built from the 1960s onwards.

Waller died on 18th May 1954 in Long Island, New York, aged 68.