Film Format

Chris Coles and Reed Smoot

Here you will find all kinds of deliciously geeky information about the medium on which Rainbow War was filmed – more information than you really needed – by director/producer Bob Rogers.

As was true for many 70mm films shot in that period, Rainbow War was originally filmed in Cinemascope.  Cinemascope has a total negative area and an aspect ratio very compatible with 5-perf 70mm.  We knew from the beginning that the film would be viewed in 70mm.  To assure that Rainbow War would look great in 70mm we hired Reed Smoot,, as director of photography.  Reed has become the definitive master of IMAX.  Reed’s approach for Rainbow War was to use the perfect combination of film stock, processing, exposure, and lighting that caused all parts of the picture to be in sharp focus with almost no grain.  We also filmed exclusively with prime lenses (no zoom lenses) for an additional touch of sharpness.

Rainbow War included a handful of visual effects created via effects animation.  These were filmed in 8-perf VistaVision.

The enlargement to 70mm was supervised by Rick Gordon,,who has become one of the world’s experts in the printing and handling of IMAX films.

The result was a film that looks every bit as good as, or BETTER than, films shot in the 65mm format.

Rainbow War was nominated for an Academy Award in the Live Action Short category, one of only three or four Expo films to ever receive an Oscar nomination.  It received about 50 other international awards.

Following its initial presentation, Rainbow War played all over the world, including appearances in IMAX and Omnimax theaters.  It was the only film invited to the 1988 Olympics in Korea as part of their Olympic arts festival.

To play in all these different theaters, Rainbow War was converted to many different formats.  The formats included 15/70 (for convenience for use by theaters equipped with IMAX projectors), standard 5/70, 35mm Cinemascope, 35mm 1.85 letterbox, 35mm 1.33, and even 16mm 1.33.  The video conversions broke my heart because, at that time, absolutely no consumer wanted a letter box video version showing the full 70mm wide screen, so a “pan-and-scan” was created by Rick Gordon.  A “pan-and-scan” vertically fills the standard television screen, but cuts off the sides of the wide screen.  This cuts off all kinds of wonderful detail and action taking place on the deleted sides.

In 2010 and 2011 for its 25th anniversary, the film was painstakingly, digitally restored with the help of Rick Gordon, and is now available for the first time in Blu-ray.  The Blu-ray restored the sides of the picture which had not been seen in a couple of decades.

One of the original difficulties in shooting the film had been the poor job that Kodak does with color control.  For this film red had to always be red, never orange.  Yellow always had to be yellow, never greenish.  And, of course, Kodak never did know how to make real purple.  Twenty-five years after its original production, Rick Gordon’s 2011 digital restoration finally solved those problems.  The color and image quality in the Blu-ray is, in the opinion of the director and the producer (both are me), superior to anything we ever saw in 35mm or 70mm.

For most of my career, the pundits were predicting that video formats would replace film.  About 1998, that finally started becoming a practical reality.  So, as part of our 2010/2011 digital restoration, it was our sad task to sort through our film vaults and triage/destroy most of our inventory of 35mm and 70mm release prints of Rainbow War and our other Academy Award nominated short film, Ballet Robotique.  And, of course, we destroyed ALL 16mm copies – 16mm is absolutely dead.  Unfortunately, now that we have Blu-ray, nobody wants celluloid.  But the good news is that the image quality and color of the Blu-ray is a significant improvement over the celluloid prints.  But, of course, we saved the original negatives so that when Blu-ray is replaced by 4K (or whatever), we will do our digital restoration all over again.


Bob Rogers