Panoramic (cinema)

panoramic or pano in cinematographic jargon 1 is a rotational movement of the camera on an axis, horizontally or vertically, as well as its result. The camera can rotate on a vertical axis, from left to right or vice versa, it is a horizontal panning , identical to the movement of the head when the horizon is traversed by the look (in English ”  pan  “: ”  the camera is panning  “). It can switch on the horizontal axis perpendicular to that of the objective, from bottom to top or vice versa, it is a vertical panning, identical to the movement of the head looking at an alpine landscape, from the bottom of the valley to the top of the mountain, and conversely (in English ”  tilt  “: ”  the camera is panning and tilting  ” 2 ). Both types of panning can be combined 3 .


The most obvious displacement is the horizontal panning. However, it took a few years to nascent cinema ( 1891 ) to overcome a major difficulty: the first cameras did not have a sighting system. Framing was determined before shooting (which lasted a maximum of one minute), before loading the camera with a reel of clean photosensitive film. The target was carried out on the back of the device (as with a photographic camera ), directly at the shooting window, on a piece of film veiled the operator available at the window. The image formed on this film was reversed, since any photographic lenscompletely reverses the light beam, upside down and left-right inversion. The camera being placed at the right place, according to an optimal axis, and the focus of the objective being made, the operator could then charge his camera (as with a camera) and take the shot which in general exhausted the camera. short bobbin of virgin film. He turned his crank without having the opportunity to control or rectify his framing. “As the majority of the operators at the time were originally photographers, they had their eyes sharpened by the experience and, while turning the crank, they could realize that their subject might go out of the box and to go out of the field. To avoid being forced to start the scene again and to waste film, they had found the solution to move the camera as quickly as possible on its support, judged 4 ! ” A clever kick shoe in one of the branches of their wooden tripod was enough to bring the subject in the center of the image.

Soon, however, operators resorted to a comfortable and relatively accurate system: a target, called “clear”, that is to say a sighting tube, or a simple cross-linked part, disposed above the camera 5 . This viewfinder offered the possibility of a control of the framing during the shooting, approximate but sufficient to consider to rotate the camera, and thus to pan. The word “panoramic” comes from the photograph, which at that time had clichés arranged side by side, showing a 360 ° landscape, called “panoramas” or “panoramics” (the first travellings , experienced on landscapes by an operator of Louis Lumière , Alexandre Promiowere baptized “panoramas Lumière” by the Lyon brothers).

It was still necessary to know how to make the movement. It must be remembered that the two hands of the operator were already mobilized to stabilize the apparatus and operate with vigor and regularity the crank of the drive mechanism. It is written in the notice of Cinematographe Lumière: “We turn the handle at the rate of 2 turns per second (at the beginning, most operators have a tendency to turn too slowly, and we warn them against this pitfall), taking care to keep the device firmly with the left hand, pressing on the foot, to avoid trepidation 6 . “To perform a simple horizontal panning, he needed the help of an assistant to activate a new crank installed on the tripod, which allowed to steer the camera in one direction or the other. One can imagine the difficulty encountered by the operator James H. White , sent by Thomas Edison to France, on the occasion of the Universal Exhibition of Paris in 1900 , when he managed several panoramics of some 120 °, which he entitled ” Panoramas “, the most famous of which discover the dense traffic of the Place de l’Opéra and the Place de la Concorde . And also,”Pan made from right to left on the buildings of the Expo ends up on the Petit Palais and the single arch over a hundred meters from the Alexandre III bridge , brand new 7 . ”

James White still wanted to immortalize the Eiffel Tower , which was then less than twelve years old, and which had to be dismantled after the Exhibition. He realized on her what is undoubtedly the first vertical panorama of the cinema, Panorama on the Eiffel Tower . He took the risk of filming the sky. At that time, the photosensitive emulsions coated on the films were of the achromatic type, sensitive only to blue and ultraviolet. They made the red black, and the summer skies appeared white, and the clouds could not be distinguished. A good operator avoided framing the sky or showing as little as possible. But James White could not resist the pleasure of such a challenge and left posterity a moving double panoramic (bottom up and up and down) on the famous monument that stands out well on the white background of the Parisian sky. When finished shooting, onlookers who cross his goal amicably greet the 8 .

It was only in 1903 that appear in the Chase Films of the School of Brighton the first panoramic used in fiction plans, for example, hard two poachers Fight , directed by William Haggar . This delay compared to the documentary film corresponds to a primitive filiation of the film played, to the stage of theater or music hall and its mode of vision: the spectator of theater does not change place during the representation and his vision is always frontal, limited on each side by the harlequin mantle masking the wings like blinkers. Thus, in many of his films, Georges Mélièsdoes it include a complete harlequin coat, frieze and hangings in its decor, in reference to its artistic creed: cinema is a complement to the scene ”  Le Châtelet was for Georges Méliès an ideal 9 . ”


The back side of a virgin film is coated with an anti-halo layer, that is, an opaque layer that absorbs light once it has passed through the photosensitive layer. This avoids the return of light due to reflection on the chrome parts that guide the film in the mechanism to the focus of the lens. This anti-halo layer is chemically destroyed during development, ensuring the necessary transparency of the film. But when the film is still blank, inside the camera, the anti-halo layer prevents you from aiming through it to check the focus. To do this, as early as the 1920s , some cameras (such as the Parvo type L of the André Debrie establishments, known and used worldwide), allowed the stop to rock the mechanism and the loaded film, outside the light beam of the lens and see the image formed through the shooting window on a frosted optical glass that was automatically positioned, or to directly insert a ground glass zipper between the film and the focal plane (the window) 5 .

This initial aim, “which makes it possible to determine the focus when the camera stopped, was carried out until the 1960s by the rear of the shooting window thanks to a special viewing tube installed behind the film, until the invention of the reflex sighting 10 . ” The first reflex referred to movie camera is the Arriflex German, which allows precise control of the frame and the focus both stopped in operation, and exiting the factory Arnold & Richter (Arri) in the late 1930s .

From this invention, two ways to perform the panoramic confront: the first, rather popular in Europe, is to rotate the camera on its support at the top of the tripod with a handle (or handlebar) that the operator moves as he would do it with the rudder of a small boat. This way of doing things favors the use of the reflex sight which requires an almost contact of the cheek of the operator with his apparatus.

The second is more American tradition, with cameras whose sighting system is a comfortable side tube placed on the left side at the exact height where is the window of shooting. This system suffers from a problem called parallaxaiming: the horizontal optical axes of the viewfinder and the lens are not confused and it is necessary to correct this parallax when the subject filmed approaches the camera, otherwise it is unframed. The viewfinder is then given an increasingly larger angle with respect to the shooting axis, as the subject moves forward, and vice versa. To simplify the maneuver, the mechanism that converges the viewfinder is coupled with the focus ring. It is the first assistant operator, the “pointer”, as it is called in French, and the English ”  focus puller  “, which turns the focus ring of the lens by a lateral mechanism to gears, at the same time converge the viewfinder towards the subject filmed.

The latter system is linked to one of the most famous objects in American studios, the Mitchell BNC camera, manufactured by The Mitchell Camera Corporation. He accustomed American operators to use a system of rotation of the camera on its two axes, actuated by “two cranks which entail, one a cradle dented for the vertical panoramas, the other a ring gear for the horizontal panoramas … In Le Mépris , Jean-Luc Godard does not resist the pleasure of showing Raoul Coutardflying a Mitchell camera. The operator first pan horizontally, which the Americans call a pan, then a vertical pan, a tilt, which allows the cinematographer to symbolically fix the public’s gaze through the lens and the aim non-reflex 11 . ”

But Mitchell was later endowed with a reflex aiming, and it is now a museum object, the Panavision camera having dethroned it, less heavy and adapted to current techniques (video, steadicam ), but whose first versions were equipped with Mitchell movements.

Using panoramics

The role of panoramic fiction and documentary films is to track the movement of characters or other moving objects, or to describe a large portion of space. When the beginning or the end of the shot or a nearby shot shows characters looking, the pan is viewed as a subjective shot of what they see. The panning extension usually exceeds the width of a frame , up to a half circle. A complete turn is difficult to achieve and creates confusion 12 .

Do not confuse the pan with what is called “crop”. In fact, when the operator films a character in close-up or close-up, in principle, unless otherwise indicated by the director, he constantly makes very slight changes to the frame to compose the image harmoniously taking into account the movements on the spot of the actor. It is about aesthetic adjustments of the framing and not of panoramic. The operator uses panning when the character crosses a place, goes from one point to another of the scenery and we want to track his movement (otherwise, he makes a field trip ).

The panning is done if possible with a normal or long focal length, and not with a wide-angle lens . The lens of long focal (telephoto) increases the effect of course of the look on the decoration. The wide-angle lens tends to lessen the effect of lateral displacement, unless supported by another process, sound for example. “So, Jean-Luc Godard , in Breathless, gives us a superb shot that shows on a country road the big American engine stolen by Michel Poiccard. The panoramic shot was made with a short focal lens and the passage in front of the camera is rather soft. On the other hand, the remoteness of the car in the perspective of the road produces an impression of high speed reinforced by a long horn stroke with a magnificent Doppler effect 13 . ”

The panning can be combined with all tracking shots. A very special effect of panning is solicited in a brutal way, the handle of the camera is moved quickly, the friction or regulation system being disengaged, it is the panoramic spun, also called panoramic “whipped”, with reference to its designation in American, ”  whip pan  “. It corresponds to a sharp head movement, when the eye is alerted by a danger (a collision between two cars, for example) or when it follows a rapid phenomenon (a shooting star, for example).”Between the fixed start and the fixed arrival, the images are totally fuzzy, they are as they say” spun “, and this blur allows special effects. It is sometimes simpler to realize this kind of plan by dividing it into two parts, to fit in fixed on the first subject … and, at the moment when the character turns the head, to rotate quickly the camera without taking the It’s difficult to get a precise shot as the camera performs a whipped motion that gives it inertia on arrival. The arrival is done in two ways, the subject that is shown to us after the panned is an object, or a naked scenery, and we choose to turn in reverse, that is to say that the we frame in fixed this object or this end of decoration, and the we then perform a whipping in the opposite direction of the first one, we leave the object or the decoration, the camera turning in reverse. When mounting, simply connect the two planes obtained in the middle of each yarn. As photograms are fuzzy, the transition from one shot to another is invisible and gives the impression of continuous shooting. Thus a character throws a knife, the camera seems to follow the trajectory of the weapon, but in the second part of the plan, the knife is already planted in the target, and the skill of the shooter is infallible thanks to this effect the transition from one shot to another is invisible and gives the impression of continuous shooting. Thus a character throws a knife, the camera seems to follow the trajectory of the weapon, but in the second part of the plan, the knife is already planted in the target, and the skill of the shooter is infallible thanks to this effect the transition from one shot to another is invisible and gives the impression of continuous shooting. Thus a character throws a knife, the camera seems to follow the trajectory of the weapon, but in the second part of the plan, the knife is already planted in the target, and the skill of the shooter is infallible thanks to this effect14 . ”

Notes and references

  1. ↑ Jean-Loup Passek , Film Dictionary: New edition , Paris, Larousse, ( read online  [ archive ] ) , p.  62 «Slang»
  2. ↑ Passek 2001 , p.  1265 “Tilt”.
  3. ↑ Passek 2001 , p.  911 “Device Movements”, 1236 “Syntax”.
  4. ↑ Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  93.
  5. ↑ a and b Parvo Model L  [ archive ] –
  6. ↑ Leaflet of the Light Cinematograph  [ archive ] –, p.  19
  7. ↑ Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  94.
  8. ↑ Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  98.
  9. ↑ Georges Sadoul , history of world cinema from its origins to today , Paris, Flammarion ,, 719  p. p.  29
  10. ↑ Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  95.
  11. ↑ Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  467.
  12. ↑ Arijon 2004 .
  13. ↑ Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  358.
  14. ↑ Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  469.

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