RE: Vitaphone, (Sound on disc) vs Photophone, Phonofilm & Movietone (Sound on film)

On several term papers there was confusion about the technology of sound on disc
and sound on film. Below I have tried to clarify the subject. Please read this will as it be covered in your final exam. I will upload the documentary that I screened on the subject
later today.

Vitaphone System (Sound on Disc)

From the perspective of the cast and crew on the sound stage, there was little difference between filming with Vitaphone and a sound-on-film system. In the early years of sound, the noisy cameras and their operators were enclosed in soundproofed booths with small windows made of thick glass. Cables suspended the microphones in fixed positions just above camera range, and sometimes they were hidden behind objects in the scene. The recording machines were usually located in a separate building to completely isolate them from sound stage floor vibrations and other undesirable influences. The audio signal was sent from an on-stage monitoring and control booth to the recording room over a heavy shielded cable. Synchronization was maintained by driving all the cameras and recorders with synchronous electric motors powered from a common source. When music and sound effects were being recorded to accompany existing film footage, the film was projected so that the conductor could synchronize the music with the visual cues and it was the projector, rather than a camera, that was electrically interlocked with the recording machine.

Except for the unusual disc size and speed, the physical record-making process was the same one employed by contemporary record companies to make smaller discs for home use. The recording lathe cut an audio-signal-modulated spiral groove into the polished surface of a thick round slab of wax-like material rotating on a turntable. The wax was much too soft to be played in the usual way, but a specially supported and guided pickup could be used to play it back immediately in order to detect any sound problems that might have gone unnoticed during the filming. If problems were found, the scene could then be re-shot while everything was still in place, minimizing additional expense. Even the lightest playback caused some damage to the wax master, so it was customary to employ two recorders and simultaneously record two waxes, one to play and the other to be sent for processing if that “take” of the scene was approved. At the processing plant the surface of the wax was rendered electrically conductive and electroplated to produce a metal mold or “stamper” with a ridge instead of a groove, and this was used to press hard shellac discs from molten “biscuits” of the raw material.

Because of the universal desirability of an immediate playback capability, even studios using sound-on-film systems employed a wax disc “playback machine” in tandem with their film recorders, as it was impossible to play an optical recording until it had made the round trip to the film processing laboratory.

A Vitaphone-equipped theater had normal projectors which had been furnished with special phonograph turntables and pickups; a fader; an amplifier; and a loudspeaker system. The projectors operated just as motorized silent projectors did, but at a fixed speed of 24 frames per second and mechanically interlocked with the attached turntables. When each projector was threaded, the projectionist would align a start mark on the film with the film gate, then cue up the corresponding soundtrack disc on the turntable, being careful to place the phonograph needle at a point indicated by an arrow scribed on the record’s surface. When the projector was started, it rotated the linked turntable and (in theory) automatically kept the record “in sync” (correctly synchronized) with the projected image.

Phonofilm is a optical sound-on-film system developed by inventors Lee de Forest and Theodore Case in the 1920s.

While shunning Phonofilm, Hollywood studios introduced different systems for talkies. First up was the sound-on-disc process introduced by Warner Brothers as Vitaphone — which used a record disc synchronized with the film for sound. Warner Brothers released the feature film Don Juan starring John Barrymore on 6 August 1926 in Vitaphone, with music and sound effects only.

On 6 October 1927, Warner Brothers released The Jazz Singer with Al Jolson in Vitaphone. The film is often incorrectly credited as the first talking picture. The Jazz Singer was the first feature film to use synchronized sound for talking sequences rather than just for music and sound effects, and thus launched the talkie era, but DeForest’s sound-on-film system was in fact the basis for modern sound movies.

The Movietone sound system is an optical sound-on-film method of recording sound for motion pictures that guarantees synchronization between sound and picture. It achieves this by recording the sound as a variable-density optical track on the same strip of film that records the pictures. Although sound films today use variable-area tracks, any modern motion picture theater (excluding those that have transitioned to digital cinema) can play a Movietone film without modification to the projector. Movietone was one of four motion picture sound systems under development in the U.S. during the 1920s, the others being DeForest PhonofilmWarner Brothers‘ Vitaphone, and RCA Photophone, though Phonofilm was primarily an early version of Movietone.

 The Fox Movietone system was first demonstrated to the public at the Sam H. Harris Theatre in New York City on January 21, 1927, with a short film of Raquel Meller preceding the feature film What Price Glory?, originally released in November 1926.[9] Later in 1927, producer William Fox introduced sound-on-film with the feature film Sunrise by F. W. Murnau. In 1928, the sound-on-film process RCA Photophone was adopted by newly created studio RKO Radio Pictures and by Paramount Pictures.

The Movietone sound system is an optical sound-on-film method of recording sound for motion pictures that guarantees synchronization between sound and picture. It achieves this by recording the sound as a variable-density optical track on the same strip of film that records the pictures. Although sound films today use variable-area tracks, any modern motion picture theater (excluding those that have transitioned to digital cinema) can play a Movietone film without modification to the projector. Movietone was one of four motion picture sound systems under development in the U.S. during the 1920s, the others being DeForest PhonofilmWarner Brothers‘ Vitaphone, and RCA Photophone, though Phonofilm was primarily an early version of Movietone.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Movietone_sound_system

Photophone System (Sound on film)

In 1925 GE started a program to develop commercial sound-on-film equipment based on Hoxie’s work. Unlike the Phonofilm and Movietone systems in which the audio modulated the intensity of a recording lamp which exposed the soundtrack, thus creating a variable-density track, the GE system employed a fast-acting mirror galvanometer to create a variable-area soundtrack. A number of demonstrations of this system, now known as Photophone, were given in 1926 and 1927. The first public screenings with this system were of a sound version (music plus sound effects only) of the silent film Wings which was exhibited as a road-show in around a dozen specially equipped theatres during 1927.[1]

In 1928 RCA Photophone Inc. was created as a subsidiary of RCA (itself then a GE subsidiary) to commercially exploit the Photophone system. The RCA system continued to use thegalvanometer until the 1970s, when it became technically obsolete. The Western Electric system continued to use the light valve, and, under successor ownership, is still used to this day.

For nearly half a century, motion picture sound systems were licensed, with two major licensors in North America, RCA and Western Electric (Northern Electric, in Canada), which licensed their principal sound element (original track negative) recording systems on a non-exclusive basis. In general, motion picture producers elected to license one or the other. In a few cases, where mergers had occurred, a producer might be licensed for both. For many years, it was customary to “brand” a film with its sound system, variously as “RCA Sound Recording”, “Western Electric Recording”, or similar brands, often including the corporate logo of the licensor.

 

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