ARRI and Carl Zeiss have been partners for three-quarters of a century, a cooperative relationship that is unmatched anywhere else in the film industry. Across every conceivable genre – comedy, documentary, action movies and computer-animated 3D productions – a long succession of masterpieces have been created, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with the cameras and lenses of ARRI and Carl Zeiss. The script of this unique partnership has included some truly exciting moments in the history of filmmaking.
ARRI was born in 1914, when August Arnold and Robert Richter fitted an electric motor and an arc lamp of their own design to a hand-operated film projector. In 1917, the two inventors established the firm Arnold & Richter Cine Technik GmbH & Co Betriebs KG, or ARRI for short, based in the Türkenstrasse in the Schwabing district of Munich. Their major breakthrough came two decades later in 1937 with the Arriflex 35. This was the first movie camera in which the viewfinder showed the user the exact image being photographed, thanks to a mirror shutter developed by ARRI. This milestone also marked the start of the partnership with Carl Zeiss in Oberkochen; the developers from Carl Zeiss designed the lenses for the new camera. At that stage, the camera could be fitted with three different lenses simultaneously. A special mechanism was provided to rotate the required lens into the shooting position. This enabled the camera operator to respond quickly to different situations, and the three most important focal lengths were immediately available.
After the Second World War, the Arriflex 35 became an export winner, and ARRI, alongside Carl Zeiss, emerged as an international player in the film industry. The first Hollywood film that was shot with this camera was Dark Passage in 1947, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. A characteristic feature of this film was the use of images as seen from the point of view of the protagonists. This required a camera that could go wherever the actors went, making the compact Arriflex 35 with its mirror shutter the perfect choice.
The 1950s were a period of continuous expansion and new activity for ARRI. In the Maxvorstadt district of Munich in particular, the company built film workshops, a large movie theater, a color copying factory and production plants for cameras, development and copying machines, as well as cinematographic accessories of all kinds. The Arriflex, as the cornerstone of the company’s success, has also changed with the times, with a constant succession of further enhancements that continues to this day. The Arriflex has been fitted with digital control electronics since the 1990s, and more recent models, starting with the ARRICAM from 2001, have been equipped with state-of-the-art software that allows the programming of running speeds and optical settings. Today, ARRI is recognized as the market leader in the international movie industry. Of the 300 professional movie cameras that are manufactured each year, 220 are made by ARRI.
Cine lenses have also always had to meet the highest standards, given that images created on the small surface area of a 35mm film or a digital sensor are magnified up to 1,000 times when shown on a large screen in a movie theater. Dr. Winfried Scherle, Senior Vice President of the Camera Lens Division of Carl Zeiss AG, says, “Lenses for motion picture productions have always facinated me. It is a real challenge to make the performance of the lenses so good that an image taken on a detail the size of a finger nail later appears on the large screen the size of a house.”
Achieving this requires not only a very high-performance camera, but also lenses with outstanding imaging power – a combination that the partners have continued to perfect over time. Carl Zeiss now develops and produces a wide range of lenses exclusively for ARRI, specifically used for making movies. All of these lenses have outstanding image quality, sharpness of detail and color fidelity. The Ultra Prime range of ARRI/ZEISS lenses now comprises a total of 16 focal lengths, the most extensive spectrum currently available in the cinematographic sector. In addition, the extremely fast Master Prime and Master Zoom lenses open up unprecedented expressive possibilities for cinematographers.
Great cinema with Oscar-quality technology
The outstanding diversity and recognised superior quality of ARRI cameras in combination with ZEISS cine lenses make them the technology of choice on international film sets for discerning cameramen and producers. Numerous legendary and recent prize-winning films such as The King’s Speech, The Lord of the Rings and Men in Black 3 have been shot with this highly successful combination. “It is always impressive to see what works of art have been created with our technology,” says Scherle. According to the leading German cameraman Michael Ballhaus, who shot some of the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder (The Marriage of Maria Braun) and Martin Scorsese (The Departed). “With ARRI cameras and the lenses of Carl Zeiss, what I see in the camera will be exactly what the viewers will see on the screen.”
Authentic images were also the order of the day for star director Stanley Kubrick when shooting his masterpiece Barry Lyndon, released in 1975. Kubrick’s film version of William M. Thackeray’s novel aimed to give the audience a living experience of the atmosphere of Baroque painting and music. For Kubrick, this meant above all replicating the light conditions of the time, long before the invention of the incandescent bulb. After being told by all the camera specialists that this was impossible, Kubrick heard that Carl Zeiss had an extremely fast lens, the Planar f0,7/50mm with a maximum aperture of f/0.7, which had been developed for NASA for taking shots on the moon. Using this lens, Kubrick proceeded to shoot all the interior scenes for Barry Lyndon by candlelight – a genuine sensation in 1975. And as his camera, Kubrick used an Arriflex 35 BL, a further enhanced version of the legendary camera dating from 1937.
More than 40 Hollywood films that have been shot with ARRI/ZEISS lenses have won Oscars. But it is not only their creative power that has been awarded. The lenses originating from the partnership between ARRI and Carl Zeiss have also won three “technical Oscars”. Recently, the designers of the Master Prime range of lenses picked up the 2012 Scientific and Engineering Award (Academy Plaque®) of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (©A.M.P.A.S.®). This is the industry’s highest distinction for filming technology.
Today, as 75 years ago, ARRI and ZEISS continue to set new standards in the film industry in terms of performance excellence and innovative technology. This can be attributed to their determination, passion and mutual trust, which have proved to be the key success factors in their long, innovative and extremely fruitful partnership.
Tags: 7/50mm, Academy Plaque, ARRI, Arricam, ARRIFlex, Arriflex 35, Carl Zeiss, Carl Zeiss Lenses, Cine Lenses, Dark Passage, Fassbinder, Hollywood, Kubrick, master prime, Master Zoom, Oscar, Planar f0, Scientific and Engineering Award, The King's Speech, The Lord of the Rings, Ultra Prime, Winfried Scherle