The Movietone sound system was an optical sound-on-film method of recording sound for motion pictures that guaranteed synchronization between sound and picture. It achieved this by recording the sound as a variable-density optical track on the same strip of film that records the pictures. At first, it could attain sound up to 8500 Hz.
Movietone competed with 3 other sound systems during the 1920s. The others were DeForest Phonofilm, Warner Brothers’ Vitaphone, and RCA Photophone. However, Phonofilm was principally an early version of Movietone.
The Movietone system was developed by Theodore W. Case and his team at the Case Research Laboratory in Camden, New Jersey. Case had been working on sound-on-film recording since the early 1900s, and his system was finally perfected in 1926.
In 1927, Fox Film Corporation acquired the rights to the Movietone system and began using it to produce sound motion pictures.
The sound was reproduced from the etchings on the film using a process called optical sound reproduction. In this process, the sound waves are converted into light waves, which are then recorded on the film. When the film is played back, the light waves are converted back into sound waves.
The Movietone Process
The first step in optical sound reproduction is to record the sound waves. This is done using a microphone, which converts the sound waves into electrical signals. The electrical signals are then amplified and sent to a light source. The light source is focused onto a strip of film, which is coated with a light-sensitive emulsion. The sound waves cause the light waves to vary in intensity, which is recorded on the film as a series of light and dark areas.
The next step is to play back the sound. This is done by shining a light through the film onto a photoelectric cell. The photoelectric cell converts the light waves back into electrical signals. The electrical signals are then amplified and sent to a loudspeaker. The loudspeaker converts the electrical signals back into sound waves, which are then heard by the audience.
The Movietone system quickly became the dominant sound-on-film system in the United States. By the end of the 1920s, most major motion picture studios were using Movietone to produce their films.
The Movietone system remained in use until the late 1930s, when it was superseded by magnetic sound-on-film systems.
Magnetic sound-on-film systems offered several advantages over Movietone, including:
Higher sound quality
Smaller and lighter equipment
More flexibility in editing
As a result of these advantages, magnetic sound-on-film systems became the standard for sound motion pictures.
However, Movietone continued to be used for newsreels and other short films until the 1960s.
- Year Started: 1926
- Year Ended: 1963
- Origin Of Name: Movie plus “tone” for Sound
- Location Sales: Worldwide
- Brand Name Predecessor: N/A
- Brand Name Successor: N/A
- Owner Original: Case Research Laboratory
- Owner While In Use: Fox Film Corporation
- Owner Successor: N/A
- Year Resurrected: N/A
- What’s Popular Today: Digital Films
- Naics Code: 333310
- Location Headquarters: New York, New York USA