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Re-creating "Earthquake" in Sensurround

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Darren Briggs and Bill Thomson. Date: 1. October 2004
It was is in 2001 when we started to plan and gather equipment to install 70mm projection at City Screen York, and after studying lists of the 70mm prints that were available, we found out that a 70mm print of "Earthquake" was still in the U.K.

Bill Thomson one of the projection team in York who has been a major part of the 70mm project from the start had experienced "Earthquake" in 70mm with its original sound system Sensurround and suggested that if we ever play the film, we MUST play it with Sensurround!

It was Early in 2003 when we were collecting 70mm prints from UIP (a great supporter of 70mm here in the U.K.) Bill suggested we pickup " Earthquake" to see what condition the print was in. 

Once back in York when we had screened a reel or two, we found the condition to be very good and that the print had the control tones on audio tracks 2 and 4 to make Sensurround work. So again along with planning the other 70mm presentations for the year, Bill and myself started to look into if re-creating Sensurround was possible.
Further in 70mm reading:

70mm in York

Widescreen Weekend 2004

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Gallery: Rayton
WSW Home
Through the Years
The Best of WSW

Academy of the WSW

Creating the WSW
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Projecting CINERAMA

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Bill Thomson, Duncan McGregor, Tony Cutts and Darren Briggs

After contacting Cerwin-Vega direct (manufacturers of the original Sensurround speaker units), we found out that they no longer had any drivers or technical drawings of the original units, so rebuilding then was not an option 

So Bill set about searching for modern loudspeaker units that would meet the specification of the original Cerwin-Vega built units. I had the task of searching for original Sensurround generator units for use with 70mm. After speaking to many engineers around the U.K. I found that there was not one original 70mm Sensurround Mark 1 unit around. There were units in the U.S.A., Germany and Australia, but all in private collections. (70mm was only used for Sensurround in the Europe; all other territories used 35mm 4 track magnetic or 35mm optical)

In my search for equipment I found an engineer who had original circuit diagrams of the Sensurround unit, and a 35mm optical only Sensurround control box. And he only lives 30 miles away form my home! Howard Ellis gave all the help he could in the task of re-building a new Sensurround generator card for use with the 70mm print. 

Meanwhile back at Bill’s ranch, Bill had had some success in finding a suitable modern replacement for reproducing the low frequencies at high power that Sensurround required.

As the whole new Sensurround re-creation was designed to work in Screen 1, our THX 70mm screen at York, four of the new Sub speaker units were acquired. 

Bring The Whole System Together

So far Bill had sourced the all important sub units and Howard and myself had built a new generator card. The other piece of electronics that we needed was the control/trigger unit to read the tones from the film and control the Sensurround ‘Rumble’. My next task was to build the new 70mm control unit. 

First Rehearsal

To test the positioning of the subs we made up very long speaker cable runs and set the rumble going whilst we lugged the speakers around.
This was done in an early morning test session to give us enough time to set up the new subs, rehearse the system (film and sound) and then remove the subs. (After many test sessions we got very fast at installing the sub’s!) 

At this point we were having stability problems with the newly built generator card, and it only seemed to last for 5 minutes before one of the chips on it failed. So we then decided a new route to take with the generator. This was to sample the rumble sound from the generator, and play it back from a modern audio sample unit. This also gave us the ability to slow the whole rumble sound down slightly to give maximum effect with the new subs. 

After 20 minutes of testing, we had a headache for the rest of the day! But we did finalise the position of the subs! Cable was installed underneath the cinema seating, and sockets for the subs installed for fast set up.

Getting Ready For The First Show

Bill has been a 70mm film fan for along time, and had collected many film posters of the years, and under his bed (where else!) at home he found an original Earthquake poster of all things.

He had this copied and reprinted with additional text on it and the posters went up on display in the cinema. The first show was to be on November 22nd 2003.

We were hoping to have a whole weekend of 70mm presentations, but due to the 35mm film schedule been too busy, we had only time to fit in a Saturday late night screening, and a Disaster Double bill on the Sunday starting at 10-30am in the morning with " Krakatoa East of Java". Then " Earthquake" at 1-30pm.


First Show

To make the " Earthquake" experience a little more exciting we employ actors before the show to mix with the audience, and at key points we use certain live effects in the auditorium during the presentation.

We had people who had travelled from South Africa and all over the U.K. to attend the screenings on the Saturday night and Sunday Disaster Double Bill. 

The audience reaction was very good from the shows, and a few people who had seen it on the original release said it was equal if not better than when they had seen it in 1974.

For a modern audience that is use to hearing the sub bass that has been around in the cinema for many years, the Sensurround re-creation had to be something quite different, and Bill and myself are happy that we seem to have met the demand required for Sensurround and a modern cinema audience, with live effects along side the film and re-created Sensurround system.

"Earthquake" screening so far

City Screen York Saturday Late night 22nd Nov 2003
City Screen York (Double bill with "Krakatoa East of Java") 23rd Nov 2003 
City Screen York Saturday Late night 31st Jan 2004
Bradford Film Festival Widescreen Weekend 8-30 Sunday 22nd March 2004
City Screen York (Private screening for University) April 2004
Picturehouse at FACT Liverpool May 27th
Future shows (TBC)
Stratford East Picturehouse London 70mm
Harbour Lights Picturehouse Southampton 70mm
Arts Picturehouse Cambridge 70mm
Cameo Cinema Edinburgh (35mm presentation)
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Updated 21-01-24