The Fullscope Lens

Billy Bell worked with many people, including a former Egyptian army general with a widescale passion for film


Just when you thought you had seen every 35mm film oddity, along comes another in the form of a “Fullscope” lens. The inventor, the late General Shafik, believed this was the answer to Cinerama. I first met Deen Shafik in Samuelsons at Cricklewood in 1980. He told me that since the 1950s he had been obsessed with producing a Cinerama type effect using only a single camera and projector. He decided the key was to pull the screen round into a full half circle, and that this would create a pseudo-3D effect. The task he set himself was to project a 180-degree picture on to a deeply curved wraparound screen, and with minor adjustments, to achieve a 360 degree picture.

His lens consisted of a series of six spherical lenses set in a metal tube like a telescope, which focus the image on to a curved mirror. The lens takes a horseshoe-shaped image from the frame of film and spreads it out across the screen. The projection lens is made slightly asymmetrical to show the image upwards, with the bottom of the picture at an angle of 2.5 degrees, the top at 60 degrees. This means the projector can be mounted on the floor in front of the curved screen to give the audience an unobstructed view.

During the development of his Fullscope lens, General Shafic asked me to supply a xenon lamphouse and suitable projection equipment. The lamphouse contained a 300mm dichroic mirror and dichroic filters and could also take seven different types of xenon lamps. Film rollers which were mounted on top also enabled him to run film loops. A Kalee GK 37 projector mechanism was chosen because of the simplicity of modifying its optical arm to take the Fullscope lens. This test equipment was set up in his flat near Marble Arch which provided adequate space for a 16ft wide wraparound screen.

During many visits, he told me that while still in the Egyptian army he mugged up on optics. His artillery experience and the maths associated with ballistics and trajectories stood him in good stead. When he retired in 1974, he started looking for financial backing and a computer expert. A rich friend in Kuwait provided finance and Professor Charles Wynne, former director of the optical design group at Imperial College London, helped with the computing. I.C. Optical Systems produced the lens and the Samuelson Co. provided the freedom of their workshops and expertise. A demonstration of the Fullscope lens was duly carried out at the London International Film School, in the late 1980s. The film used was shot from the top of a moving vehicle speeding along a narrow street. The projection lens was also the taking lens used for shooting the demo film. The wraparound screen set up at L.I.F.S. provided a stunning 3D effect , even more so when things didn’t quite go according to plan. The general hadn’t anticipated that the taking lens, when used for projection, would be affected by heat from the light source and that the lamp black interior of the lens would continue to dry out. This condensation caused the picture to fog in the middle of the screen giving a nightmarish 3D effect, where the viewer is driving blindly through dense fog, while still able to see the shops on either side of the street flash by in sharp focus.

When I last visited General Shafik, he proved that he had achieved a successful result with his Fullscope lens by showing a 360 degree picture on a 12 ft diameter circular screen. The 360 degree film frame shows three supports within the taking lens, but these were later eliminated by optical means in the finished lens.

Today, all of General Shafik’s efforts and the capability of his Fullscope lens could easily be replicated and enhanced by digital technology. Nevertheless, it was a privilege to work with him. New Scientist reported on the system in 1988, when Shafik said that it was designed to enhance realism, because viewers see some of the screen only by periph­eral vision, out of the comers of their eyes. He said the system’s equipment is simpler than other devices created to produce realistic pictures on wide screens. The image photographed on Fullscope film looks like the view through a wide letterbox, curved into a horseshoe shape. He revealed that six spherical lenses set in a metal tube focus the film’s image onto a curved aluminium-coated glass mirror. After reflection from the mirror and projection onto the screen. the horseshoe image ends up looking like a realistic panorama.