A New Kind of Movie

Circarama, U.S.A. was an original Tomorrowland attraction displaying an immersive and innovative film projected on a 360 degree screen. The first motion picture shown at Circarama was titled “A Tour of the West.”

On the Circarama sign you’ll notice “CAR” stands out in bright red. That’s because the film was recorded by mounting eleven 16mm cameras on the roof of a Nash Rambler station wagon. Not coincidentally, the attraction was also sponsored by American Motors, who made the Nash Rambler, for a reported $45,000. 

Many of the Tomorrowland attractions were sponsored by and had significant thematic connections with American businesses. In the rush to get the park ready for its opening in July of 1955 Walt and Roy Disney were running out of both time and money to complete the park. Initially, the difficult decision was made to open Disneyland without Tomorrowland. However, when Walt was able to bring a number of corporate sponsors, like American Motors, on board to finance Tomorrowland attractions and exhibits he reversed his decision to delay Tomorrowland’s opening.

Peter Ellenshaw (kneeling) and cameraman Jack Whitman setup the Circarama camera (Photo from Business Screen Magazine)

The technology used to film A Tour of the West was developed by Disney Legends Ub Iwerks and Roger Broggie. The picture was filmed in Kodachrome under the supervision of Bill Anderson and art direction of Peter Ellenshaw, both Disney Legends as well. The 12 minute film took viewers on a trip through Hollywood via Sunset Boulevard, to Monument Valley in Arizona, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, and even a brief voyage through Newport Harbor – which was filmed by putting the camera mount on a boat. 

Exactly one year after attraction and park opened, Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks filed for a patent for what they called a “Panoramic Motion Picture Presentation Arrangement. The patent was later approved on June 28, 1960.

Patent illustrations of Circarama submitted by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks

Today, you can find the original Circarama camera mount on display at The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. 

Installing the multiple projectors and synchronizing the video and audio was a complex task which required some outside help. The Ralke Company of Los Angeles was brought in for the installation and maintenance of the Ciracarama projection system, the Urbran Engineering Company of Hollywood synchronized the projectors and sound system, and Kinevox Inc. of Hollywood engineered the audio. A very detailed look at the technical audio/visual aspects of the attraction can be found in a Business Screen Magazine article from 1955.

In early 1960, A Tour of the West was replaced by a new Circarama film titled America the Beautiful. In 1967, the 11 screen Circarama setup was replaced by an updated nine-screen format in a larger theater and renamed Circle-Vision. The attraction would remain in place until 1997 when it was closed to make way for the ill-fated Rocket Rods queue and pre-show. Today, the show building is home to the Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters attraction.

Construction Design

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