June 12, 2016

Are You Choosing the Right Aspect Ratio for Your Film?

It may not be the first thing you think about when you start preparing to shoot your film, but it's incredibly important—aspect ratio.

If you're like a lot of filmmakers, you probably started out shooting primarily in 16:9. Why? Maybe because it's the HD and YouTube standard, but most likely because you kind of defaulted into it—and there's no shame in that! Picking an aspect ratio seems a lot less sexy than picking locations or where to set your camera, but Sareesh Sudhakaran of wolfcrow is here to explain what they are, how they can affect your story, and how to choose the right one for your film.

Sareesh gives a ton of great insight into how sensor sizes affect aspect ratios, which ones are used on popular platforms, like YouTube and Vimeo, and a whole lot more. However, I think the big lesson here is that you shouldn't just randomly choose an aspect ratio for your film; the choice should be intentional and motivated by the needs of your project. Sareesh makes a good point when he says, "Pick the aspect ratio that matches your delivery format." So, if you're releasing your film on YouTube or Vimeo, maybe 16:9 is the best option.

But keep in mind the aesthetic properties of aspect ratios, as well. I've shot the majority of my work in 16:9, but I absolutely adore the look of anamorphic. Different aspect ratios change how the visual information on-screen is delivered and communicated, so it's definitely a good thing to keep in mind.

Which aspect ratio do you like to shoot in? Why? Let us know down in the comments!     

Your Comment

12 Comments

video 4:3 was never 1024 but 720 x 576 /540 / 480 between pal / ntsc standard...

June 13, 2016 at 6:20AM

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Carlo Macchiavello
Director
780

true, but it was non-square pixel.
PAL was 720x576 regardless of aspect ratio.
16:9 PAL was 1024x576 in square pixels.
4:3 PAL was 768x576 in square pixels.

So it looks like the image contains some mistakes, but I don't think the image is meant to display the old resolutions.
I would think 4:3 on a HD output would be optimal at 1440x1080.

(Haven't watched the video yet: I'm tuned to the radio now as one of my clients will be live on air any moment.)

June 13, 2016 at 12:47PM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
8992

Well... but 4:3 is an Aspect Ratio. Not a resolution... It could just as easily be 400x300 or 800x600 or 200x300 with 2:1 rectangular pixels (aka 2:1 anamorphic in the olden days of yore)... They may not be official ISO standards. But 4:3 is can really be any resolution as long as the final image is the desired aspect ratio.

June 26, 2016 at 2:17PM

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Johan Malmsten
Movie-Worker
162

Ive been loving anamorphic at this point. 3:1 or 2.55:1 have been favorites of mine for a while.

June 13, 2016 at 9:38AM, Edited June 13, 9:38AM

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Chris Hackett
Director, Director of Photography, Writer
1050

4:3 - Vintage feel (ex. Grand Budapest Hotel)
16:9 - Anything (mainly comedy or drama)
Any Anamorphic - Scifi or Action

June 13, 2016 at 10:43AM, Edited June 13, 10:43AM

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Zachary Will
Cinematographer
822

Pretty much every Wes Anderson has been shot anamorphic aside from the 4:3 shots in GBH.

June 13, 2016 at 1:54PM

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"So, if you're releasing your film on YouTube or Vimeo, maybe 16:9 is the best option."

I'd just like to point out that Vimeo has a custom frame size option (unlike Youtube). There doesn't need to be any pillar- or letterbox on Vimeo videos. Yes, most of the displays on which people view vimeo are close to 16:9, but the option is there...

June 13, 2016 at 11:42AM

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His information is very misleading/plain wrong.

2.39 isn't anamorphic, it's cinemascope. It can be shot with an anamorphic lens and desqueezed, or it can simply be cropped from a high-res sensor. Both result in the same final aspect ratio, but with very different looks.

He's only confusing matters by labeling it anamorphic, which has nothing to do with aspect ratio, and all to do with pixel size/ratio.

And the correct name for 1.85 is FLAT.

June 13, 2016 at 10:32PM

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I agree 100%. "Anamorphic" is an adjective and it means "distorted". It's not supposed to be used as a noun.

June 18, 2016 at 1:07AM, Edited June 18, 1:07AM

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Wojciech Mosiejczuk
Director / head of post
154

Wolfcrow has made some great videos, but I would have to disagree with this video from nofilmschools perspective. It completely misses the issues that affect choosing aspect ratios for those targeting a theatrical (in commercial cinema) release.

Firstly I would point out this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bryGMHgSc9g by Jerry Piece who is the Chairman of the ISDCF group. (InterSociety Digital Cinema Forum), a group including all the studios and industry experts whose job it is to make cinema work around the world.

This video came about due to a few non-standard aspect ratio films coming out.. I remember one was Tomorrowland. Its aspect ratio is 1:2.20, in a Flat container.

"Whats a Flat container?" I remcommend you check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_Cinema_Initiatives as it has all the resolutions and specs for 2K/4K.

But in essence, all cinemas around the world are set up to show ONLY these two aspect ratios. They can be modified in many cases, but in the new digital world of automated boothe, moving away from these standards is fraught with problems.

Jerry Piece;s video is a good starting point, but in some way I feels it is not very accessible and was considering making something that explains it with more depth.

This is a big reason why I started my CineTechGeek channel on cinema technology 8 or so years ago, as I have always felt the best way to understand how a image will appear on screen is to understand the process from camera all the way to projection. Unfortunately many seem to treat the process from master to projection screen as a black box.. And I can tell you a lot can go wrong between those steps..

So I recommend those interested to check out my channel too.

Otherwise, are people interested in a video that goes into more detail on exactly why it is this way? Not just a video saying. do it this way?

Thanks,
James
CineTechGeek

June 18, 2016 at 7:09PM

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James Gardiner
CineTechGeek
63

I feel that calling the 2:1 format "Univisium" because of Vittorio Storaro is a bit misleading. Simply, because I feel that people aren't going for that specific philosophy. I could just as easily call 2:1 something like "Fox Grandeur", or "RKO SuperScope", or the moniker "LieMAX". I tend to think that Jurassic Worlds use of the format was more about it being very close to the digital IMAX format than because of the aging italians views on 35mm film projection and HD-formats at the start of the millenium.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Univisium

If you wanted to, you could probably do it the Storaro way and make your master a 2:1. The DCP's would then be cropped to 2.39:1 Scope and for web and TV you can crop to 1.78:1. Both crops aren't substantial.

Why I do definately not recommend shipping 2:1 to cinemas is that... sadly... todays projectionists are lazy... or ignorant... or both. And even if they hear it isn't one of the standards (FLAT or SCOPE) they most likely aren't going to make a separate macro for it. So most likely you'll end up with one of two scenarios:

1. They show it as Scope. Best of the two probably. Only slight cropping and most screens are Scope-shaped anyways so the image will be as big as possible.

2. They will show it as Flat. On a Scope screen. Essentially window-boxing the image so that over half of the screen is not utilized... (this is how I saw Jurassic World... it didn't help that film)

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Personal gripes and nit-picks aside.

Basically, go with whatever suits the story. Traditionally, the wider the image, the bigger the story has supposedly been. "Come to the cinema to experience the grand adventures what you cannot see on television!".

But Ultra Panavision 70 (2.76:1) have been used successfully with both old school sword and sandal epics with a cast of thousands like Ben Hur as well as with both contemporary comedy antics like in It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World and bloody and gory while still entertaining essentially stageplays like The Hateful Eight. So the shape doesn't really dictate the content.

Joss Whedon felt that The Hulk couldn't be properly filmed together with the other avengers in Avengers if he used CinemaScope. So he went with Flat (1.85:1) and brought in one of the biggest block-busters of all time.

Ron Fricke did his follow-up to Baraka on 65mm negative (as traditionally used for 70mm prints). But instead of doing the normal 70 mm 2.2:1 prints they instead felt that the clarity of the image was better preserved for the viewing audience using a 2:39:1 DCP.

IMAX, famously, the largest screens around. Uses an almost 4:3 ratio with their 1.44:1 image (instead of 1.33). This gives a great sense of verticality. But filmmakers (mostly because of economic reasons) tend to keep the taller images for the set-pieces and do most of the film in 2.39:1 ... If anything, this is the total reverse of what would have happened 50 years ago when width was all everyone wanted. Try telling a hollywood producer that you want to do all of your blockbuster action film in 4:3 without IMAX pojections... and it would not go down as well.

June 26, 2016 at 2:11PM

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Johan Malmsten
Movie-Worker
162

That's a shame, because my best IMAX experience ever was the conversion of Apollo 13. Apollo 13 was shot Super35 full frame, and cropped to 2.35 with a matte. For the IMAX, they just removed the matte so the 1.33 film filled the entire IMAX screen. It was glorious.

September 15, 2018 at 9:45AM, Edited September 15, 9:46AM

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Batutta
322