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Aspect ratio

Austin Millinder

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So ive been wondering for awhile: what aspect ratio does film shoot on? like 8mm, super 8mm, 16, super 16, and 35 (super 35?). do they all shoot 4:3 and you make it what you want later or what? I know they shoot on film and not digital so i guess im asking: once you process your film and bring it into the editing room, what aspect ratio will all the film stocks labeled above be in?

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It will depend on what aspect ratio they were framed for during production. 8mm, super 8mm, and regular 16mm are pretty much standardised as 4 x 3 (although people may frame for 16:9 for a particular production allowing cropping the top and bottom in post). Super 16 is 1.66 in the gate, but is usually framed for 16:9 or 1.85. Of course 35mm has an even wider range of aspect ratios, but which one is decided before going into production and that is the one that will be used. The same film stock can be used for any of them, you just label with the aspect ratio you're framing in the camera (which could be different to the gate you're using).




The telecine operator will set up as requested for the video rushes.

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The choice is yours.


Three to four since the first international congress on motion-picture technology of Paris, 1907

35mm, 9.5, 16mm, 8mm, IMAX


Five to thirteen, CINERAMA, 1952; three times 35mm, 6 perf. step

1:2.55, CinemaScope COMMAG, 1953; 35mm

1:2.35, CinemaScope, COMOPT; 35mm

1:1.85 VistaVision, 1954; 35mm horizontal, later vertical; Garutso Plastorama

One to two, Superscope, 1954; 35mm

1:2.2, Todd-AO 70mm, 1955


Three to five, beginning unknown, close to golden section

1:1.77 or Nine to sixteen

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To expand a bit further:


Standard-8 and Super-8, as well as Standard 16, are 4:3 (1.33:1).


Super-16 uses the area of 16 mm film usually reserved for the soundtrack to expose an area with an aspect ratio of 1.66:1.


5-perf 65 mm (for 70 mm prints) is 2.20:1 and is called either Todd-AO or Super Panavision 70. Ultra Panavision 70 uses an anamorphic lens to squeeze a 2.76:1 image into the 2.20:1 frame.


15-perf horizontal 65 mm for IMAX is 1.35:1 in camera but is cropped to 1.43:1 for projection.


35 mm has always been a bit more flexible though:

The original "silent" or "Edison" aperture is 4:3, which was consequently adopted for smaller film gauges and also for television. When optical sound was adopted this was placed at one side of the picture area and resulted in the "Movietone" aperture of 1.15:1 which greatly annoyed the majority of the industry and lead to the "Academy" aperture of 1.37:1 that was pretty much the universal standard from 1932 well into the '50s, and which is often mistaken for 4:3.


From this Paramount cropped the top and bottom of the Academy frame to create the 1.66:1 ratio used for some time in many "widescreen" movies. At the same time Universal took the cropping even further to create the 1.85:1 "widescreen" standard.


All 1.66/1.85 release prints are made by cropping the widescreen image out the Academy frame, but it's possible to shoot 1.85:1 using 3-perforation pulldown to save money at the cost of not being able to make contact-printed release prints. Super-35 is also 3-perf pulldown, but uses the soundtrack area in addition.


Alternately you can go back to the Edison aperture and add a 2x anamorphic lens to get the 2.55:1 of original CinemaScope, or add the same lens to the Movietone aperture to get the standard 2.39:1 Panavision aspect used today. 2.39:1 can also be achieved by cropping Academy, or Super-35, or by shooting in Techniscope (2-perf).


If you run the film horizontally and expose 8 perforations like for 35mm still photography you get VistaVision, but it was always intended that 1.85:1 frames would be cropped out of the 1.50:1 native frame.


Anyway, as you can see, you're sort-of right and sort-of not-right. In many cases it is indeed a simple affair of shooting 1.33 or 1.37:1 and cropping to get what you want (and indeed before the days of the Digital Intermediate it was very common to get a print of a film intended for 1.85 presentation but with the full 1.37 frame exposed and ready to show), but there are many formats designed to provide better quality or lower cost if you're prepared to lock yourself into a specific ratio.


If you'd care to know more (and you probably should :P ), take a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aspect_ratio_(image) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negative_pulldown

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Keep separate in your mind that there is the "native" aspect ratio of the format you are using, the aspect ratio that you are composing for inside that, and the aspect ratio that the display format will be (hopefully the one you composed for.)


4-perf 35mm Full Aperture / Silent Aperture / Edison Aperture is 1.33 : 1 (4x3) but obviously 3-perf 35mm, being 25% shorter, has a more widescreen shape, approx. 1.78 : 1 (16x9). And so on.

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