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Frank Barrera

Thinking about aspect ratio

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Interesting article. I don't get where this idea that 1.33:1 has anything to do with human vision though. It was chosen because it matched the size of the newly invented 35mm strip of celluloid. If anything I believe true anamorphic 2.39 with anamorphic lenses imitates human vision. With a 50mm for example you'll get the vertical field of view and lack of distortion a person is used to but with the horizontal field of view of a 25mm helping to imitate human peripheral vision. For me the sad thing is when 2.39 gets used just like spherical and the camera is constantly right up in everyone's face, almost eliminating the point of using it.

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Interesting article. I don't get where this idea that 1.33:1 has anything to do with human vision though. It was chosen because it matched the size of the newly invented 35mm strip of celluloid. If anything I believe true anamorphic 2.39 with anamorphic lenses imitates human vision. With a 50mm for example you'll get the vertical field of view and lack of distortion a person is used to but with the horizontal field of view of a 25mm helping to imitate human peripheral vision. For me the sad thing is when 2.39 gets used just like spherical and the camera is constantly right up in everyone's face, almost eliminating the point of using it.

Cinerama may be the best imitation of human vision since it created a periphery on each side.

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Thanks, Alex and Bill, for your comments. You make a valid point that the wider canvas reflects human vision with peripheral vision. I have two follow up questions for you:

 

(1) Is the relation to human vision an important factor in your choice to shoot 2.39?

(2) Do you treat the sides of frame as periphery when composing information and subjects in a shot?

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Cinerama may be the best imitation of human vision since it created a periphery on each side.

Well, any format can create a periphery if you sit close enough - I guess, an ideal aspect optimises wasted imagery beyond that periphery ?

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I wouldn't really say I had any scientific approach to it. Scope ratio just "feels" right to me and always did as a film viewer since I was a kid. I am also find it much easier to compose with the wider rectangular frame than with 1.85. I guess I have a big preference for width of frame and distance - I tend to prefer wide angle lenses too even for shots that would most commonly be made with longer. I do remember my very first 16mm exercise when I started film school and we had to shoot for a 1.33:1 ratio and I have to say that I hated it, all that extra height and that square looking frame just seemed completely wrong. I think it all just comes down to a matter of preference, I don't believe that certain subjects are more suited to certain ratios. A great scope film could be made in a small house or vice versa.

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"The normal human visual field extends to approximately 60 degrees nasally (toward the nose, or inward) from the vertical meridian in each eye, to 100 degrees temporally (away from the nose, or outwards) from the vertical meridian, and approximately 60 degrees above and 75 below the horizontal meridian."

(100 deg + 100 deg) : (60 deg + 75 deg)
200 deg : 135 deg
1 : 1.481 = ~1:1.50
Assuming that citation and those calculations are accurate, I think the most "natural" aspect ratio, i.e. most natural to human vision, could be 1.50, incidentally the native aspect ratio of 35mm still photography. Which would be somewhere between 1.33 and 1.66 for established cinema aspect ratios.
"Scope" or 2.35 has always seemed a bit too wide for me, whereas 1.33 seems a bit narrow. Seeing a 2.35 film in a theater usually requires turning your head to pay attention to one particular part of the screen, whereas with a narrower frame, you should be able to take in the whole picture as a whole without doing so.
Of course, these are ultimately personal preferences...

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I would add, personally, I like the 1.66 aspect ratio the best for established cinema aspect ratios. Though, if you could project in a 1.50 AR, I'd want to try it (maybe you can with a DCP? not sure how projector masks translate to digital projection...).

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1.66 is beautiful; I wish it were used more.

 

I've never understood the argument that 2.35 is "hard on humans." If you're sitting reasonably close to the screen, 2.35 draws your attention towards the center of the frame. That's where faces go, in a close up. Gordon Willis liked 2.35, for dramas, because it lends itself to group shots.

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I've never understood the argument that 2.35 is "hard on humans." If you're sitting reasonably close to the screen, 2.35 draws your attention towards the center of the frame. That's where faces go, in a close up. Gordon Willis liked 2.35, for dramas, because it lends itself to group shots.

 

Hey, I'll enjoy anything if Gordon Willis is framing it. And you certainly can't argue with those The Leopard screenshots in the article.

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Thanks, Alex and Bill, for your comments. You make a valid point that the wider canvas reflects human vision with peripheral vision. I have two follow up questions for you:

 

(1) Is the relation to human vision an important factor in your choice to shoot 2.39?

(2) Do you treat the sides of frame as periphery when composing information and subjects in a shot?

 

I've never shot in that wide an aspect ratio, so I can only tell you that, for me, composition of the entire frame is one the most important elements - and often the first step - in visual storytelling.

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I personally don't think it's a trend… just pick a random date in history and look at those films.

 

How about the top 10 films from 1978, year of my birth (yea I'm a kid)

 

Grease: Anamorphic 2.35:1

Deer Hunter: Anamorphic 2.35:1

Animal House: Spherical 1.85:1

Superman: Anamorphic 2.35:1

Halloween: Anamorphic 2.35:1

Jaws 2: Anamorphic 2.35:1

The Wiz: Spherical 1.85:1

Dawn of the Dead: Spherical 1.85:1

Days of Heaven: Spherical 1.85:1

Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Spherical 1.85:1

 

I see the top films being anamorphic and the smaller/lower budget films being 1.85:1

 

Use of this format has only increased due to technology advances like 3 perf, 2 perf and of course digital when you can just matte. No longer do you need special anamorphic lenses to create a wider aspect ratio. So people can shoot how they want, without restrictions.

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What do you think of the 2.2:1 and 2:1 aspect ratios? I've always felt that 2.4 is a tad too wide and 1.85 a tad too narrow...

 

I'm a BIG fan of 2:1, it's got enough width for complex horizontal compositions and a sense of 'cinematic' scope, but it's tall enough to easily frame a close-up without excessive negative space either side of frame.

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Yes, there's a difference between quasi-immersive technology such as IMAX, or Virtual Reality (Occulus VR etc) and one where the frame is otherwise important. Most of the cinematography I'd appreciate is done in relation to a visible frame, rather than a peripheral or non-existant frame.

 

Where the frame is important, the concept of human vision as some "natural" determinant in a choice of aspect becomes superfluous, since the frame will be understood as within the field of view. In this respect it's up to the artists preference as to what aspect they select.

 

Of course some of one's audience will still try to sit up the front, on such work, to get an immersive effect, but they won't get to fully appreciate the work.

 

C

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While the article makes some interesting points, there are a number of things I don't agree with.

 

The notion that one aspect ratio is more like human vision than another is nonsensical -- human beings don't see reality within a rectangle and the objects they see are not artfully arranged within that frame.

 

You get close to an immersive experience that feels "real" when the image is larger and clearer, has more resolution. When Fred Waller invented Cinerama, he knew this was true, that he had to extend the image into the peripheral vision area, but because theater architecture could not be modified for a tremendous increase in height, only width, he felt that it was better to make the image larger but mainly on the lateral plane. IMAX built special theaters where the screen size could be large in all directions, hence the more square screen where a lot of space is "wasted" above the audiences' heads in order to create the feeling of the sky above you, etc. Most of the important action is framed in the lower half of the image.

 

But most people who choose 2.40 are not attempting Cinerama-type experiences, though they occasionally reference that effect now and then (the opening of "The Road Warrior" copies the opening of "This Is Cinerama", going from a 1.33 b&w newsreel image and then opening up to 2.40 when the car races down the highway, with forward-looking POV shots ala Cinerama.)

 

They choose it for its compositional opportunities, and yes, because it feels "cinematic", all the more so now that television has gone 1.78 so now 1.85 no longer feels different enough. And yes, it's an awkward shape to compose in, which is why few paintings were made in that aspect ratio, most opted for the more elegant 1.61 golden rectangle. But that's not necessarily a defect of 2.40 -- it's unusually long shape allows you to emphasize visual imbalance, negative space, etc. In a way, I think of it as a "modernist" shape compared to the "classical" shape of 1.66 to 1.85.

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(100 deg + 100 deg) : (60 deg + 75 deg)
200 deg : 135 deg
1.481 : 1 = ~1.50:1

 

You can't calculate the aspect ratio that way. When all four angles are less than 90 deg then you must replace the angles with their tangents and then do the calculation. But when an angle reaches 90 degrees its tangent is infinite...

The eye that sees 100 deg to the side of the nose, is seeing away from the flat screen placed in front of the nose.

Ergo, there is no flat screen corresponding to the full field of view.

Edited by Dennis Couzin

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Contrary to the whole belief that a wider frame makes a film more "vast" and have more "scope", I actually think 2.4:1 (or 2.35/2.39, whatever you want to call it) doesn't have the vastness and scope and/or spectacle of 2.2:1, which to my eye looks absolutely natural - but that's only my eyes.. So in my opinion 2.4 is actually too wide and filmmakers have been using it either because they've wanted something wider than 1.85 and haven't had access to 70mm, or, as Mr Hayward said, because it's a trend.

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It's a trend...

 

 

That's only Seth Rogan comedies.

 

 

WOW, ya learn something new every day! :)

 

However, the only reason why it could be considered a trend is due to ease of shooting and projection. Filmmakers are no longer bound to the constraints of anamorphic lenses to generate a widescreen image.

 

In this way, one could consider digital cinema a trend as well, as most of these non-anamorphic films are shot digitally.

 

Though I agree with Doug's point about wider aspect ratio's looking more cinematic and a way to separate our native 1.75:1 television's from feature film land. I for one love widescreen format's, 2:1 being perfect in my eyes. It's just the right amount of height to width.

 

That begs the question, what aspect ratio is 6 perf vertical 65mm? Isn't it around 1.85:1?

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I think in the near future we will be able to see many filmmakers being very liberal with aspect ratios - in fact, it's already happening a lot now. I can see 2:1 becoming a standard in the near future due to its use in 'House of Cards' and 'Jurassic Park' (Storaro is smiling somewhere). With films like 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' and 'Ida' using 4:3, we might even see some films coming out in 1.5, 1.66 and 2.2.

 

And of course, we already know that Tarantino's 'The Hateful Eight' will be in 2.75 on Ultra Panavision.

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I think in the near future we will be able to see many filmmakers being very liberal with aspect ratios - in fact, it's already happening a lot now. I can see 2:1 becoming a standard in the near future due to its use in 'House of Cards' and 'Jurassic Park' (Storaro is smiling somewhere). With films like 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' and 'Ida' using 4:3, we might even see some films coming out in 1.5, 1.66 and 2.2.

And of course, we already know that Tarantino's 'The Hateful Eight' will be in 2.75 on Ultra Panavision.

It's great to see a variety of aspect ratios out there, but the problem I have with 2.35:1 for example is that it is over-used...just like the Steadicam. I long to see shots where a tripod is used. And there are many films being made that would fit better with the 1.85:1 ratio ("The Imitation Game" being a perfect example.)

 

I'd just like to see filmmakers being a bit more judicious with their creative choices.

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That begs the question, what aspect ratio is 6 perf vertical 65mm? Isn't it around 1.85:1?

6 perf?

65mm. is 5 perf, 2.21:1.

If there were a 6-perf it would be about 1.85, yes.

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You can't calculate the aspect ratio that way. When all four angles are less than 90 deg then you must replace the angles with their tangents and then do the calculation. But when an angle reaches 90 degrees its tangent is infinite...

The eye that sees 100 deg to the side of the nose, is seeing away from the flat screen placed in front of the nose.

Ergo, there is no flat screen corresponding to the full field of view.

 

 

You're right. Even if it could be shown flat, it would be elliptical, not rectangular.

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