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Relax, and Quit Bluffing

CreativeCOW presents Relax, and Quit Bluffing -- Cinematography Feature

I have been bluffing for most of my career. (Please don't tell any of my employers!) When I got my first big break as a linear on-line editor in 1995, I was asked, "Do you know how to use the CMX Omni?" I bluffed. While I had seen many great things at NAB in Las Vegas, I can't say I had much experience using them.

What I did have was the thirst for knowledge, the motivation and the confidence to pull it off. I quickly adapted, applied all of my previous experience to my new job, and soon became very proficient. I remember thinking at the time, "Hey, this isn't so hard after all."

Applying my knowledge of the fundamentals combined with a bit of hit-the-ground learning proved to be invaluable at the time, and has kept me going to this day.

Recently I had the privilege to finish the 3D trailers for "Avatar." Did I have extensive knowledge of a stereoscopic digital intermediate workflow? Had I completed numerous 2K trailers before? No, and no. But I did my homework and hit the ground running -- and never looked back.

The key to success is to never stop learning. Life is about growing and learning -- only to realize you know nothing at all. Many of us tend to focus on one particular aspect of the industry. We become specialists in what we know. I have found that having knowledge of the inner workings of other parts of the industry proves to be invaluable, no matter what I'm working on.

In this article, I want to cover the basics of 35mm film framing and aspect ratios, and some of the differences between the acquisition and distribution film formats.

Why should you learn about 35mm film, when it is clearly on its way to oblivion? Because everything we use today is based on something we did yesterday. Once you understand the history of 35mm's evolution, you have a good foundation for learning about the future.


35MM FILM

Ever since George Eastman mass-produced the first flexible transparent motion picture film stock in 1889, and Thomas Edison standardized the 35mm format in 1892, not much has changed in the world of film stock. There were others with ideas about frame sizes and aspect ratios, but the first round of format wars for motion picture film ended in 1909 with the standardization of a 35mm gauge (width), with 4 perforations per frame along both edges and a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.

A 1.33:1 (spoken as "one point three three to one," or simply "one three three") aspect ratio means that one side of the image is 1.33 times longer than the other. This same screen aspect ratio was later adopted by television, known there as 4:3 (four by three).

So how did we go from this to where we are today, with our 16:9 televisions and widescreen movies?



Comments

Re: Relax, and Quit Bluffing
by Mary Warring
Thank you! this was more helpful than a couple of the classes I took this past year in media and communication at the university I am attending. it helps to understand the "why and what" for the things we are doing in filming and editing.
- Mary
+1
Re: Relax, and Quit Bluffing
by Michael Brown
Excellent summary of the situation and a great reminder for us oldies who are indeed getting confused now and then ;-)

Michael Brown
+1
Re: Relax, and Quit Bluffing
by Tim Wilson
It appears that the impression of choppiness may have come from our posting the pages out of order. Oops! Our apologies! It should make a little more sense now.

That said, if there's anything anybody wants to know, please just ask. Paul is obviously monitoring the conversation, and will happily step in where he can.

In the meantime, I'd also like to point you to the PDF of our print edition of Creative COW Magazine, which is where this article originally appeared. You'll also find many other great articles, beautiful pictures, informative ads, and all the pages in the right order. Step right this way to Creative COW Magazine's "Asset Management and Distribution" issue.


Regards,

Tim Wilson
Associate Publisher, Editor-in-Chief
Creative COW Magazine

My Blog: "Is this thing on? Oh it's on!"

Don't forget to rate your favorite posts!
+1
@Tim Wilson
by Jonathan Lawrence
Weeeeellll That puts a whole new light on things - Thank you. I'll re-read the full post and thanks for the link - you are doing a great job.

Jonathan Lawrence
Re: Relax, and Quit Bluffing
by dennis summers
I agree with the others as to both the article's usefullness and choppiness. I don't suppose you have an original "20 page" version you could send along?
Re: Relax, and Quit Bluffing
by Harry Bromley-Davenport
I guess you can post an email address. Or ring me at 323 345 1124. I'm in now.

Harry.

@Harry Bromley-Davenport
by Jonathan Lawrence
Thanks you good sir. Was a pleasure speaking with you. I look forward to watching your films.

Jonathan Lawrence
Re: Relax, and Quit Bluffing
by Harry Bromley-Davenport
Johnathan,

There are wiser people than me on this board who are far better qualified to answer your question.

Why don't you post your question on one of the editing boards, like the Final Cut Pro one?

For the little that it's worth, I would recommend digitizing and editing your material in the original format. Then you can up-rez it to HD 16x9 using MPEG Streamclip or something similar. Yes - I know it's free and one might therefore think it's awful, but it's actually a really good little piece of software.

The one piece of advice I would like to give you is to go to a professional post house to have your conversions made to PAL. I know that you could do it yourself using software, but you are quite likely to get bounced by Quality Control - whereas if you have it converted by a competent technician using a Teranex converter you will have nothing to worry about.

I can give you the name of the guy and the place that I use and the prices are reasonable. He has mastered 4 feature films for me and all got past QC at the major cable channels. I don't think I'm supposed to put it here because it will look like advertising my friend. But if you let me know your email I will respond. Of course I don't know where you are. I operate in LA.

In any event, I advise you to make contact and establish a relationship with a finishing house NOW before you start so that there are no awful surprises when you reach the finish line.

Best

Harry.

@Harry Bromley-Davenport
by Jonathan Lawrence
Harry - thanks for your sound advice. I will post my question elsewhere in the forum as well. I did not mean to monopolize this thread - I was hoping to stay on topic and perhaps others could glean from my situation.
Thanks for offering you contact for PAL transfer. I am in LA too. Is It appropriate to post email addresses here?

BTW
I agree with you about MPEG Streemclip. Amazing, efficiant and the price is right!

Jonathan Lawrence
Re: Relax, and Quit Bluffing
by Jonathan Lawrence
Paul this is a question for you but I would love to hear from others in the know.
Due to interest in various markets I am re-cutting something shot on BetaCam SP 13 years ago. With technology where it is today I have run tests in up converting the original 640x480 4:3 to HD 1920x1080 1.85. My question should I really be concerned with a 4:3 market? If so do you recommend cutting in SD 4:3 640x480 or as suggested by someone cut in 4:3 @ 2048 x 1536 and crop as desired for each market. Forgive my ignorance here - I look to those who know better for advice.

Jonathan Lawrence
@Jonathan Lawrence
by Harry Bromley-Davenport
When delivering an HD 16x9 feature film to my distributors I am ALWAYS asked for an SD 4x3 pan scan version both in NTSC and PAL. They also want an SD anamorphic version in NTSC and PAL.

There are loads of people out there still gaping at SD 4x3 sets and I reckon it's going to remain a delivery requirement for many years until the last SD 4x3 set has gone into a dumpster in Zambia some time in 2025 ... possibly later.

Hugs

Harry

@Harry Bromley-Davenport
by Jonathan Lawrence
Harry thanks for the valuable experience. Given that my original footage is SD 4:3 29.97 do you have a recommendation as to how I capture the source material? I can live up convert to HD center cut but have no control over the frame and composition at that point. If I capture and cut in SD I can up con later - This looks fine on a 60" HD consumer tv but I dont know how Up Converted visual effects will look. Someone sugested I capture and cut at 4:3 ( 2048 x 1536 29.97 ) and finish in that then do ALL my other conversions from there - What say you?

Jonathan Lawrence
@Jonathan Lawrence
by Paul Carlin
If the majority of your media is BetaSP I would finish at that same resolution, which technically is 720x486 (.9 PAR). I would be sure to capture via component video or SDI (using a DigiBeta VTR) into a NTSC project. Use an uncompressed 10-bit codec. Be sure to add textless cover at the tail. Layback audio and output to DigiBeta. This becomes your NTSC non-color corrected master.

Take this tape to a highly qualified color house and have them color correct it. Use nothing less than a Davinci 2K or Resolve. You want someone highly qualified to do this very important step. This becomes your NTSC color corrected master.

If you want a 16:9 HD version you will need to “tilt and scan” it. Capture the color corrected master and use a 16:9 guide as your framing guide. Mostly you will be repositioning shots vertically with the occasional push in to re-frame a troublesome shot. You will be cropping the image so be prepared to suffer emotionally. Output to a DigiBeta. Do not crop it on output... leave it as is with black popping in and out of the top and bottom of frame.

Take that tape to a high-end post house and have them upconvert it through a Teranex using “crop edges”. You may also choose to change the frame rate as well. (I presume you want a 23.976p master) It won’t be pretty as you are asking a lot of the technology. What Harry says about passing QC is very important and well worth the price of using a high-end post house for the upconversion.

If there is a demand for a 4:3 SD version, take your NTSC color corrected master and Teranex it to 23.976p. You will end up with a NTSC DigiBeta that has pulldown.

There is no need to finish at 2K. While this seems to make logical sense, it make no practical sense. Storage requirements (size and speed) will make you hate life faster than getting pulled over for a speeding ticket. The upconversion will be slightly inferior to a Teranex and the frame rate issue still needs to be resolved. You gain little and suffer a lot.
@Paul Carlin
by Jonathan Lawrence
What a wealth of great information. I will take the wisdom and experience to heart and practice as I trudge forth on this daunting task. I am indebted to you and Harry for your generosity in spreading the knowledge. Quite frankly I am relieved about having to finish in the native format of the material. It sounds as if I am diligent in prepping the footage I wont have to worry much about post deliveries - just take it to the right people and pay them what they are worth. This frees me up to do my job and just tell the story.

Gentlemen, I thank you. I will let you know when it is done!!! Also PAUL - Thanks for this great article

Jonathan Lawrence
@Paul Carlin
by Jonathan Lawrence
Paul since the footage was acquired on Betacam SP do I gain anything by capturing from a digibeta deck over a betacam sp deck via component through a capture card? I ask only because I own the Beta SP deck. It's a cost think really but I will do what is best for the project.

Jonathan Lawrence
@Jonathan Lawrence
by Paul Carlin
The difference is negligible. Go ahead and use the deck you already own as that makes much more financial sense. Keep an eye on the video levels and make sure you don't clip the whites or blacks. You are not trying to make it look beautiful, just stay within the range of the scopes. Find the brightest scene you've got, set the video level and then don't touch it again to keep everything consistent.
Re: Relax, and Quit Bluffing
by Mike Cohen
It is interesting watching older tv shows on HD DirecTv. For example Seinfeld was only ever shown in SD, 4:3. But now if you watch an HD episode it is 16:9 or whatever particular aspect ratio TBS or FOX uses.

So the question is, were the episodes originally cut at 4:3 for broadcast, cut in some flavor of non 4:3 protected or have the episodes been re-cut in HD from the original negative (doubtfully).

I first discovered the evils of Pan and Scan, after having watched the Empire Strikes Back on VHS 4:3 for 10 years. Then in 1992 they came out with the letterboxed VHS set and it was like seeing the holy trilogy for the first time.

Interesting article. Congratulations.

Mike Cohen
@Mike Cohen
by Paul Carlin
From what I read on the interwebs it appears that Sony is re-mastering all 180 episodes of Seinfeld from the original 35mm film. Since it most likely wasn't shot with 16:9 in mind, they have been creative with the framing on a shot-by-shot basis. Another example of a sort-of reverse pan and scan.
Re: Relax, and Quit Bluffing
by Rinny Wilson
Good article, but it seemed a bit choppy at times...it seemed to me that you kept jumping between facts without explanation. On the last page, for example, you say that anamorphic is now officially 2.39:1, then start referring to it as 2.35.
@Rinny Wilson
by Paul Carlin
Agreed. Choppiness is a result of trying to fit a 20 page subject into five pages. Writing is easy. It's getting is boiled down to something easily digestible that is the hard part.

Regarding the 2.39 and 2.35, it is common amongst industry professionals to refer to the framing as 2.35 even though it may be technically inaccurate. Sometimes 2.35 is actually used, usually in a video or DI setting. The preset letterbox setting on the Autodesk Flame/Smoke is set to 2.35. The difference is very subtle. When TV spots are made for feature films, the letterbox will be reduced to 2.39 or 2.40 to cover up an inconsistent matting from all the various source materials used. Essentially you can toss the different terms around loosely. This is similar to the terms used for the frame rate of 23.976. Some people refer to it as 23.98, which is a mathematically rounded off term of the exact same frame rate. Other people (namely Panasonic) even use the term 24 to mean 23.976, even though there is a true 24 frame rate already in use. Film runs at 24 fps. Anything derived from the legacy of NTSC (29.97) runs at 23.976 fps. HD can run at both, but not interchangeably.
Re: Relax, and Quit Bluffing
by scott biggs
Thanks for the information, Paul. You have quite a lot here, but it seemed a little chaotically assembled: abrupt topic changes with no transitions, returning to incomplete ideas, etc.

But I appreciate the lesson, nonetheless!
@scott biggs
by Paul Carlin
Appreciate the feedback. Will do better next time. See my response to Rinny.
Re: Relax, and Quit Bluffing
by Jonathan Lawrence
Hey Paul, I went from 400lbs Horizontal to a 200lbs vertical... I much prefer vertical but I still like my aspect ratio WIDE :)

Jonathan Lawrence
Re: Relax, and Quit Bluffing
by PADAM KUMAR
I have just shot a indian feature on all aspect ratio's, Hawkes,utra primes and 7D with both anomo and primes, open gate and we will finally get it out on academy ratio 2.35:1 for indian theatrical release.Hope we sail through and if there is any issues i will have to get back to paul..... a great insight to aspect ratios with this article..... thanks material and will be in touch.
pk.
Re: Relax, and Quit Bluffing
by Jonathan Lawrence
Tim, thanks for clarifying with facts and for the article reference. I am reminded to avoid contempt prior to investigation.

Jonathan Lawrence
Re: Relax, and Quit Bluffing
by Sharad Patel
Please, could you elaborate further on the size of sensors on a still camera like the 5D, versus one on a pro cinema style HD camera vs a prosumer HD camera vs the film frame size of true film cameras? And what qualities that changes?

My work:
http://www.vimeo.com/ufoclub1977
@Sharad Patel
by Paul Carlin
I am not entirely up to speed on the exact sensor sizes of the various cameras. However, the size of the sensor greatly affects many aspects of the image... mainly the depth of field. A shallow depth of field can be very cinematic and is used to bring attention to the subject. However, it comes at a price. Trying to keep focus on a subject can be daunting if not impossible, especially if you are using consumer level gear. This is why you have focus pullers and big knobs and gears on film cameras. Now imagine a sensor twice the size of what film professionals are using and a very small focus ring that surrounds the lens and you end up with very difficult shooting conditions.

A smaller image sensor allows more of the image to be in focus. This gives you the flat "DV" look that is so prevalent in video. It is what gives away a low budget feature almost immediately. However, production goes much faster, more of your "takes" are useable, and you get paid in the end.

There are many more factors including vignetting and optical lens distortion involved. Using a lens that is not matched to the sensor has it's up and downs, mainly a great reduction in "speed" or the amount of light and a mismatch of the focal length. This is why you always read, "35mm equivalent" in lens ratings. To sum it up, imagine you project an image on a wall using a spherical lens. You end up with a circular image on the wall. Now draw a rectangle in the middle of that circle. The size of that rectangle is the size of your image sensor.
Re: Relax, and Quit Bluffing
by Peter Vogt
Now we need an article on the torture known as 14:9.

@Peter Vogt
by Paul Carlin
I have encountered 14:9 when delivering content for Discovery Channel. They want titles within this area, which gives much more latitude than the industry standard 4:3 safe. 14:9 is a compromise between 4:3 (12:9) and 16:9. It allows for the SD audience and the HD audience to suffer equally.
+2
Re: Relax, and Quit Bluffing
by Joe Andrews
I currently work for an advertising agency in the UK, in the Video production department and am forever dealing with aspect ratio issues. mainly in the digital sense, but have found this article incredibly interesting and helpful. I recommend anyone who works closely with film and digital video to give this a read as it does completely make you aware of the reasons for all the various ratios out there and why they came about. and like Paul Stephen Carlin says, The industry is forever on the move and widescreen wars will be a continuous event for many years to come. GREAT READ!! Thanks.
+1
Re: Relax, and Quit Bluffing
by clyde villegas
Thanks, Paul. I've learned so much things from you today.

ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus
Re: Relax, and Quit Bluffing
by Daniele Massa
Terrific one! Exhaustive and concise. What we always wanted to know about but never asked...

http://www.dmassa.altervista.org
Re: Relax, and Quit Bluffing
by JuanAntonio Domingo
Congratulations, great article!
I think 16:9 is the ideal for home entertainment. For theaters, may be 2,35 can fill our visual space but at the end, people are... vertical!!! so.. this is a fact.

Juan Antonio Domingo
http://www.elhombreorquesta.com

JuanAntonio Domingo
@JuanAntonio Domingo
by Paul Carlin
Yes, people are vertical. However, here in the States, people are becoming more and more horizontal.
+2
Re: Relax, and Quit Bluffing
by Harry Bromley-Davenport
Mr. Carlin, Sir.

Hmmm. I find it difficult to believe that "Avatar" was shot 1080p. Surely not? I should have thought it was 2k or higher.

And to say that Pan And Scan "has been all but abandoned" is arrant nonsense. On 16x9, 1.85:1 and similar or wider formats a 4x3 pan and scan version is always - I repeat - always a delivery requirement.

Respectfully,

Harry Bromley-Davenport
-3
@Harry Bromley-Davenport
by Tim Wilson
Avatar was shot using the Pace 3D Fusion rig, jointly developed by James Cameron and Vince Pace, using a pair of Sony F950 cameras. They used 8 in all, along with the HDC-1500 (which shoots 1080p/60) for speed shots, as well as the F23. All are HD cameras. For details, start with this press release posted at the COW in 2009. 10-bit 4:4:4 with a 2/3" chip of course...but 1920 nonetheless.

Tron Legacy was also shot using Pace stereo rigs, adapted for the F35. Also 1920.

The point with all of this is to emphasize that focusing on pixels misses the big picture...which is the picture itself.
+2
@Tim Wilson
by Harry Bromley-Davenport
Re: my questioning "Avatar" being shot in 1080p.

I stand corrected, Sir, and am amazed that, even in 10 bit 444, it was shot 1920. If ever there was proof of the bogus assertions of the zillions-of-pixels crowd, it would be to direct such folks to wander into an IMAX theater and watch 30 seconds of the dreaded "Avatar".

This is great ammunition for me since I shoot 1080p and am frequently asked why I do not shoot with RED at 2k or 4k or some nonsense. And the other question which annoys me is when I am asked why I don't shoot on a 7D.

There is, by the way, an excellent article on the COW somewhere which goes into this pixel/colorspace stuff in equally lurid and conversation-stopping detail, here:

http://magazine.creativecow.net/article/dslrs-for-digital-cinema-their-pote...

Hugs,

Harry.

@Harry Bromley-Davenport
by Paul Carlin
As Mr. Wilson said, to focus on pixels is to miss the big picture. To put this another way, the number of pixels used to acquire an image is only part of the equation that determines the quality of the image. It is well known in the industry that the Panasonic Varicam produces a great image, some argue better than the Sony 1080 HD cameras. Yet the Panasonic uses DVCPRO-HD at 720p. How can that be? The RED camera advertizes a 4K sensor. This is all marketing hype. Experience will teach you that it is not a matter of pixels, but optics, lighting and compression that make all the difference. Besides, 2K is not just a resolution, but also a complete workflow that uses logarithmic scans to represent the full 11 stops latitude of film. The image area of a 2K scan of Super 35 2.35 image is only 2048x872... which is 86% smaller than HD (although we are comparing different aspect ratios).

I do understand that 4:3 is still a delivery requirement and I did not make that clear in the article. In fact, I painted the picture that it is no longer used today. That would be wrong. Perhaps that was wishful thinking on my part. However, I don't think anyone would argue that 4:3 as a delivery spec will be around much longer. Especially when it comes to economics. When the studios/networks realize the money that can be saved by not doing a Pan and Scan, it will evaporate.
+2
@Paul Carlin
by Paul Carlin
86% of HD, not 86% smaller. My bad.
+1
Pixels and other aspects of ratios
by Tim Wilson
Paul wrote, Experience will teach you that it is not a matter of pixels, but optics, lighting and compression that make all the difference.

Size not mattering was supposed to be a GOOD thing. :-)

John Galt is the Senior Vice President of Advanced Digital Imaging at Panavision, and told us exactly what he thinks of the "intentional obfuscation" of other people's "marketing pixels" in an article he wrote for us in Creative COW Magazine.

Also known as "the father of Genesis," he was of course unapologetic when he said that Panavision counts pixels the RIGHT way. Whether or not one agrees with that aspect of the conversation, he certainly has compelling insights -- and has had considerable influence -- into how the highest-quality images are captured and presented. He's also a great storyteller, and anyone with even a passing interest in this stuff should read what he has to say about "The Truth About 2K, 4K and The Future of Pixels."


Tim
@Tim Wilson
by Jonathan Lawrence
Okay - I have learned far more tonight than our species was meant to retain. Great link Tim, THANKS

Jonathan Lawrence
Re: Relax, and Quit Bluffing
by Jonathan Lawrence
Paul,
What a terrific article... Thanks for demystifying all the aspect ratios. For me the the most useful thing that I am reminded of is to stay off my artisan high horse and not get caught in the wide-screen obsession. Not everyone is going to see the finished work that way and many viewers that I have talked to still dislike letterbox - especially if their pricey WIDE HD t.v. has it to accommodate a 2.35:1 image.
It still boils down to respecting all the crop marks on the monitor. Your research and knowledge are greatly appreciated.
Thanks,
Jonathan Lawrence

Jonathan Lawrence


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