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composing a shot for anamorphic


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#1 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 12 December 2006 - 06:00 AM

What are some things to remember and avoid when composing a shot using anamorphic lenses? Are there certain rules for anamorphics that are different that shooting spherically? What are some ways to make that most of anamophic lenses when staging a shot and moving your camera?
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#2 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 14 December 2006 - 09:45 PM

No one has ANY sugestions? :huh:
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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 14 December 2006 - 10:06 PM

No one has ANY sugestions? :huh:


Well, there are two separate questions here. One is about composing for the 2.35 ratio as opposed to any other ratio (usually less wide, like 1.85). The other is about shooting with anamorphic lenses.

It's hard to discuss composition, other than the extreme horizontal width of the frame is somewhat awkward and challenging to use effectively... at first. But you quickly get used to it. You don't have to pan actors around as much and can play the sides of the frame, and you can hold more actors in a medium shot, which is useful.

The main issue with anamorphic prime lenses is that the breathe when you rack-focus, and the artifact gets more noticable the more shallow the focus becomes. So you have to think about when to rack focus during a dialogue scene because you will see the rack when it happens and it can be distracting if you attempt to "ping-pong" the focus during a dialogue scene.

The horizontal flare from bright sources in the frame has to be taken into account because you may not catch it in the viewfinder, so make sure that a bright light in the frame is not on the same horizontal plane as the actor's eyes in case a flare crosses the frame.

Vertical lines on the sides of the frame can bend from barrel distortion in the wider-angle lenses.

Some of the lenses aren't very fast and don't focus very closely, so check your MOD (minimum object distance) for the lens you may be doing most of your close-up work on.

The wider-angle lenses tend to "see" more on the extreme edges, so matteboxes / filters can vignette in the frame if you're not careful.

In general, anamorphic artifacts increase as you open the lens iris up more, hence the general rule that lighting and shooting a scene to at least an f/4 is a good idea. Plus even at an f/4 is like shooting at an f/2 in spherical, depth of field-wise, so you will need a good focus-puller.
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#4 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 16 December 2006 - 12:44 AM

Thanks for the info, David. This is great stuff. I was kinda hoping Max would chime in here as well, sence he also has a lot of expirence with anamorphics as well or any of the other guys who use them on a regular basis. I'm becoming obsessed with the idea of shooting anamorphically and want to learn as much as possible about the process B)
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#5 Max Jacoby

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Posted 16 December 2006 - 04:38 AM

I prefer anamorphic because it allows me to stage scenes more in depth. Even if you have a close-up of someones face you still have enough space left in the frame to include more information, be it another close-up or a fore/background.

You have to be a bit careful with the focus pulls like David mentions. If you pull from the foreground to the background or vice-versa it's best if the focus-puller is using a follow-focus and not a remote one, because it will allow him to do it with more feeling. If he pulls a bit slower the breathing is not so much of an issue. I hate focus-pulls done with a remote, because they focus jumps from one plane to another and most of the time that looks fake to me.
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#6 K Borowski

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Posted 17 December 2006 - 12:55 PM

In my personal opinion, anamorphic is geat for "epic" films, war movies, action-thrillers, etc, but films with a lot of closeups, romantic movies, where you have one or two heads in the frame most of the time, you're faced with a compromise of cropping in so close as to cut off the tops and bottoms of the heads, or shoot from farther away, leaving extraneous space on either side. This format obviously isn't great for the average low-budget film either, due to the higher detail, and generally larger area of the frame that you need to fill. I'd say you need to take advantage of it with "epic" compositions. Shoot long shots with lots of people in them or shots that accentuate the horizon. Take advantage of the ability to fit more people in the wider frame, and "pack" your frame with interesting visuals, patterns, props, in the background. I.e. use up all the space in the frame effectively.

One of my favorite (and IMO best photographed) anamorphic films is "Chinatown". Watch it and see how they make great use of the format. Unfortunately a lot of this is lost in standard def. If you can find it on TV in HD that'd be better. I really like how they don't try to minimize the "wow" of an anamorphic focus pull as other movies do. They do them quickly and obviously throughout the film. I think you need to decide whether you like the effect that pulling focus in anamorphic gives you and then proceed accordingly to minimize it or live with it throughout the course of your film.

Another great thing about anamorphic is that it's much sharper than 3-perf is. It looks superb on HDTV. My two cents. I hope that helps some.
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#7 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 17 December 2006 - 01:02 PM

Gordon Willis' anamorphic films are good examples of using the format for non-epics, for intimate scenes -- take a look at "Klute", "The Paper Chase", "The Parallax View", "Manhattan".
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#8 Max Jacoby

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Posted 17 December 2006 - 01:31 PM

In my personal opinion, anamorphic is geat for "epic" films, war movies, action-thrillers, etc, but films with a lot of closeups, romantic movies, where you have one or two heads in the frame most of the time, you're faced with a compromise of cropping in so close as to cut off the tops and bottoms of the heads, or shoot from farther away, leaving extraneous space on either side.

I'm afraid I don't agree with this statement at all. None of my films so far have been epic, action, thriller, etc... yet all have been shot in anamorphic. I've had this argument many times already with other directors and many of them seem to have this guilt trip about shooting anamorphic, thinking that you can only use it for certain films and the audience will laugh at you if you use it for say a gritty realistic drama.

What it really comes down to is what format the director and cinematographer feel comfortable with when staging their scenes. It's not about what format to use, but to use it well.
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#9 K Borowski

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Posted 17 December 2006 - 01:38 PM

David and Max,
I'm not saying you CAN'T shoot a low-budget, or more "intimate" film with anamorphic, merely that I personally feel the frame is more condusive to the more grandiose, epic films. I love Paths of Glory, shot at 1.66:1 IIRC, and it is an epic film, but I generally don't think that format works as well for war films as anamorphic would have. I guess this is all just a matter of personal preference.
I guess I can see the alure in shooting any film in anamorphic because of the look that it has, the bigger negative area, and the interesting "flaws" that it has, that I like personally.

Regards,

~Karl
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#10 John Holland

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Posted 17 December 2006 - 01:41 PM

Yes Max you are so right , shouldnt matter what format you use . One should be able to compose good images in any format , but "Scope " is the best . And i mean Anamorphic . wish some of the people who post on here would spend a bit of time looking at well shot films includes just looking and taking how things are lit !. John Holland . London.
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#11 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 17 December 2006 - 06:27 PM

You can think of it as playing against the cliche, against expectations, i.e. that 2.35 is for big day exteriors and epic shots... and doing the opposite with it.

I think the 2.35 frame is in some ways, inherently "modern" in the sense that graphically it has more in common with modern art than classical art and its more "golden rectangle" proportions. It's very awkwardness and incredibly wide aspect ratio, more akin to our horizontal field of view with peripheral vision (when projected on a large screen) rather than a typical picture frame, in some ways lends itself to "modern" compositions where negative space is very prominent, figures are isolated in spaces, and composition imbalance is more obvious. You see all of this in Gordon Willis' scope movies.

But all aspect ratios have their beauty, their strengths. There are many great compositions in 1.37 Academy movies, and some "epics" shot in that format ("Gone with the Wind" for example.) And there are some matted widescreen (1.66/1.85) movies with perfect compositions in those formats.

It seems these days, though, with half of all theatrical releases being in 2.35, that many people are composing for 2.35 indifferently, and the movies just look like overly-cropped 1.85 movies.
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#12 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 17 December 2006 - 07:03 PM

I've had this argument many times already with other directors and many of them seem to have this guilt trip about shooting anamorphic, thinking that you can only use it for certain films and the audience will laugh at you if you use it for say a gritty realistic drama.


More people should watch more of the old CinemaScope films like "East of Eden", "An Affair to Remember", "Compulsion", etc... All very character driven (none espcially "epic") stories told in the anamorphic format.
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#13 Tim Partridge

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Posted 17 December 2006 - 08:05 PM

One thing that hasn't been mentioned yet and is probably the most important element with anamorphic is production design. That is CRUCIAL as to whether or not you can pull off anamorphic for your film, regardless of genre.

Check out the movie THE INTERPRETER (Darius Khondji)- this movie was shot anamorphic (Sidney Pollack is a big fan), yet they simply didn't have the sets or geographic space to satisfy the format. The movie takes place almost entirely within the real UN building location. This meant that the art department could not take any licence with the height and width of the scenery through modification. The movie ended up looking cramped, awkward and with lots of dead space in the compositions. The film would have looked so much better spherically, purely because they didn't have the production design to back it up. It's is all about horizontal space and height and how it relates to the performing artists.

Also, SUPERMAN IV had sparse, laughably limited location doubling and set design that the anamorphic photography only made more revealing. Then there's Tim Burton's BATMAN, a movie designed horizontally in the grandest of scope fashion, yet they shoot it spherically.
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#14 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 17 December 2006 - 08:25 PM

Trouble is that within any movie, within any scene, some subjects naturally fit better into a more vertical frame and others in a more horizontal frame. I remember reading about how "Waterworld" chose 1.85 because they felt that a sailing ship was an inherently vertical subject (the same reason behind using 1.85 for "Jurassic Park" to shoot dinosaurs) yet right after "Waterworld", Ridley Scott made "White Squall" in 2.35 anamorphic and used the scope frame to emphasize the ocean horizon rather than the vertical ship on it. And of course, "Master & Commander" was 2.35 (and the 1960's remake of "Mutiny on the Bounty" was in 2.7 : 1 UltraPanavision!)

Not really a right or wrong answer here. You can always frame a more vertical subject in anamorphic by pulling back wider to hold it, which may or may be interesting. I had trouble shooting the 60' rocket in "The Astronaut Farmer" in anamorphic for this very reason -- had to put on a 35mm anamorphic lens and back out the barn doors just to see the whole height of the thing. But that was the only aspect of the movie that was very vertical.

I remember this story that Owen Roizman tells about shooting "Three Days of the Condor" in anamorphic for Sidney Pollack. They decided to use long anamorphic lenses to emphasize the voyueristic "spying" theme of the movie, but on the first day, shooting Fay Dunaway's apartment, Pollack calls for a 30mm anamorphic lens (very wide-angle) and when Roizman said "what happened to this notion of using long lenses???", Pollack said "Yeah, but Stephen Grimes built such a great set that I want to see it!"
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#15 Tim Partridge

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Posted 17 December 2006 - 09:04 PM

That's just it though- you could practically move further back with a wider lens on ASTRO FARMER, Grimes had a controlled set on CONDOR, but the only way Khondji could have exercised more control over that UN location would have been to rebuild it as a set on a stage. When you practically cannot remove walls/ceilings or are tight on space then you just have to go with the format. Same thing if you can't afford to dress the dead space.

Certainly on the lower end where it's location shooting you are at the mercy of art direction with widescreen composition. There's a lot of lower budget stuff that is framed for 2.35:1 in order to gain a "cinematic" novelty, and yet with anything remotely wide too much of the tiny location (including the boom, lighting stands, crew members, grip equipment) and art direction is revealed. It usually ends up with everything happening in cramped close ups, because it really calls for longer lenses covering masters. Of course this wouldn't be practical, because the only way to cheat would be by having the set built on a stage with the required distance for the desired longer lenses.

Here's a cut scene from SUPERMAN IV which is set in a Manhattan (Metropolis) parking lot, very obviously filmed in the alleys of Elstree studios. The anamorphic photography really does reveal the limitations of the sparse set design and a location they practically couldn't modify for filming. If they'd shot this spherically (1.85:1) they could have almost got away with it (the set wouldn't have looked anywhere near as tiny and empty):



Sometimes it's a hindrance getting too much information from your image. I've had some interesting conversations with some old school art directors (and even matte artists) about this.
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#16 Keneu Luca

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Posted 17 December 2006 - 10:32 PM

Im in the process of making/finding the appropriate mounts for attatching both an anamorphic lens and a very compact, lightweight 8mm video camera (w/ lcd screen) to my viewfinder as a videotap/assist.

Both of these wacky guerilla Do-It-Yourself additions to my Arri S are actually working. Its just mounting these things to the camera that are a pain in the ass right now. But when I will shoot anamorphic, I can correct the anamorphic image with hi 8mm camera by stetching it out in the "video adjust menu", thereby knowing exactly what it is I'm shooting with the anamorphic lens.

Of course critical focus is out the window, except if I tape focus every mark and tech rehearse the hell out of every shot.

After I finally get the mounts and everything set up, I will shoot a test and provide the results here.
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#17 adam berk

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Posted 17 December 2006 - 11:40 PM

looking forward to seeing your tests

Im in the process of making/finding the appropriate mounts for attatching both an anamorphic lens and a very compact, lightweight 8mm video camera (w/ lcd screen) to my viewfinder as a videotap/assist.

Both of these wacky guerilla Do-It-Yourself additions to my Arri S are actually working. Its just mounting these things to the camera that are a pain in the ass right now. But when I will shoot anamorphic, I can correct the anamorphic image with hi 8mm camera by stetching it out in the "video adjust menu", thereby knowing exactly what it is I'm shooting with the anamorphic lens.

Of course critical focus is out the window, except if I tape focus every mark and tech rehearse the hell out of every shot.

After I finally get the mounts and everything set up, I will shoot a test and provide the results here.


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#18 Paul Bruening

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Posted 18 December 2006 - 01:31 AM

What about that old quote about funerals and trains? Or was that snakes?
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#19 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 18 December 2006 - 02:16 AM

Superman IV...what is wrong with you? lol!

I'm about to watch the recut version of Superman II, incidentally, I'll let people know how it is in another forum.
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#20 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 18 December 2006 - 06:08 AM

I'd say you need to take advantage of it with "epic" compositions. Shoot long shots with lots of people in them or shots that accentuate the horizon. Take advantage of the ability to fit more people in the wider frame, and "pack" your frame with interesting visuals, patterns, props, in the background. I.e. use up all the space in the frame effectively.

Sure, that's one good use of anamorphic, but another is to have a lot of negative space or dead space in the frame, which I tend to like a lot. Personally, I think you should use whatever format you like, or think fits the project, and then frame accordingly. Just because you have more room in the frame doesn't mean that you HAVE to fill it.
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