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Question About Anamorphic Widescreen


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#1 Matthew Fumero

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Posted 09 January 2007 - 07:16 PM

I hope this makes sense...or you at least someone gets the gist of way I'm asking. I asked this over the IMDB forum, but someone suggested I ask here cause you would probably know what I'm talking about...

I've been noticing lately that more and more films have been shooting in anamorphic widescreen because of DVD, and whatever form or particluar lens their using is completely different than than films shot before the DVD era. Typically it's been called Anamorphic Scope I guess, (I'm not an expert on cinematography so bear with me), 2:35 with the long horizontal BLUE lens flare that become visible when there is a bright light in a dark scene, Cylindrical Perspective I think, though I'm not sure what that is, and where elements appear to stretch vertically when going out of focus. If you've seen any films by Jan De Bont, John Carpenter, Paul Thomas Anderson, Michael Bay, Wes Anderson, or Joel Schumacher, than you probably know what I'm talking about. The most noteable films using this style are Scream, Donnie Darko, Rushmore, and Ghostbusters. Personally, I love this style and though I guess techinally it's regarded as an artifact, I still wish that all films were shot like that, and I HATE full screen and when films have a 1:85 aspect ratio.

Anyway, getting to my question, I was just curious why so many recent anamorphic widescreen films that have been lacking these characteristics, and what the's difference really. I first noticed this with The Mothman Prophecies, Underworld, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, An American Hainting, and now Snakes On a Plane. They're Anamorphic widescreen, YES, but without the trademark blue lens flares. And though the backgrounds or foregrounds seem to go in and out focus like before, there's no vertical stretching. And I've looked all over to figure why this is, and I haven't found anything that discusses the specifics, and as to why it's been so different after DVD releases. Obviously most movies are widescreen now because of DVD, but it's odd to me that these certain movies with a 2:35 aspect ratio now look so different than the older movies with a 2:35 ratio. And I probably wouldn't care if it looked good, but as with films like Snakes On a Plane, the picture doesn't look as clear as it should, and it's almost dark and murky. There's still a lot of new films with the old style, (Batman Begins, Red Eye, Transformers, and I think The Skeleton Key), but I just don't care for the way these other ones look. Ten years ago, a film like Snakes would've had the traditional look.

I've also been noticing that there's lots of new films, (Harry Potter, Superman Returns, Poseidon), where it says they're filmed with the 2:35 "Scope Aspect Ratio," and yet they don't look like they're filmed with Anamprhic scope. If you look at the DVD cases of older films that were released before the DVD era and are 2:35 anamorphic widescreen, alot of the time it will read "Scope Aspect Ratio" on the back. And again, those are the ones with the blue lens flares and the vertical stretching. But then the new ones that say Scope DON'T have those attributes. And alot of time it will say "matted" or "letterbox", and I'm not sure if those are two totally seperate things, or the the same, or what....On the back of an older DVD release of "Stargate", (NOT the cheap gold one at Target & Walmart where the picture is cut off if your TV is too small), it says it matted widescreen preserving the film's 1:85 aspect ratio. Which is odd because it's actually 2:35 anamorphic widescreen, and it's even got the blue lens flare and vertical stretching. I don't know, I just don't get any of it. Everytime I think I understand it, there's something else confusing me. And again, I can't find anything on the net that really goes into detail about this. Usually they just talk about the difference between anamorphic and pan & scan, while Wikipedia ackowledges the typical characteristics, but still fails to go any deeper.

Anyway, sorry if this post is too long or if you're annoyed, but it's driving me crazy. I figured there's got to be someone on here who knows what I'm talking about, or maybe I'm just the only person who's noticed stuff like this.

Thanks
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#2 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 09 January 2007 - 07:34 PM

Hi,

First off, it's a requirement on this forum that you use your real name as your display name - go and change it.

What I think you're talking about is films shot in a 2.35:1 (or thereabouts) aspect ratio, wherein the picture is 2.35 times wider than it is high, which is generally referred to as "scope" or "cinemascope", as opposed to 1.85:1 which is generally referred to as "widescreen". Traditionally, cinemascope film is shot using an anamorphic lens (not to be confused with the idea of having a 16:9 picture on a DVD, which is also called anamorphic). This lens contains a cylindrically-faced element (compared to most "spherical" lenses where the surfaces are somewhat like chunks of a sphere) which compresses the picture to half its original horizontal dimension, so the 35mm film negative, which is nearly 1.175:1, contains the whole image, just compressed horizontally. This optical process is reversed in the projector using a similar lens oriented the other way around, or if you're watching a DVD, it's de-squeezed in the process of transferring it to video. This optical process causes the artifacts you notice.

Anamorphic lenses are big and heavy, tend to produce odd artifacts when focussing, have short minimum focus distances, and other disadvantages. For this reason, a process known generally as super35 was introduced whereby the area traditionally reserved for the soundtrack (which obviously isn't used until you release the movie, so it's wasted in normal 35mm photography) is brought into use for more picture. This means that the 2.35:1 image can fit onto the film without the use of special lenses, at the cost of using very much less negative area for the image. Traditional scope photography uses almost all the negative area that's possible to use, give or take the soundtrack, whereas super35 photography can end up throwing away quite a lot of picture area to achieve the 2.35:1 image. For this reason, super35 can (but doesn't always, and shouldn't really visibly on DVD) appear more grainy. At least one of the movies you mention, Underworld, was shot using a further refinement of the process to use only 3 sprocket holes' worth of film per frame as opposed to the usual four, which saves film stock in a situation where you're going to throw away quite a lot of each frame top and bottom anyway, but doesn't improve the image quality.

I won't go into it too much, but you can of course now have digitally originated movies which achieve a 2.35:1 image using spherical lenses as well.

Hope that answers the question.

Phil
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#3 Jim Feldspar

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Posted 14 January 2007 - 06:09 AM

I hope this makes sense...or you at least someone gets the gist of way I'm asking. I asked this over the IMDB forum, but someone suggested I ask here cause you would probably know what I'm talking about...

I've been noticing lately that more and more films have been shooting in anamorphic widescreen because of DVD, and whatever form or particluar lens their using is completely different than than films shot before the DVD era. Typically it's been called Anamorphic Scope I guess, (I'm not an expert on cinematography so bear with me), 2:35 with the long horizontal BLUE lens flare that become visible when there is a bright light in a dark scene, Cylindrical Perspective I think, though I'm not sure what that is, and where elements appear to stretch vertically when going out of focus. If you've seen any films by Jan De Bont, John Carpenter, Paul Thomas Anderson, Michael Bay, Wes Anderson, or Joel Schumacher, than you probably know what I'm talking about. The most noteable films using this style are Scream, Donnie Darko, Rushmore, and Ghostbusters. Personally, I love this style and though I guess techinally it's regarded as an artifact, I still wish that all films were shot like that, and I HATE full screen and when films have a 1:85 aspect ratio.

Anyway, getting to my question, I was just curious why so many recent anamorphic widescreen films that have been lacking these characteristics, and what the's difference really. I first noticed this with The Mothman Prophecies, Underworld, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, An American Hainting, and now Snakes On a Plane. They're Anamorphic widescreen, YES, but without the trademark blue lens flares. And though the backgrounds or foregrounds seem to go in and out focus like before, there's no vertical stretching. And I've looked all over to figure why this is, and I haven't found anything that discusses the specifics, and as to why it's been so different after DVD releases. Obviously most movies are widescreen now because of DVD, but it's odd to me that these certain movies with a 2:35 aspect ratio now look so different than the older movies with a 2:35 ratio. And I probably wouldn't care if it looked good, but as with films like Snakes On a Plane, the picture doesn't look as clear as it should, and it's almost dark and murky. There's still a lot of new films with the old style, (Batman Begins, Red Eye, Transformers, and I think The Skeleton Key), but I just don't care for the way these other ones look. Ten years ago, a film like Snakes would've had the traditional look.

I've also been noticing that there's lots of new films, (Harry Potter, Superman Returns, Poseidon), where it says they're filmed with the 2:35 "Scope Aspect Ratio," and yet they don't look like they're filmed with Anamprhic scope. If you look at the DVD cases of older films that were released before the DVD era and are 2:35 anamorphic widescreen, alot of the time it will read "Scope Aspect Ratio" on the back. And again, those are the ones with the blue lens flares and the vertical stretching. But then the new ones that say Scope DON'T have those attributes. And alot of time it will say "matted" or "letterbox", and I'm not sure if those are two totally seperate things, or the the same, or what....On the back of an older DVD release of "Stargate", (NOT the cheap gold one at Target & Walmart where the picture is cut off if your TV is too small), it says it matted widescreen preserving the film's 1:85 aspect ratio. Which is odd because it's actually 2:35 anamorphic widescreen, and it's even got the blue lens flare and vertical stretching. I don't know, I just don't get any of it. Everytime I think I understand it, there's something else confusing me. And again, I can't find anything on the net that really goes into detail about this. Usually they just talk about the difference between anamorphic and pan & scan, while Wikipedia ackowledges the typical characteristics, but still fails to go any deeper.

Anyway, sorry if this post is too long or if you're annoyed, but it's driving me crazy. I figured there's got to be someone on here who knows what I'm talking about, or maybe I'm just the only person who's noticed stuff like this.

Thanks


Dude, if you came here because you're a movie lover (obviously) but not so much someone
who shoots film/video, I'm impressed. You're way more aware of what you're watching than
a lot of people I know. If you love great looking films this much, maybe you should be
behind the camera.

Use the search feature on here and type in a key word like anamorphic or whatever and I bet
that you'll find a lot of interesting reading. Good luck.


Hi,

First off, it's a requirement on this forum that you use your real name as your display name - go and change it.

What I think you're talking about is films shot in a 2.35:1 (or thereabouts) aspect ratio, wherein the picture is 2.35 times wider than it is high, which is generally referred to as "scope" or "cinemascope", as opposed to 1.85:1 which is generally referred to as "widescreen". Traditionally, cinemascope film is shot using an anamorphic lens (not to be confused with the idea of having a 16:9 picture on a DVD, which is also called anamorphic). This lens contains a cylindrically-faced element (compared to most "spherical" lenses where the surfaces are somewhat like chunks of a sphere) which compresses the picture to half its original horizontal dimension, so the 35mm film negative, which is nearly 1.175:1, contains the whole image, just compressed horizontally. This optical process is reversed in the projector using a similar lens oriented the other way around, or if you're watching a DVD, it's de-squeezed in the process of transferring it to video. This optical process causes the artifacts you notice.

Anamorphic lenses are big and heavy, tend to produce odd artifacts when focussing, have short minimum focus distances, and other disadvantages. For this reason, a process known generally as super35 was introduced whereby the area traditionally reserved for the soundtrack (which obviously isn't used until you release the movie, so it's wasted in normal 35mm photography) is brought into use for more picture. This means that the 2.35:1 image can fit onto the film without the use of special lenses, at the cost of using very much less negative area for the image. Traditional scope photography uses almost all the negative area that's possible to use, give or take the soundtrack, whereas super35 photography can end up throwing away quite a lot of picture area to achieve the 2.35:1 image. For this reason, super35 can (but doesn't always, and shouldn't really visibly on DVD) appear more grainy. At least one of the movies you mention, Underworld, was shot using a further refinement of the process to use only 3 sprocket holes' worth of film per frame as opposed to the usual four, which saves film stock in a situation where you're going to throw away quite a lot of each frame top and bottom anyway, but doesn't improve the image quality.

I won't go into it too much, but you can of course now have digitally originated movies which achieve a 2.35:1 image using spherical lenses as well.

Hope that answers the question.

Phil


" Traditionally, cinemascope film is shot using an anamorphic lens (not to be confused with
the idea of having a 16:9 picture on a DVD, which is also called anamorphic)."


Is calling a 16:9 picture "anamorphic" simply a convenience because isn't it technically
incorrect (unless there is an actual anamorphic process used in which an image is captured
in a distorted way and then shown in a way that corrects the distortion?)
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#4 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 14 January 2007 - 07:39 AM

Hi,

A 16:9 picture on a digital format uses pixels which are a pronouncedly different shape; that is, you have the same 720x480 or 720x576 frame but it has a differently-shaped picture in it, so yes, the aspect ratio of a 16:9 DVD is "distorted", if you like, compared to a 4:3 DVD. It's worth pointing out that in neither 4:3 case are the pixels actually 1:1 square, especially in NTSC, but they're a lot less square in 16:9. Both this and the process of using an anamorphic lens produces a picture that's "distorted" compared to "normal", but obviously when you can hold up a strip of film and look at it against the light and see that it's squashed by half in the horizontal axis, that's a bit different than the largely theoretical idea of using a grid of pixels to represent images that are a different shape.

Hope I've made that clear, it's a bit of an odd one to get your head around if you aren't used to it.

Phil
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#5 Jim Feldspar

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Posted 14 January 2007 - 09:26 AM

Hi,

A 16:9 picture on a digital format uses pixels which are a pronouncedly different shape; that is, you have the same 720x480 or 720x576 frame but it has a differently-shaped picture in it, so yes, the aspect ratio of a 16:9 DVD is "distorted", if you like, compared to a 4:3 DVD. It's worth pointing out that in neither 4:3 case are the pixels actually 1:1 square, especially in NTSC, but they're a lot less square in 16:9. Both this and the process of using an anamorphic lens produces a picture that's "distorted" compared to "normal", but obviously when you can hold up a strip of film and look at it against the light and see that it's squashed by half in the horizontal axis, that's a bit different than the largely theoretical idea of using a grid of pixels to represent images that are a different shape.

Hope I've made that clear, it's a bit of an odd one to get your head around if you aren't used to it.

Phil


That helps a lot. Thanks!
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